The Biggest Bet in Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) History Part 2

Author: Jim from

Note: This article first appeared on

This article is a continuation of the last week’s article: :The Biggest Bet in Xiangqi (Chinse Chess) History Part 1.

Did the encounter between Zhao Kuangyin and Chen Tuan ever happen?

There are enough historical references in different texts to prove that Chen Tuan ever existed. There should be no doubt about the identity of Zhao Kuangyin. However, the next burning question would be, did these two ever meet as suggested in Annals of Huayin mentioned above?

In 1314AD, there was a passage called 《太華希夷志》 that was written by Zhang Luo 张辂 (zhāng lù) which chronicled the life of Chen Tuan. 

There was mention of Zhao Kuangyin meeting Chen Tuan, but there was no mention of any game of Xiangqi nor tax exemption of Mount Hua. And they met at Chang-an (now Xi-an). It is beyond the translation abilities of the author to accurately translate the ancient passages given below.


宋太祖與趙普遊長安,希夷逢之,笑而墮驢曰:真人亦在世矣。輒握太祖之手曰:可市飲乎?太祖曰:可。與趙學究同往。希夷睥睨普曰:也得,也得。相隨入酒肆,普坐席左,搏怒,一手引之曰:紫微帝垣一小星,輒據上次,可乎?斥之,使居席右。已知帝王有徵矣。後先生引惡少數百,入汴州中,路聞太祖登極,驚喜大笑,問其故,又大笑曰:自此定矣。詩曰:夠夠四十年來睡,不覺東方日已明。先生即入華山,隱居為道士,宋太祖累徵不至。 (10)

There were several other accounts from independent sources that mentioned Zhao Kuangyin and Chen Tuan. Perhaps the most credible would be mention by Zhu Xi, the legendary Ming Dynasty scholar. (11)

However, the incident of tax exemption remains a mystery. Other than the Annals of the Huayin County (of which the date of publication was not known), there was no other official mention.

In the author's opinion, there is ample evidence that Zhao Kuangyin did meet with Chen Tuan. Other than the official records mentioned by Lv Liuliang, there was no mention of tax exemption in Mount Hua. So, later mention of this 'incident' in novels was probably created by the different novelists.

Making the tale taller

Somehow, the story was viral and caught on. Soon there were several different versions, with each version becoming more and more colorful. To date, there were also scores of the game(s) that were played and even Youtube videos that analyzed the supposed games!

Other commonly quoted versions:

One year, Zhao Kuangyin got into trouble was and was being wanted in He-nan Province. He slipped into Huayin Country and headed to Mount Hua to escape for his life. When his pursuers finally left, he was weak from hunger and thirst. When it appeared that he was about to die from starvation, a white-haired old man appeared in front of him with many peaches. Zhao instinctively followed the old man, and when the time was ripe, he grabbed the peaches and started eating. The old man was not infuriated but pitied Zhao and allowed Zhao to eat his peaches without saying a word. In the end, Zhao ate nine peaches. Afterward, Zhao fell into a deep sleep.

The old man did not wake him up and waited patiently for Zhao as Zhao rested his weary body.

Finally, Zhao woke up and was about to leave when the old man, Chen Tuan, stopped him from leaving.  

Chen said, "Have you any manners? As a young man with a strong body, you ate my peaches without my permission and even slept on the stick I used to carry the peaches. And after waking up, you do not pay me or even thank me! Are you a brute?!"

Zhao said: "What?! What money? How much do your peaches cost ?"

It was towards the end of the Tang Dynasty, and there was civil war everywhere. Zhao grew up in famine and ate whatever food he could find. He never knew that he had to pay for food!

Chen Tuan was not angry when he replied: "One Cent!"

Zhao laughed out heartily. He felt that the old man was interesting. Two huge baskets of peaches for only one cent!

"So be it! One cent it shall be!" exclaimed Zhao.

Unfortunately, no matter how he searched his pockets, there was not one penny left, and he was embarrassed.

Seeing that Zhao was embarrassed and did not have any money, Chen Tuan offered a solution to help Zhao pay for his peaches. Chen told Zhao: "If you do not have any money, it is okay. All you have to do is to play a game of Xiangqi with me. If you are able to defeat me, it would be the equivalent of paying me."

Zhao thought to himself: "I am not good at many things, but Xiangqi is my forte! Not only will I win the games, but I will also make sure that you lose the money made from selling peaches!"

For the first game, Zhao won. He became full of himself and insisted that the two have another game.

Chen Tuan replied: "You have indeed paid for the peaches that you have eaten. It is dark now, and I want to return home."

It was Zhao's turn to refuse to let Chen Tuan go home. He exclaimed: "Please do not rush to go home; I have yet to win your entire peach tree!"

Chen Tuan laughed and asked Zhao, "What will you do if you lose?"

Zhao Kuangyi replied: "Then I will put up this Dragon Stick (note: his weapon) as collateral!"

Much to Zhao's amazement, it was only into the first few moves that Zhao lost! Chen picked up Zhao's Dragon Stick and ran home. Zhao was in pursuit, screaming, "One more, one more game!"

By the time Zhao had caught up with Chen Tuan, they had reached the East Summit of Mount Hua, where a pavilion was located. (This pavilion would later become the Chess Pavilion).

By this time, the Moon shone brightly in the skies, and there was nothing but silence in the empty skies. A soothing wind was blowing. Zhao had never seen anything so beautiful and was immersing himself in the scenery. It was as though they had reached a place where the immortals stayed.

Before he knew it, the old man had changed his form from a peach seller to a Taoist priest with a long waving beard. It was only then that Zhao recalled that he was in pursuit of a peach seller for a game.

Chen Tuan pointed at the Xiangqi board that had already been laid out and asked Zhao: "You pursued me so that we could have one more game of Xiangqi. I wonder what you will put up as collateral for this game?"

Zhao instinctively knew that the person in front of him was no ordinary man and had already much respect for him. He knew that he had no money on him and that he had already lost his most prized possession, the Dragon Stick, to Chen. Not knowing what to put up as collateral, Zhao suddenly uttered: "I will bet the entire Mount Hua!"

Upon hearing Zhao's bold bet, Chen Tuan immediately agreed. However, to ensure that Zhao would not go back on his words, Chen Tuan made Zhao sign an agreement. Zhao Kuangyin was made to use his fingerprints. The agreement was signed before both men played their final games.

(Note: There have been several different accounts of the number of games. Some stories have it as a total of three games, while this version had five games.)

Zhao lost the three games.

Chen Tuan was ecstatic and asked Zhao again, "So, Mount Hua now belongs to us Taoist priests?" Zhao Kuangyin tried to go back on his words by saying, "The mountain indeed belongs to the Taoist priests, but the trees belong to the royalty."

Nevertheless, Chen Tuan kowtowed to Zhao and thanked Zhao for his 'gift'! Zhao was taken aback and did not know what he has done to receive such a sign of respect for the Taoist priest. Chen Tuan winked at him and said that "Thou has the body of a great man; in due time, you will know!"

Feeling that he had been tricked, Zhao Kuanyin tried to snatch back the agreement. However, the Taoist priest blew a short breath of air, and the agreement flew across Mount Hua to another stone wall before it was fixed there.

Seeing that there was nothing else that he could do, Zhao decided to become humble and ask Chen Tuan what he should do, for he had many ambitions. Chen Tuan pointed out a path to success and told him to join Chai Rong (柴荣 chái róng), the Emperor Shizong of Later Zhou. Zhao Kuangyin heeded Chun Tuan's advice and went to Tong Guan (潼关 Tóng guān) where he served Chai Rong. As they say, the rest was history. Zhao Kuangyin grew in strength and eventually staged the Coup at Chen Bridge to establish the Song Dynasty. (12)

Note: There were many more other versions with slight differences in the details, but the above-translated version was perhaps the most 'complete' of the stories.

Another tall tale with an actual record of the fateful game!

One of the most exciting versions of the story came with an actual record of the final game played! This board has been cited in some online blogger forums, and the actual score can be downloaded at (Dongping Xiangqi database).

In this version, the story went like this.

Before he made his name, Zhao Kuangyin was a nobody that like to play Xiangqi. He was intellectually gifted and brave, and Xiangqi happened to play on his strengths, and he proved to be a talented player. Soon, he would defeat all the players that he played with and became very arrogant. Zhao would often lament that he was the best and lament that he felt very lonely at the top.

Once, Zhao traveled with the army, which he served Shanxi (陝西) county. When he passed by Mount Hua, he heard a Taoist priest called Chen Tuan Lao Zu, who was adept at Xiangqi. Zhao became itchy for a game and went up Mount Hua to find Chen Tuan.

Chen Tuan saw that he was but a lowly soldier and refused to play with him. Zhao was desperate for a game and boasted that he would use the entire Mount Hua as a bet if Chen could play with him.

Zhao had the upper hand going into the endgame, but he missed a winning opportunity, and Chen Tuan was able to turn the tables.



After the match, Chen Tuan began sleeping for extended periods. Whenever he woke up, he would ask who the current Emperor was. If the answer were not Zhao Kuangyin, he would go back to sleep.

Chen Tuan slept for 50 years before Zhao did finally ascend the throne. And Zhao was true to his word and gave Mount Hua to Chen Tuan.

As for Zhao, it was believed that losing the game made him learn his lesson, and he seldom lost his temper after that.

A short Youtube video of an endgame

The author has also found a short video telling one of the versions of the tale mentioned above. However, it showcased an interesting endgame that was supposedly the endgame reached when Chen Tuan defeated Zhao Kuangyin. In reality, the author believes that it has nothing to do with the historical story at all.



The story of Zhao Kuangyin and Chen Tuan is one of the most talked-about stories in Xiangqi. After all, a soon-to-be Emperor down on his luck meeting a deity who could see through the future. Add in the greatest bet of all time, and you have the ingredients for a great story.

Unfortunately, it remains a story. For if it were true, the origins of the current form of Xiangqi that we play today could have been pushed back a few hundred years, and there would be many different implications for the history of Xiangqi as a whole. Nevertheless, sometimes such stories are more beneficial to the promotion of Xiangqi, and they have, over time, in the author's humble opinion, become a part of the culture of Xiangqi.

Works Cited

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3. 宗家秀. 皇帝身邊的賢人 他與皇帝賭棋 贏得華山永不賦稅. 大紀元 Epochtimes. [線上] 2019年May月28日. [引用日期: 2021年Apr月11日.]

4. contributors, Wikipedia. Mount Hua. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. [Online] Feb 20, 2021. [Cited: Apr 9, 2021.]

5. —. Sacred Mountains of China. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. [Online] Dec 26, 2020. [Cited: Apr 9, 2021.]

6. —. Lü Liuliang. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. [Online] Feb 9, 2021. [Cited: Apr 11, 2021.]

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8. contributors, Wikipedia. General Yue Fei. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. [Online] Dec 24, 2020. [Cited: Apr 9, 2021.]

9. , . 維基 -> 說岳全傳 -> 第一回天遣赤鬚龍下界 佛謫金翅鳥降凡. 诸子百家. [Online] [Cited: Apr 10, 2021.]

10. Wikisource贡献者. 太華希夷志. Wikisource,。. [联机] 2017年Sep月18日. [引用日期: 2021年Apr月11日.] -{R|}-.

11. Wikisource贡献者 朱熹. 五朝名臣言行錄 (四部叢刊本)/卷第十之一. Wikisource,。. [联机] 2018年May月25日. [引用日期: 2021年Apr月11日.] -{R|}-.

12. 智慧陝西. 皇帝與華山的那些事(三)--趙匡胤. 每日头条. [联机] 2016年July月27日. [引用日期: 2021年Apr月9日.]

13. 穿越君聊歷史. 高手過招!趙匡胤只五步棋輸掉整座華山. 每日头条. [联机] 2017年Jun月27日. [引用日期: 2021年Apr月9日.]

14. 華山網. 渭南故事——趙匡胤下棋輸華山. 每日头条. [联机] 2018年Mar月7日. [引用日期: 2021年Apr月9日.]

15. 李, 松福. 象棋史话. 北京 : 新华书店北京发行所, 1981. 7015.1939.

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