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Cannon-fire Cannon-fire is a short book by Shaye-Alexander Ellis Nicholls of Merridonia

© SAE Nicholls 2019-2021

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From A Chess Set

‘It seems the Cannon was probably not part of the original game of Chinese chess and may not have been added to the game for some centuries – opinions vary widely though as to what century*.....but whatever, the move of the Cannon (and the Horse) make possible several situations that do not occur in Western chess’

One source however gives the person as well as a date

From Chinese Chess by H.T. Lau, 1985

‘It was reported that in 839 the prime minister of the Tang dynasty added two extra pieces called cannons to the game.’

And the impact on the game:

From Hsiang Ch’i by Terence Donnelly, 1974

‘…..the Cannon is the most intriguing and exiting feature of Hsiang Ch’i. Its potential strength is enormous, but at the same time it is very vulnerable…..’

*For example; according to The Oxford Companion to Chess the piece was a 13th century invention – compare this to the date from Chinese Chess above.






By SAE Nicholls


Transliteration key

Transliteration key


A/ B/ C/ D/ E/ F/ G/ H/ I/ J/ K/ L/ M/ N/ O/ P/ Q/ R/ S/ T/ U/ V/ W/ X/ Y/ Z

A/ B/ C/ D/ E/ F/ G/ H/ I/ J/ K/ L/ M/ N/ O/ P/ Q/ R/ S/ T/ U/ V/ W/ X/ Y/ Z

a/ b/ c/ d/ e/ f/ g/ h/ i/ j/ k/ l/ m/ n/ o/ p/ q/ r/ s/ t/ u/ v/ w/ x/ y/ z

a/ b/ c/ d/ e/ f/ g/ h/ i/ j/ k/ l/ m/ n/ o/ p/ q/ r/ s/ t/ u/ v/ w/ x/ y/ z

0/ 1/ 2/ 3/ 4/ 5/ 6/ 7/ 8/ 9/ ,/ ./ ;/ :// ?/ !/ %/ &/ (/ )/ +/ -/ */ // =

0/ 1/ 2/ 3/ 4/ 5/ 6/ 7/ 8/ 9/ ,/ ./ ;/ :// ?/ !/ %/ &/ (/ ) / +/ -/ */ // =




Phantom chess, Plateau chess and Stepladder tournaments

Two-piece Pin, Triple Check and Quadruple-check with Checkmate

Opening shots and The Corner trap, and The Quickfire gambit.....and Statistics

Training and Practice




Phantom chess, Plateau chess and Stepladder tournaments


Phantom chess

Before Cannons were added to Chinese chess the game was, it is generally agreed, played for centuries - though as noted the exact number of these has considerably varying opinions…..and at first it might be assumed that if the Cannons are simply removed from the board and nothing else changed this would be the form of the game as played*…..but this form does not offer much scope to bring about a win against an equally strong opponent, or perhaps against any strong opponent though it may be a useful way for beginners to learn something of Chinese chess proper – see Training and Practice…..But was this the form of the game played for centuries prior to Chinese chess – a proto chess…..or is it a phantom, and was there another and unknown game that held players interest over these centuries…..and could it do so again…..

*This form of game could possibly occur in Chinese chess proper if all the Cannons were exchanged early on before other pieces, but it probably would not happen very often


An Unclear Situation

…..Weight of opinion is that Chinese chess derived from the first Indian chess, as did Arabian chess and the later Western chess – all Chess in fact, and the lines of movement of the games’ travels can clearly be seen on a map…..

…..only Korean chess (with a similar board and near-identical starting array to Chinese chess) and perhaps, at least in part, Japanese chess (where Soldiers move the same as in Chinese chess, though promote differently) would appear to be later derived from Chinese chess…..the line of the game’s travels to here from India crosses over the Himalayan Plateau, as can be clearly seen on a map…..

…..and yet…..although picturesque, Chinese chess uses lines instead of squares, has discs as pieces and Horses that do not leap - somewhat two-dimensional then until the Cannons were introduced*…..if though the two halves of the board are joined together we have a board of 8x8 squares - or conversely if an 8x8 board is pulled apart we have the makings of a Chinese Chess board…..

*The Game of Go, that was invented in China perhaps over a thousand years before Chess, is also played using the intersections of lines with discs as pieces and this may have influenced the playing of Chinese Chess…..but Go is not at all like Chess+: the pieces are all the same and cannot move and are placed on intersections where they stay unless captured – there is then no royal piece or checkmate and the object of the game is territorial acquisition, but Go is complex nonetheless

+Though see Plateau chess later.


…..from or to or…..



…..Indian chess, as with Arabian and Western chess, commences with the Soldiers placed on all the squares along the second ranks…..

…..If Soldiers are placed on all the intersections (squares equivalent) of the fourth ranks the Cannons can immediately reduce the nine Soldiers back to the five as they are placed in Chinese chess…..

…..would Cannons be exchanged for Chinese chess Horses immediately if they could leap as do Indian chess Horses…..perhaps they would, and this would immediately give a probably reasonably even-chanced dynamic to the game - but see Opening shots later and the point there regarding Chariots, and also see Training and Practice later…..But then Chinese chess has more representational features than Western chess and what if there are good reasons for its Horses not being able to leap – the terrain he is in perhaps, the type of Horse he is maybe…..who knows…..and similarly the Chinese chess Elephant cannot jump (realistically so) whereas the Indian chess Elephant can* - are there any comparable reasons…..perhaps…..but…..

*It could be said that it is more realistic having Horses that can leap and Elephants that cannot jump+….. this possibility could be called Chinese-Indian chess, but whether it becomes an established Steps game remains TBD - possibly it could, but some testing is needed first and so I have added this to Training and Practice…..but the Chinese chess Horse, whatever, remains as part of Steps

+ Things are still unclear however since, though Elephants can swim, in Chinese chess they are not allowed to cross the river into opposing territory – Steps follows this rule where appropriate (but see Chinese-Indian chess in Training and Practice) and names the piece so as to indicate this restricted movement, for example Defender…..and like the Chinese chess Horse this piece remains as part of Steps.


Plateau chess

… is hoped that players of Go as well as Chess will find the game to be of interest – notwithstanding their differences mentioned earlier the strategic aspects of the gradually advancing formations of Soldiers may be interesting to Go players; they may take many casualties before any full promotion – see below, and these more tactical aspects may be interesting to Chess players…..Soldiers can have considerably more impact here than in Chinese chess and this may be interesting to both sets of players…..

…..the game can be called simply Plateau



… the moment the only changes to Chinese chess envisaged are as follows

1. There are no Cannons

2. Each side has nine Soldiers that commence as set out in Level categories below

3. The Generals, in contrast to Chinese chess, may face each other along an otherwise (between them) unoccupied file – see the representational point below

4. At the moment there is no change to the Horses, but if changing them to be able to leap is beneficial then this may be done - TBD

5. It may be that Soldiers further promote (from Leading soldiers – see below) to Soldiers-in-Command upon reaching their end rank – they would have the powers of an Adjacent as described in LancerChess in Checkmate with Minor pieces, and he has the ability here to force Checkmate on his own with only Generals on the board*…..but this further promotion is TBD – but see the asterisked note…..

…..there is a possible variation with Soldiers that could be tried out and that is for them to commence with the powers of Leading soldiers (as they do in Korean chess) – they would then stay as such until and unless promoting to Soldiers-in-Command…..the Soldiers would be defending each other at commencement in this variation that could be called the Korean variation, with the one set out (where Soldiers commence with powers as in Chinese chess) called the Chinese variation  


Some piece names may change, but at the moment they are as below


Generals may still be called Generals

Chariots may be called Warlords

Horses are still called Horses – they are manned and very sure of foot

Soldiers are still called Soldiers – they could collectively be called The Nine, but I’m not sure of this, TBD

Leading soldiers – this is the name for Promoted soldiers, and other than representational matters there is no change in this promotion to that of Chinese chess

Different types of Soldiers, particularly Soldiers-in-Command, should differ in appearance

Elephants are called Defenders

Guards are called Shieldsmen and (representational) they wield swords as well as shields

Players may be called Emperors

Fortresses are Military encampments

Other matters like 3D pieces, draws, playing on squares etc. are set out in QiPlacements and elsewhere, and Plateau would accord with this, though first move may have further adjustments TBD – some points regarding this are however made here and there in the following

The basic board colouring scheme etc. is TBD – but see below

Stand-alone scoring is TBD - but would not be less than RiverQi


The above should be sufficient for the game to be commenced playing and trying out, while decisions on items TBD can be made at a later time.


*As examples: if the Generals are on their commencing squares and the southern Soldier-in-Command is on square g10 and is to move: 1. Soldier-in-Command f9 check, General d10 (the only move) 2. Soldier-in-Command e9 Checkmate; or if instead south’s General is on e2 and north has a Soldier-in-Command on g1 and is to move: 1… Soldier-in-Command f1 check, 2. General d2, Soldier-in-Command e1 check, 3. General d3 (the only move), Soldier-in-Command e2 Checkmate (if 2. General e3 then 2… Soldier-in-Command f2 check, General d3 – the only move, and 3… Soldier-in-Command e2 Checkmate – the same end position as before)…..One point that is in favour of a further promotion to this piece is that there is less in the way of attacking piece power in Plateau than Chinese chess and the game is likely to be more about the play of the Soldiers – perhaps much more, and a possibly decisive promotion of a Soldier would be a logical culmination to this aspect of play…..if this is found to be too impactful on the game the promotion squares could instead be only the end rank squares of the opposing Encampment - note these can also be reached by Leading Soldiers moving sideways along end rank squares – thus the Leading Soldier would have to brave the enemy defences in and around their Encampment (perhaps leading to some interesting mini-games occurring in this area), and this seems a reasonably logical fit with the game and, subject to testing and practical experience proving OK, this is the preferred rule for the time being…..likely, but still TBD.



The river of Chinese chess is replaced by a great plateau, though it has no effect as the river in Chinese chess has no effect - except that it has influence on the players’ clocks as below…..

Though movement is slow over the high plateau it is unimpeded – players may make their moves quickly of course, but in representational terms the movement of the piece would take some time and to correspond with this players may each have a fixed reserve on a separate clock*1

Warlords may be on rare and specially trained Horses that are exceptionally well adapted to the terrain – these Horses are faster than the other Horses (and would differ in appearance quite markedly) but are not so agile at sideways movement

…..the two Generals do not have a talismanic Rod (Sceptre) in Plateau, and such powers are not integral to them in Steps – these would not work in any case with the wall of rock between their realms…..see QiPlacements for the representational aspects of Sceptres

…..the two sides may consist of a number of Provinces north and south of the Plateau that are ruled over by Emperors – as well as being called the Northern and Southern Provinces and Emperors they may be given names, as may the Plateau, but these are TBD…..but see next

…..a possibility for the naming of sides is that the first-moving south side (who would probably carry any further-away handicap – see Level categories later) are called the Snow-lepan*2 Provinces (as is their Emperor etc. – they are, rather obviously perhaps, named after Snow-leopards) and the north side Provinces etc. are called the Qsiang-ze (pronounced as, with English comparisons, zighantze - where zigh is as in high with a z, and ze is as in a slightly shorter see with a z)…..the Snow-lepan army and encampment might have a colouring scheme along the lines of Snow-leopard markings whilst the Qsiang-ze army and encampment might be predominantly of a yellow hue ((Qsiang may refer to the colour yellow (the similar sounding Cyan is not a colour description in Steps), and there may be some yellow/orange Birds and Fish (they would be named – Qsiang-finch and Qsiang-carp?) in the Qsiang-ze Provinces with a few of the Birds in the Plateau…..Qsiang is pronounced as zighan where zigh is as above and an is as English an – the g in Qsiang is silent here))…..the Plateau might be called the Awning of the World – it is the world’s highest plateau but is likely to be predominantly of a green hue

…..Snow-leopards live in the higher and more remote parts of the region, but there are not many of them and they are reclusive and rarely even glimpsed – a few can be placed along the sides of the board around the centre (where the higher and more remote parts are i.e. they are off-board) as decoration though… can be seen the game does not take place in a flat environment and both armies have a long uphill trek before coming to grips with each other – there is scope for novel boards here

…..the background story may be that the Emperors both seek to obtain control of the Plateau – holding the ‘high ground’ is well known to be a military advantage and they, together with their Generals and Warlords would be very keen to do this…..the object of the game remains and is to Checkmate the opposing General and this wins the Battle and gains control of the Plateau by military occupation thereafter, and it is annexed by the winning Emperor and renamed after the winning Provinces (i.e. the Snow-lepan Plateau or the Qsiang-ze Plateau) – the winning Encampment will become a (the Snow-lepan or Qsiang-ze) Fortress whilst the losing Encampment will be abandoned and dismantled

…..the Role-playing possibilities of Plateau may, hopefully, be interesting - to some at least - and the size and time-scale could be from very small to very large, as role-playing etc. could be throughout Steps…..


*1 A player’s Stepped Fixed-reserve Clock (as it would be called) would count down at commencement of each of his moves and his main clock would not start to operate until the reserve was used – the reserve would be topped up each time after a player moves (he is not compelled to use all of it, though might generally be expected to – but if a player had a checkmating attack for example he might not want to delay playing his moves, and see Notes below for a more essential reduced-use situation)…..there is some similarity with a Fixed-reserve Clock and Time-lagging but there are some differences – firstly time lagging is usually for very short periods of time whereas the reserve amount here would probably be quite substantial; secondly, unlike the Reserve clock, the amount of Time-lagging, though known, is not usually displayed as it counts down (but the amount would be shown along with other clock settings), and thirdly, though described as fixed the reserve could be set to periodically adjust itself (Stepping) – perhaps after a certain number of moves have been played the amount would be reduced and this could be reiterated further on in the game or stopped after a certain point… is also possible to have both a Fixed-reserve Clock and Time-lagging in operation, and there would be Independent Countdown clocks as well – but these might be set at times longer than for some Steps games…..this probably sounds more complicated than it actually would be once a player was used to them - see Notes below, and in a slower-paced game there is more time for consideration of the time situation…..clocks are talked about more fully in Part three of Steps.

*2 For those who like them there is an anagram in part of the name of the Snow-lepan Provinces that relates to their broad whereabouts…..and a clue – a State where Snow-leopards live.



To clarify: the Plateau Clock system (as it could well be called, and a name reserved to Steps) described in the asterisked note above is shown below in running order at the start of a player’s move (if the main clocks are Stepped Combination clocks and time-lagging is used):

1. Time-lagging

2. (Stepped) Fixed-reserve clock

3. Stepped Combination clock

(4.) Independent Countdown clock (running synchronously)

Usually: Time-lagging would be of the order of seconds/move with the Fixed-reserve that of minutes/move, while the Combination and Independent Countdown clocks would include more wide-ranging measures such as hours/game

Whilst players would be expected to be aware of the situation on their main clocks, a possibility for Independent Countdown clocks is for these to issue audible and/or visual alerts if and when the time left on these reaches low levels so that players are made aware of this, e.g. when 15 or perhaps 30 minutes are left (perhaps a visual amber alert) and then when 5 or perhaps 10 minutes are left (perhaps a visual red alert), but the alert levels should be reasonably proportionate to the overall time set

A player could possibly (though perhaps less likely) play moves more or less within his fixed-reserve time and keep his main clock as a reserve – another way of managing time, or at least of picturing it…..if a player’s main clock counts down to zero he loses on time as he would if his Independent Countdown clock counted down to zero – the earlier of the two counts

The system is flexible and main clocks could be one of several stepped (or phased) clocks described in Part three of Steps and not necessarily Stepped Combination clocks – the system is then modular where the four components can each be considered and set separately, provided that they operate harmoniously together   

The Plateau Clock system could of course be used for other Steps games but is mainly intended for longer times where, for example, each player’s Independent Countdown clock might be set for around five hours (as compared to a typical tournament setting of around three hours) – the Plateau system with this additional time (possibly from the Fixed-reserve) might be well suited for Championship matches and the like for some games, the Fixed-reserve in this case might be stepped for each player e.g. 2 minutes for the first 40 moves then 1 minute for the next 40, then stopped… with these longer settings could run into a second day and if played with the parallel format – mentioned later in Plateau, could run into a third…..a day’s play might consist of up to 6 or 7 hours at the board plus an hour or so away for an intermission (longer break) and perhaps an interval (shorter break) or two

It should be emphasized that the times shown are examples only and that testing and practical experience may be needed to establish some suitable sets of times – and although the system is, as stated, primarily for longer times shorter times are not precluded and the system can be adapted for shorter times, but other stepped clock arrangements may be preferred at shorter times…..then again the system can simply have one or more of the components switched off (except the Independent Countdown clocks are required to run in any meaningful or significant game) and/or the required main clock type and settings input to ‘metamorphose’ into the required clock arrangements – main clocks themselves would have much flexibility within them…..this flexibility gives rise to other possibilities, e.g. just the Fixed-reserve and the Independent Countdown clock could run (there could also be time-lagging) and in this example if the player overstepped his Fixed-reserve (set to run throughout the game in this example – there could be stepping) he would immediately lose on time as he would if his Independent Countdown clock counted down to zero (the earlier of the two) – a situation might arise here, perhaps in a long game, where a player might need to forego some of his Fixed-reserve time when moving in order to keep more time on his Independent Countdown clock if this was running low…..this simpler clock arrangement, and other possibilities, might be interesting and perhaps are worth trying out, but they are only possibilities at the moment ((though the one in the example - where the move time allowed and the game time allowed are both displayed counting down together is quite a distinct one, and perhaps a definite one named the (Stepped) Simultaneous Countdown clock - a name reserved to Steps, example settings might be 1min for the Fixed-reserve with 1 hour for the Independent Countdown clock with alerts set on the Independent clock of amber when 5 mins are left and red when 1 min is left*))…..and for those who like a very simple clock control the Independent Countdown clocks alone could be set to run – at anything from a minute to many hours, perhaps more

*Further to these alerts would be an option of the red alert flashing when a player has to move more or less  immediately or lose the game on time – perhaps set when 10 seconds are left on his Independent Countdown clock (and his Fixed-reserve clock in the case of the Simultaneous Countdown clock - perhaps a preferred option for this clock, and though as stated players would be expected to be aware of the situation on their main clocks there would be a comprehensive facility for the tailored applying of the alert settings for all the clock system, and the settings could be very simple or elaborate)… is common practice in matches and tournaments for players to have a flag on or by their clock and if they run out of time+ this is set to fall signalling the game’s loss, and this practice would be kept in Steps (and the Plateau Clock system would include this facility) where clock flags would have suitable designs for the game and its circumstances – there is scope here for interesting designs…..a range of audible notifications would also be available (with tailoring) as an alternative or additional option for alerts and flags falling, and the choice may include spoken announcements

+There are in the various Steps games situations where players can request extra time during a game if they think this is warranted; and if the referee/arbiter agrees then he can do this, for example: if a game has or seems to have winning possibilities but may take an exceptional number of moves to bring this about (or foil it), then either player may request extra time for himself (and if agreed his opponent would usually also receive this) - though clock times for matches and tournaments or group play or league games etc. would generally be set to allow for longer than average games (depending on move times taken – too long and time pressure or scrambles can still occur) they would not be set for very much longer than average games.


The Plateau Clock system would be manufactured to the highest of standards and would be upgradeable and is © Copyright 2021 of SAE Nicholls and there may be a version of this incorporated into the Rhunich Games computer, and this would also be/is the (reserved) © Copyright of SAE Nicholls as the Games Computer itself would be/is

Further to these notes is that an actual battle such as Plateau represents could go on for a long time – possibly years, and in Part three of Steps there is, under Calendar chess, suggestions with example times for games that could last this sort of time – some Chess and Go players like very long games.



Level categories

These categories for players work as a handicap system as follows – in descending order of player strength

1. Faraway (furthest away)

2. Midway

3. Freeway (nearest)


Faraway - all Soldiers commence on their second rank

Midway – all Soldiers commence on their third rank

Freeway* – all Soldiers commence on their fourth rank

*It is assumed a player would place his Soldiers on their fourth rank if given a Free choice.

Categories may likely decide the deployment determinations for Plateau whereby the further away player would play south and so move first – the six possible commencing deployments are

1. Faraway v Faraway

2. Faraway v Midway

3. Faraway v Freeway

4. Midway v Midway

5. Midway v Freeway

6. Freeway v Freeway

Broadly speaking there are two types of games then – Level handicap games and Mixed handicap games.



Stepladder tournaments

…..these may become the standard form of Steps tournaments…..

…..the basic idea is that there are a set number of players either in a ‘Stepladder’ to begin with or following preliminary events… the conclusion of the preliminaries (if any) the set number of players – for example the top seven, are then placed in a Stepladder according to where they finished in the preliminaries, here we would have…..

1. Player A

2. Player B

3. Player C

4. Player D

5. Player E

6. Player F

7. Player G

…..then the 7th placed Player G plays the 6th placed Player F and the winner plays the 5th placed Player E then the winner of this plays the 4th placed Player D and so on until the remaining two players (one will be Player A) play each other as a final – as can be seen players can change places and winners have the chance to further move up the Stepladder, and any of these seven players could finish top of the Ladder and so win the tournament…..

…..with Plateau a possibility is to commence with six players (one less than the above example – Stepladder numbers can vary) – three Freeway, two Midway and one Faraway…..firstly the three Freeway players would play a mini league to decide where each of them goes on the first three places on the Stepladder, then the two Midway players would play a match to decide where they go on the next two places and then the Faraway player goes on the sixth place – the Stepladder then is as below

1. Freeway player A

2. Freeway player B

3. Freeway player C

4. Midway player A

5. Midway player B

6. Faraway player A (only one in this case)

…..the handicaps have here given Reserved Placing advantage to Freeway over Midway over Faraway – in a no-handicap tournament this placing advantage might not occur…..the league format is for each Freeway player to play two games against the other two – one as south and one as north (six games in all)…..the match format (played afterwards) is two games with each Midway player playing one as south and one as north…..then the players play the Stepladder in the way described – only one game would be played here between players*…..all the games here are played with handicaps and are played consecutively and not parallel (see Group play in Part two where this is described)…..

*Part of the idea of the Stepladder format is for this last stage of the tournament to consist of knockout games where the result is immediately decisive, and in keeping with this there would be no tie-break games following a draw on the Stepladder…..initially I am inclined to say that if a game here is a draw then the higher-placed player stays in his place - this follows the principle applied in a number of sports and games, including Chess at times, that a lower-placed or suchlike opponent has to win against a higher one in order to displace him - TBD.


….. who moves first in the Stepladder is firstly decided by Category as set out earlier in Level categories and, if the same, the higher placed player moves first…..

…..with this particular format there is firstly a six-game League, then a two-game Match and finally a five-game Knockout series – three different types of playing format in one tournament that could add interest to the event…..

… the end of the tournament there is a final placing and points are allocated according to each player’s final placing…..

…..the tournament just described could be the culmination of a number of preliminary events (possibly also in a suitable ‘feeder’ Stepladder format) whereby the winners would be entered into the final event in Stepladder format…..

…..details such as tie-breaks and method of points allocation…..(a tournament would be allotted a total number of game points for allocation to players – there would be a bonus element over and above the total of stand-alone points called the 'Stepladder Bonus points' that could be a substantial amount, but this amount would depend on the level of tournament etc.)…..remain TBD*, but for now this is a likely basic format for not only Plateau but other Steps games Tournaments (some perhaps handicapped) as well…..

*One possibility is what is called the ‘Sum of Digits’ method – for example: in the above six player Stepladder the numbers one to six (the number of players) are added together to give twenty one (1+2+3+4+5+6 = 21), then the first placed player is allocated 6/21 of the total allotted points, the second placed player is allocated 5/21, the third 4/21 and so on… a practicality the total points allotted should be divisible, in this example, by 21 (to as fine as halves is OK, e.g. 52½), for example if 63 points were allotted first placed would receive 6/21x63 = 18 points, second placed would receive 5/21x63 = 15, third placed 4/21x63 = 12 and so on - everybody on the ladder receives something when the sum of digits method is applied in this way… point is that I think it preferable for players to be credited with the stand-alone points they have won for individual games and then additionally credited with the bonus points they have won+ and also credited with points for any tie-break games they may have played - tie-break games would likely be scored by token points (these carry no value though are still credited to players)…..the scoring of token points for tie-break games may well become a general Steps one.…..this method of showing separate credits to players for their stand-alone points and bonus points and also token points could well be used in general and recorded in journals for Steps tournament, match and group events and is intended to give a reasonable summary of players’ performances in them – Steps (and Lace) journals would also record much other information about the event

+The calculation of the bonus points would be to deduct stand-alone points won by players from their final Stepladder placement points allocations – provided the total allotment and allocations are of suitable amounts the total points received by players would still be as per their final Stepladder placements (as intended)…..the calculation to ensure the allotment and allocations amounts are suitable would be to do ‘walk-through’ tests to determine the maximum number of stand-alone points possible for each position on the final Stepladder and to ensure none could exceed the placement points allocated to them (this prevents any ‘claw-back’) – assuming stand-alone points of two for a win and one each for a draw (this means anything allotted over 26 points would be the bonus element here) there is sufficient in the above example to cover all the positions (there is sufficient down to an allotment of 52½ points for this example~, though I would like this checked)…..the calculations would be the responsibility of the tournament organisers and it may be worth emphasizing that players would still receive the same number of points according to their final placements as usual

~If the next level down of 42 points were allotted then walk-through tests would show that there could be an ‘over-run’: if, for example, the players of the two-game match finished level with two points apiece then the player losing a tie-break here would be placed fifth on the Stepladder – if this player then wins his game against the sixth placed player he then has four stand-alone game points and remains in fifth place, and if he now draws his game against the forth placed player he will have five stand-alone game points but would not displace the forth placed player and so finishes in fifth place, but fifth place would only have been allocated 4 game points from an allotment of 42 and so strictly speaking a point would be clawed back from the player… practice I would think an allotment of 42 points plus 1 held in reserve for such a contingency (only 1 extra should be needed, if at all) would be OK– even if it is awarded to prevent a claw-back the total points scored for the player are still less than the next place up.....

…..But I think it must definitely be emphasised that matters such as these are the responsibility of organisers, so leaving players free to concentrate on their game playing.




Two-piece Pin, Triple Check and Quadruple-check with Checkmate


Two-piece Pin

A single Cannon can pin two pieces - for example, with South to move

North Cannon e7

North Princess e10

South Horse e4

South Protector e3

South Princess e1

South must move his Princess since moving either his Horse or Protector would leave his Princess in check – both the Horse and Protector are then pinned.


Triple Check

An example, with South to move

North Princess e10

South Horse e6

South Chariot e4

South Cannon e3

South Princess e1


Horse to f8 or d8 and North’s Princess is in check from South’s Horse, Chariot and Cannon.


Quadruple-check with Checkmate

The Quadruple-checkmate Puzzle makes a reasonably challenging Chinese chess puzzle and is: To set up a position where one side has four pieces and moves to Checkmate in one with a check from all four pieces – obviously both Princesses must also be placed on the board (or the position would be illegal) and there could be a further stipulation that no Chariot is allowed – an answer:

North Princess f8

South Leading soldier (or Chariot) g7

South Horse h7

South Horse g6

South Cannon f5

South Princess e1

South is to move (North is not in check here - this would be illegal with South to move)

Leading soldier (or Chariot) to f7 and North’s Princess is in Checkmate with a check from all four of South’s pieces – there are variations of this setup (the Princess and the Cannon could be on other squares along their files, and there are symmetrical setups as well) and there are also variations where the four pieces give check but not Checkmate (for example if all the pieces were moved one square to the left though South’s Princess need not be, or just South's Princess could be moved one square left or right)

This Quadruple-check with Checkmate could perhaps theoretically occur in a game, but it is intended as an amusing puzzle only rather than a study, and perhaps it should be added that the Horses are not necessary for Checkmate here but their unblocking gives rise to two extra checks that are necessary to answer the puzzle.



Opening shots and The Corner trap,  and The Quickfire gambit.....and Statistics


When looking at the Traditional and Accelerated placements it can be seen that it is possible to make captures with the Cannons at the very start of the game:


Opening shots and The Corner trap

With the Traditional placement South can start the game by exchanging both his Cannons for both opposing Horses*, but the recapturing Chariots then come more quickly into the game and the Cannons are likely to be an advantage for the coming middle game – this opening possibility may scarcely have been played and were South to play it he would, I think, find himself at a disadvantage if playing against an equally strong North…..but this opening could be played by inexperienced players as practice games where South must make the most of his Horses and North the most of his Cannons – perhaps useful learning experience made more so by the focus on different pieces – see Training and Practice…..and perhaps it should have a name – ‘Opening shots’ seems passable


*If north replies likewise by capturing south’s Horse on his first move there is an opening trap:

1. Cannon x Horse h10

1… Cannon x Horse b1?!

2. Cannon x Attendant f10!

If south captures north’s Cannon on b1 with his Chariot north will capture south’s on h10 likewise and south has gained no advantage, though the position has scope… capturing the Attendant the Cannon has become a ‘Desperado’ that will gain material and also sets a trap – north’s Chariot on i10 is now threatened and undefended

2… Princess x Cannon f10

If north again replies likewise he falls into the trap: 2… Cannon x Attendant d1? - north apparently also threatens south’s undefended Chariot on a1, but 3. Cannon x Chariot i10 check, and north must escape the check (with 3… Princess e9 or Protector e8/i8 or Cannon h10) leaving south able to capture north’s Cannon on d1 with his Princess next move and by so doing to save his Chariot as well… overwhelming material advantage for south

3. Chariot x Cannon b1

South in turn captures north’s Cannon…..north has here avoided the trap (‘The Corner trap’ seems an apt name) but is an Attendant down and has no obvious compensation – his Princess exerts influence down the open f file with her Sceptre (described later in QiPlacements), but there seems no short-term way to make use of this…..nevertheless the material difference is not great and the position, as before, has scope due to the corresponding piece line-ups being on opposite sides of the board, and much could happen before the loss of the Attendant might become significant – north can now play 3… Cannon e8 (the most popular opening in Chinese chess is Cannon e3) attacking south’s undefended e4 Soldier and perhaps work up an initiative, and though he has delayed bringing his i10 Chariot to the h file this is now open ready for this.


An Unexpected move

Perhaps then an experienced player could commence a game against an inexperienced player by capturing one of his Horses (the h10 Horse might be usual) with a Cannon and if his opponent replied by capturing the Cannon he might decide not to capture the other Horse and play a developing move instead, such as Cannon to e3 that attacks north’s undefended e7 Soldier – as stated in the asterisked note above this is the most popular opening move in Chinese chess (where it is usual for the h3 Cannon to be moved), but here there is only one Horse left to defend the attacked e7 Soldier (the usual reply to Cannon e3 from h3 is Horse to g8)…..this ‘Opening shot’ lessens any disadvantage if the opponent does capture the Cannon, whilst if the opponent instead replies likewise there are the possibilities set out in the asterisked note above including the Corner trap, and it could occasionally even be tried against an experienced player as ‘an Unexpected move’ perhaps leading to interesting, if unexpected, positions.



The Quickfire gambit

With the Accelerated placement South also has possibilities to make immediate captures with his Cannons, but these are of a different type from the above Opening shots and the possibilities can collectively be named the ‘Quickfire gambit’ where the object is to use the Cannons to leave the opposing Princess with less defence and open to a subsequent attack, particularly by South’s Chariots…, keeping symmetry in mind, some moves are:

1. Cannon x Attendant f10 (One shot variation)

The very first move is a gambit by South – Quickfire indeed

1… Princess x Cannon f10

This leaves North’s other Attendant undefended, and so

2. Cannon x Attendant d10 (Two shot variation)

At first glance it appears South has captured both of North’s Attendants for the loss of one of his Cannons, and his second Cannon on d10 attacks both North’s Horse on b10 (though defended by the a10 Chariot) and his undefended Protector on g10…..but the Cannon cannot simply be extricated and escape being captured

2… Princess e10

North attacks the Cannon immediately

3. Cannon x Protector g10 (Three shot variation)

The Cannon now forks the Chariot on i10 and the Protector on c10 – both are undefended

3… Chariot i8

North moves his Chariot out of the line of fire

4. Cannon x Protector c10 (Four shot variation)

South has captured all four of North’s defensive pieces after four moves and his Cannon now forks the a10 Chariot and the h10 Horse…..and both are undefended

4… Chariot a9

North moves his a10 Chariot out of the line of fire - the Chariots have full control of their second and third ranks

5. Cannon x Horse h10 (Five shot variation)

The Cannon captures the undefended h10 Horse and attacks North’s remaining Horse on b10 who is now himself undefended, and in addition also has a possible escape route back along the h file…..North here has a choice of moving or defending his remaining Horse, or cutting off the Cannon’s escape route

5… Chariot h8

North cuts off the Cannon’s escape route and attacks it while taking control of the open h file

6. Cannon x Horse b10 (Six shot variation)

The Cannon captures North’s undefended remaining Horse and also now has a new possible escape route, this time back along the b file

6… Chariot b9

North cuts off the new escape route and attacks the Cannon and also takes control of the open b file

7. Cannon c10

South moves his Cannon out of attack

This is probably the most radical line (perhaps rather an extreme one) of this opening and has led to the opposite of gambits generally with South here having a material advantage but not an initiative as all his pieces other than the Cannon are unmoved, whereas North has both his Chariots fully active, but North has lost all his defensive pieces and his Princess could be very vulnerable if South can bring his Chariots into the vicinity of her Palace.....but whatever of the above mentioned choices North continues with on his fifth move I think he would need to make full use of his more active Chariots with the support of his Cannons before South can use his own Chariots in an attack on the Northern Princess…..but there are other possible moves besides those shown.....first though it may be worth saying something of Initiative and Tempi:



It is widely considered that at the start of a game of both Western and Chinese chess the first moving side has an advantage – how much of an advantage though…..well, there are now databases of many high level games of Western chess going back well over a hundred years and the statistics suggest an advantage to the first moving player of perhaps around 55%.....but I am not aware of such an amount of information being readily available for Chinese chess – however in Hsiang Ch'i (a fine introduction to the game) Terence Donnelly states that having first move in Chinese chess probably gives a greater advantage than in Western chess, and gives an example of a 50 game collection where First move won 33 and Second move 13, with the remaining 4 being draws (at 8% a much lower percentage of draws than in high level Western chess – over 50%)…..this gives a First move advantage of 70%*, but the number of games are far less than the Western chess numbers here – nevertheless I think it is worth keeping these figures in mind…..but there is a point to be aware of and that is, unlike in Steps, stalemate counts as a win in Chinese chess and there are one or two other rules that tend to reduce the number of draws (Steps does not have them) - however I would think the percentage of First move advantage to still be significantly higher notwithstanding these…..

*The calculation for this is: add the number of wins to half the number of draws, then divide this by the total number of games, finally - multiply this by a hundred for a percentage…..and for Second move subtract this from a hundred – giving a 30% disadvantage here.


To be continued



Training and Practice

The following have been mentioned earlier as games for training and practice – they would not however usually score points being more as quasi games than Steps games proper (except Opening shots moves could occur in a game proper of QiPlacements with the Traditional placement)…..and as they are played for training and practice only players can more decide for themselves what equipment and piece names to use - within reason that is as they would still have to be within the general bounds of Steps as set out; and so the standard rule of Chinese chess that Generals may not face each other along an otherwise (between them) unoccupied file can be applied here, but they have no Sceptres or suchlike (except again if Opening shots were played in a game proper of QiPlacements with the Traditional placement there would then be Princesses with Sceptres as usual) and so this power of the Generals (however named) here is abstract only and for the purposes of game training and practice play only

1. Phantom chess

2. Knights v Cannons

3. Chinese-Indian chess

4. Opening shots


To recap:


Phantom chess commences as does Chinese chess but without Cannons


Knights v Cannons commences with the following deployment differences from Chinese chess – the opening moves are not played but assumed to be as Opening shots below except with Indian chess Horses instead of Chinese chess Horses


No Horses

Chariots on b10 and h10

Cannons as traditional on b8 and h8


No Cannons

Indian Horses instead of Chinese Horses on b1 and h1

Indian Horses are the same here as (Western chess) Knights and they can be referred to as either, or perhaps as Warrior knights (as in RiverQi – see later) or War-horses, as preferred


Chinese-Indian chess: following on from Knights v Cannons this could also be played as part of Training and Practice as mentioned in the asterisked note in ‘An Unclear Situation’ heading earlier – here the game commences with the traditional Chinese chess deployment placement (perhaps longer-term the accelerated placement as set out earlier in QiPlacements could also be tried) except that Chinese chess Horses are replaced with Indian chess Horses – players are free to play opening moves as they decide and the possibilities described earlier in the section on Opening shots may have more relevance here since Cannons are likely to be more readily exchanged with Indian Horses than with Chinese Horses…..and initially (as something of an experiment) I think Elephants will be allowed to cross the river in this game and operate on the whole board (their paths never meet though) – to distinguish them from the usual restricted Elephant they can be called War-elephants with Horses here being called War-horses, both are manned as usual in Steps…..if Chinese-Indian chess does become established the game may also possibly feature in some way in group play (see Part two)


Opening shots commences with the same deployment as Chinese chess but the following opening moves are in this case played:

1. Cannon x Horse h10, Chariot x Cannon h10

2. Cannon x Horse b10, Chariot x Cannon b10

This leaves the same commencing deployment as Knights v Cannons but with Chinese Horses on b1 and h1 instead of Indian Horses


To be continued




Cannon-fire is over but

A Chess Set continues






Shaye-Alexander Ellis Nicholls of Rhun, Merridonia

Wednesday, 8th June 2022




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By Glenn Nicholls.

Last revised by Glenn Nicholls.

Web page created: 2015-07-06. Web page last updated: 2015-07-06