Shogi is not hard to learn. Children can learn this game and so can you. If you have ever played Chess, you have a head start, but that is not a prerequisite.
Traditionally Japanese calligraphy is used to mark the pieces in Shogi. This can intimidate westerners that can’t read Japanese. Luckily there are other styles of sets out there to make life easier for the beginner. Typically, once you’ve learned to play, you’ll want to take the time to learn the symbols the Japanese use for each piece.
I wrote this explanation of the rules of shogi several years ago, and included a version of them in my book, Tsume Puzzles for Japanese Chess.
Rules of the Game
The game of Shogi is similar to the game of Chess. They both are derived from the same game. One version was modified as it travelled to Europe, and the other was modified as it made its way to Japan.
Shogi traditionally uses kanji to distinguish which piece (called a token) is which. I’ve decided that such a game as this would have become very popular in the US among other places had it only been easier for someone that is not familiar with kanji to play. To any who know kanji, the pieces are attractive and full of imagery.
Now to play the game first you should know the tokens and how they move.
Setting Up the Board
The board is set up as seen below. A player’s tokens always point away from him. If tokens are pointing at you, they’re not your pieces.
The object of Shogi is the same as the object of Chess. Capture the other opponent’s King. Capturing the King results in victory. Unlike Chess, there is no requirement to warn the opponent by saying “Check” or “Checkmate.” Also the King is permitted to let itself be captured if the player is careless, so be carefull!
The Knight moves similarly to the Knight in chess, but with more restrictions. It is the only token that can jump other tokens. It moves forward in the “L” shape, but no other directions. In other words, two spaces forward in conjuction with one to the side, either left or right.
Now is a good time to discuss another variation Shogi takes from Chess. Shogi allows promotion, but it is different than Chess. All tokens except for the King and Gold General may be promoted. The Rook and Bishop gain the movement capabilities of King in addition to keeping their old movement capabilities. All other tokens exchange their movement capabilities for that of the Gold General when they are promoted.
Promotion (with few exceptions) is never mandatory. When a token moves into, out of, or in the last three rows of squares on the opposite side of the board from their starting place, they may choose to promote.
Mandatory promotion happens if any token moves to a square where its only legal move is prohibited by the edge of the board.
Promoted Silver General
Any tokens captured in Shogi are NOT removed from the game. Instead they are place in plain site in the player’s reservoir. Instead of moving a token during a turn a player may choose to drop a token. Tokens are always dropped in demoted status.
Two special rules apply to pawns when dropping. First a Pawn may not be dropped in a column that contains an unpromoted Pawn owned by the player dropping the Pawn. Also a Pawn may not be placed in a position that places a King in what Chess players would call Checkmate. (Attacking the King is fine though.)
Tokens may not be dropped on a location from which the only legal move is prohibited by the edge of the board. If the token will never be able to move after it is dropped, it is an illegal drop.
In tournament play, if an illegal move is made even accidentally, the player looses immediately. In casual games it is customary to allow players to take back accidental illegal moves.
Black and White
Shogi has Black and White players too, though the tokens are not colored. The player who moves first is considered to be the Black player and the other is the White player. This is reversed from Chess. The squares on the board (which might actually be rectangles) are labeled from the Black player’s perspective. The squares are one to nine from right to left. The squares are labeled A to I from top to bottom. For example the bottom left square from Black’s perspective is 9i and contains a Lance initially.
Everything about the board and the captured pieces is called the Position of the board. If everything about the board is the same twice in the game, the Position is said to be repeated. If the Position is repeated four times the game is a draw, or in tournaments, it is replayed with players’ colors swapped so that a different person starts. The exception is that if the repetition occurs because one player is forcing it with a check of the King, then the checking Player looses the game for having forced Sennichite.
Remember, the repetition is of the same Position of the board, not a repetition of the moves, though this can result in a repetition of Position of the board and reservoirs.
When both Kings have reached the enemies side of the board, and the capture of a King seems impossible, the players may decide to count pieces and end the game. Rooks and Bishops count as five points, Kings are not counted, and all other tokens are counted as one point.
If one player has 24 points or more, but the other has less than 24 points, then player with the greater points wins. If both players have 24 or more points the game is a draw and may be replayed with players swapping colors.
If one player would like to invoke Jishogi, and the other does not then the game continues. If one player has managed to get all of his tokens into the last three rows of the enemies side of the board and they are all protected by other tokens, then he may force Jishogi and all pieces are counted ending the game.
Those are the rules of Shogi. I hope you have many enjoyable years of playing this ancient game. If you need a board and pieces to play shogi with, try printing out paper versions from the free PDFs provided on the shogi boards page.