Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Taiwanese Lifestyles: 象棋, Chinese Chess

The Game of Chess is very popular in Taiwan.  However, it’s a different game than is played in other parts of the world.  I have yet to master the skill required to play the game, which isn't surprising because I've played the other chess game since high school and I’m a lousy player at that, too.  I know what my problem is, it’s the same problem I had with games like Asteroids, but I don’t know how to correct it.  I don’t seem to be able to focus on the whole board.

In Asteroids, for example, the asteroids are coming at the ship from all directions.  In order to successfully evade all the asteroids, you have to be able to see the location and direction of all the other asteroids coming at your ship, so you don’t dodge one and crash into another.  I was never able to do that well. 

How the board is set up
In Chess, I have the same problem; I can form a strategy for several moves ahead.  "If I go here, he will go there, then I can go up here, etc."  The problem is that when I make the move I didn't see the opposing bishop, all the way across the board, that immediately swoops down and kills my piece.

In Chinese Chess or 象棋 (xiangqi) the board is set up differently.  First, there is a river that cuts through the center of the board dividing the armies.  The river is important because there are certain pieces, which cannot cross the line. The soldiers actually increase in power as they cross the river.  There is also the “palace,” which is the square that's made up of four squares, with crossed diagonal lines located on each side of the board. The pieces line up on the intersection of the squares not centered like in “international” chess.    A piece is captured when an opposing piece is placed on the same intersection.

Placement of pieces:  The soldiers line up on the front line on the designated intersections.  The cannons are on the next line on the designated intersections.  Finally, the power pieces are in the back, with the General in the center and his guards on each side, within the “palace.”

Red moves first to start the game.  As in “international” chess each piece or character has it’s own directional moves.    The pieces move like this:

The General: , or : This piece may only move one square, right or left and forward or backward.  It may not leave the Palace.  You will notice that the opposing generals are opposite each other on the board.  They cannot be opposite without another piece between them.  The player that causes them to “meet” automatically loses the game.  (“Meet” means that they do NOT have a piece between them.)

The way the horse can move  
The Guards:  The guards can only move one space horizontally, but they cannot leave the palace. 

The Chariots:  The chariots can move any number of spaces, either horizontally or vertically across the board.  He may not move diagonally.

The Horses:  The horses are equivalent to the knight in international chess.  They may move one space horizontally or vertically then diagonally one space. However, the horse may not jump over a piece.  If there is a piece on the next intersection, either vertically or horizontally, then the horse may not move in the direction of the blocking piece.

The Elephants:  Elephants can move two spaces horizontally, in either direction.  However, the elephant cannot move across the river.  In addition, if there is a piece between the starting point and ending point of the move, the elephant cannot jump that piece, so it is prohibited from moving in that direction.

The Cannons:  Cannons essentially moves in the same ways as the chariot.  However, in order to capture an opposing piece the cannon must jump over another piece.  The piece that’s jumped over can either be a friendly piece or an opposing piece.  The chariot does not have to jump in order to capture.

The cannon must jump a piece to capture
The Soldiers:  Soldiers are only allowed to move forward vertically one space until they cross the river.  After crossing the river the soldier is allowed to move both vertically and horizontally, but can only move one space in either direction.  The soldier cannot move diagonally or backward vertically.

In Taiwan, it’s very common to see older men sitting at the park playing chess throughout the day and into the night.  There are usually a number of others watching and “helping.”  The game seems to be pretty loud, with pieces slapped down and banging against the chessboard.  You play, taking on new opponents until you lose, then the winner takes on others.  The park across from my apartment is equipped with chessboards and benches that can be utilized for the game.  I've seen men out there playing until very late at night.  Someday I want to be good enough to challenge and hold the board for a while.

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  1. There are books about the chess game you can study on your own, but they are usually in Chinese. The best way is to play with some body better than you with handicap( e.g., he plays with you without a chariot, a horse). Anyway, like everything else in life, practice makes it better. Have fun.

    1. Currently, I'm being beaten daily by my computer. But I just keep practicing and I'm actually improving. Thanks for the tip.