Do the General Giap - and take your chance on a real World Championship Of Chess... Chinese style

Have you ever been frustrated by chess? Are you disillusioned by realizing that you may never be good enough to make it to the top - no matter how hard you are working on improving your skills? Watch out, here is the remedy: before you are throwing away board, books and pieces, just put all your eggs in one new basket - full of chess ... but this time Chinese style. Just take your chance on XiangQi.

That Asian version of the eternal game is full of action, just like a Kung fu-movie on the board: with a river called the Huanghe that is separating the Southern Kingdom ("Red") from the Northern Territories ("Black"); the two armies - with elephants, chariots and even cannons - are fighting for control of the fords of the Yellow River in order to conquer the palace of the opposing King and his advisors, the Mandarins. Military thinkers from the East have trained their minds at XiangQi, such as Vo Nguyen Giap, the legendary commander-in-chief from Vietnam who has defeated the French in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu, and who has executed the fall of the US-prodded Republic of South Vietnam 30 years ago, on April 30th, 1975, when tanks from North Vietnam crushed the gates of the Presidential Palace at Saigon.

The historic and cultural importance of Chinese Chess is one thing; the other thing is the big chance that XiangQi is offering to ambitious athletes of mind sports. 2005, this very year will be the first time in the long history of chess that a World Championship of XiangQi (WXC) will take place outside Asia. That competition will be decided at Paris starting on July 31st, 2005 and climaxing on August 6th, 2005 (see the website:

Hotel Chinagora/ Paris: Venue of the WCX 2005

The good news about that: Nearly everybody with some talent has the chance to qualify for a real World Championship. The way to do so is playing in the National League of your home country. In Germany that is the Federal League of XiangQi: Everybody, the master and the Greenhorn, is allowed to compete there, and that is truly democratic; those, who will manage to come in there first, second or third during at least two of the four weekends of the Federal League - the next season 2005/2006 will start in early November 2005 - , they will be qualified for the finals of the German Championship in next summer 2006. The follow-up German Championship 2006/2007 will also be the qualification tournament for World Championship 2007 that will probably take place in Asia again, after the WCX 2005 at Paris.

Chess Craze at the Imperial Court

But there is something more about XiangQi than just the sports, thing with those cups to be won and cheering crowds. XiangQi is a very inspiring alternative to the often lengthy and tiring sessions at the board of 64 squares of Western Chess. XiangQi is opening up a gate to get access to the history and culture of China: By enjoying that colourful chess variant from the Far East you are easily learning a lot about the facts that have made the People's Republic of today that aspiring power of global importance at the beginning of the 3rd millenium.

You just have to replay one of the most famous historic duels of XiangQi: having been decided at the imperial court during the early days of the North Sung Dynasty between the 10th and 12th century A.D.. Before analysing that game, let's first have a look at the rules of XiangQi.

Chinese Chess is played on a board that is made up of ten horizontal lines and nine vertical lines. The verticals are interrupted by a central-horizontal void called the "river" that is also known as being the "Huanghe". Two palaces are positioned at opposite sides of the board; each one of them is distinguished by a cross connecting its four corner points. Whilst in Western Chess pieces are played on the squares of the board, the pieces of XiangQi are placed on the intersections of the laterals and verticals - those crossings are called "points".

In Western Chess the commander of the White army is starting out the match against Black; in XiangQi it is "Red" - also being referred to as "South" - against "Black", that is to say: "North", respectively.

Each player has the following pieces: two Chariots - symbol: Western Chess-"Rook", abbreviated: "R" - ; two Horses - symbol: Western Chess "Knight", abbr.: "N*" -; two Elephants - symbol: Western Chess "Bishop", abbr.: "B*" -; two Advisors (or: "Mandarins") - symbol: Western Chess "Queen", abbr.: "Q*" -; one King (or "General") - symbol: Western Chess "King", abbr.: "K*" -; two Cannons - symbol: Cannon; abbr.: "C" -; five Pawns (or: "Soldiers") - symbol: Western Chess "Pawn", abbr.: "P*".

There are some similarities between the moves of pieces of Western Chess on one hand - and the way pieces of Chinese Chess are operating - on the other hand. The Chariot (R) moves like a Rook in Western Chess. The Horse (N*) moves one point orthogonally followed by one point outward-diagonally - that is the obvious kinship to the Knight of Western Chess. But contrary to its FIDE-counterpart, the Horse from China may not jump over occupied points.

Gigantic XiangQi-board in Yunan/China, near the Tibetian border

The Elephant (B*) moves exactly two squares diagonally (as the "Alfil" did so in old Arabic "Shatranj"), but unlike the "Alfil", the XiangQi-Elephant may not leap over occupied points. Chinese Elephants are confined to their home side of the river; due to these limitations the Elephant can only stamp to seven points on the board. The Advisor (Q*) - or Mandarin - moves one point diagonally; so it is similar to the "Vezir" in "Shatranj". But unlike the Vezir, the Mandarin is never allowed to leave the palace; the crossings that are marking the two "Forbidden Cities" on the board they are also defining the routes that the Advisor is allowed to walk inside the palace. Consequently the XianQi-Advisor is restricted to five of the nine points inside the Forbidden City.

The King (K*) can move one square horizontally or vertically. The commander-in-chief is not allowed to leave the palace - not even to avoid checkmate. But Kings can exert a long-distance power that is similar to the vertical power of a Rook and that is called "telepotency" - meaning: the two Kings cannot face each other on an open file. If either King is sitting exposed on one open file, the other King is not allowed to move to that contested file too.

The Cannon (C) has two moves to make - provided the piece of artillery is either moving passively or actively. If the Cannon is moving passively it is moving like a Chariot. If the Cannon is moving for capturing, so the Cannon is required to hop over a second piece in order to capture a third piece. For example, a Cannon on a1 can take a piece on f1 if exactly one of the points b1, c1, d1 or e1 is occupied by a piece of either colour. Cannons are not allowed to hop over more thsn one piece in a given move.

Unlike Pawns in Western Chess, both the passive move and the capture move of Pawns in Xiangqi (P*) are always the same. A starting Pawn moves one point straight-forward. A Pawn - having crossed the river - promotes; now the Pawn can not only strike direction straight forward, but one point laterally two, to the left or to the right. Pawns do not get any extra-promotion after having reached the last rank; there they can only move to the left side or to the right side - thus being called "Old Pawn".

After this brief introduction you are ready for that encounter that has to be considered to be one milestone during the long process of the evolution of chess. That very miniature has first been published in "A General Collection of recorded Events" by Chen Yuan-ling, a multi-volume encyclopedia that has been collected during the first period of the Northern Sung Dynasty.

We are watching a student of XiangQi leading the Red army and trying to outsmart his tutor, a teacher of the art of Chinese Chess. During that time a real Chess-craze was hitting the nation. People were playing everywhere: in soup kitchens, on the streets, and the craftsmen offered fancy playing sets everywhere in their shops.

The imperial court was infected by that hype too. Real chess professionals got a job there; they were ranking officers - both male and female - , and their sole duty was defined as to play XiangQi with the ruling monarch or members of the royal family.

Red: Student of XiangQi (member of the royal family, presumedly)

Black: Tutor (officer of the imperial court)

China, early period of the North Sung Dynasty (960 until 1126 A.D.)

Same-Side-Cannon Defense - The System Petrov in XiangQi

1.Che3 ...

There are poems teaching the novice the basic principles of starting a match. The basic one is titled "Cannon at the middle":

"First step you move the cannon into the middle of the palace.

Chariots set beside the river and attack with horse.

Pawns go forward by the strength under the cover of a horse behind."

So, from the past to the present, the majority of players is choosing the Central-Cannon opening: attacking the Black Pawn e7 by the first move. That can be compared to 2.Nf3 ... in Western Chess (after 1.e4 e5).

1.... Che8

Counterattack as the riposte: the plan of Petrov's Defence in Xiangqi.

See: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6.

2.N*g3 ...

Unlike the usual 3.Nxe5 ... in Western Chess, Petrov's style, 2.Cxe7? ... would be a bad idea in XiangQi (plus: the eventual 2.... Cxe4?? - after 2.Cxe7? ... - would be a sure loss for Black, the latter fact being one more parallel again to the well-known blunder in Western Chess: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4?).

2.... N*g8 3.Rh1 ...

Speed is key in XiangQi - occupying an open line by the Chariot as fast as possible.

3.... N*c8

A wise decision too: the second defender for the vital Pawn e7 out there in the centre of action.

4.Rh7 ...

Attacking the left wing G-company of the Northern Army.

4.... c6!

By heart the tutor is knowing the poem having just been quoted:

"... Pawns go forward by the strength under the cover of a horse behind".

The infantry unit g7 can not be defended, so Black is preparing a cavalry swing at the opposite flank.

5.Rxg7 ...

Sensing no danger - and crushing enemy soldiers. Now Red could kill Black’s Horse by move no. 6: Rxg8 ... .

5.... N*d6

The thrust of armoured knights. Plus some nice side-effect, the right-wing Horse N*g8 is protected again by Black’s Cannon b8 (via the ramp courtesy of Blacks Ce8).

6.Rg6? ...

Assuming - wrongly - that he can kill one more unit of Northern infantry; by attacking Black Horse d6 - and by doing that, Black Pawn c6 actually hiding behind the Horse on the lateral no. 6.

6.... N*f5!

Typical Horse-strike: Black N*f5 is attacking Red N*g3 (though the latter still being defended by Red Cannon b3 - using the ramp of Red Cannon e3); but Red Horse g3 cannot retaliate by 7.N*xf5 ... - for there is the blockade by Red Pawn g4, and the Chinese Horse being no Western Knight is unable to leap over that, (as we do know now).

7.g5? ...

Seems to be logic - opening up the gate for Red Horse g3 - , but being the final mistake already.

7.... B*i8!

Idea: 8.N*xf5?? B*xg6 9.gxg6 - and that transaction would be a bad deal for Red.

8.Rxc6 ...

Eliminating some more of the Black troops.

8.... N*d4!

The winner - by menacing 9.... N*c6 and 9.... N*c2+.

9.Rd6 N*c2+

The Fork of Horse - on the position c2: deciding that historic match, but from yesterday until today that deadly check on King e1 plus attack on Chariot a1 alias Rook a1 has decided - and is still deciding - countless matches in both variants of chess, be it the Chinese one or the Western one.

10. Conclusion of the manuscript from the days of Sung - "Black wins Chariot" (as being quoted by David H. Li in his second volume on XiangQi, "Syllabus on Cannon", Bethesda 1998, p.40 pp., 43).

True - therefore: 0:1.

Blitzkrieg of Chess - XiangQi, the most ancient version of the eternal game, is the fastest one.

That typical attack on c2 - having been executed by the tutor - can be compared to a certain variant of the King's Gambit - declined - in Western Chess. Max Euwe, among others, is outlining that line in his famous series on openings ("Open Games II and III, Part XI - XII", 2nd edition, Berlin-Frohnau 1968, page 208):

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 3.Nf3 d6 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Bc4 ...

And now:

5.... Bg4 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 Nd4

Corresponding to 8.... N*d4! in the match of XiangQi from the Sung Dynasty.

8.Qg3 exf4! 9.Qxg7? Nxc2+

The Knight on c2 - just like the Horse of XiangQi.

10.Kd1 Bd4

And winning.

In practical play - in particular: in rapid chess - a situation like the foregoing can occur very often.

White: Dr. René Gralla/Germany

Black: Ulrich W. Schmidt/Germany

Blitz-chess contest (5 minutes), January 3rd, 2004, Hamburg/Germany, Chess-Café "Zumir"

King's Gambit - declined

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.d3 Bg4 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 Nd4

Following Max Euwe - so far. And echoing 8.... N*d4! - of classic XiangQi again.

8.Qg4 ...

An aberration - but that doesn't help either.

8.... Nxc2+

Again - returning to the point of destiny.

9.Kd1 Nxa1! 10.Qxg7 ...

Mr. Schmidt has guessed - for sure - that he would get some compensation now. But ...

10.... Qf6!

Stops the attack.

11.Qg4(?) Nh6 12.Nh5(??) Qg6

And Black is winning the match, after some more moves: 0:1.

Stalemate in Midgame

One of the most volatile positions on the board is the point c2 - both in XiangQi and in Western Chess. But there are some more danger zones - think of f7 in Western Chess and the corresponding g9 in XiangQi. One more striking case of Déja-vu is illustrating that.

Red: Dr. René Gralla/Germany

Black: Cao Quang/Germany

Training match, January 21st, 2005, Hamburg/Germany, Internet-Café


Black is one Cannon behind - but has two extra Pawns as some kind of compensation; one of those infantry units already being far advanced on Southern territory. If Vietnam-born Cao Quang could manage to push the Pawn g4 until f2; if he could place Black Chariot on i4 a tempo, then, maybe, there would be the chance for him to turn the tide.

If it is Black’s turn to move in this situation first, then he will check-mate Red King:

1.... Ri1+ 2.Rh1 Rxh1+ 3.Q*f1 Rxf1#

But that prospect is just a desperate vision. At that very moment it is the turn on the Southern troops to move (see the introductory diagram again), and the Northern army is nearly stalemated: Red Cannon on e7 is preventing the Black Elephant e8 and both of the opposing Mandarins from moving away.

The next move is completing the total blockade:

1.Rh0! ...

Exploiting the fateful position of Black Horse f0.

1.... Rf6

Trying to drive away Red Cannon e7.

2.Rg0! ...

Now Cao Quang is running out of moves. Due to the confinement - being exerted by the Southern artillery outpost e7 - the Elephant e8 is unable to strike at the Red Chariot g0 (and Red Horse g6 is out of reach for that defensive unit too).

And Black Chariot is not allowed to leave the vital F-lane, because that lateral must be defended against Red's killer-move N*f8#.

2.... gf4

Hoping to reach f2 somehow.

3.N*h8! ...

This is the end ...

3.... Re6

Guessing that it's now or never to attack Red Cannon e7.

4.N*i0! ...

A generous invitation to vaporize Red Cannon e7 ...

4.... Rf6!

... declined. If 4.... Rxe7??, then 5.N*g9#.

5.N*g9+ Rf9

Blocking the check and preventing check-mate - but at high cost: Black can hardly move anymore.

6.Ci7! ...

Aiming at the immobile Black Chariot: Red is threatening 7.Ci9 ... and winning.

There is no way out. If Black is trying 6.... Q*d8 (6.... Q*f8 makes no difference) the killer move will be 7.Ci9 ... .

Now Black can end the tie of the Black Rook f9, but it is too late: 7.... K*e9 8.Cxf9 ... .

After 8.... K*xf9 Black will be one Chariot behind. Therefore:

6.... Resigns. 1:0

In Western Chess the mirror image of the attack on point g9 is the occupation of the square f7.

White: Joachim Brandt/Schönebecker SV 1861, Germany

Black: N.N. / Germany

Amateur Championship of Germany 2005/2005, November 20th, 2004,


Aljechin's Defense

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 Nb6 5.Bxf7+!? ...

A kind of hazardous sacrifice that players of XiangQi would like as well.

5.... Kxf7 6.Ng5+ ...

The cavalry!

6.... Kg8 7.Qf3 ...

Speculating on a kind of Scholar's Mate: 8.Qf7#.

7.... Qe8 8.e6! ...

Pressing Black - similar to the situation in the foregoing match of Xiangqi Dr.R.Gralla ./. Cao Elvis (Hamburg 2005).

8.... h6??

A bad idea. He should have tried 8.... g6!

9.Qf7+ ...

It's all over now, Baby Blue: 9.... Qxf7 10.exf7#. Consequently:


That has been the shortest match of Round 2 of that tournament.

And one can see: The timeless XiangQi and its Western off-spring - they are not that far apart.

Even that amazing capability of the Chinese Chess King to strike – via His Majesty's "telepotency" – deep into the heart of the enemy palace is paralleled in Western Chess.

Mad King and His Deadly Rays of Laser

We have only to remember that famous assessment of the first World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz (1834 – 1900) that the King – his notorious vulnerability notwithstanding – is a strong attacking piece.

That can be the case even during the phase of the Middle Game – as Richard Teichmann, one of the big names in German chess history, has demonstrated during a spectacular match against a bunch of Scotsmen on the occasion of a visit at Glasgow in 1902 (Lev Khariton is reporting that event – plus some more amazing examples – in his article “The King’s Odyssey: Murder English Style” at

White: Richard Teichmann

Black: Consultants

Glasgow 1902

Examining that situation – in order to make it easier to compare that climax of a famous match in Western Chess with the follow-up example of Chinese Chess the Black pieces have been positioned on that diagram “down below” and the White pieces “high above” - it is “ … difficult to imagine that Black’s King is in danger. It is even more difficult to perceive … “ – we are herewith following the commentary by Lev Khariton at – “ … that the danger is coming from White King! Moreover … the pressure of Black’s Queen and Bishop on diagonal h1-a8 is more than conspicious. Nevertheless, White’s King is destined to commit an act of breathtaking heroism and soon he comes on top of all of Black’s pieces.”

28.Kh2 …

The commander-in-chief himself is not afraid of entering the hand-to-hand-fighting!

28…. b5

The Black alliance has no idea of what will happen soon …

29.Kg3! …

Boldly leaving the protection of the walls of his castle.

29…. a5

Still very naive …

30.Kh4! …

Lev Khariton: “White is about to move his King to g6 creating the threat of the imminent mate. The harmony of White’s pieces strikes the eye. Especially, White’s Knight is strong controlling the key squares e8 and f7.”

30…. g6!

Black is reacting – 30…. g6! is stopping the White King’s march first to h5 and to g6 - , but it’s too late already.

31.Re3! Qxg2 32.Rg3 Qf2

If 32…. g5+, then: 33.Kh5 Qxg3 34.Kg6! …

There is no defence against 35.Qg7#.

33.fxg6 Qf4+ 34.Rg4 Qf2+ 35.Kh5! …

No power in the world can prevent the White King from entering the fortress of his adversary – plus enabling the White Queen to execute the check-mate on g7.

35…. Resigns 1:0

Do cases like that occur in XiangQi too – though the Red and Black Generals respectively are not allowed to leave their palaces? Yes, they do – because of that long distance-weapon of „telepotency“ that is enabling the King to block a line – after he has occupied that lane – for his opponent. The power that is attributed to the King so far, that can be compared to the power of a virtual rook.

Before we will examine a sample game for that we are adding some more informations that are helpful for those of our readers who would like to try out XiangQi. Since they should be able to read the game scores in English, from now on - because most of the relevant Non-Chinese literature on XiangQi is published in English language - , we will start to use those generally accepted abbreviations for the pieces that have been established by authors like Professor David H. Li.

Consequence: In the following - instead of continuing to use a type of diagram that is symbolizing the pieces of XiangQi by "Staunton"-style piktograms (as done in the foregoing; diagram down below, left) - we are starting to use a type of diagram that is transforming the situation on the board of XiangQi into piktograms that are representing the original names and fighting capacities of the Chinese Chess pieces. That type of diagram (see down below) has been designed and published by David Wurman in his manual on XiangQi: "Chinesisches Schach - Koreanisches Schach", Verlag Harri Deutsch.

- That very piece that is the corresponding piece to the „Rook“ of Western Chess - and that has been called “Rook” (abbr.: “R”) in the foregoing - that will from now on be defined by its correct name in XiangQi: “Chariot“. But since that piece is the parallel piece to the “Rook” in Western† chess, so the modern literature on Chinese Chess is using the international “R” (by using that “r” that is the central letter in that word) for abbreviating the piece of† “Chariot”.

- That very piece that is corresponding to the “Knight” in Western Chess (abbr.: “N*” in the foregoing) that will from now on be identified by its traditional name: “Horse”, abbr.: “H”.

- That very piece that can be compared - up to a certain degree - to the “Bishop” in Western Chess (abbr.: “B*” in the foregoing) that will from now on be called by its Chinese name only: “Elephant”, abbr.: “E”.

- That very piece that can be classified by its historic origin as being close to the “Queen” (abbr.: “Q*”) that will from now on be called by its usual name: “Advisor”, abbr.: “A”.

- “King” - abbr.: “K” -, “Cannon” - abbr.: “C” - and “Pawn” - abbr.: “P” - will be labeled the same way as we have done so in the foregoing.

In the following we will watch example that has happened during a match of amateurs – a kind of parallel case to the match of Western Chess between R.Teichmann vs. Consultants, apart from the fact that this time it is Black to be on the winning side.

Red: Nguyen Quang Dieu

Black: Dr. RenÈ Gralla

Friendly match, March 19th, 2005, Hamburg/Germany, Internet-CafÈ “Inselnet”

By positioning a Rook and a Cannon on forward positions (b3 and h2, respectively) Black is pressing the Red army which is already behind by one Elephant.

1.Hf5 …

Repatriating his Horse back to South in order to break the Black blockade. The disadvantage of that maneuver: Now the Northern cavalry squadron on the right wing is free again to enter the battle.

1…. Hf6 2.Hd6 Hg4

Crossing the Huanghe already and thundering down into Southern territory.

3.Hc4 …

Trying to get to the rescue – by defending the Red square g2 . If 3.Hf7 … (menacing: 4.Hg9+ …), then 3…. Rh9 is protecting the vital postion g9.

3…. Hi3!

Preparing for the deadly check: 4…. Hg2+ 5.Cxg2 … The only way to prevent the immediate knock-out. 5…. Rxb1 – thus trading in a Horse against a Chariot. A sure win.

4.He3! …

Arriving just in time on that defensive position.

4…. Hg2+

A transaction that is a mere exchange – but by that exchange the press on the Southern army will be upheld.

5.Hxg2 Rxb2 6.Rxb2 Cxb2

Attacking the Red Rook i2 via the unwitting ramp of Red Horse g2.

7.Hf4 …

The Horse is moving away – thus removing the ramp …

7…. Ch2!

The Red Rook i2 is in exile again – on its own turf.

8.g6? …

Looking great – that River-Crossed-Pawn - , but being a blunder …

8…. Rh4!

… winning a Pawn.

9.Hg2 …

It would have been better to accept the exchange of Red Horse against Black Cannon – with the central Pawn e4 as boot for Black.

9…. Rxe4+ 10.Ade2 Ch5 11.f6 …

Being forced to give up the Elephant’s locus g6 (otherwise: 11…. Exg6).

11…. Ce5!

Always very dangerous: the occupation of a central position by an attacking Cannon. Later, the position of that Black artillery unit will enable the Black General to execute his telepotency.

12.Ee3 …

Defending against the threat: 12…. Rxi4+ (uncovered check by Black Ce5) plus 13…. Rxi2.

12…. Ade9

Harmless looking – but full of poison. Black is preparing the final mate-attack – by mobilising the commander-in-chief himself.

13.f7 …

Since that infantry unit – as a benefit of having been able to fight its way across the river – can now strike to the left and to the right as well that River-crossed

Pawn is attacking Black’s E-company by threatening 14.fxe7 … .

13…. Kd0!!

Novices of Chinese Chess have to watch out for an unsuspecting move like that: the Enemy King ist just moving from one square to the other in his palace – but now he is menacing check-mate … from very far away.

Due to that magical telepotency the Northern command can give up the – otherwise: vital – central infantry position e7. Why? If South will strike on e7 – 14.fxe7? … -, 14….Rd4! will menace checkmate on d1.

You do not believe? Then have one more look: Red can do what he likes to do – for instance blow up the Black Elephant on e8: 15.exe8 … . And now: 15…. Rd1#!

Now we are watching that famous telepotency at work: The Advisor on e2 can not defend the square d1 – since that Bodyguard (in cooperation with the Elephant on e3) – is desperately needed to shield off the check by Black Cannon e4. Plus: The Black Chariot d1 is taboo for Red King e1 – since, if Red King would try to overtake that Rook, the Southern General would move right into that highway no. d which is now under control by the Northern General on d0, thus rendering that important lane off limits for Mr. Nguyen Quang Dieu and his commander-in-chief.

Game over – and now do note both the similarity and difference between the attacking powers of the Kings in Western Chess, on the one hand, and their colleagues in Chinese Chess, on the other hand.

The Western King is more mobile than the General in XiangQi. So the monarch of Western Chess can directly approach his counterpart – but on the other hand, he is also forced to do so.

Please see again – for double-checking - the example of the match R.Teichmann vs. Consultants (Glasgow 1902), after the hypothetical move order 33.Kh5 Qxg3 34.Kg6! …: The White King has to get very close to the Black King if he wants to catch him alive by 35.Qg7#.

In comparison to that the King of XiangQi is stuck in his palace – so he is less mobile than the Western commander - , but due to his telepotency he can strike over long distances. Like in that match Nguyen Quang Dieu vs. Dr. R. Gralla (Hamburg 2005) he is transmitting a deadly ray of laser zeroing in from d0 to d1, and riding on that ray of energy a Chariot is cornering Red King on e1.

That is Asian Ying & Yang – the King not being allowed to leave the tiny realm of his palace can exert decisive influence in the central zone of the theatre of operations thus crossing long distances in no time, without the need of moving there in person.

A situation like that finale of the match between Nguyen Quang Dieu and Dr. R. Gralla (Hamburg 2005) is happening many times in Xiangqi – so one has to be alert always in trying not to overlook a menace like 13…. Kd0!! & 14…. Rd4! & 15…. Rd1#.

Alas, Mr. Nguyen Quang Dieu does not overlook the menace by 13…. Kd0!!; he is refraining from bayoneting the Soldier on e7 – 14.fxe7? … - , instead he finds an ingenious way to avoid a quick check-mate. But the price is high:

14.Ad3! …

The alternative 14.Af3 makes no real difference.

14…. Rxe3++

Double check: uncovered check by Ce5 and direct check by Re3.

15.Kd1 Rxd3+ 16.Ke1 Re3++

Double check once more: by Re3 and Ce5.

17.Ae2 Ri3+

Uncovered check by Ce5 – whilst Black is attacking the Red Chariot i2 as well. Since there is no way of avoiding 18…. Rxi2:

18. Resigns 0:1

Before we will continue our crash course in XiangQi we will now explain the special way the Chinese are recording moves - which is essential to know too if you want to read games scores in international literature.

To start with, the board’s files are numbered from 1 to 9, starting from the right hand side of the player. Hence, file 1 for Red – that would be the i-file both for Red and Black in a notation that is based on the way Western Chess is recording games (see diagram on the left)† – is file 9 for Black, file 2 for Red (the h-file for both Red and Black by using a Western-style notation) is file 8 for Black, and so on.

Normally the ranks are not numbered; but in the right diagram above there have been added further defining numbers for the ranks that Professor David H. Li is proposing and that he is using in his books on Chinese Chess in the “Syllabus”-series. Those ranks are useful if one wants to locate a piece on the board of XiangQi. By following the proposal of Professor David H. Li the position of the left Red Chariot before starting a match can be defined as follows:

Ra1 – using the Western style of notation – or R on Red (abbr.: “r”) file 9/Black (abbr.: “bl”) file 1 & Red rank i/Black rank x.

But for defining the moves as such on the board of XiangQi the numbers of the ranks – having been invented by Professor David H. Li – are not recorded. Instead of that the notation works as follows - and we are following so far the instructive explanation that has been given to us by C.K.Lai in his collection of famous matches from the Ming Dynasty (1364 – 1644). For further information please have a look at C.K.Lai's “Victories All The Way”, London 1991, page 5/6.

“Four words/symbols are used to complete the record of a move,” as Mr. C.K.Lai is telling us. “First, the name of the piece is stated, then the file on which the piece was standing is mentioned, followed by a symbol (word) indicating either a forward, backward or a sideways move. A diagonal move is treated as a forward, or a backward move, as the case may be. Finally, the new file to which the piece is positioned is given. If a piece moves along the same file, then the number of steps moved is indicated.”

C.K. Lai is adding the symbols for the moves: “ + ” is meaning forward move; “ - “ is meaning backward move; “ = “ is meaning sideways move.

If – say – two Chariots of the same colour are positioned on a given file, the Chariot on the forward position will be defined as follows: FR; the Chariot on the rear position will be defined as follows: RR.

There are no extra symbols for attacking one piece by another piece and taking it away from the board (the “ x “ in Western Chess); neither the “check”

(the “ + “ of Western Chess) nor the checkmate (the “ # “ of Western Chess) will be marked in XiangQi.

Wild Horse and Cannon at the Corner of the Palace

Now we are ready for a brief look at two basic situations – one in the heat of Midgame, one at the opening – that the beginner should know definitely.

One of the evergreens in XiangQi that is the Horse-Cannon-Checkmate at the Palace Corner.

Red: Dr. René Gralla

Black: Phan Thang

Friendly match, February 28th, 2003, Hamburg, Medical office of Quang Nguyen-Chi, mentor of XiangQi in Northern Germany

Quang Nguyen-Chi, Mentor of XiangQi in Northern Germany

As a result of grim fighting the right wing of the Red Army is nearly destroyed. Only one Chariot – together with a lone Advisor who has dug in on the Red point 4i/Black point 6x (position no. f1 in westernized notation) – is trying to ward off the Black assault. The Southern command has one extra Chariot, that should be decisive, in the long run – but at this moment that extra Chariot is a kind of straggler far away from the action on the Red point 9i/Black point 1x (position a1 in westernized notation). So the Northern command seems to have a temporary superiority on the left wing: with shock-troops of a Chariot, a Cannon and a Horse – the latter being menacingly close to the Red HQ on Black point 9ix/Red point 1ii (position i2 in westernized notation).

On the other hand The Red Army has a big plus: the central artillery position on Red point 5vii/Black point 5iv (position e7 in westernized notation). Because of that Red Cannon the whole defence of the Black palace is immobilized – and that is the key of the Southern strategy.

Red cavalry is spotting a small, but deadly gap in the defense of Black on the right wing of the Northern front: Coup de main across the Yellow River, the infantry outpost on Black point 3iv/Red point 7vii (Pc7 in westernized notation) will be eliminated, and after that hussar-strike there is great danger for the HQ of the commander-in-chief Phan Thang.

1.H6+7!? (1.Hxc7!? …)

For the convenience of our readers the westernized way of notation will be added in italics.

1…. C9=8? (1… Ch8?)

Black is confident enough that nobody can prevent his mobile task force of Chariot&Cannon&Horse – but he should better have tried to deroot the dangerous Red Cannon on Black point 5iv/Red point 5vii (position e7 in westernized notation) by an immediate 1…. R8+2! (1… Rh7!).

2.H7+8! (2.Hb9! …)

The intro of the execution …

2…. C8+7 (2…. Ch1+)

Black is convinced of being back in the game with thunder, by winning material back and by threatening check-mate …

3.R4-3 (3.Rg1 …)

That Chariot is gone … and worse …

3…. H9+7 (3.... Hxg1)

Black has wrecked the Red Chariot on the right wing, Mr. Phan Thang has a material plus of one Elephant (against the plus of one Pawn on the Red side); moreover there is no defence against the mate by 4…. H7-6 (4…. Hf3#) because of the double check by undiscovered check by Black Cannon and direct check by Black Horse at the Palace Corner.

But Red has calculated one more move in advance – first Red will move … and will decide the game.

4.H8-6 (4.Hd8+ …)

A typical move order: Because of Red Cannon on the central position the otherwise defending Advisor on Black point 5ii/Red point 5ix (position e9 in westernized notation) cannot touch the Red Horse that is checking Black King.

4…. K5=4 (4.... Kd0) 5.C5=6 (5.Cd7#) 1:0

Something for the note-book: Red Hors is governing the Black point 5i/Red point 5x (position e0 in westernized notation), the check by red Cannon can not be interrupted by killing Red Horse – because, if the Advisor would replace Red Horse by slaughtering the attacker, that very Advisor would be the hapless ramp for Red Cannon.

It is very useful to know that mating scheme – it is one of the classic ways to win in comparable situations.

Central Desaster

An enemy Cannon on the central file – aiming the opposite palace: That is always a reason of big concern as the encounter Dr.R.Gralla vs. Phan Thang (Hamburg 2003) has demonstrated. If the attacker is able to let his Cannon thunder down there very soon the match can be ended quickly.

You should never forget that warning when you feel inclined to move your
central Pawns. In Western Chess it may be some kind of mainstream to move
your central Pawn first to e4 and then, if there is the chance to do so,
maybe further on to e5.
But in XiangQi the situation is different. The central Pawn is already
positioned on Red point 5 iv/Black point 5 vii (
westernized notation: e4) at
the beginning of the match, so there is no immediate need to move it further
on. Worse: Whereas the central Pawn can be defended on Red point 5iv/Black
point 5 vii (e4) if it will be attacked there, there is - on the other hand
- virtual no defense for the central Pawn if it is moved from Red point
5iv/Black point vii (e4) to Red point 5v/Black point 5vi (e5) too early in
the game. A fact that can be easily overlooked - especially by players who
have been socialised by Western Chess - , since in "QueenQi" (using the
terminology of Professor Li) there is normally the possibility of some kind
of defense for the Pawn on e5 (but in XiangQi there is none).
That is the background for a classic type of early checkmate that is called
"Stabbing of Calves" - because of the moaning of so many young, bright but unexperienced players of Chinese Chess who are falling prey to that deadly trap.

Hopeful talents of XiangQi

David Wurman, author of one of the very few books on XiangQi that have been
published outside China ("Chinesisches Schach - Koreanisches Schach",
Edition Harri Deutsch; that book is only available in antiquariats), has
published that 4-moves-killer on page 100.

Master of XiangQi

Stabbing of Calves

1.P5+1? (1.e5? ...) ...

That is that blunder that we have just talked about ...

1.... C8=5! (1.... Che8)

And that is the swift exploitation: One of the Black Cannons is defending
that Pawn, and that infantry unit can not be defended anymore.

2.P7+1?? (2.c5?? ...) ...

Now the situation is getting even worse: Red should at least have moved a
piece into the attacking line of Black Cannon - maybe one of the Mandarins
by 2.A4+5 (2.Afe2 ...) ...; that would have been enabled South to block the
check by Black Cannon (after 2.... C5+3 <2.... Cxe5+>) by (maybe) 3.C2=5
(3.Che3 ...); then Red would have preserved some kind of maneuverability for
his General under fire.

2.... C5+3 (2.... Cxe5)

Doomsday is just around the corner ...

3.C2=3 (3.Chg3 ...) ...

Red is seeking compensation for the lost Pawn in the centre - not a good

3.... C2+4 (3.... Cb4)

North has better things to do than trying to save the Pawn left of center.

4.C3+4?? (4.Cxg7?? ...) ...

Red is assuming that his prospects are getting better after the egalization
of the lost Pawn ...

4.... C2=5 (4.... Cbe4#)

... checkmate! By that thundering strike of the doubled Cannons. 0:1

And now we are listening to the miserable songs of the calves that have been
stabbed without mercy...

Well, okay, you might say: Things like that will never occur - the blunder
seems to be too obvious. True, the blunder is murderous - but on the other
hand that goof is quite logical. So the constellation of the "Tab of Calves"
does even happen in real play - at least on the level of amateurs.

Red: Chao Huynh

Black: Dr. RenÈ Gralla

Friendly match, Hamburg, June 19th, 2005, InternetcafÈ “Inselnet”

Irregular Pawn-Opening

1.P5+1? (1.e5? …)

That move may look plausible for the player of Western Chess - marching forward in the center - , but it is a horrible mistake in XiangQi …

1…. C2=5! (1.... Cbe8!)

… since the Red Pawn on its lofty position can not be defended against the direct attack by one of the Black Cannons. And, worse: After striking against the Red Pawn Black can already try to execute a mate-attack by surprise.

2. P3+1? (2.g5? …) ...

Red has lost his balance: At least he should have moved one of his advisors - say 2.A6+5 (2.Ade2 …) … - in order to be able to counter the bursting in of Black Cannon after 2…. C5+3 (2.... Cxe5+) by 3.E7+5 (3.Ece3 …) … or 3.C8=5 (3.Cbe3 …) … .

2…. C5+3 (2.... Cxe5)

Already at this early stage the King of South has no chance anymore. There is no way of moving a piece on the central file - since that piece would be the ideal ramp for Black Cannon to check the Red commander-in-chief. Red is nearly paralyzed while Black can start a mate-attack.

3.H2+3 (3.Hg3 …) C8+2 (3.... Ch6)

4.K5+1! (4.Ke2! …)

The only way to avoid the defeat by move no. 4.

4…. C8=5 (4.... Che6+) 5.K5=6 (5.Kd2 …) R9+2 (5.... Ri8)

Final preparations for the strike of decapitation.

6.R1=2(?) (6.Rh1<?> …) ...

Red has no idea of the Black plan.

6…. R1+2 (6.... Raa8)

Black is holding his breath … will Red find a riposte?

7.H3+4? (7.Hf5? …)

No - Mr. Chao Huynh wants to attack too.

7…. R9=4 (7…. Rid8+) 8.C2=6 (8.Chd3 …)

Shielding off the check by Black Chariot - but only for one very short moment of hope …

8…. R4+5! (8.... Rxd3+!)

Black is sacrificing one Chariot to break through the last barricade of Red King.

9.K6+1 (9.Kxd3 …) R1=4 (9.... Rd8#) 0:1

That’s why the aficionado of XiangQi is so fond of that brand of chess: it is fast, brutal and beautiful.

No doubt about that: The amazing 9-moves-variation of the „Stabbing the Calves”-checkmate that has shaken the board of the 90 crossings when Mr. Chao from Vietnam has met Dr. R. Gralla from Hamburg for the final countdown at Hamburg, June 2005, that has “only” been an encounter in the informal ambiente of tea-house and karaoke. Therefore our readers might ask: Do similar jokes occur in serious play as well?

Oh, yes, indeed, they do; just watch the fastest match that has stunned the public during the third weekend of the German Federal League of XiangQi (season 2002/2003) at Wiesbaden, April 2003. A brutal smashing that has been executed by Mr. Truong Cuong - nick-name at the board. „Do t. Ha“ - , an ebullient expatriate from Vietnam: The coach and quarterback of the Chinese Chess Club (CSV) Mannheim has taught a lesson to Mr. Anton Grzeschniok/Frankfurt (Main) - and the player at he receiving end will never forget those thundering few minutes that must have seemed to him to be as long as eternity.

Do T. Ha Truong Cuong / CSV Mannheim

Red: „Do T. Ha“ Truong Cuong / CSV Mannheim

Black: Anton Grzeschniok / Frankfurt, Main

German Federal League of XiangQi, April 6th, 2003, Wiesbaden (3rd weekend of play-offs/round no. 4)

Central Cannon - Irregular Defense

1.C2=5 (1.Che3 …) C8=6?? (1…. Chf8??)

A veritable “mangqi” as the Chinese would say: moving his pieces like a blind man. North is ignoring the threat on the central black soldier P5iv (Pe7).

2.H2+3 (2.Hg3 …)

Red is generous - conceding to Black the chance to save the endangered Pawn …

2…. P7+1?? (2…. g6??)

… but Mr. Grzeschniok does simply not see what is going on (maybe the effect of „Äppelwoi“ - a famous local brand of wine that is destilled out of apples - ?!).

3.R1=2 (3.Rh1 …) H8+7?? (3…. Hg8??)

Black is reacting - finally, but ineffectively: Because of the rule that a Chinese Horse can not jump the try of 3…. H8+7?? (3…. Hg8??) does not protect the Black Pawn 5iv (Pe7) since that cavalry unit is blocked by Black Cannon 6iii (Cf8).

4.C5+4 (4.Cxe7 …)

Again a Cannon that is flying right in on that winning position vis-‡-vis the King of the adversary.

4…. H2+3 (4…. Hc8) 5.C5-1 (5.Ce6 …) P3+1? (5…. c6?)

Black is behaving as if he has been hypnotized. The „ƒppelwoi“ ...

6.C8+4 (6.Cb7 …) P1+1?? (6…. a6??)

If Black would have wanted to fight on for some moves at least the Northern commander-in-chief should have tried to escape from the hot winds from South: 6…. K5+1! (6…. Ke9!).

7.C8=5!! (7.Cbe7!!#) 1:0

The try 7…. H3+5 (7…. Hxe5) would have been an illegal move - since it has no significance for the checkmating Southern Cannon 5vi (Ce6) whether its ramp is a friendly piece (actually: Red C5vii <Ce7>) or an enemy piece (hypothetically: Black H5iv <He7>).

Résumé: You may be a bloody amateur or you may be the proud member of a team of sportsmen fighting for your flag at the Federal League of XiangQi - anyway: always do watch out for the Double-Cannon Checkmate and the “Stabbing of Calves”.

Next chance to do so: the start of the up-coming season 2005/2006 of the German Federal League of XiangQi in November 2005 at Hannover, Northern Germany. At a most suitable place: the Vietnamese Pagoda Viên Giác.

Everybody who knows the rules and who is showing up there can join the fun.

The eternal joy of XiangQi.

Dr. René Gralla, Hamburg/Germany


If you would like to order "XiangQi Syllabus on Horse" - or any other book by David H. Li, so please contact the publishing company directly: Premier Publishing Company, Post Office Box 341267, Bethesda Maryland 20827, USA; fax: 301-263-1168; e-mail:

Any questions regarding the figurine pieces of XiangQi: