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Xiangqi (象棋 pinyin xiang4 qi2), also called Chinese chess, is a game that is similar to chess and goes back to the same origins. Xiangqi is played on a board that is 8 squares wide by 9 squares long. The pieces are placed on the intersections of the borders of the squares. The central row of squares is called the river. Each side also has a palace that is 2 squares by 2 squares in the center of that side against the back edge of the board.

The Pieces

The King

The pieces are labelled with the Chinese character jiang4 (將) on one side and shuai4 (帥) on the opponent's side. These are actually military generals, though they are equivalent to the kings in the western chess.

The king starts the game at the center intersection of the back edge. The king may move 1 either vertically or horizontally, unlike international chess, however, the king cannot move diagonally. When the king is lost, the game is lost. If there are no pieces between the enemy kings, then the player may move to take the opponent's king. Under no other circumstances may the king leave the palace, though.

The Guards

The pieces are labelled shi4 (士 & 仕 respectively). They are civilian government officials, i.e. the council members serving the commander in chief. One can called them guards too since they stay close to the general.

To both the left and right of the king are the guards. The guards are the weakest pieces because they can only move one spot diagonally and may not leave the palace. They are invaluable for protecting the king, though.

The "Bishops"

Actually called elephants (象 xiang4; name of the game) or ministers (相 xiang1), these pieces are located to both the left and the right of the guards. These pieces move exactly 2 points diagonally, and may not jump over intervening pieces. Thier purpose is strictly defensive, however, because they can not cross the river.

The Knight

Also called the horse (馬 ma3), this piece is very similar to its international chess counterpart. It is important to distinguish that the knight moves one point vertically or horizontally and then one point diagonally away from its starting position because the knight can not jump over pieces like the international chess knight can.

The Rook

These are labelled che1 or ju1 (車), also called the chariot. The rook moves and behaves exactly like the rook in international chess. It moves and kills in a straight line either horizontally or vertically. The two rooks begin the game in the corners.

The Pawns

They are labelled bing1 (兵) and zu2 (卒) respectively. Each side has 5 pawns. The pawns are placed on alternating points, one row back from the edge of the river. Pawns move, and unlike international chess also capture, straight ahead. Once the pawns have crossed the river, they can move (and capture?) one space horizontally. Unlike international chess, when pawns reach the enemy's edge of the board they can just move from side to side, they are not promoted.

The Cannons

They are labelled pao4 (炮 and 砲 respectively, sometimes 包 bao1 too). Each player has two cannons. The cannons are placed on the row behind the pawns, directly in front of the knights. Cannons move exactly like the rooks, but capturing with cannons is more tricky. In order to capture a piece, there must be exactly one piece (friendly or otherwise) between the cannon and the piece to be captured. The cannon then moves to that point and captures the piece.

Stalemate is achieved when no legal moves are possible. Unlike international chess, however, the person who has no legal moves loses.

I'm not sure on this, but the way I learned the game, it was legal to move one's king into danger, and if the opponent saw it, you lost.

Some sites on Chinese Chess (to learn more and meet other players):