Early and Large Variants
The family of Japanese chess games is generally called shogi. Nearly two dozen variations have been discovered. One dates from almost a thousand years ago. Many variants were distinguished by the number of spaces on the uncolored boards and the number of pieces per player.
+ Maka-Dai-Dai Shogi was played on a 19×19 board, and each player had 96 pieces.
+ Tai Shogi was played on a 25×25 board, and each player had 177 pieces that comprised 93 different types of pieces.
Piece movements for both these games were recorded in Nishizawa Teijin’s Sho Shogi Zushiki, published in 1694.
+ In 1997, a variant called Taikyoku Shogi was discovered, described as being on a 36×36 board with each player having 402 pieces of 209 different types.
No records of games for these elaborate variants exist, but some rules indicate that both an Emperor and a Crown Prince had to be captured to win the game.
On a more moderate scale is Chu Shogi (or Middle Shogi), played on a 12×12 board, with each player having 46 pieces. This game is played today, including tournaments.
None of these shogi variants include the drop rule. As with Chess, when a piece is captured, it is removed from the game.
Shogi Variants with Drops
Drops came about when what is commonly called Shogi (or Modern Shogi) was established in the mid-1500s. It is played on a 9×9 board, each player begins with 20 pieces, and it is popular around the world.
Tori Shogi, with a 7×7 board and 32 pieces per player, is the smallest, and the newest, of the ancient versions of the shogi family. It was established about 200 years ago. As with Shogi, Tori Shogi uses the drop rule for captured pieces.
Over the upcoming series, we will examine the Tori Shogi pieces and their movements, along with opening options and playing strategies. We’ll start with the Tori Shogi board.
The Tori Shogi Board
The board is 7×7. Spaces 7g and 1g are the home corners for Black. Spaces 7a and 1a are the home corners for White. Black moves first in all shogi variants. Board diagrams will use this perspective. The spaces are rectangles, not squares, slightly longer than wide.
Note the large dots at the four intersections of 6b/5c, 3c/2b, 6f/5e, and 3e/2f, indicating the promotion zones. A promotion occurs when a piece moves into the farthest 2 ranks, or moves after having been previously dropped into those 2 ranks.
Small side tables are sometimes used, displaying captured pieces (unpromoted side up) until they are brought back into play. These boards are positioned on each player’s right side next to the game board, and captured pieces are visible to both players and all onlookers. If no side tables are used, the pieces are simply placed on each player’s right side of the game board.
Crafted wooden boards are used in tournaments. Casual games are often played on simple boards made of durable white paper with black printing. Most sets available from Japan come with wooden pieces and folded white paper boards.
There is a printable Tori Shogi board at ToriShogi.com. It can be printed on regular paper, card stock, or a full-page shipping label that can be applied to any flat surface, such as a clipboard or tabletop.
Due to the smaller board size, space and place in Tori Shogi remain more confined throughout the game as compared to Chess or Shogi. The 32 pieces in Tori Shogi are placed among the 49 spaces of the 7×7 game board, leaving about 35% of the total space available for initial moves. If each side has five or six captured pieces in hand, the board provides only about 55% availability for moves and drops.
By comparison, Chess, with 32 pieces on an 8×8 board, begins with 50% of the board open, and that number only increases with each capture, up to 80% or more by the endgame.
This confinement is one of the more exciting aspects of Tori Shogi, as it begins with a capture-or-be-captured situation from the first move, and the action rarely subsides.
In the next part of this series, we’ll begin populating the game board with the Tori Shogi pieces. A final note: tori is the Japanese word for bird. All the pieces are named after birds, rather than military commanders, weapons, and soldiers.
Jinsei o ajiwau.