Basic Concepts in Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) Opening Theory 01

Flower bed 01This section is based on the teachings of Grandmaster of Liu Dianzhong in his book.

 There were four main principles that the Grandmaster taught:

  • 1) Mobilize your major pieces (Chariot/Horse/Cannon) as fast as possible
  • 2) Limit your opponent's lines of development
  • 3) Maintain balance and coordination between the pieces
  • 4) Start with a practical approach and be versatile to adapt


1) Mobilize your major pieces (Chariot/Horse/Cannon) as fast as possible

Open lines for the chariots

  • Most powerful, fastest, mobile piece
  • i) threaten enemy horse/cannon
  • ii) capture enemy pawns
  • iii) trade pawns to help horse develop
  • iv) strengthen/fortify weak areas
  • v) protect friendly pieces
  • vi) threaten the enemy king
  • Chariot is critical to success à control the important intersections/lines




Presence of lines of development for the horse

  • ‘Middle-ranged’ piece
  • i) less mobile than chariot. Can be blocked and impeded.
  • ii) try to open lines for development of the horse
  • iii) try to form tactical combinations with other pieces, or use other pieces to help advance the horse.
  • Open lines for development of the horse are essential for a successful opening. 


There were no examples given for the horse.


Occupy important positions with the cannon

  • Long-ranged piece.
  • Ability to control lines, but need cannon mounts
  • Move only if need be
  • In certain systems, the cannon is used to form a blockade eg. Left Cannon Blockade 左炮封车 à limit enemy pieces, attempt discovered attacks, advance enemy lines. eg. Left Cannon in 58 Cannons vs. Screen Horse Defense, Double Pawn Rank Cannons Variation of the Screen Horse Defense etc




2) Limit your opponent’s lines of development 



3) Maintain balance and coordination between the pieces



4) Start with a practical approach and be versatile to adapt

Xiangqi is a vibrant game which seems to have a life of its own. It is able to constantly renew and evolutionize itself.
That is why there is a saying" 谱不尽弈之变,法不可进战之奇" . (Jim: which would roughly translate to " chess manuals are not able to cover all the variations and no one strategy is sufficient for actual play).
There are tens of thousands of variations in Xiangqi and that is subjective fact and these variations keep bringing new ones. That is why the Xiangqi player should never just stick to one strategy.
When faced with unfamiliar openings or variations, often, your pre-planned targets or goals are often unachievable.
Playing in an unfavorable situation is also part and parcel of your journey into the world of Xiangqi.
That is why, the beginner must grasp the principles well and be practical. All that he has learnt should be put to test in actual battle and these principles, strategies and tactics should be used in a versatile manner.
Never be stuck with one strategy only, but change your game plan in accordance to the actual situation on the board and your opponent.
The same thing applies to your opening. Never play only one variation, and repeating the same moves over and over again, or your opponent would be able to counter very precisely and thus affect the efficiency of your moves.

And, in case you are simply too lazy, the Webmaster has made a video that he uploaded to YouTube.



Main Reference:

刘, 殿中. 象棋新编课程 象棋布局精要. 北京 : 北京体育大学出版社, 2000. 7-81051-486-5/G.416.


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