Zhou Deyu 周德裕 (1900-1949)

Nicknames: Xiangqi king of the Seven Provinces Zhou Deyu was the son of Zhou Huanwen and was a native of Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. The young Zhou was trained in Xiangqi by the senior Zhou and eventually surpassed his father at a very early age. Hence, both were fondly remembered as the father and son Xiangqi champions. The elder Zhou also taught his son the finer points of traditional Chinese medicine and the young Zhou was also a doctor in his early years before becoming a pure professional Xiangqi player.

Because of his upbringing and the efforts that the elder Zhou had put in, Zhou Deyu was more blessed that his contemporaries, having access to the ancient manuals and other literature which accelerated his improvements. When he was only a teenager, the young Zhou Deyu was already skilled and could keep his own against many experts of his time, only losing to the likes of Lin Yixian. Zhou would keep improving throughout his life. Zhou Deyu was well known for the fact that he avenged his father who lost using the central cannon against Zhang Jinrong's screen horses by improving his father's opening. Zhou avenged his father by defeating Zhang Jinrong with an additional fourteen wins in the seventy matches that they had played over the years. This earned the young Zhou a reputation.

In 1925, Zhou moved to Shanghai, whereby he would often challenge other Xiangqi experts, like Lian Xuezheng, Lin Yixian, Shao Ciming, Li Wushang, Dou Guozhu (his junior colleague, whom his father also tutored), Luo Tianyang (another of his father's disciples), Wan Qiyou et cetera, where he had a winning percentage against them. For his achievements, the Centenarian Chess King Xie Xiaxun appointed him as the "Commander of the Ground Forces". Although this was done in a jovial fashion, it raised the ire of the players in the South, who demanded that their players be represented in Xie's "army." Xie was not familiar with players in the south at that time, but nevertheless, this prompted a match between the different 'factions.'

So in 1930, Zhou Deyu and Lin Yixian represented Team East China to take on Team South China in a friendly held in Hong Kong. Team South China was represented by Li Qingquan and Feng Jingru. Both Li Qingquan and Zhou Deyu earned ten points for joint first. Although it was required by the rules of the competition that further matches were to take place, politicking occurred, and both teams eventually decided to call it a draw to become co-champions. In 1931, Zhou Deyu teamed up with Wan Qiyou, to represent Team East China again, this time against Team North China which was represented by Zhao Wenxuan and Zhang Dekui. Zhou eventually amassed the most number of points as an individual player and was crowned champion. As the Zhou had combatted players from seven different provinces in these two events, he was fondly called the Xiangqi King of the Seven Provinces 七省棋王(qī shěng qí wáng). These two friendly tournaments represented the best players in Xiangqi at that time. Never in the history of Xiangqi back then had so many top Xiangqi players come from so many places to do battle. Even though it was still not a national event, it greatly surpassed the local Xiangqi events that had been predominant, and Zhou's legitimacy as the king of Xiangqi was to be accepted by many. Zhou's era of dominance began.

Zhou was then offered a coaching job in Hong Kong with am impressive salary to help the Xiangqi players in the south. Although Zhou had defeated many players, he had never faced players Huang Songxuan, who was unable to participate in the Team East China versus Team South China match because his mother had passed away. So Zhou and Huang were arranged to battle. Both players were about the same level, and although the actual score was not known, it was said that Huang had one more win against Zhou. Nevertheless, Zhou was still regarded as the best of his time, but the strength of the players from the south could not be denied. One of the biggest regrets that the Xiangqi world had was that Zhou never had the chance to challenge Peng Shu Sheng, whom many regarded as one of the best of that era. See PENG SHUSHENG. From 1934 to 1941, Zhou traveled to Guangzhou and even South East Asia and often held open challenges to the Xiangqi experts in their respective regions. It is not known if Zhou traveled with Xie Xiaxun or they made their individual visits to South East Asia.

Zhou moved from Hong Kong to Shanghai in 1942. He was chief editor of the Xiangqi column in the Daily Chinese Newspaper<<华自日报>>(huá zì rì bào ) in Hong Kong and was also the author of Lectures on Xiangqi and <<象弈讲义>>(xiàng yì jiǎng yì) and Xiang Qi Gou Xuan <<象戏勾玄>>(xiàng xì gōu xuán). Widely respected as he was, Zhou was not without his flaws. Although he was a doctor, he took to opium. Some say that it was because of the "clarity of mind" effect that opium possessed, while others believe that it was because of Zhang Jinrong who was an opium smoker himself. The cost required to keep this habit was great, and despite his income as a doctor and Xiangqi player, he could not be rich. Zhou also neglected his discipline as a doctor and failed to keep up with improvements in his time, as most of his time was spent on Xiangqi. In those days, it was a dangerous thing to do. Finally, Zhou was also known for losing his cool, as was his father. He would sometimes be brash and rush his moves, drawing or even losing games when he had the obvious advantage. This flaw was especially exploited by Dong Wenyuan who used all sorts of tactics to irritate Zhou, even to the extent of writing " I vow to kill Zhou Deyu" on his palm and irritating Zhou. Dong won their second encounter with such underhanded tactics.  Zhou passed away in 1949, mainly due to effects of opium.


The following video would be a short tribute Zhou Deyu.


First created: 6th, Dec 2017
Last updated: 10th, Jan 2021
Acknowledgements: None yet
Tu Jingming 屠景明 Yang Baiwei 楊柏偉 , Xiangqi Dictionary<<象棋辭典>> , 上海文化出版社 2009 , p178,
《近代象棋國手名局》 by 徐清祥 p3-10,

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