Shogi, sometimes referred to as Japanese Chess, shares many similarities with European Chess. Some of the pieces hold similar titles, and both games are played until one of the two players traps their opponent’s King in checkmate.
However, Shogi is a bit more complicated than European Chess. Additional pieces, unique promotions, and dropping of captured pieces are allowed. In addition, the 9 by 9 Shogi board is composed of far more squares, amounting to 81 squares in total.
In this Japanese variation of Chess, you will be playing with the following pieces:
- One Jade/Jewelled General (King) One Bishop
- One Flying Chariot (Rook)
- Two Silver Generals
- Two Gold Generals
- Two Lances
- Two Honourable Horses (Knights) Nine Foot Soldiers (Pawns)
Now that you have been introduced to the players, we’ll take a look at setting up your board, the rules of promotions, and how dropping works.
Setting Up A Shogi Board
You may notice that all your Shogi pieces are the same color. They cannot be distinguished by black or white color coding like in European Chess. Instead, the pieces are tapered on one side. The tapered side should always point away from you, towards your opponent’s home ranks.
Start by setting up your board according to rank. The first rank pieces, those closest to you along the edge of the board, can be set up left to right in this order: Lance, Knight, Silver General, Gold General, King, Gold General, Silver General, Knight, and Lance.
Your second rank is composed of just two pieces: the Bishop and the Rook. These will be placed in the second-closest row of your board. Place your Bishop on the left, two squares in from the edge of the board. Place your Rook on the right, two spaces in from the edge of the board as well.
Move on to set up your third rank in the third-nearest row, composed entirely of Pawns. Now you are ready to begin.
Understanding Shogi Movements The King
Also referred to as the Jade General, the King in Shogi moves just like the King in European Chess. You are allowed to move it in any direction, one space per turn. It is not legal to move the Jade General to a square that would put it in check by the opposing team.
Bishop and Rook
Your Bishop can take movements just like a Bishop in European Chess– diagonally in any direction over multiple spaces. The Rook can move straight in any direction, but never diagonally.
The Shogi Generals
There are Silver Generals and Gold Generals, each with a unique pattern of movements. Both can slide multiple spaces each turn but are not allowed to jump over other pieces.
The Silver General can move five different ways: diagonally in any direction or straight forward. It is not allowed to move straight back. It is not able to move straight to the left or right.
The Gold General has six options. It is able to take orthogonal movements, with one exception—it must not move backward diagonally. To summarize, a Gold General can move multiple spaces:
- Right or left diagonally forward.
- Straight forward.
- Straight back.
- Right or left.
A Lance can be moved forward as many spaces as you would like, but it cannot jump over another piece. It cannot move backward, sideways, or diagonally.
Similar to European Chess, Knights move in an “L” movement and are the only pieces capable of jumping over other pieces. However, in Shogi, a Knight can only take its movements forward. There are just two options for movement of the Knight at any given point. It can move three spaces forward, then one space right or left.
Unlike the European-style Knight, the Shogi Knight cannot move one space forward then three spaces right or left to create the “L.” It also cannot move backward.
The key concept to hold in mind when choosing a movement for your Knight is that it must always move primarily in a forward direction. It cannot move three spaces right or left to form the “L” movement.
Pawns are limited to moving one space forward per turn. They cannot make a capture any other way than by moving straight forward. This is different from European Chess, where Pawns are allowed to capture diagonally.
Promoting Pieces In Shogi
The pieces can be promoted to higher ranks throughout the game. Once a piece lands within three spaces of the edge of the board on your opponent’s side, you can choose to promote your piece.
Keep in mind that although promoting a piece is usually optional, once it reaches the opponent’s first rank (the very last row of the board), the piece will be promoted by default.
Pawns can be converted to a Gold General once you have reached the promotional zone. Flip your Pawn over to signal that it has been promoted. Both the Knight and Silver General can also be promoted to Gold General.
When either a Bishop or Rook is promoted, they receive the combined power of a King on top of their original movements. A Bishop becomes a Dragon Horse and can move like a King plus a Bishop. A Rook becomes a Dragon King and can move like a King plus a Rook. You can imagine how converting one of these pieces would be especially advantageous.
The Gold General and the King are not capable of being promoted in Shogi. It is also not possible to layer multiple promotions on a piece that has already been promoted.
Capturing And Dropping
Should you capture an opponent’s piece, you will have even more options at your disposal. Keep each captured piece to the right of the board until you see an opportunity to strategically drop that piece back into the game.
The captured piece can be placed in nearly any vacant spot on the board. When you capture an opponent’s piece, show that it is now your piece by simply turning it around, so the tapered side points towards the opponent’s ranks.
- Bringing a piece back into the game counts as one full turn. You may not promote that dropped piece during that turn, and you cannot move it to make a capture until the following turn.
- However, some pieces like the Silver Knight are endowed with the power to move backward. You could drop your Silver Knight into the promotional zone and, on your next turn, pull backward out of the promotional zone while simultaneously promoting the piece to Gold Knight. This is legal.
- When placing captured pieces back into the game, they will be demoted to their original value. For example, say you have captured a converted Pawn (i.e., a Gold Knight). When you place it back onto the board, it will be a Pawn, not a Gold Knight.
- You must only drop a captured piece onto the board where it can take a legal next move. For example, you cannot place a Pawn directly into your opponent’s first rank, as the only place for that Pawn to move next is literally off the Shogi board.
- You may not bring in a captured Pawn to immediately put the opponent’s King into checkmate.
- There can only be one Pawn from each team per column, or “file,” of the board. When dropping a Pawn, do not place it in the same file as another one of your Pawns.
General Shogi Guidelines
A good way to determine which player will go first is to toss or “roll” five of your Pawns. If the pieces land with mostly Pawn symbols showing, you go first. If the pieces land with mostly promotion symbols showing, your opponent gets the first turn.
As you play, be aware it is illegal to repeat the same board layout four times in a row. For example, say you put your opponent’s King into check using the same move again and again. If you use that same movement four times in a row, you are disqualified, and your opponent wins – even if their King is still in check.
Just as in European Chess, only one piece is allowed per square. So unless you are jumping over a piece with a knight, the opposing player’s pieces in your own piece’s line of movement will be captured to make way for your piece.
Speaking of captured pieces, these must be placed to the right of the board. Ensure they face upwards so their original titles can be clearly viewed by both you and your opponent.
Shogi is a great way to expand strategic thinking and challenge yourself. If you are struggling to keep the rules of Shogi in mind, try watching the game being played on networks such as YouTube. With regular practice, you’ll find the strategy of Japanese Chess becomes second nature.