Winning a Game

There are two ways to win a game of xiangqi:

  • Checkmate: A position in which your opponent’s King is under attack (in check) and he has no legal move to prevent his King from being captured. (fig. 1)
  • Stalemate: A position in which your opponent has no legal move with any of his pieces, although his King is not in check. (fig. 2) Unlike Western chess, a stalemate in xiangqi does not result in a draw.

This is said from the tactical perspective. Competition rules such as ‘win on time’, ‘win by forfeit’, etc. are excluded. A game ends in a draw when either player is unable to checkmate/stalemate his opponent.

fig. 1

fig. 2

fig. 3

Insight into Checkmates

Two forces must be at work to deliver a checkmate. One is to attack the King, the other is to seal off the King’s escape route and prevent another opponent piece from parrying the attack. We shall call them the Attacking Forces and the Intercepting Forces respectively. I use the word ‘forces’ because either task is usually carried out by more than one chess piece.

As shown in fig. 3, the Black King is stranded in the palace corner. He can’t move up or right as both spots are guarded by the enemy Pawn. Red can, if it is his turn to move, checkmate Black with his Horse at once (click the right arrow below the board to see the move.) In this instance, the Red Pawn acts as the intercepting forces, the Horse the attacking forces.

While there is no such thing as an ‘own goal’ in xiangqi, one must realize that the attacking forces and the intercepting forces do not always comprise your pieces only. For example, when you make a check with your Cannon, the piece between the Cannon and the enemy King, known as the ‘carriage’, may be an enemy piece. Likewise, the intercepting forces may include an enemy piece too, or even entirely comprise enemy pieces.

A novice is often ignorant of the function of intercepting forces. He loves and will not miss any chance to check his opponent. His excitement in calling check after check only ends in frustration.

In subsequent discussion, we shall use ‘attacker’ as a collective term for the Chariot, the Cannon, and the Horse, and ‘defender’ for the Adviser and the Elephant. We leave the Pawn alone, it can be regarded as a short-range Chariot when it works with another attacker in delivering a checkmate.


Essential Checkmates

This is a collection of one-move checkmates that beginners should master as soon as they have learned the rudiments of xiangqi. They usually involve two allied pieces, one making the check, the other playing a role in the Intercepting Forces. They are organized into the following categories:

  • Double Cannons
  • Double Chariots
  • Double Horses
  • Chariot & Cannon Duo
  • Horse & Cannon Duo
  • Chariot & Horse Duo
  • King as IF (Royal checkmate)
  • No-Ally IF (Smothered checkmate)
  • Stalemate

The last item has a totally different structure. It is included in the list for convenience.