How to Play Chinese Chess?

“A chess student must initially become immersed in the fundamentals in order to have any potential to reach a high level of skill. He or she will learn the principles of endgame, middlegame and opening play. Initially one or two critical themes will be considered at once, but over time the intuition learns to integrate more and more principles inot a sense of flow. Eventually the foundation is so deeply internalized that it is no longer consciously considered, but is lived. This process continuously cycles along as deeper layers of the art soaked in.”

— by Josh Waitzkin

Want to learn how to play Chinese chess? Chinese chess, also known as Xiangqi, is easy to learn and fun to play. Chinese Chess (Xiangqi) and International Chess are similar strategy board games for two players. There are similarities and differences. There are more similarities than differences between the two. The similarities will make it easy for you to play a decent Xiangqi in a short time. Those who are good at Chess would naturally be good in Chinese Chess and vice versa as the strategies used in one chess can be adapted to the other.

Now, people can also make use of the internet to access various online resources to learn or play Chinese Chess. There are even many free websites, free software, free apps available on the internet for playing and learning this old Chinese board game. We recommend this Chinese Chess – free China board game app for iPhone iPad.

Objective of the game

The objective of the game is to capture the opponent’s general or king, the same as that of international chess. You can also win Chinese chess by putting the opposing general in a checkmate or stalemate situation.

The board

Xiangqi is played on rectangular 9×10 board. The starting position is shown on the following picture:

Chinese Chess board - Xiangqi board


There are total nine vertical lines on the board, named Files. Each vertical line or File is represented by a number from one to nine, from File 1 to File 9 starting from player’s right side. Therefore, File 1 is also known as opponent’s File 9.


The thick horizontal line in the middle of the board is named “river”. The river divides the Xiangqi board into two opposing sides. Elephant pieces are not allowed to cross the river to opponent’s side. Pawns have an enhanced to move horizontally after crossing the river.


The small squares containing diagonal lines are called red and black palace. Kings and advisors are placed inside the palace. Both are not allowed to move outside of the palace.

Movement of pieces

There are several key differences, including different pieces and different rules for moving them.

Chinese Chess pieces - Xiangqi pieces

King (General)

The King is the most important piece on board. Once the king is captured by opponent, the player will lose his game.

A king moves one space vertically or horizontally, it cannot move diagonally. It may never leave its palace. If a king is being attacked (is in check), the corresponding player must cancel the check immediately. If it is not possible, the player loses the game.

Both kings are not allowed to face each other in the same file with no intervening pieces. The player who not followed this rule will be considered losing the game.

Advisor (also known as Guard)

The Advisors start on either side of the King. In Chess, there is no such piece as the Advisor next to the King. A Queen is absent in Xiangqi.

Like the General, the Advisors are restricted to the palace. They may only move diagonally one place at a time, which confines them to five points in the board. At the four palace corners, the Advisor has only one move to the center of the palace (centroid).

Bishop (Elephant/minister)

They are located next to the advisors. These pieces move and capture exactly two points

diagonally and may not jump over intervening pieces or occupied points. Moreover, elephants are not allowed to cross the river.

Knight (Horse)

Horses begin the game next to the Elephants, on their outside flanks.

Like Knight in International Chess, a horse moves one space vertically or horizontally, followed by one space outward-diagonally. There is a significant difference between the two, because a horse cannot leap over pieces or jump over occupied places. Horses in Xiangqi can be blocked by any piece located one point horizontally or vertically adjacent to it.

Rook (Chariot)

The Chariots begin the game on the points at the corners of the board. The Chariot is considered to be the strongest piece in the game.

The Chariot moves exactly the same as the Rook in Chess. It moves in a straight line horizontally or vertically across any number of empty spaces, but it may not jump over intervening pieces.

Pawn (Soldier)

The Soldiers are only able to move one space forward at a time. However, if a Soldier crosses the river he can break ranks and move left and right as well. A Soldier cannot retreat, so if he manages to reach the last row of the board, he can continue moving only sideways.


There is no piece in Chess, which corresponds to the Cannon in Chinese chess or Xiangqi. The Cannon is a unique feature of Chinese chess.

The Cannon, like the Chariot, can move empty space forward or back, left or right. The Cannon is only able to “capture” another piece by “jumping over” a first piece (own or opponent’s) set between it and its target. Since the Cannon needs a platform for capture, it becomes less effective in the endgame when many pieces are destroyed.

The notation system

Different notation systems are employed to record the movements of the pieces. You can find the basics of the WXF notation system for Chinese chess or Xiangqi here.

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