Trevor Leggett

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Japanese Chess - Background Information

For those who have no prior knowledge of Shogi some background information is available here from the Shogi (Chess variants) knowledge base.


The world's first chess variant Chaturanga arose in India in approximately the seventh century AD. From there it migrated both westward and northward, mutating along the way. The western branch became Shatranj in Arabia and Orthodox Chess in Europe. The northern branch became Xiangqi in China and Changgi in Korea. Sometime in the 10th to 12th centuries, 'chess' crossed the channel to Japan where it spawned a number of interesting variants. One of these was called 'Small Shogi'. Eventually, Small Shogi (though it went through many forms) won out over the larger variants and is now referred to simply as 'Shogi'. It is certain that Shogi in its present form was played in Japan as early as the 16th century.

(shô ) (-gi) Shô means general and Gi means board game. Shogi (rhymes with yogi) means general's game.







Perhaps the enduring popularity of Shogi can be attributed to its 'drop rule'; it was the first chess variant wherein captured pieces could be returned to the board to be used as one's own. David Pritchard credits this to the practice of 16th century mercenaries who switched loyalties when captured -- no doubt as an alternative to execution.


Shogi is played on a 9x9 uncheckered board. Each player begins with one King, one Rook, one Bishop, two Gold Generals, two Silver Generals, two Knights, two Lances and nine Pawns. Four black dots are shown to the board to delineate promotion zones (those squares lying on the last three ranks). Unlike Orthodox Chess, all Shogi pieces are exactly the same color. Loyalties are determined by their directional headings. (See below.)

The array is as follows:

King e1; Gold Generals d1, f1; Silver Generals c1, g1; Knights b1, h1; Lances a1, i1; Bishop b2; Rook h2; Pawns a3, b3, c3, d3, e3, f3, g3, h3, i3.

King e9; Gold Generals d9, f9; Silver Generals c9, g9; Knights b9, h9; Lances a9, i9; Bishop h8; Rook b8; Pawns a7, b7, c7, d7, e7, f7, g7, h7, i7.


Shogi counters are flat irregular pentagons made of wood or plastic. A kanji symbol is printed on the top of each counter, denoting its identity as a starting piece. A second kanji symbol (traditionally red) is printed on the bottom of each counter (King and Gold Generals excepted), denoting its identity as a promoted piece. Either the top or bottom may be turned up, during the course of play, in order to display the required symbol .

Starting pieces

The King (actually 'jeweled general') moves as an Orthodox King.

The Gold General may move one square vertically, horizontally, or diagonally forward. (In all directions except diagonally rearward).

The Silver General may move one square diagonally, or straight forward. (In all directions except horizontally or straight rearward.)

The Knight (actually 'honorable horse') has the two forward-most moves of the Orthodox Knight. For example, a white Knight on d5 may go to c7 or to e7. It may leap over occupied squares.

The Lance has the forward-most move of the Orthodox Rook, keeping always in the same file. (Without promotion the Lance cannot leave its home file.)

The Bishop (actually 'angle goer') moves as an Orthodox Bishop.

The Rook (actually 'flying chariot') moves as an Orthodox Rook.

The Pawn (actually 'soldier') moves one square straight forward. Shogi Pawns capture in the same manner as they move -- as do all Shogi pieces.

Promoted pieces

The Silver General promotes to a Gold General. (Here the symbol indicates a promoted Silver General.)

The Knight promotes to a Gold General. (Here the symbol indicates a promoted Knight.)

The Lance promotes to a Gold General. (Here the symbol indicates a promoted Lance.)

The Pawn promotes to a Gold General. (Here the symbol indicates a promoted Pawn.)

The Rook promotes to Dragon King. (Here the symbol indicates a promoted Rook -- a Dragon King -- which has the combined moves of King and Rook.)

The Bishop promotes to Dragon Horse. (Here the symbol indicates a promoted Bishop -- a Dragon Horse -- which has the combined moves of King and Bishop.)

NOTE: The King and Gold General do not promote


  1. A Pawn is tossed to decide which player moves first.
  2. The object of the game is to checkmate the enemy King.
  3. Perpetual check is forbidden. The player initiating the check must break it off.
  4. Promotions are granted as follows...
    1. A starting piece moving to a square in the promotion zone (the last 3 ranks) earns a promotion. A promotion is indicated by flipping the piece over to display the symbol on its bottom side.
    2. An earned promotion (see above) may be deferred to a later move, as long as this move begins inside the promotion zone (the last 3 ranks). Where the move ends is of no relevance.
    3. Pieces arriving at a rank whereon they can move no further must promote. [e.g., a Pawn or Lance arriving on the 9th rank; a Knight arriving on the 8th or 9th rank.]
    4. Promoted pieces lose their promotion upon capture.
    5. Pieces 'dropped' into the promotion zone (the last 3 ranks) may not promote until making at least one move. (See below).
  5. Captive drops are performed as follows...
    1. A captured piece may be dropped onto the board (placed on a vacant square) to subsequently be used as one's own. This is done in lieu of a regular move.
    2. A Pawn may not be dropped onto a file containing a non-promoted Pawn.
    3. No piece may be dropped to a square from which it is impossible to move. [e.g., a Pawn or Lance to the 9th rank; a Knight to the 8th or 9th rank.]
    4. A checkmate may not be performed by the drop of a Pawn. A King may be checked by dropping a Pawn, but only if the drop does not result in an immediate checkmate.