Shogi (Japanese Chess)

Shogi (literally meaning 'Generals Game') is highly popular in Japan, and is the World's third major Chess variant, after Xiangqi and FIDE. Draws hardly occur, because there rule that captured pieces can be dropped back on the board ensures the game can go on until a decision is reached. Historically, it are these piece drops that have won the game its popularity; the dropless version, Sho Shogi (= small Shogi) was overwhelmed in popularity by the also dropless Chu Shogi (= middle Shogi).

Initial setup

e1, e8: King
b8, h2: Rook
b2, h8: Bishop
d1, d8, f1, f8: Gold General
c1, c8, g1, g8: Silver General
b1, b8, h1, h8: (Shogi) Knight
a1, a8, i1, i8: Lance
a3-i3, a7-i7: Pawns

Moves at a Glance

Click on a piece below to see its moves


Piece ID value Moves (Betza notation) Remarks
King K - K
Rook R 15 R Promotes to Dragon
Bishop B 13 B Promotes to Horse
Gold G 9 WfF
Silver S 8 FfW promotes to Gold
Knight N 6 fN promotes to Gold
Lance L 5 fN promotes to Gold
Pawn P 1 fW promotes to Gold
Promoted pieces (not initially present)
Dragon D or +R 18 RF
Horse H or +B 15.5 BW

Pawn peculiarities

General rules

XBoard interface issues

You can drop pieces by dragging them onto the board from the holdings displayed beside the board.

Of course there will always be people that prefer an oriental look, with pentagonal kanji tiles. XBoard comes with a set of kanji pieces in the 'themes/shogi' sub-directory of its data directory (e.g. /usr/local/share/games/xboard). You can select that as -pieceImageDirectory (-pid for short) from the command line, or from the View -> Board dialog. You would also have to tick 'Flip black pieces Shogi style' there (or use the option -flipBlack true) to make sure the pieces won't go upside down when you flip the view.

Differences with FIDE

In stead of Queens you have Silver and Gold Generals, and Lances. The Knight only has the two forward-most moves of a FIDE Knight. Pawns capture straight ahead. Captured pieces can later be dropped to augment the army of their capturer. There is no castling, Pawn double-push or e.p. capture. Other pieces than Pawns also promote. The promotion zone is three ranks deep in stead of one.

Strategy issues

Because pieces are dropped back, there will not be a traditional end-game. Trading material does not constitute progress towards winning, even when you are ahead.

Because Gold Generals obtained through promotion revert to their original form on capture, they are really different piece types from the primordial Golds that move the same. In notation they are therefore not indicated as 'G', but as the ID of the original piece prefixed with a '+'. Especially the promoted Pawn (aka Tokin) is more valuable: it is much better to lose a Gold that gives the opponent a Pawn in hand, than to lose a Gold that gives him a Gold in hand.

Most pieces are quite slow, or not manoeuvrable at all, and their practical value is very dependent on how far they are from the Kings.

Pieces in hand are in general worth more than on the board, as they are much more mobile. And you can drop them in the promotion for an easy promotion on the next turn. But pieces in hand cannot capture anything, and don't guard your promotion zone.