Shogi is a Japanese board game resembling chess in many ways. The
are: a 9x9 (instead of 8x8) board, 20 (versus 16) pieces on a side,
"promotion" of pieces when they make it to enemy territory, and (this is
the biggie) when enemy pieces are captured, they enter your "hand" instead of
leaving the game, and you may "drop" them back in later on your side!
Obviously, the differences make for a very exciting game.
If you like chess, you'll probably like Shogi too.
Shogi is much like chess: two opponents maneuver pieces on a board with
the capture of the enemy King as the objective. Like chess, a checkmate
occurs when a King can not avoid capture on the next turn. However,
there are no stalemates in Shogi, and draws are very rare.
There are other differences as well: Shogi is played on a nine by nine
board that usually doesn't have alternating color squares (plain wood with
a black grid on it, the board
looks like a ten by ten Go board, (Shogi measures nine squares, Go
would measure the 10 intersections.)) Since the board is larger than a
chess board, each side has twenty, instead of sixteen, pieces.
Also, there are no color or design differences between pieces of
opposing sides. Even so,
one player is called black and the other, white. Black goes first,
players then alternate turns as the game progresses. In diagrams, black
plays up the board, white down.
A plain wood board with a grid defining nine by nine squares. Rows across are referred to as "ranks" and rows up and down are "files."
The top section is the White camp (where White's pieces start.) In this section, Black pieces can promote. The center section is a kind of "no-man's land". It's just a neutral area between camps. The bottom section is the Black camp (where Black's pieces start.) In this section, White pieces can promote.
Files are denoted 1 through 9 starting from the right, and ranks are a through i, starting from the top. Thus, every square can be named by a letter-number pair, i.e., 8h, 5e, 7c. This system matches the Japanese so westerners can use Japanese game-scores.
The International symbols on the pieces graphically describe their movement.
An arrowhead indicates unlimited movement in that direction, while a line with
no arrowhead indicates one space movement per turn.
(a promoted Rook) can move forward,
backward, right or left an unlimited number of spaces per turn, and diagonally
forward or backward one space per turn. (Of course, by unlimited I mean a piece
can move along unobstructed squares, not through other pieces.) Click on
the pieces to see the Japanese and International symbols, as well as a
In each player's first rank, the pieces are, from left to right, lance, knight, silver, gold, king, gold, silver, knight, lance. The second rank is blank, bishop, five blanks, rook, blank. The third rank is all pawns. Each player uses three ranks on their side leaving three empty ranks in the middle of the board.
Any piece on the board may move in its allowed fashion on to any square
occupied by an enemy piece. In doing so, it captures the enemy piece
which is removed from the board and put into the players "hand."
Pieces in hand should be kept in sight of the opposing player, usually
near the right corner of the board. Pieces in hand may be dropped
back into play later in the game (see the section on DROPPING.)
At the end of any move beginning or ending within the enemy's "camp"
(promotion zone), a player may elect to promote the moved piece. The
piece does not have to promote unless it can not move any further with
its normal movement powers. (If promotion is rejected at the end of
a given move, it can be re-earned by another move that begins or ends
in the enemy camp). When a piece promotes, its movement changes
as described in the PIECES section. A knight
entering the last two ranks or a lance or pawn entering the last rank
would be required to promote. It is important to remember that promotion
is not always required since it is sometimes advantageous to leave a
piece unpromoted (the Silver General, for example).
An amazing feature of Shogi is that no piece is ever permanently removed
from play. Instead, when captured, pieces enter players' "hands" and
may then be used later or "dropped." Dropping is putting a captured
piece back into play on your side. Instead of moving a piece, you may
elect to drop from your hand into play. The piece is placed on the
board in its unpromoted state on an empty square, and is subsequently
counted as a normal
piece on your side. There are restrictions on placement of drops: 1)
pawns can not be dropped so as to checkmate on that move, 2) pawns can
not be dropped into a file containing another friendly unpromoted
pawn, 3) pawns and lances can not
be dropped into the last rank, and 4) knights can not be dropped into
the last two ranks (3 and 4 are because the dropped pieces could not
legally move from their places). I find that 2 is the hardest for
me to remember when playing.
When two players of different rank play, they often use a handicap system
to make the game more interesting for both. Stronger player takes white.
(The removed pieces are completely out of the game and don't go into either
- White removes left lance.
- 2 game series: 1st game, white removes left lance; 2nd game, white
removes bishop only.
- White removes bishop.
- White removes rook.
- White removes rook and left lance.
- 2 game series: 1st game, white removes rook and left lance; 2nd game,
white removes rook and bishop.
- White removes rook and bishop.
Of course, simple courtesy is always best. But in case you've forgotten
how to do that, at least do this:
- Once a move is made and your hand removed, you can't take it back.
(Interestingly, though, professional Japanese players frequently touch
their pieces in hand without moving them.)
- Keep all pieces in hand in plain view. Many players keep their
pieces off the lower right corner of the board.
- For handicap play, set up the whole board, then remove the pieces.
- If you are resigning a game, please do so verbally, or by
gently placing the pieces in your hand on the board. It is often
considered bad form to scream at your opponent and then sweep all the
pieces from the board.
Not every situation that is possible (and possibly a point of contention)
is covered in the rules. Certain infringements (having a piece where
it shouldn't be) and other unforseen circumstances may arise that call
for a decisive ruling, but there is no rule. In such cases, in Japan,
a senior player rules on the situation and that becomes a new, standard,
rule that is accepted by all. It seems that in Japan, having every last
possible circumstance accounted for and ruled on is not an obsession
and if a problem arises, they make a rule on the spot. In the west,
the Shogi Association in England (or wherever you are) typically makes
rules to cover problem situations, but these rules may not be known
in Japan. Playing in a decorous fashion and being reasonable are
traits that will help in difficult situations.
The system of notation from Shogi For Beginners (see the
Feedback section for more info on this book).
Moving pieces are designated by their first letter, i.e., G for gold, except
for the knight which is designated by an N. This is followed by the
way it is moving, then the square onto which it is moving. For example,
a pawn on 8g moving to 8f and not capturing is recorded as:
if there is no question as to which pawn this must be or as:
P8g-8f showing the originating square.
Note that a "-" is used to indicate a move to a vacant square.
An "x" is used to indicate a capture, so a lance capturing a pawn on 4d
An appended "+" is used to show a promotion, and an appended "=" to show
a move when a piece could promote, but doesn't:
S-7c+ is a silver promoting onto 7c and
S-7c= shows the same move, but the silver doesn't promote.
Pieces that have promoted are indicated with a prepended "+":
+Rx5i is a promoted rook capturing a piece on 5i.
"*" is used to show a drop:
P*3f is a pawn drop onto 3f.
A game would typically be recorded using numbered entries, one for each
pair of moves like so:
1. P-7f P-3d
2. P-2f G-3b
3. P-2e B-3c
I know of at least 2 other systems of notation, and I will try to get
them in here as soon as possible.
- Draws and repetition.
I drew all the graphics on this page with various free- and shareware
packages (none too great) and wrote the text based on the instructions
that came with my
Ishi Press Shogi set and the book:
Shogi For Beginners
by John Fairbairn, 1984 and 1986
The Shogi Association, Ltd.
P.O. Box 77
ISBN: 4871872017 (thanks to Michael Cox for this)
This is a great book for learning to play Shogi.
The Shogi Page was awarded 3 (out of 4) stars by The McKinley Group's Magellan
web site rating service on May 30, 1996. Isn't that nifty!
(please note that the images here are not freely available for
other people's use; if you want to use them, check out my