2.4 Shogi variants
Several historical variants of shogi exist. Most of these were invented
before modern shogi (in some cases hundreds of years before), are much
larger than modern shogi and are not played with drops. Thus, in many
ways they are really more like giant chess games than like modern shogi.
The only one of these games to have survived in Japan is Chu (middle)
shogi, which is still played a little bit. Thanks to the efforts of
George Hodges and John Fairbairn of the Shogi Association (two British
shogi enthusiasts), these games were resurrected and rules and sets for
them can still be purchased from George Hodges (see References and links). I hope to eventually extend GNU shogi so that it can play at
least some of these games. There are also several non-historical
variants of shogi; I don’t know much about them but you can find
information about them on the internet (see References and links).
The historical variants include:
- Tori (bird) shogi, played on a 7x7 board with 32 pieces in all; this is
the only variant that is known to have been played with drops.
- Wa shogi, played on an 11x11 board with 54 pieces. This game can be
played with or without drops but the historical evidence favors the view
that it was played without drops. However, most people who have tried
it claim it is a much better game with drops, being even more intricate
than standard shogi.
- Chu (middle) shogi, played on a 12x12 board with 92 pieces. This was
(and is) by far the most popular of the variants, and has 21 different
kinds of pieces in the starting line-up alone (along with several others
that appear upon promotion). Unlike modern shogi, there are a
tremendous number of ranging pieces and the game is definitely not
played with drops. There is also an amazing piece called the Lion which
has a double king move and can capture two pieces at once! Chu shogi
has a small but fanatical following, some of whom consider it better
than modern shogi.
- Dai (great) shogi, played on a 15x15 board with 130 pieces. Other than
the larger board, this game is very similar to Chu shogi.
- Tenjiku (exotic) shogi, played on a 16x16 board with 176 pieces. This
game is possibly the most complex tactical game in existence. There are
many astoundingly powerful pieces, including one (the Fire Demon) that
can capture up to eight opposing pieces in a single move! Despite the
size of the game, checkmates can occur very suddenly (and often very
early on) if one player makes a wrong move. Tenjiku also has a small
but fanatical following, one of whom (Colin Adams) has written a book on
the game which is available for download at
- Dai-dai (great-great) shogi, played on a 17x17 board with 192 pieces.
The opening setup alone has 64 different kinds of pieces! This game and
the larger ones that follow sound pretty outlandish, but they have
actually been played; a game of Dai-dai can supposedly be played in
about 12 hours.
- Maka-dai-dai (great-great-great) shogi, played on a 19x19 board with 192
pieces. For those for whom Dai-dai shogi is just too small :-)
- Tai (grand) shogi, played on a 25x25 board with 354 pieces! Until
recently, this was thought to be the biggest chess game ever devised,
but now there is...
- Kyoku tai (extremely grand?) shogi, played on a 36x36 board with 402
pieces. The rules for this have just been unearthed in an old Japanese
book. Hopefully someone will soon organize a postal Kyoku tai shogi
championship; maybe their distant ancestors could finish it :-)
It is thought that the really huge games (Dai-dai and up) were never
really played to any significant extent (gee, wonder why?) and were
devised merely so that the creators could have the fun of inventing
enormous games, amazing their friends and confounding their enemies.
However, the games up to Tenjiku shogi at least appear to be quite
playable, assuming one has the time.
Many modern variants have also been devised, usually on small boards,
and often by western people. Those include:
- Mini Shogi, played on a 5x5 board with 12 pieces. Its rules are
nearly identical to Standard Shogi, and GNU Shogi has some support for
- Judkins Shogi, similar to Mini Shogi on a 6x6 board.
- Cannon Shogi, played on a 9x9 board, adds pieces inspired by the
Cannon found in Xiang Qi (chinese chess)
- Sannin Shogi, a 3-player variant on an hexagonal board, with specific
rules governing alliance between two players
- Kyoto Shogi, Micro Shogi, and several others are much more different.