How to Learn Xiangqi Openings

I have spent quite a bit of time translating and doing the boards for this section also. It is a continuation of the previous article. The following advice/recommendations were condensed from GM Liu Dianzhong's book on introduction to openings.

A) Start with the basic theories.
   Opening theories in Xiangqi have been derived from the 
analysis of millions of games by different players of different caliber, from grandmasters, to masters, to the club level player to the commoner on the street. It is a systemic study of the game in its early stage with statistical evidence to support it. The theory works!
Go with the flow first, learn and use the openings that have been successfully proven over time and do not be a renegade right at the very start or it would be a hard path to follow.

B) Start from the simple basics before working your way to the complex variations.
   Never be greedy for more stuff or try everything all at once. Too many cooks spoil the soup...
The latest opening by the hottest player might be attractive to learn, but you would not know the intricacies of it. Chances are, you would get creamed as you would not understand a fraction of it.
   For example, learn the Central cannon with 7th Pawn advancement and Pawn ranked chariot variation vs Screen Horse Defense with the Edge Cannon for Chariot Exchange variation first. Learn how both sides make the moves to lead to this variation. Then choose a single variation for red and black each and just learn the moves.

C) Learn the more practical openings first
      Learn the most commonly played openings first,
those that are played over and over again by many people. Learn the traps, the theory and know the "character" of each opening. You would most likely be able to encounter these openings more often and you would be able to fare better. Most people lose interest after losing too often...
      If you are completely new, a good start would be the Same direction cannons: filed chariot vs ranked chariot variation. Learn the black counters by heart. At least you could put up a decent fight in the opening stages against others.

D) Choose an opening that fits your character, your style
    Different people have different characters and temperaments and would play different variations with the same opening. Choosing an opening that easily leads to a fierce midgame with fireworks might seem natural to an aggressive player. For people who are less aggressive or trigger happy, a slow opening might be more appealing. There are still others who like to sneak it surprises...The list goes on.
But remember, it takes two to tango in Xiangqi. How you steer the game to your liking is what make the game fun!
    For example...:
    Aggressive player bent on killing --> Red: central cannon with central pawn advancement.
                                                              Black: same direction cannons, ranked chariot variation or left cannon blockade opening.
    More subtle player who likes to sniff at the flowers and take in the scenes in the opening stage:
   --> red: elephant opening with possibly the screen horse variation 
   --> black: since you are at it, the screen horse defense...
    Sly player who likes to absorb what the other side can give before returning the favor
   --> red: angel's pawn
   --> sandwiched horse defense...
    Non-conformist: --> red : Cross palace cannon, palcorner cannon ...
                              --> Black: turtle back cannon, Mandarin duck cannon...

    Clueless people: ALWAYS REMEMBER THE MAXIM, when in doubt, play the screen horse !   
The above are my own recommendations ... LOL. Would be happy to add in more recommendations from others!

E) Learn your openings in a systematic way.   
    Be scientific about it. Have a goal in mind, learn
according to plan with a timetable. There is no point learning a single opening for example the central cannon vs Sandwiched horse openings for a year without learning others. You would get lost and bored quickly. 
    Learn the basics of a single opening or variation before going on to the next variation or opening. A little bit a day adds up to a lot after a while.
    But have fun. Xiangqi is fun. It is not your university thesis or your summer day holiday assignment.
    HAVE A PLAN! but have a fun plan!

F) Know a little about everything and a lot about one thing.
    This is in continuation of point E. After getting the hang of things, then you choose an opening that you like and start learning. 
    For example, you decide that you like the elephant opening as a red opening. At this stage, you should just learn one major variation for each counter. For example, Elephant vs Pawn, Elephant vs Left Central Cannon, Elephant vs Lt Cross Palace Cannon, Elephant vs Elephant. Just one will do, so that you would not be knocked out too early.

G) Systematic analysis of a particular opening
       When you get to this stage (heck, I never got past 
B ), theoretically you would have a decent elephant opening for red against the major counters. This is the time to learn 1-2 more variations for each of the opening, for example at least 2 major variations for the first 10 moves.
       Of course, stick to the "orthodox"
variations first. If you have been really hardworking, this should be a lot easier. Try to link what you have learnt for both red AND black. The knowledge gained is cumulative.

H) Put it to battle!
   Talk is cheap. 
   Your opening is only useful if it wins you games (at least in the opening stage). Put it to the test. If it does not, it probably isn't good enough yet. Learning from practical experience is the sure way to improve.

First created : 13th October 2011
Last modified: 13th October 2011
Acknowledgements: None yet

1. <<象棋布局精要>> by 刘殿中 齐津安
2. <<象棋实战技法>> by 傅宝胜
3. <<象棋步局精要>> by  刘殿中 齐津安
4. Various internet sources.
5. <<布局定式与战理>> 阎文清 张强 . Some of the videos that you see on this site by HK Jimmy are based on this book or other books in a series of books by the same authors. Perhaps one of the best series of books on openings in the past 2 decades.

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