Shogi is recognized as a CLASSIC Chess variant, distinguished for its immense popularity and rich history. It has been featured at the top of our pages in February 2002 and January 2011.
Shogi is the Japanese cousin of Chess. It is very similar to Chess in some respects, differing from it mainly by allowing players to keep captured pieces and replay them as their own. While still very much like Chess in the object, the general rules, and some of the pieces used, this one difference makes the experience of playing Shogi quite different from the experience of playing Chess. It allows players who are behind to more easily get ahead, and it can keep the outcome of the game more uncertain until the very end. Compare this to Chess, where the difference of a single Pawn can decide the outcome of the game between equally skilled players. This difference from Chess helps keep the game interesting and exciting until the end.
The similarites between Chess and Shogi suggest a common origin, and it is commonly held that their common origin was a game called Chaturanga, which arose in India in approximately the 7th century AD. From there Chaturanga migrated both westward and northward, mutating along the way. The western branch became Shatranj in Arabia and Orthodox Chess in Europe. The northern branch became Xiangqi in China and Janggi in Korea. Sometime in the 10th to 12th centuries, 'chess' crossed the channel to Japan, where it spawned a number of interesting variants. One of these was called 'Small Shogi'. Eventually, Small Shogi (though it went through many forms) won out over the larger variants and is now referred to simply as 'Shogi'. It is certain that Shogi in its present form was played in Japan as early as the 16th century.
(shô ) (-gi) Shô means general and Gi means board game. Shogi (rhymes with yogi) means general's game.
Perhaps the enduring popularity of Shogi can be attributed to its 'drop rule'; it was the first chess variant wherein captured pieces could be returned to the board to be used as one's own. David Pritchard credits this to the practice of 16th century mercenaries who switched loyalties when captured -- no doubt as an alternative to execution.
Shogi is played on a 9x9 board. Each player begins with one King, one Rook, one Bishop, two Gold Generals, two Silver Generals, two Knights, two Lances and nine Pawns. As shown on the left, Shogi is traditionally played on an uncheckered board, and four black dots delineate the promotion zones (those squares lying on the last three ranks). Traditional Shogi pieces have the piece names written on them in Kanji (Japanese writing using Chinese characters), and because pieces may change sides, the side a piece belongs to is determined by orientation, not by color. As shown on the right, Shogi may be played on a checkered board with pieces that use pictures instead of Kanji. The setup shown on the right is designed to better show the similarities between Shogi and Chess. Even using these more western pieces, Shogi is best played with wedge-shaped pieces whose orientation determines which side they belong to. Trying to play Shogi with figurine pieces would be impractical.
Shogi begins in the position shown below in either of the two diagrams. From left to right, each player's first rank has a Lance, a Knight, a Silver General, a Gold General, a King, a Gold General, a Silver General, a Knight, and a Lance. In the second rank, each player has a Bishop in front of the left Knight and a Rook in front of the right Knight. Since the game has rotational symmetry, the Bishops begin in opposite corners, and the Rooks begin in opposite corners. Each player's third rank is filled by Pawns.
Traditional board, pieces, and notation
Checkered board, Chess Motif pieces, and international notation.
Shogi is normally played with wedge-shaped pentagonal pieces made of wood or plastic. With a couple exceptions, each physical piece represents a starting piece on one side, and it represents a promoted piece on its other side. This makes the promotion or demotion of a piece as easy as flipping it over. Promoted pieces are sometimes colored red, but this practice is not universal. Pieces may be represented by their full Kanji names, as abbreviated Kanji, which uses only one character for each piece, with pictures, with letters, or with movement diagrams. Pieces with movement diagrams are helpful only for beginners, and they are inessential with computer programs that will show you where pieces can move, as some do. Once you know how the pieces move, it becomes more important to be able to quickly recognize the pieces, and that can be made more difficult with movement diagram pieces, which use similar designs for all the pieces. Kanji pieces are more easily recognized than diagrammatic pieces, and the best alternative to Kanji for westerners would be pieces with familiar, easily recognizable pictures. As the pieces are described below, they will be illustrated in full Kanji, in abbreviated Kanji, and in the Chess Motif style.
|Starting Pieces||Promoted Pieces|
The King (actually 'jeweled General') moves as an Orthodox King, one space in any orthogonal or diagonal direction. Like the King in Chess, it may not move into check. Unlike the King in Chess, it may not castle.
|The King does not promote.|
The Rook (actually 'flying chariot') moves as an Orthodox Rook, any number of empty spaces along a file or rank, either landing on an empty space or capturing the first enemy piece in its path. It may never leap over other pieces. Unlike the Rook in Chess, it may not castle.
The Rook promotes to a Dragon King, which may move as a Rook or one space diagonally.
The Bishop (actually 'angle goer') moves as an Orthodox Bishop, any number of empty spaces along a diagonal line, either landing on an empty space or capturing the first enemy piece in its path. It may never leap over other pieces.
The Bishop promotes to a Dragon Horse, which may move as a Bishop or one space orthogonally.
The Gold General may move one square vertically, horizontally, or diagonally forward. (In all directions except diagonally backward). In the Chess Motif set, it is represented by a dotted circle, the alchemical symbol for gold, used in astrology as a symbol for the sun.
|The Gold General does not promote.|
The Silver General may move one square diagonally, or straight forward. (In all directions except horizontally or straight backward.) In the Chess Motif set, it is represented by a crescent moon, the alchemical symbol for silver.
The Silver General promotes to a Gold General. (Here the symbol indicates a promoted Silver General.)
The Knight (actually 'honorable horse') has the two forward-most moves of the Orthodox Knight, always leaping to a space two ranks ahead and one file to the side. For example, a black Knight on 5d may go to 6b or to 4b. It may leap over occupied squares.
The Knight promotes to a Gold General. (Here the symbol indicates a promoted Knight.)
The Lance moves as a Rook but only forward in the same file, never sideways or backward.
The Lance promotes to a Gold General. (Here the symbol indicates a promoted Lance.)
The Pawn (actually 'soldier') moves one square straight forward. Shogi Pawns capture in the same manner as they move -- as do all Shogi pieces.
The Pawn promotes to a Gold General. (Here the symbol indicates a promoted Pawn.)
- Black moves first. (Although the pieces are not colored differently, the side moving first is normally called Black, and the side moving second is normally called White. Black begins on ranks g, h, and i.)
- The object of the game is to checkmate the enemy King.
- Perpetual check is forbidden. The player initiating the check must break it off.
- Pieces promote as follows...
- Except for a King or Gold General, any starting piece that moves to, from or within the promotion zone (the last 3 ranks) may promote. A promotion is indicated by flipping the piece over to display the symbol on its bottom side.
- Promotion is optional unless the piece would have no further legal moves from its new position. So, when a Pawn or Lance moves to the last rank, or a Knight moves to one of the last two ranks, promotion is mandatory.
- Pieces dropped into the promotion zone (the last 3 ranks) may not promote until making at least one move. (See below).
- Upon capture, a piece changes sides, and if promoted demotes. Each player gets to hold any pieces he captures in reserve, using subsequent turns to drop them back onto the board. Piece drops may be made under the following conditions:
- Only one piece may be dropped on the board per turn, and this must be done instead of moving a piece on the board.
- A captured piece may be dropped only on an empty space.
- A Pawn may not be dropped onto a file containing another non-promoted Pawn belonging to the same player.
- No piece may be dropped on a square from which it is impossible to move. So, a Pawn or Lance may not be dropped on the last rank, and a Knight may not be dropped on either of the last two ranks.
- A checkmate may not be performed by the drop of a Pawn. A King may be checked by dropping a Pawn, but only if the drop does not result in an immediate checkmate.
Various Shogi videos are available on YouTube.
Fergus Duniho has made a four-part video series on the rules of Shogi:
- Shogi for Chess Players #1: Introducing the Equipment
- Shogi for Chess Players #2: Using the Staunton Set
- Shogi for Chess Players #3: Moving and Promoting Pieces
- Shogi for Chess Players #4: Capturing and Dropping Pieces
HIDETCHI has made numerous videos on Shogi. His videos cover the rules of Shogi, Shogi strategy, famous Shogi games, and famous Shogi mate problems.
Hirohigo has made several videos on Shogi proverbs.
One of the best ways to learn Shogi is to play against a computer program that will show you where the pieces can move. The following three are Windows programs. If you don't have Windows, you may be able to run them with a Windows API, such as Wine on Linux.
For absolute beginners, Steve Evan's Shogi Variants is a good choice. It describes and shows how the pieces move, and it plays very poorly. It also covers various historical Shogi variants, both large and small, from Japan.
Once you can beat Shogi Variants, you'll need a stronger opponent. Zillions of Games, a commercial program capable of playing many games and puzzles, can play Shogi, and its interface is excellent for anyone trying to learn a game. Instead of being a native Shogi application, it plays Shogi by interpreting a script that describes the rules, known as a Zillions Rules File or ZRF. The Shogi ZRF that comes with it plays very poorly, because it values unpromoted pieces more than promoted pieces, and it handles drops inefficiently. Because of these defects, both Steve Evans and Fergus Duniho wrote ZRFs that play Shogi better, and they combined their efforts into a single script: fdshogi.zip. By combining Evans' ideas about fixing piece values with Duniho's ideas for handling drops more efficiently, the new script plays better and can easily beat Evans' Shogi Variants program while playing at its fastest speed, something the Shogi ZRF that comes with the program cannot do. It also provides new Shogi graphics, including the Chess Motif set seen on this page, taking advantage of ZoG's full graphics customizability. But compared with a dedicated Shogi engine, it is still rather weak. This is good for beginners, but it's not strong enough for more advanced players.
If you need an even stronger opponent, Bernard C. Maerz's BCMShogi is a great choice. This free program includes the SPEAR Shogi engine, and it can be used with any UCI-compatible Shogi engine, which should give you as strong an opponent as you will need. It also has fully customizable graphics and comes with many different piece and board images, including those used to make the diagrams on this page.
On our own site, you can play Shogi, as well as many other Chess variants, against other people online, using Game Courier. It will enforce the rules of Shogi, display legal moves, automate the transfer of captured pieces to offboard locations, and spot win/loss/draw conditions. It will also let you choose from a variety of graphics, including both checkered and uncheckered boards, and both pictographic and Japanese piece sets, including all the piece sets displayed on this page and more.
- Pictures of a shogi set.
- More photo's of shogi set.
- Photo's of other shogi set. By Jean-Luc Muraro.
- Photos of Homemade Symbolic Shogi Pieces. By Fergus Duniho and David Howe.
Here are links to other sites and pages on Shogi, all in English:
- 81 Dojo
- Basic Rules of Shogi or Japanese Chess by Sam Sloan
- Japanese Chess
- Open Directory: Shogi
- Phil Holland's Shogi page
- Wikipedia: Shogi
The Kanji Shogi pieces are by Koma-Shokunin 1, and they are used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license. The full Kanji set is called Kinki Regular, and the abbreviated Kanji set is called Kinki Abbreviated (Inscribed).
The Chess Motif pieces were made by Fergus Duniho, using Armando Marroquin's Chess Motif font for the Chess piece images. The Lance and Generals were drawn by Fergus Duniho. The symbols for the Generals were borrowed from alchemy, which used astrological symbols to represent various metals.
The board images were made by Fergus Duniho using BCMShogi, because this Shogi program has fully customizable graphics and comes with some very nice Kanji graphics for Shogi, namely the pieces designed by Koma-Shokunin 1, already credited above.
This page was originally written by Hans Bodlaender. In 2002, it was edited and updated by John William Brown. In 2010, it was rewritten and redesigned by Fergus Duniho. David Howe has also made updates to this page.
Thanks also to Ivan A Derzhanski for corrections to the linguistic information on the word Shogi.
Thanks also to Shinsuke Mori for pointing out that the graphics for promoted Silver General and promoted Knight had been switched.
WWW page created: September 9, 1996. Last modified: February 9, 2012.