Types of Chinese Professional Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) Tournaments   

Author: Jim Png from www.xqinenglish.com

Note: This article first appeared on Xiangqi.com

Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) activity is vibrant in China and South-east Asia. Other than clubs and activities that promote the game, hundreds of major and minor Xiangqi tournaments are held in China every year. Major Xiangqi tournaments would attract the strongest players where the Grandmasters and Masters can compete against each other. Live broadcasts of these tournaments can be seen live with advances in technology on apps like Tiantian Xiangqi. Sometimes, millions of viewers would gather online at the same time to see the proceedings.

There are also dozens of Xiangqi tournaments that are held almost every week in China to cater to the viewing pleasure of Xiangqi enthusiasts in China and the world. The matches can be seen on Xiangqi apps or via live coverage of the event. 

This article would introduce the types of professional Xiangqi tournaments that are organized in China. The article is organized as follows:

Types of professional Xiangqi Competition

Tournaments (锦标赛)

League Tournaments (联赛 lián sài)

Rank Tournaments (等级赛 děng jí sài)

Challenge (挑战赛 tiǎo zhàn sài)

Invitational Tournaments (邀请赛 yāo qǐng sài)

Duel Invitation (对抗赛 duì kàng sài)

Open Challenge (擂台赛 lèi tái sài)

Rapid Chess Tournaments (快棋赛 kuài qí sài)

Tournaments for Xiangqi Promotions


Types of professional Xiangqi Competition

Professional Xiangqi players compete in many different types of competition.

It may seem confusing for the beginner, but the nature of Xiangqi competitions can be divided into one of the following: (1 页 9-13)

  • Tournaments (锦标赛 jǐn biāo sài)
  • League Tournaments (联赛 lián sài)
  • Ranking Tournaments (等级赛 děng jí sài)
  • Challenge (挑战赛 tiǎo zhàn sài)
  • Invitational Tournaments (邀请赛 yāo qǐng sài)
  • Duel Invitations (对抗赛 duì kàng sài)
  • Open Challenge (擂台赛 lèi tái sài)
  • Rapid Chess Tournaments (快棋赛kuài qí sài)
  • Tournaments for Xiangqi Promotions

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Tournaments (锦标赛)

A tournament is defined as a competition involving many competitors in a sport or game. The online Cambridge American Dictionary provided this definition.

Tournaments are the most common form of competition in Xiangqi. For official tournaments, a governing body would be the organizer. The tournament results would affect the official ranking of the player or team in that country or internationally. They can take many forms depending on who the intended competitors are or the scale of the competition.

In less official tournaments, like interschool competition, or tournaments held within a school, communities, or club, et cetera, interested players can participate and do battle on the Xiangqi board.

Xiangqi tournaments can be further divided into competition for individuals or teams. Individual tournaments can be further divided into competition for men and women, children, or their different ranks or titles, which will be explained in detail below.

For team competition, each team would consist of a fixed number of players, but a certain number of substitute player(s) are allowed depending on the tournament's stipulations. Usually, there are three boards on a team and one substitute.

The most important Xiangqi tournament in China would be the annual Chinese National Individual Championships, where there are separate divisions for men, women, and other age groups. The winner of the men's and women's division is regarded as the King and Queen of Xiangqi in China for that year.

In some tournaments, there may be mixed gender competition. Shown below is a match between women’s Grandmaster Tang Dan against top men’s Grandmaster Wang Tianyi.

Below is a video of the 2020 finals of the men's Individual Xiangqi Championships aired on apps in China. The competition was delayed due to Covid 19 and could only be finished in January of 2021. It was supposed to have been completed by the end of 2020.

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League Tournaments (联赛 lián sài)

Xiangqi League Tournaments are pretty much like any league sporting event in Europe or the United States. They are for professional Xiangqi players who form teams. Teams are pit against each other in a round-robin that would last for months. The vast amount of professional Xiangqi players/teams and sponsors needed would make such events less common than tournaments.  

To the author's knowledge, there are Xiangqi League tournaments in China. The most important League tournament would be the Division A-League (or simply A-League) which is called 甲级联赛 (jiǎ jí lián sài). This league tournament would be like the NBA in the United States, where there are the regular season and then the playoffs.

In the Division A-League, teams are formed by province or major cities. These teams comprise selected players, usually Xiangqi grandmasters and masters, to battle against other teams in a round-robin format for the 'regular season.' The top teams from the regular season would then be eligible for the postseason, whereby they compete for the prestigious honor to be the best team for that year. Teams at the bottom of the bracket would be delegated to the Division B League, while the same number of teams from the B League would be promoted to do battle in the A-League in the next year. The number of teams that would be promoted or demoted would vary each year, as stipulated by the Chinese Xiangqi Association.

Like in the NBA, players can be wooed, and contracts would be signed so that the strong players would represent a particular team for some years.

In the author's humble opinion, the A-League provides the best top-quality matches as the competitors can only give their best.

Given below is a video of one of the rounds in the A league in 2020.


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Rank Tournaments (等级赛děng jí sài)

Rank Tournaments are tournaments whereby players with a particular rank or title only are eligible for participation. These tournaments allow for the skill level to be more consistent and fluctuate less. For example, you could only participate in a tournament for Xiangqi masters if you were a Xiangqi master yourself. In many countries, the players are divided into different divisions.

In China, rank tournaments were officially introduced by the Chinese Xiangqi Association in 1998. It was an attempt to strengthen the system of Xiangqi in China to make it more favorable for its development. These rank tournaments would also provide a chance to win official titles. For example, winning the Xiangqi Masters Rank Tournament AND meeting the required criteria for winning percentage would also be the winner to obtain the title of Chinese Xiangqi Grandmaster. (1)

There are several Rank Tournaments each year. One of the most important tournaments would be the Peng Cheng Cup.

Given below is a video which showcased two matches in the 2020 Peng Cheng Cup (2020第二届鹏城杯 dì èr jiè Péng Chéng Bēi).

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Challenge (挑战赛tiǎo zhàn sài)

A Xiangqi Challenge is a special type of competition whereby a particular title would be gained if the competitor won the challenge. The most notable Challenge Tournaments would be the Chu-River and Han Border King of Xiangqi Tournament held in 2016 and 2018. It was not held in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic. The Chinese National Champion played against the World Champion for one match. The winner of the match would take away ONE MILLION YUAN while the loser would pocket 30000yuan.

The one million dollar match is shown below:

There are other challenge tournaments in China for various titles. Some of these titles were not 'official,' though, but the participants were usually distinguished grandmasters who would make the titles' legitimate.'

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Invitational Tournaments (邀请赛 yāo qǐng sài)

Invitational Tournaments are organized by certain people or parties whereby specific players or teams are invited to the host to do a competition. There are many types of invitational tournaments, and some have their own cups and titles. The titles may or may not be recognized by the official governing bodies in Xiangqi.

One of the most widely received tournaments in China annually is the Bi Gui Yuan Cup ("碧桂园杯" 全国象棋冠军邀请赛 bì guì yuán bēi quán guó xiàng qí guàn jūn yāo qǐng sài). Only the winners of the Chinese National Individual Championships are allowed to participate. By default, winning the Chinese National Individual Championships would make you an immediate grandmaster. Therefore, the Bi Gui Yuan Cup would be a tournament for grandmasters only.

Given below is a short video from one of the rounds of the 2020 Bi Gui Yuan Cup.

Sometimes, invitational tournaments would have other purposes to serve, like promoting Xiangqi. For example, the tournaments mentioned in the article on Mixed Chess Tournaments: A Tournament for Chess Polymaths by the author would be examples of invitational tournaments.

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Duel Invitation (对抗赛 duì kàng sài)

Duel invitations are a special type of Xiangqi competition that is prevalent in China. Usually, opposing teams or players of similar strengths are explicitly invited to do battle. (2)

In the past, these invitations were held to give the cream of the crop players to duel each other. Later, they are often held as teams try to get an idea of the opponent's strength before official tournaments.

Duel Invitations were also prevalent back in the 1960s-1980s, before the age of the Internet, where the only way to gauge the opposing team's strength was to invite them over to have a couple of rounds. Round robins are usually employed as the format to increase the players' opportunity to play each other and gain exposure.

Perhaps the earliest of such tournaments was held in 1931, where East China vs. North China Regional Match was held. (华东华北区际赛 Huá dōng Huá běi qū jì sài).

In 1961, the Shanghai team visited Nanjing, where they had a series of matches that are still discussed today. Jiangsu Xiangqi Master Yan Mujiang has written a book to chronicle the event called Hu Ronghua's Battles in the East and South (《胡荣华东南转战录》hú róng huá dōng nán zhuǎn zhàn lù). Records of the matches can still be found on the Internet at various data centers.

In modern times, organizing committees have changed the format slightly. Perhaps the most famous Duel Invitation in Xiangqi today (in 2021) would be the North-South Challenge, which originated in the 1931 event mentioned above. Grandmasters are divided into two groups, one representing North China and one representing South China. They would be pit against each other.

Given below is a video showing a commentary by men’s Grandmaster Jiang Chuan (蒋川) and women's Master Liu Jun (刘君) commenting on a game that was played in the 2020 North-South Challenge (2020 象棋全国冠军南北对抗赛 xiàng qí quán guó guàn jūn nán běi duì kàng sài).

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Open Challenge (擂台赛 lèi tái sài)

This type of Xiangqi competition is unique to the Chinese. In Chinese, 摆擂台 (bǎi lèi tái) is a form of an open challenge. It is more known for martial arts challenges whereby a martial pugilist would issue an open challenge to the general public. Brave competitors willing to take up the challenge would then fight the martial pugilist for a pre-determined prize. The winner of the fight would then continue to issue open challenges. There are no rules or regulations regarding when the open challenge would stop or if the participants who have lost would be eligible to try again. It would be like a winner-goes-on format until nobody dares to challenge the final winner and he wins whatever prize there was.

This competition format has been adopted to Xiangqi whereby a skilled player would usually challenge the open public. Such open challenges were often seen at the beginning of the twentieth century up till the mid-twentieth century, and there have been many historical incidents of such competition. It can be considered the civilian's unofficial way of determining who was the best. (1 页 13)

In recent years, this form of competition has been adapted and modified to promote Xiangqi to the general public. Famous Grandmasters and Xiangqi masters would man different levels similar to an arcade game. If a player defeated the 'King' of the first level, he would be eligible to fight the 'king 'of the next level and so on until he would defeat the ultimate King. Only upon defeating all the 'Kings' is the player considered to have won the open challenge.

To the author's knowledge, a most recent open challenge was issued as part of the proceedings in Guangdong, China. There were no restrictions on who could take up the challenge. It was part of the festivities of the Chinese New Year and also the God of Wealth Cup (财神杯 cái shén bēi). The first level was manned by eight different people consisting of three Guangdong women's Xiangqi Masters, four upcoming Xiangqi stars, and the Guangdong team coach. The second level was manned by the four members of the Guangdong team, which included three Grandmasters. Grandmasters Xu Yinchuan and Zheng Weitong manned the third level. Grandmaster Lv Qin manned the final level. As encouragement, the prize money for successful competitors was 800 yuan, 2000 yuan, 13000 yuan, and 30000 yuan for successful challengers to have made it past the first level and so on.  (3)

Given below is a video that shows the one of the matches at the God of Wealth Cup mentioned above.


Some Weiqi (Go) tournaments use the same Chinese name, but the format of play or competition is NOT the same as the ones used in Xiangqi.

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Rapid Chess Tournaments (快棋赛kuài qí sài)

Rapid Chess Tournaments have become quite popular in recent years. Players play rapid chess with time controls like six minutes with three-second increments for each move played. The most famous and important rapid chess tournament in China today would be the God of Wealth Cup, which is also televised nationally and remains one of the premiere Xiangqi tournaments in China today.

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Tournaments for Xiangqi Promotions

To promote Xiangqi internationally, the Chinese Xiangqi Association has organized many various events with unusual themes.

Traditional ways that Xiangqi was promoted were to organize exhibition matches, simultaneous exhibition matches, blindfold simultaneous exhibition matches, et cetera. Blindfold simultaneous matches have been covered in an earlier article by the author.

The organizers in China have gotten creative over the past few years, and new ways of competing have been 'invented.'

For example, the yearly Sichuan Aviation Cup World Xiangqi Tag Team Championships (四川航空 熊猫之路杯 全球象棋双人赛Sì chuān hang kōng xióng māo zhī lù bēi quánqiú xiàngqí shuāngrén sài) is a tag-team tournament. A team would consist of two players. One of the players would either be a men's or women's Xiangqi Grandmaster or Master. His tag-team partner would be an international player. They would play other similar teams to decide who was the best. Pairing is done by drawing lots.   (4) (5)

Please refer to another article that the author has written for more information on tag team matches: "Xiangqi: A game for two only? Introducing Tag Team Matches! ".

Another exciting way of promoting Xiangqi and chess, in general, was to hold mixed chess tournaments. See the article that the author had written.

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Many tournaments are held in China. Every few weeks, there is a significant tournament to cater to the millions of Xiangqi fans in China. Some tournaments are still around, while some have been stopped due to a lack of sponsorship. There are many themes to the tournaments, and they serve many various purposes. It would be impossible to introduce each of the major tournaments in this short article. 

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Works Cited

1. 刘殿中 齐津安. 象棋新编课程 象棋实战指南. 北京 : 北京体育大学出版社, 2004. 7-81051-904-2/G.755.

2. 夸夸棋谈. 象棋史上的南北对抗赛. 每日头条. [联机] 2018年Nov月11日. [引用日期: 2021年Feb月23日.] https://kknews.cc/zh-my/sports/ek6a6xr.html.

3. “财神杯”象棋擂台赛开始报名,广东象棋大师邀请棋迷过大年. 南方都市报APP.南都体育. [联机] 2021年Jan月18日. [引用日期: 2021年Feb月19日.] https://m.mp.oeeee.com/a/BAAFRD000020210118420387.html.

4. 赵鑫鑫、邱亮夺得2019全球象棋双人赛冠军. 新华网体育. [联机] 2019年Sep月22日. [引用日期: 2020年Sep月13日.] http://sports.xinhuanet.com/c/2019-09/22/c_1125025227.htm.

5. 全球象棋双人赛. 百度百科. [Online] [Cited: Sep 13, 2020.] https://bkso.baidu.com/item/%E5%85%A8%E7%90%83%E8%B1%A1%E6%A3%8B%E5%8F%8C%E4%BA%BA%E8%B5%9B/22869527.

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