The Chess Variant Pages

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The variant of chess that is played in Korea is called Janggi, also called Changgi or Jangki. It is a very popular game in this land: you can as well see old men playing it in parks, as watch a dedicated tv-channel with commented games. It is generally assumed that the game is derived from an older variant of the Chinese game Xiangqi. Pieces are eight-sided flat disks, made of wood or plastic, with the Korean symbol for the piece shown on it. The board is usually made from wood.

Sizes of the pieces differ. The general (who has the same rol as the king in orthodox chess is the largest piece; the pawns and guards are the smallest pieces; other pieces have a size in between these.

Board, pieces and opening setup


The board consists of a grid of nine by ten lines. At both sides there are two castles, formed with help of diagonal lines. A difference with Xiang-Qi is that there is no river and the board is wider in relation to its length so it looks like a rectangle.

The pieces are put on the intersection of the lines.

The pieces are wooden disks with the symbol of the piece printed on it. They are green or blue and red, and have an octogonal shape and come in three sizes: the large is the General (King), the medium are the Chariots (Rooks), Canons, Horses (Knights) and Elephants, and the small are the Guards and the Soldiers. The person playing the green or blue pieces moves first.

Korean Chess can be played with a Chinese Chess Set; pieces and board are similar, but with rules are different.

The opening setup is shown below. The first and last row show from left to right: a rook, a knight, an elephant, a guard, an empty square, an elephant, a knight, and a rook. The pieces on the third rows are cannons; we also see five pawns per player.


However, it is allowed to change in the setup the location of knights and elephants. First, the red army chooses how he places these: he can at both, one or none of the sides switch the knight and elephant. After this, the blue/green player does likewise.

On another webpage, you can see the opening setup with westerized symbols, and with an illustration of the rule for switching knights and elephants in the opening setup.

The player with the blue/green pieces then makes the first move.


King - general

Green generalRed general The general (janggun) is limited to the center 3x3 fortress that resides in the 1st 3 rows of one's home side. It can only move 1 step down any painted straight line whether or not the line is a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal line. (This is different from Chinese Chess wherein the Guard can only move diagonally and the General can only move horizontally or vertically).

Neither side ordinarily want to allow the two kings to face each other naked (in Chinese Chess but not Korean Chess, the side that causes this to happens loses the game). Facing each other "naked," means that there are no intervening chess pieces.

If you cause this to happen in Korean Chess, you are placing the other General in check in a desperate last-chance move on your part for you irreversably foresake the right to checkmate the other side--you are hoping for a stalemate, which would be the case if the other side can not get out of that desperate check.

This is the case even if the game continues for many moves and even if otherwise the game could have gone into a good checkmate, the side that initially caused the two kings to be naked can at best only obtain a stalemate.


Green guardRed guardGuards (sa) move like generals: one square over a line in the castle; they may not leave the castle.


Green rookRed rook The Chariot (rook, cha) moves identical to the orthodox chess Rook and Chinese Chess Chariot, with one exception:
  • for movement, it can move as far horizontally or vertically as it has clear passage to move. The movement for one move must be that of one single straight line.
  • in addition, for movement, the Chariot can move as far down a fortress single diagonal line as long as there is clear passage and the movement remains that of a single straight line (this means the starting position has to be in one of the corners or the center of the fortress).
  • for capture, the Chariot during it's normal movement, can take any enemy piece that it first bumps into (there must not be any intervening same-side piece).

Knight - Horse

Green knightRed knightThe move of the Horse (Knight, ma) is identical to the Chinese Chess Horse. The Horse must make its move by first moving one step vertically or horizontally and then one outward diagonal step and in this movement, there must be clear passage. In other words, the Horse can not jump like a western Knight does.


Groen kanonRood kanon The Cannon (po), with several restrictions named below, moves and captures by making one jump during a single straight line move. The straight line move can be down a single vertical line, a single horizontal line, or a single diagonal line in either fortress (provided the cannon's starting position is on a fortress border gridpoint).

Note: a fortress canon diagonal move cannot start from the dead center of the fortress but a canon can land in the fortress dead center from a normal vertical or horizontal move or jump. But once inside the center of the fortress, the canon can make a move or jump away by going horizontally or vertically.

The canon, when it moves, has to jump over a single non-canon piece, regardless whether the jumped-over piece belongs to his side or the enemy side. When making a move (not a capture), the canon can land on any empty gridpoint that exists on the other side of the jumped-over piece. That landed-onto (previously) empty gridpoint can be immediately on the other side of the jumped-over piece or several gridpoints beyond that jumped-over piece.

The cannon, when it captures, has to jump as in a normal move, but instead of landing onto an empty gridpoint, it has to land onto an enemy piece that it encounters in, what would otherwise be a normal jump-type-move. The jumped-over piece is not captured--it is that second piece encountered in the jump that is captured.

The cannon cannot jump over a cannon (either color).

The cannon cannot capture a cannon.

The cannon cannot make the first move in a game (unlike Chinese Chess).

Note: the Korean Cannon is very different than the Chinese Chess Cannon: the Chinese Chess Cannon moves without taking like a rook, and only jumps when taking a piece. The Korean Chess Cannon always jumps. Also, the Chinese Chess Cannon can jump over another cannon and also can take cannons, while Korean Chess cannons cannot do so.


Groene olifantRode olifiant The Elephant (sang), unlike its Chinese Chess "cousin", is like a giant Horse. It moves three positions away from itself: first by going one step horizontally or vertically and then two outward diagonal steps and there must be clear passage. (It can also enter the opponents side of the board, which gives a second difference from the elephant from Xiangqi.)

The next diagram illustrates the movement of the elephant. Note that the positions that are passed by must be empty.

Example move of elephant

Pawn - soldier

Groene soldaatRode soldaat The Soldier (pawn, beyong for red, and jol for blue/green) moves the same way it captures: it can move either one step forward or one step sideways. It can never move backward. It can move forward down a diagonal line in the enemy's fortress. If during that one step move, it moves onto an enemy's occupied, position, it is a capture of that enemy piece.

If the Soldier makes it to the last row, it can only move sideways then.

For the curious, the Chinese Chess Soldier is different; it cannot move sideways until after getting to it's 6th row (called after crossing the river) and it cannot move down the diagonal line in the enemy's fortress.

(Some players play with a promotion rule: when a pawn reaches the last row, it promotes to a piece that has been taken, but not a guard.)

Winning and losing

The game is won by mating the general of the opponent. However, remember the rule of the generals that see each other: when a player moves such that the two generals see each other (are on the same line without pieces between them), then he forfeits the possibility to win for the remainder of the game. Thus, after such an event has happened, and this player mates the opponent, then the game is a draw. If both players have forfeited the possibility to win in this way, the game is a draw.

There is no such thing as a stalemate: when a player cannot make a move but he is not in check (i.e., a stalemate position in an orthodox chess game), then the player does not need to mov and just passes a turn. Gollon states that one declares his pass by turning his General over, upside down, on the same spot.


If the game becomes a draw, i.e., neither side mates the opponent, then the following procedure is often followed to decide still a winner.

A komi (deduction) for the Blue army is 1.5 points as the Blue army makes the first move and it is an advantage.

If a game becomes a draw game, each player adds up the points of the remaining pieces on board to decide who wins the game. And in that case, the blue army is supposed to deduct 1.5 points from his total points.

  • cha (car) rook : 13 points
  • poe cannon : 7
  • ma horse knight : 5
  • sang (elephant) xiang bishop : 3
  • sah guard : 3
  • byoung, chol pawn : 2

A player can make a draw request only when the summation of points of each player is respectively less than 30 points (in a casual janggi game between friends, this pointing system is just ignored and not many Koreans have ever heard of it).

In a casual game, it is customary that older player takes Han (Red Army).


The very first author who made Changgi known to westerners has been Stewart Culin. His book has been reprinted and is highly recommendable for those who love board games with very precious observations.

Culin, Steward, 2009 reprint of an 1895 original: "Korean Games. With Notes on the Corresponding Games of China & Japan". Kessinger Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1104137205.

More modern Chess Variant books including a section on Changgi are:

  • Gollon, John E., 1973. Chess Variations: "Ancient, Regional &Modern". Charles E. Tuttle Co. ISBN: 0-8048-1122-9.
  • Pritchard, D.B., 1994. "The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants". Games and Puzzles Publications. ISBN: 0-9524142-0-1.
  • Wurman, David, 1991(?). "Chinesisches Schach/Koreanisches Schach". (German) China Schach Spielerkreis, Postfach 6530, D-6300 Giessen, Germany.
  • Cazaux, J.-L., 2000. "Guide des echecs exotiques et insolites". (French ) Chiron Editeur. ISBN: 2-7027-0628-2.

Written by Jean-Louis Cazaux. Certain parts of the text were taken from Roleigh Martin and from David B. Pritchard. Seongmo Yoon wrote to us about the official name for Korean Chess (Janggi), optional setup positions, and Komi & piece values. Later edited by Hans Bodlaender. Some pictures taken from Wikipedia (Wikicommons). Board drawn in Inkscape.
WWW page created: March 10, 2000. Last modified: December 29, 2011.