The Chess Variant Pages


By Charles Gilman

Many attempts have been made, by myself and others, to combine features of FIDE Chess with those of Xiang Qi (often ending in Qi) or Shogi (often ending in -gi) or even both. On one hand the total strength of diagonal pieces may be increased in the Oriental variants, as in Fergus Duniho's Yang Qi and my own Mitregi. On the other Oriental properties may be given to an otherwise standard FIDE army and board, as in Ralph Betza's Chessgi and my own Anglis Qi.
BISHOGI is an attempt to take the FIDE army (hence the familiar array diagram!) further toward Shogi than Chessgi does. Chessgi adds only the idea of reintroducing captured pieces, and unlike in Shogi itself promoted Pawns return still promoted! I felt that there was room for a yet more Shogi-like game using the pieces familiar to European players. I also noticed that the English piece name Bishop contains the letters sho, Japanese for Shogi's eponymous generals. This suggested to me a variant name Bishogi, which like Anglis Qi implies Bishops on the third files in as in the FIDE array, so I combined the name and the "missing" variant. Apparently one form of "Bi" means beauty in Japanese, so perhaps that could be interpreted as the Bishop having (prior to the game) made respectable the King's appreciation of a woman's beauty by helping in her appointment as Queen!

Shogi pieces divide into three groups: the unpromotable King and Goldgeneral, the pieces on the camp's middle rank whose promotion adds the King's move (but not its royal restrictions), and the rest which are promotable to Goldgeneral at the end of any move starting or ending in the enemy camp. Bishogi, like FIDE Chess, has no middle rank. The King is the same throughout, but the Queen replaces the Goldgeneral as its companion. Both remain unpromotable. All other pieces are promotable to Queen, and to Queen alone, at the end of any move starting or ending on the two ranks of the enemy camp. This is the feature unique to Bishogi. As Shogi forward-only pieces must be promoted when they can move no further unpromoted, Bishogi applies this rule to Pawns on the far rank. Players may reintroduce captured pieces exactly as in Shogi, which means that promoted ones return demoted to their original form and Pawns cannot return on the far rank. As all pieces have inter-file moves (even if only by capturing) any piece can return on any file.

As Pawns can be promoted in the seventh rank there is no initial double move. Castling is exactly as in FIDE Chess, as Kings and Rooks start a Rook's move apart in Bishogi as in Fide Chess, but not in Shogi.

Play differs greatly from FIDE Chess without the dwindling total strength of the FIDE endgame. The stronger promotees make it a more aggressive game than Shogi itself but, as Pawn promotion does not survive capture, achieving an overwhelming army of twenty or more long-range pieces is harder in Bishogi than in Chessgi. If this seems minor note how Dragonfly does away with Queens altogether, in the array or as promotees. A reasonably good player of both standard games, used to looking for good places to reintroduce, might be well-matched against a much better FIDE player who knows no Shogi. Conversely an ignorance of the actual moves of Shogi is no obstacle for all-round quick learners. Practice at reintroducing pieces in Bishogi might serve as a stepping stone to Shogi itself.

How is it best to represent all this physically?
It can be played with a Shogi set minus the four surplus pieces aside, but this detracts from the familiarity aspect. In any case owners of Shogi sets are likely to know Shogi moves, and may struggle to remember that pieces in this variant are supposed to have FIDE moves!
Two FIDE sets per game are unnecessary as one directionalised novelty set will do just as well. All this is equally true for Chessgi. A further requirement specific to Bishogi is to record what a promoted piece was prior to promotion. One way is to put a Draughts piece under the promoted piece. Depending on the exact shape of the pieces an alternative might be to mark promotees with caps/collars/robes of brightly-coloured card.
Practically-gifted perfectionists might wish to try creating a custom-built Shogi-style set, with the standard markings for the King/Rook/Bishop and markings with new Japanese names for the Queen/Knight/Pawn. Sekijin (lit., Stone sword) might do for the Pawn, meaning attacking like the Sekisho (Stone general) in Dai Shogi.

Further variants

ADVANCED-PAWN Bishogi is a further step toward Shogi, differing from standard Bishogi in having Pawns starting on the third rank and promotion being available from the 6th onwards. It has some of the character that Shogi shares with Makruk.
CATHOLIC BISHOGI reintroduces the Shogi characteristic of strong middle-rank pieces. Most pieces are stil promoted to Queen, but the Marshal and Cardinal are promoted to Ace, retaining their Knight move (although promoted Knights lose theirs). As always, captured pieces are reintroduced in unpromoted form. The variant name refers both to the Bishops being joined by a Cardinal, and to a distribution of moves that is more catholic in the small-c sense.
CANNIBAL BISHOGI is a variant where pieces in the opposite army to that which they started are Crooked. In the case of Pawns and Knights this shows itself only in promotion to a fully Crooked Queen. Pieces recaptured by their original army are Straight again. The name was inspired by a comment on a variant using Crooked Bishops, in which Crooked was misspelled as Cooked! This subvariant requires keeping track of a piece's original owner as well as its current one. This might best be solved with a novelty set of a kind that is directionalised but also has some element of distinctive colouring.
DUAL-RETURN BISHOGI is a variant where pieces in the opposite army to that which they started have the duals of their original moves, returning to their original moves if recaptured by their original army. Pawn <=> Yeoman, Rook <=> Bishop, Knight <=> Camel. Queens are unaffected, array or promotee. Again there is a need to keep track of a piece's original owner as well as its current one, which can be solved as with Cannibal Bishogi.
FILGI is to Bishogi what Shatranji is to Chessgi. The pieces have their ancient moves (Queen and promoted Pawn as Ferz, Bishop as leaping Elephant). Back-rank pieces are promoted by adding the Ferz move to their own (restoring Shogi Rook promotion). As throughout this page, captured pieces return unpromoted.
Twice-Pawned SEKISHOGI is Draughts with all pieces reintroduceable unpromoted. It could perhaps be played with Othello pieces. You could also have a once-Pawned Sekishogi, with the Hafts array of three full ranks aside and orthogonal (but still overtaking) captures.
BISHOGI-81 is a step still further. It uses FIDE pieces in larger numbers (but again PERHAPS represented physically by Shogi or Shogi-style pieces) on a Shogi board. As Bishops only at the ends of the third files in would all be bound to the same squares, I double them up, with Queens on the squares that Shogi uses for its strongest pieces. Again everything not already a King or Queen can be promoted to Queen in the enemy camp, but returns from capture unpromoted. Castling both sides follows normal Queenside rules. This variant was inspired by some confusion in the original posting of this page over the board size, and I would like to thank the person who mislabelled the page for inspiring both this subvariant and, ultimately, the next two.
WILDEBISHOGI makes better use of the Bishop duplication by substituting Camels for half of them. It uses the back rank of Wayne Schmittberger's Wildebeest Chess on a Shogi board. The rotational symmetry echoes that variant as well as Shogi itself. This time Knights and Camels can be promoted to the (itself unpromotable) Gnu or Wildebeest in the enemy camp, and Pawns to either that or Queen, all promotees again returning from capture unpromoted. Castling on both sides again follows normal Queenside rules. A Shogi set can again be used, but promoted Pawns will need pointing 45° left or right depending to what they are promoted. I use the same array for my two-river Xiang Qi variant Gnu Qi.
SOUTHWARK BISHOGI is a theme-driven weaker Bishogi-81 with FIDE minor pieces (but again PERHAPS represented physically by Shogi or Shogi-style pieces) and so no castling. All capturable pieces may be promoted to what I term an INFANTA, a Rook that can also move exactly TWO steps diagonally. Whether the latter move is like the Indian leaping Elephant (Alfil) or the Chinese stepping Elephant (Xiang) should be agreed by the players beforehand. Again pieces always return unpromoted, and as Pawns are the only forward-only pieces only their placement is restricted. Southwark is a London borough whose town centre is noted for its bridges to the City of London, Anglican and Catholic cathedrals, and literary connections including Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens. Also in that borough are Peckham, setting of a B.B.C. sitcom called "Only Fools and Horses" (alternative names for the Bishop and Knight); the Elephant and Castle, inspiring the promotion to (and piece name) Infanta; and Surrey Quays, where the woman who helped inspire my variant Isis lives.