Unorthodox Opening Systems in Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)

This article is a continuation of Orthodox Opening Systems in Xiangqi (Chinese Chess), whereby the unorthodox or irregular opening systems or counters in Xiangqi is introduced.

These openings or counters are deemed unorthodox because they are flawed in one way or another. And the reason is very simple: Unorthodox Opening Systems simply go against the tenets of Xiangqi Openings in one way or another. For example, congestion is a serious issue with the Mandarin Duck Cannons, and Tandem Cannons can be easily busted. It is NOT recommended for the newcomer to start learning these unorthodox openings. Instead, they should be learned after having sound fundamentals in orthodox variations.  

However, these unorthodox opening systems and counters are still quite often seen in over-the-board play online. They also contain many traps and tricks which the unwitting opponent can fall into without knowing before it is too late. Sacrifices and discovered attacks are tactics that are commonly used. They are anything but simple and can be very entertaining.

As in the previous article on Orthodox Opening Systems, Unorthodox Opening Systems can be divided according to color.

In this article, the Unorthodox Opening Systems in Xiangqi will be presented as follows:

This article will not go into the details of the unorthodox opening systems. Instead, it is more of an introduction to the names.

Unorthodox Openings for Red:

A revision of the Orthodox Openings is mandatory.

Orthodox First Moves:

  • C2=5 (Central Cannon Opening),
  • C2=4 (Palcorner Cannon Opening),
  • C2=6 (Cross Palace Cannon),
  • P7+1 (Pawn Opening),
  • E3+5 (Elephant Opening),
  • H2+3 (Horse Opening).

As the Xiangqi board is symmetrical, the mirror image moves of the openings mentioned above are also considered orthodox. All other first moves are considered to be unorthodox or irregular. There are 23 possibilities for Red to choose from when making the first move. If the above mentioned seven orthodox openings were deleted, together with their mirror image moves, there would be 16 unorthodox moves for Red choose from as the first move.

There are Chinese names to each of these Unorthodox Openings. These Chinese names have been collected from various sources. Indeed, the Webmaster admits that this was the first time that he has seen some of the names in Chinese. The names given here will be collected into the 2nd Edition of the Lexicon of Xiangqi Terms in Chinese.  (1) (2) (3)

List of First Move Possibilities by Red

First Move

Chinese Name

English Name




dú jiǎo shòu

One Horned Monster/Edge Pawn Opening

Transpositions into the Single Horse Defense, the Parrot Cannons, etc. as Red.



jiǔ wěi guī

Nine-tailed Tortoise/Edge Pawn Opening

Similar to the above.

There is only treatise thus far dedicated to this opening system 《边兵韬略》



jí xiān fēng

Vanguard Opening

Usually transpositions into the Central Cannon with Central Linked Horses.



边炮局 biān pào jú

Edge Cannon Opening.

Usually transpositions into the Three Step Tiger, 59 Cannons, etc



兵底炮 bīng dǐ pào

敛炮 liàn pào

Thundering Cannon Opening

It can transposition into the 57 Cannons or Single Horse Defense Formation.

This opening was mentioned in the Secret in the Tangerine by Zhu Jinzhen. However, Zhu Jinzhen advocated P7+1 before playing C8=7.



金钩炮 jīn gōu pào

过宫敛炮 guò gōng liàn pào

Golden Hook Cannon Opening

Early concentration of material targeting enemy flank.



龟背炮 guī bèi pào

Turtle Back Cannon

Can transposition into Turtle Back Cannons etc.



夹卒炮 jiá zú pào

朝天举香 cháo tiān jǔ xiāng

朝天一柱香 cháotiān yī zhù xiāng

Praying Cannon Variation

C2+1/C8+1 is more commonly seen as a Black counter (Tandem Cannon Defense) against the Central Cannon.

The 2nd and 3rd Chinese names have been used for translation as this opening would seem like a person praying with the joss sticks in the air. (4)



巡河炮 xún hé pào

Riverbank Cannon Opening

Usually transpositions to variations of the Central Cannon with Riverbank Cannon or Screen Horse Defense Cannon, or Riverbank Cannon Fortress as Red. Red could also continue with C2=8 for the Daredevil Cannon Opening 敢死炮 gǎn sǐ pào. (5) (6)



骑河炮 qí hé pào

扬威炮 yáng wēi pào

Cross Riverbank Rank Cannon Opening

Seldom seen. The cannon is played to try to harass the enemy and is often sacrificed. The second Chinese name was only found on the internet. (7)



过河炮 guò hé pào

Pawn Ranked Cannon Opening

Probably would transposition into one of the 58 Cannons variations or, hopefully, the Double Pawn-ranked Cannons of the Screen Horse Defense as Red.



下马威 xià mǎ wēi

Cannon Trading for Horse Opening.

The Chinese name is an idiom that would mean instilling fear in someone with a head-on blow.

Usually seen in play by amateurs.


御驾亲征 yù jià qīn zhēng

敢死帅 gǎn sǐ shuài (8)

King Opening

Sometimes played to give the initiative to the opponent. The Chinese name is an idiom that means that the king would take matters in his hand and lead the charge.



上仕局 shàng shì jú

Advisor Opening

Sometimes seen in tournaments. There are players known to play this opening. However, it is not a good idea as the Red Chariot cannot be developed as ranked chariots any more.



边相局biān xiàng jú

游离相 yóu lí xiàng

Edge Elephant Opening

If both Elephants were developed on the edge files eventually, it would be called the Butterfly Elephants Opening 蝴蝶双飞 hú dié shuāng fēi. (3 页 19) (2 页 089)



边马局 biān mǎ jú

Edge Horse Opening

Sometimes seen. Perhaps the most famous game would be WGM Ouyang Qilin using it against then WM Tang Dan. Ouyang Qinlin had the advantage but blundered and allowed Tang Dan to start her reign as the most decorated Queen of Xiangqi to date.



铁滑车 tiě huá jū

Chariot Opening

Quite often seen in tournaments on Tiantian Xiangqi. Red would sacrifice his horse as the first move to organize an attack with the Chariot.



宝炮车 bǎo pào jū

Stifled Chariot Opening

The Chinese name was only found in an internet article where it would seem that the author had tried his best to make up names. Hence, the Webmaster has decided to call it the Stifled Chariot Opening to differentiate it from the Chariot Opening.

As can be seen from the odd opening moves by Red, there is quite a rich variety of irregular openings in Xiangqi.




Unorthodox Counters for Black.

Unorthodox Counters for Black are usually targeted at Red’s Central Cannon as it is the most commonly seen Red opening. In contrast to those mentioned above unorthodox Red openings, these unorthodox counters are quite well developed and can be seen now and then, even at the grandmaster level.

Chinese Xiangqi Master Zhao Wei (赵炜zhào wěi) has a series of lectures explaining the intricacies of ten commonly seen unorthodox Black counters. The following is a list of the topics in his lecture. (9) 


List of Unorthodox Counters for Black in Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)

Chinese Name

English Name


中炮对探头炮 zhōng pào duì tàn tóu pào

Central Cannon vs. Probing Riverbank Cannon 

Discovered attacks a key tactic.

中炮对桥头堡 zhōng pào duì qiáo tóu bǎo

Central Cannon vs. Riverbank Fortress

Very similar to Probing Riverbank Cannon.

中炮对左叠炮 zhōng pào duì zuǒ dié pào

Central Cannon vs. Left Tandem Cannons


中炮对右叠炮 zhōng pào duì yòu dié pào

Central Cannon vs. Right Tandem Cannons

Subdivided into two more Variations:

右叠炮之探花针 yòu dié pào  zhī tàn huā zhēn

Right Tandem Cannons with Cross Palace Cannon Variation

右叠炮之梅花阵 yòu dié pào  zhī méi huā zhèn Right Tandem Cannons with Golden Hook Cannon Variation

中炮对飞象 zhōng pào duì fēi xiàng

Central Cannon vs. Elephant Opening

Subdivided into two more Variations:

飞象之九尾龟 fēi xiàng zhī jiǔ wěi guī

Central Cannon vs. Elephant Opening with Edge Pawn Variation

飞象之双边马 fēi xiàng zhī shuāng biān mǎ

Central Cannon vs. Elephant Opening with Double Edge Horses Variation

Central Cannon vs. Elephant Opening with Cross Palace Ranked Chariot Variation

飞象之横车过宫 fēi xiàng zhī héng jū guò gong

Central Cannon vs. Elephant Opening with Elephant Eye Horse Variation 

飞象之拐角马 fēi xiàng zhī guǎi jiǎo mǎ

中炮对上士之过宫炮 zhōng pào duì shàng shì zhī guò gōng pào

Central Cannon vs. Advisor Opening with Same Direction Cross Palace Cannon


中炮对敛炮 zhōng pào duì liàn pào

Central Cannon vs. Thundering Cannon Defense


中炮对龟背炮 zhōng pào duì guī bèi pào

Central Cannon vs. Turtle Back Cannons


中炮对鸳鸯炮zhōng pào duì yuan yang pào

Central Cannon vs. Mandarin Duck Cannons

There are two major variations which have been studied extensively for the Mandarin Duck Cannons:

Mandarin Duck Cannons with 3rd Pawn Advancement.

Mandarin Duck Cannons with 7th Pawn Advancement

瞎眼狗 xiā yǎn gǒu

Blind Dog Gambit (Pawn vs. Pawn Sacrifice Gambit)

There is a sub-variation called the Double Closing Doors Variation 双关门 shuāng guān mén (2 页 90)

There are also unorthodox counters against Red’s Pawn Opening.





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