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Shogi (Japanese chess)

Shogi (将棋,), is also known as Japanese chess. Shōgi means general's (shō 将) game (gi 棋). In the early years shogi was written as 象棋 (the same as Xiangqi, "elephant chess").

The earliest predecessor of the game, chaturanga, originated in India in the 6th century, and spread from China to Japan, where it spawned a number of variants. Shogi in its present form was played as early as the 16th century, while a direct ancestor without the "drop rule" was recorded from 1210 in a historical document Nichūreki, which is an edited copy of Shōchūreki and Kaichūreki from the late Heian period (ca 1120).


"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.

It is not clear when chess was brought to Japan. The earliest generally accepted mention of shogi is Shin Saru Gakuki (新猿楽記) (1058–1064) by Fujiwara Akihira. The oldest archaeological evidence is a group of 16 shogi pieces excavated from the grounds of Kōfuku-ji in Nara Prefecture. As it was physically associated with a wooden tablet written on in the sixth year of Tenki (1058), the pieces are thought to date from that period. These simple pieces were cut from a writing plaque in the same five-sided shape as modern pieces, with the names of the pieces written on them.

The dictionary of common folk culture, Nichūreki (二中歴) (ca. 1210–1221), a collection based on the two works Shōchūreki (掌中歴?) and Kaichūreki (懐中歴?), describes two forms of shogi, large (dai) shogi and small (shō) shogi. These are now called Heian shogi (or Heian small shogi) and Heian dai shogi. Heian small shogi is the version on which modern shogi is based, but the Nichūreki states that one wins if one's opponent is reduced to a single king, indicating that drops had not yet been introduced. According to Kōji Shimizu, chief researcher at the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture, the names of the Heian shogi pieces keep those of chaturanga (general, elephant, horse, chariot and soldier), and add to them the five treasures of Buddhism (jade, gold, silver, katsura tree, and incense).

Around the 13th century the game of dai shogi developed, created by increasing the number of pieces in Heian shogi, as was sho shogi, which added the rook, bishop, and drunken elephant from dai shogi to Heian shogi. Around the 15th century, the rules of dai shogi were simplified, creating the game of chu shogi in a form close to the modern game. It is thought that the rules of standard shogi were fixed in the 16th century, when the drunken elephant was removed from the set of pieces. However, there is no clear record of when drops were introduced.

In the Edo period, shogi variants were greatly expanded: tenjiku shogi, dai dai shogi, maka dai dai shogi, tai shogi, and taikyoku shogi were all invented. However, it is thought that these were only played to a very limited extent. Both standard shogi and go were promoted by the Tokugawa shogunate. In 1612, the shogunate passed a law giving endowments to top shogi players (Meijin (名人)). During the reign of the eighth shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, castle shogi tournaments were held once a year on the 17th day of Kannazuki, corresponding to November 17, which is Shogi Day on the modern calendar.

The closest cousin of Shogi in the Chaturanga family is Makruk of Thailand. Not only the similarity in distribution and movements of the pieces but also the names of Shogi pieces suggest intimacy between Shogi and Makruk by its Buddhist symbolism (Gold, Silver, Cassia and Incense),[dubious discuss] which isn't recognised in Chinese chess at all. In fact, Chinese chess and its East Asian variants are far remoter relatives than Makruk. Though some early variants of Chaturanga more similar to Shogi and Makruk are known to have been played in Tang Dynasty China, they are thought to have been extinguished in Song Dynasty China and in East Asia except in Japan probably owing to the popularity of Chinese chess.


Shogi is played on a 9 by 9 uncheckered board. The three rows at the other end of the board form a promotion zone. To the right the board is shown as a chessboard.


kingThe king (or Jade General) moves like the Chess king: one square horizontally or vertically or diagonally. There is no castling.

gold generalThe Gold General has moves similar to the king, except that it cannot take the back diagonals.

silver generalThe Silver General has moves similar to the king, except that it cannot move horizontally or directly backwards. It can move one space diagonally or forward.

knightThe knight (or Honored Horse) jumps like the Chess knight, except that it can only go two spaces forward and one space horizontally. It cannot jump back or to the side.

lanceThe lance (or Fragrant Chariot) moves like the Chess rook, except that it can only move forward. It cannot move horizontally or backwards.

rookThe rook (or Flying Chariot) moves like the Chess rook. It can go any number of spaces vertically or horizontally.

bishopThe bishop (or Horned Chariot) moves like the Chess bishop

pawn The pawn moves one space forward only. Unlike the pawn in Chess, this pawn does not capture diagonally. It does not have the option to go two on its first move. There is no en passant capture.


In Chess, pawns can be promoted. In Shogi, all pieces except the king and the gold general can be promoted.

promoted pawn promoted lance promoted knight promoted silver general The promoted pawn, promoted lance, promoted knight, and promoted silver general all have the moves of the gold general.

dragon king The promoted rook becomes Dragon King (not to be confused with the king). It has the moves of the rook and the king.

dragon horse The promoted bishop becomes Dragon Horse (not to be confused with the knight). It has the moves of the bishop and the king.

Promotion can happen at the end of any move in which the piece enters, exits, or moves within the three-row promotion zone. Pawn and lance must be promoted when reaching the 9th row. Knight must be promoted when reaching the 8th or 9th row.


The most distinctive feature of Shogi is that captured pieces can be returned to play. Captured pieces change to the captor's color, and can be placed on an empty square (or "dropped") instead of moving a piece. Pieces are always dropped in their unpromoted state.

Pawns, lances, and knights cannot be dropped in the 9th row. Knights cannot be dropped in the 8th row.

You cannot drop a pawn into a column (or file) that already contains one of your unpromoted pawns.

A pawn cannot be dropped to give checkmate, although a pawn can be dropped to give check. Any other piece can be dropped to give checkmate.

Checkmate and winning the game

When a player makes a move such that the opposing king could be captured on the following turn, the move is said to give check to the king; the king is said to be in check. If a player's king is in check and no legal move by that player will get the king out of check (which is necessary whenever possible), the checking move is also checkmate (tsumi 詰み) and effectively wins the game. The losing player should resign out of courtesy at this point, although in practice this rarely happens, as a player will concede defeat as soon as loss is inevitable.

To give the warning "check!" in Japanese, one says "ōte!" (王手). However, this is an influence of international chess and is not required, even as a courtesy.

A player is not allowed to give perpetual check.

In professional and serious amateur games, a player who makes an illegal move loses immediately.

There are two other possible, if uncommon, ways for a game to end: repetition (千日手 sennichite) and impasse (持将棋 jishōgi).

If the same game position occurs four times with the same player to play (formerly three times), the game is considered a draw. For two positions to be considered the same, the pieces in hand must be the same as well as the positions on the board. However, if this occurs with one player giving perpetual check, then that player loses.

The game reaches an impasse if both kings have advanced into their respective promotion zones and neither player can hope to mate the other or to gain any further material. If this happens, the winner is decided as follows: Each rook or bishop scores 5 points for the owning player, and all other pieces except kings score 1 point each. (Promotions are ignored for the purposes of scoring.) A player scoring fewer than 24 points loses. (If neither player has fewer than 24, the game is no contest—a draw.) Jishōgi is considered an outcome in its own right rather than no contest, but there is no practical difference.

As this impasse generally needs to be agreed on for the rule to be invoked, a player may refuse to do so, on the grounds that he/she could gain further material or position before an outcome has to be decided. If that happens, one player may force jishōgi upon getting his king and all his pieces protected in the promotion zone.

In professional tournaments the rules typically require drawn games to be replayed with colours (sides) reversed, possibly with reduced time limits. This is rare compared to chess and xiangqi, occurring at a rate of 1-2% even in amateur games. The 1982 Meijin title match between Nakahara Makoto and Kato Hifumi was unusual in this regard, with jishōgi in the first game (only the fifth draw in the then 40-year history of the tournament), a game which lasted for an unusual 223 moves (not counting in pairs of moves), with an astounding 114 minutes spent pondering a single move, and sennichite in the sixth and eighth games. Thus this best-of-seven match lasted ten games and took over three months to finish; Black did not lose a single game and the eventual victor was Katō at 4-3.


Piece Names

English name Image Kanji Rōmaji Meaning Abbreviations
Reigning king 王將 ōshō king general K ō
Challenging king 玉將 gyokushō jeweled general K gyoku
Rook Rook 飛車 hisha flying chariot R hi
Promoted rook
Promoted rook 龍王 ryūō dragon king +R 龍 or 竜* ryū
Bishop Bishop 角行 kakugyō angle mover B kaku
Promoted bishop
Promoted bishop 龍馬 ryūma or ryūme dragon horse +B uma
Gold general
Gold general 金将 kinshō gold general G kin
Silver general
Silver general 銀将 ginshō silver general S gin
Promoted silver Promoted silver 成銀 narigin promoted silver +S (全)
Knight Knight 桂馬 keima cassia horse N kei
Promoted knight Promoted knight 成桂 narikei promoted cassia +N (圭 or 今)
Lance Lance 香車 kyōsha incense chariot L kyō
Promoted lance Promoted lance 成香 narikyō promoted incense +L (杏 or 仝)
Pawn Pawn 歩兵 fuhyō foot soldier p fu
Promoted pawn
Promoted pawn 成金 tokin reaches gold +p と (or 个) to