Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)

Xiangqi is the Chinese version of chess. It branched from the tree of chess history quite a long time ago, so it's one of the odder variations of chess around. It retains some very old ideas that have been discarded from Western chess a long time ago, and has developed some rather curious Chinese features of its own.

The basic idea is the same: you try to catch your opponent's king. In xiangqi kings are somewhat in trouble to start with: they have to remain in their 3x3 castles and cannot leave them. They have guards in the palace, but those guards often end up being quite some trouble...

The game has some other curious restrictions. There's a river in the middle of the board and the bishops (or the elephants) cannot cross the river. Actually, the bishops can only move in steps of exactly two squares. The knights move like in regular chess, except their orthogonal move isn't a jump, but can be blocked.

The cannon is the most interesting piece in xiangqi. It moves like a rook, but captures in a curious way. Cannon can capture like a rook, over any distance, but it must have a support: to capture something, cannon must jump over another piece that stands between the cannon and the target. Makes for some tricky moves!

If you like Western chess, xiangqi is a strange cousin worth trying. If you don't like Western chess, try xiangqi anyway - you might find you like it better than the Western chess. Xiangqi is a very dynamic game, you need to push on and attack hard. The end games can be a tad stale and drawn out and the game has a strong tendency for draws amongst experienced players, but for beginners, it's exciting and fun.

Xiangqi sets come in many flavours. Most have round wooden pieces, marked with Chinese characters (the characters aren't that hard to learn, by the way). The cheapest sets have really flimsy see-through paper boards - pretty awful, but for the cheap price, it does the job. If you just want to have a copy of xiangqi you can try, that's not a bad option. I have one of those and I don't need to have a better board, since I play the game very rarely.

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