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

© Copyright Shaye-Alexander Ellis Nicholls 2020

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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 – the Cannon’s (and Horse’s) move make possible several situations that do not occur in Western chess’

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…..’






By SAE Nicholls




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

Opening shots and The Quickfire gambit.....and Statistics




…..Proto-chess is simply Chinese chess without Cannons…..

….. Proto-chess does not offer much scope to bring about a win against an equally strong opponent, but may be a useful way for beginners to learn the game…..

To be continued


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 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 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

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…..and perhaps it should have a name – ‘Opening shots’ seems passable.


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…..

*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


Cannon-fire is over but

A Chess Set continues






Shaye-Alexander Ellis Nicholls of Rhun, Merridonia

Thursday, 22nd October 2020




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