Xiangqi Anyone?

Posted on Friday 23 November 2007

I can’t remember when I was first introduced to chess. I suspect it was either David (my cousin next door) or myself who first owned a game and I bet it was probably from one of those 30 games in one boxes that we used to get for Christmas when we were younger.

I am pretty sure that David and I taught ourselves how to play back then too. Being next door to each other was a huge benefit for us and we would get together almost daily to play one game or another.

I became addicted to it almost immediately. Not so much “living and breathing chess” but enjoying a game whenever I got a chance. I went on to join the chess club in high school and used to play against some other friends during all night chess matches at the local coffee shop. When I joined the military I was given a portable magnetic chess set, which I still have, and still use from time to time.

A little digression here…

Chess also led me to one of my biggest regrets. I love my dad, always have and always will. He tried to include us in everything when we were younger. During my high school years, by playing some of the best players in the chess club, I became quite good. I was obviously talking chess a lot, because one day my dad surprised me with a really nice wooden chess set and invited me to play a game.

One of my favorite chess openings is the kings pawn, and if my opponent isn’t aware of what is happening, it leads quickly into a fools mate (checkmate in two or four moves depending upon whose definition you use.) I was cocky, and I guess my dad had either played when he was younger, or had read up on it before trying to play me. Well, I beat him badly, with two fools mates in a row and gloated about it. My dad never played chess with me again…

I’ve learned since then to be more aware of whom I am playing against and try not to embarrass them if they are out matched. My wife says I still have to work on the gloating part… Rolling Eyes

So now you have an idea about how much I love chess. Well my love of chess actually spill over onto other versions of chess (whether it be the looks of the pieces, or the actual rules of the game.)

While still in school, David and I actually built a board and created pieces out of a couple of checker sets so that we could play Martian Chess. The game was originally conceived by Edgar Rice Burroughs for one of his “John Carter of Mars” books called “Chessmen of Mars”. It was a great game, a little tough to get a handle on but fun none the less.

About ten years ago I stumbled across a Japanese chess game called Shogi. I found it intriguing because it was completely different from what I considered traditional chess. In this game when you capture a piece you can actually then use it to your advantage and place it anywhere on the board whenever it is your turn. Plus all the pieces are shaped the same with only a directional point to identify which way they are going. The pieces were identified by the Japanese writing on the piece.

Unfortunately, I found it so alien that I could never relate to the game. And while I do play it solitaire from time to time, it doesn’t give me as much enjoyment as I thought it would.

Recently, I have discovered another oriental version of chess that I do enjoy. Chinese chess, or Xiangqi (the most common English transliteration for the name.) It doesn’t very too much from the playability of chess, and since it has fewer pieces I can actually track them. That being said they too are discerned from each other only by their Chinese writing (as all of them are the same shape) with each side written in a different color (unlike Japanese shogi.)

I purchased a board and pieces from a shop in Chinatown here and had four pages out of a great little booklet to get me started(Know The Game – Oriental Board Games). I at first had great difficulty trying to figure out how the game played (learning a game in solitaire is tough.)

I used Google to search for any learning material and found lots of references to books available for purchase and eventually found a couple of great pieces of software that offered a tutorial mode for both my Palm and Windows.

  • Hidden Lynx – a freeware game designed for Windows. It shows you the moves available as you click on your piece. It also lets you undo a move if you make a dramatic mistake (very valuable when first learning the game)
  • Coffee Chinese Chess – a freeware game written in Java and playable on the web and can also be downloaded and played on any Java platform. You can load games others have played and review them (learning from the masters.) You can also change the characters on your pieces and use pictures if you prefer
  • PalmXQ – a freeware GNU version for my Palm. Now I can play anywhere anytime it strikes me!

But it was even harder to figure out things on a computer, than on an actual board. Plus all games, but especially chess, are games of mistakes. One player makes a mistake, the other capitalizes on it. When you are learning you always make mistakes and the computer wins. To make matters worse, computers never make mistakes, which takes away a lot of the enjoyment of the game (at least for me…)

Finally through all my searches I found a great website courtesy of UBC (University of British Columbia) with pages of actual tutorials and examples, in Word Document format, that I could download, print, and study over and over again until I understood things.

So now I can set the board up without aid of my booklet and of course gloat to my wife about how I can do it (no surprise there I guess…) and am now starting to understand the concepts, weaknesses and strengths of some of the pieces.

I actually managed to play a solitaire game last night, caught myself making a few mistakes and was able to capitalize on them to end in a checkmate! Awesome!

Ahh life is good – now if I can only convince David to move to Ottawa for a few months so that I can get better and have a real person to play against. Hmmm….

End Article
  1. takodori Said,

    There is a multi-lnaguage online game site called Kurnik where you can play human-tohuman games of both Xiangqi and shogi in addition to many other boardgames. Please give it a try if you were unaware of that. The URL is http://www.kurnik.org/intl/en/

  2. Rick Said,

    Thanks Takadori!

    Once I get confident enough playing solitaire and understanding the tutorials I’ll give it a try – hopefully they have a level/area for newbies!


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