Shogi - How to Play Japanese Chess

Chess originated from a game called Chaturanga in China. While most of the world plays traditional chess, Japan and some Asian countries have their own version of chess. The Japanese version is called Shogi (将棋). In this article, we will learn how to play this fun and strategic chess.

They say the shogi it was introduced in Japan in the Nara period (704 to 790 AD). If so, then it is possible that the shogi has no origins in Chinese chaturanga or chess. There is a notable difference between them. The objective of the game is the same as that of western chess, "to capture the opposing king". But the pieces and the board are changed.

Shogi - how to play Japanese chess

Japanese chess pieces

Japanese chess is played on a 9-row board with 9 columns. Each player has 20 pieces equal to those of the other player. The pieces of one player are differentiated from the other by the direction that they point on the board.

The game has equal pieces on both teams to operate the capture system and return to the game. In addition, some pieces have designs on both parts to identify when a piece was promoted. The 20 pieces are as follows:

  • 1 king
  • 2 gold generals
  • 2 silver generals
  • 2 horses
  • 2 lancers
  • 1 bishop
  • 1 tower
  • 9 pedestrians

Movements in Japanese chess

According to the image below you can see all the movements of the pieces in the shogi, and see how they look like Western chess.


Japanese chess promotion

Whoever arrives at promotion zone you can choose to promote your piece which will give you new movements.

  • The silver general, the horse, the spear, or the pawn assume the movement of a gold general
  • The rook or bishop in addition to his normal movement gains one more movement. A diagonal square in the case of the rook and a horizontal or vertical square in the case of the bishop;

The image below shows the promotion zone and movement, and the starting position plus the kanji for each piece:


When a piece reaches the last three lines it may or may not be promoted. The decision is at the player's discretion. He has the opportunity to choose whether to promote his pieces or not, every time he moves them through these houses. If the spearman, the horse or the pawn reaches the bottom line, the promotion becomes mandatory.

When all pieces are promoted, they become gold generals, with the exception of the bishop, rook and the gold general himself. The bishop, in addition to his normal movement, gains the right to move a house vertically or horizontally. The tower, in addition to its normal movement, gains the right to walk a house diagonally. The gold general cannot be promoted.

Capture in Japanese chess

Unlike chess, in Shogi we don't eat pieces, but we capture. A captured piece is kept in hand and can be brought back into the game under the control of the player who captured it (replacement), that is, it becomes part of that player's army as a kind of reserve (but without the promotion). In the title below, the rules for replacing the pieces.

If a king accidentally enters the attack line of a piece, he can be captured and the game is over.

Replacement of parts

Instead of making a normal move, a player can choose one of the pieces he captured and put it back (without the promotion) on the board as his own. Rules:

  • The piece must be placed in an empty square (that is, it cannot be placed and already capture another piece) from anywhere on the board (as long as it does not fall into the following restrictions), even in the promotion zone, but the promotion is not immediate (the promotion can normally take place in the following moves);
  • A piece cannot be placed in a square from which it could not make a legal move (pawns, spears and knights on the last line, nor knights on the penultimate);
  • A pawn cannot be placed in a column that already contains another non-promoted pawn from the same player ("nifu"). If a player already has a non-promoted pawn in each column, he cannot replace a pawn anywhere; for this reason, it is common to sacrifice a pawn in order to gain flexibility for relocation;
  • When replacing a pawn, it is not allowed to checkmate (“uchifuzume”), but it can check. Other pieces can checkmate immediately when they are replaced;
  • A game is won by making a checkmate to the opposing king. Because of the pieces reintroduction rule, a stalemate (which would mean a tie) is highly unlikely;
  • Perpetual check is prohibited. The player who causes such a situation is obliged to abandon it;
  • Shogi's ability to relocate gives the game tactical richness and complexity;

Download Shogi

If you are interested in playing shogi, you can download an application for your Smartphone or Tablet, or play online or download it on your computer.

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