Shogi is a Japanese board game resembling chess in many ways. The main differences 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. For example, ||PROMOTED ROOK|| (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 description.




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.
  • 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.
(The removed pieces are completely out of the game and don't go into either players hand.)


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:
    P-8f 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 would be:

    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.

  • TOP


    • Ranking.
    • 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
    published by:
    The Shogi Association, Ltd.
    P.O. Box 77
    Bromley, Kent
    United Kingdom
    ISBN: 4871872017 (thanks to Michael Cox for this)

    This is a great book for learning to play Shogi.


    3 Star
    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 copyright .)


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