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The importance of Imagination in Chinese chess!

In Chess, as well as in Chinese Chess, there are some positions which are difficult to conquer. As always they defy our visualization in many ways. Let’s take the following position found on a beginner’s book of over a quarter of a century ago!

Here I spent a good amount of time analyzing the knight moves, which in some cases, if Black blundered, would bring to a quick checkmate. Chinese chess uses a system of files for describing the movement of the pieces. But since I’m a chess player I prefer to use the algebraic notation, which is definitely easier for everyone. The letters for the files go from A to I and the numbers go from 1 to 10 for the ranks. The pieces we have here are the General that for sake of simplicity we can call King (K), the chariot which moves like the Rook in chess hence we can abbreviate with R, and a set of Elephants (E) and Ministers (M, the bodyguards inside the palace).

1.Ng8 Ke8?? 2.Rb8 checkmate!

Checkmate, the king cannot go anywhere!

or 1.Ng8 Kd9?? 2.Rd3 checkmate.

Unfortunately after 1.Ng8 Black can play 1…Ke10 and I couldn’t find a way to checkmate the enemy king.

Also in case of 1.Nd7 Ke8?? White can win thanks to 2.Rb8#

What if Black plays Kd9? this is more complicated:

1. Nd7 Kd9 2.Nf8 Ke9 3.Rb9 Ke8 4.Nh9 (now White is threatening Nxf10 and Rd9 checkmate)

4…Mde9 5.Ng7 Kd8 6.Ne6 Ke8 7.Nc7 Kd8 8.Rd9 checkmate! (also the move Rb8 would have given checkmate)

This is why Chinese chess can be quite difficult, one needs to stretch visualization to a whole new level.

In the beginning I thought Black could escape the checkmate if playing Ke10, but I was wrong. Let’s return to the beginning!

1.Nd7 Ke10

2.Nf8 Ke9 3.Rb9 Ke8 4.Nh9

Very insidious, how to escape the mate?

Kd8 5.Nxf10 Me9 6.Rd9 checkmate.

The solution given in the book is intriguing, because it’s not all forced, like in most checkmate for International chess, but there is a role cast by the Elephants which screen and prevent the enemy rook from coming back to stop the checkmate. Once more let’s go back to the beginning position!

1.Rb9 Ke10 2.Nh7

Now Red is threatening checkmate with the move Ng9, hence Black needs to block it, or find an escape square for its general.

Mde9 3.Rd9 (notice how White blocks a possible escape square for the enemy king: D10)

3…Rg2 trying to control the square G9 which would give checkmate, and now we learn another pattern, the power of the elephants to occlude the rook from controlling G9, this was the idea I missed.


Rxg5 5.Exg5 and now no matter what Black moves there is checkmate with Ng9.

In conclusion, a position which should have been simple, took me a hour of analysis, and calculation. Of course an engine would take seconds, but we are not allowed to use engines for playing chess or XiangQi. The beginner’s book from which I took it, didn’t analyze all the transpositions or alternative moves, so it was a good exercise.

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