Best Free Chinese Chess

 
Introduction

Chinese Chess is thought to be played by part of around one billion Chinese speakers around the world (and they can’t all be wrong!). Xiangqi—to give the game its Mandarin title—translates as Elephant Chess. It is actually a noble cousin of the modern Western game: both forms seem to have evolved from a common ancestor, presumably related to the legendary Indian game of Chaturanga.

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The rules of Chinese chess are close enough to those of the Western game to make them easy to digest. But their differences make for subtlely different game play.

Chinese chess has attracted its fair share of interest from computer programmers, and even top players are meeting their match. The good news is that there are excellent freeware options for the delight of all sorts of players.

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  Read this article in Chinese (中文)

 
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Discussion

HOXChessHOXChess is top recommended free Chinese chess and a well designed open source program supporting multi platforms including Windows, Linux and Mac OS. It even has a mobile version for iPhone/iPod Touch available for free download from App Store.

You can use the application to open a saved table, play against a computer engine, or play other people online for free via a variety of remote servers such as PlayXiangqi and Chesscape. The user interface is appealing and highly configurable with optional boards and chessmen designed to your liking.

HOXChess comes with a large selection of engines including Tsito developed by Noah Roberts, XQWLight by Morning Yellow, Folium by Wangmao Lin, MaxQi and a stronger engine HaQiKi D by H.G. Muller. Each of the engines is adjustable for difficulty levels ranging from 1 to 10.

Games can be opened or saved into text-based xml format but no import from other formats is supported so far. Neither are undo and redo moves available although forward and backward steps are handy for reviewing game.

 

Qianhong WesternQianhong is a remarkably user-friendly program recommended for anyone new to the game. You can opt for alternative board designs (in scalable sizes to suit your screen) and select Western-style chessmen. A complete Help manual is included.

To familiarize yourself with the game, you may find it useful to watch the computer play itself. When you decide to join in, Qianhong can give you hints for your next move, or allow you to undo and redo moves in case you make a mistake. Opening and saving games in txt or icc file format are supported while opening-book and end-game resources are also available.

Qianhong installs with a relatively weak built-in engine, which you may find fun to play against if you’re just starting out. However, you can also install a selection of stronger third-party engines, provided as plug-ins.

A particularly versatile and popular one is ElephantEye, and this can be set to six levels of strength ranging from ‘Beginner’ to ‘Overwhelming’. If you get to beat ElephantEye at the fifth level, you’ll have reached Grand Master level.

 

WinBoardAfter you've reached the Grand Master level, or otherwise you just want to hone your skills further, then WinBoard gives you a good chance to try out even stronger engines.

The program runs almost any UCCI engines and you can get some powerful engines here. Some of them were tested to be stronger than the pre-installed engines MaxQi, HaQiKi D and ElephantEye.

Besides playing against a chess engine, you can also use the program to match two engines with auto saving of match results. Instead of adjusting difficulty levels, WinBoard lets you set conventional chess clock or incremental clock to limit number of moves and amount of time for the game. Forward, backward and retract moves are supported. Other notable features include save and open games in pgn format, copy or paste game from clipboard, etc.

On the flip side, I found setting up Internet Chess Server for Xiangqi with the program was not as easy as that with HOXChess, while setting of some engines popped up an empty window when tested.

 

XieXie FreewareXieXie Freeware, a free version of XieXie Master, comes with rich features and a built-in engine strong enough for most players. You can choose a suitable level ranging from beginner to advanced, or select to play a handicapped or time limited game.

It has a nice user interface with three different board sizes, various sets of chessmen, and different board styles and colors. Other useful features include hints on best next move, undo/redo moves, load and save games, build own opening books, etc.

More advanced features, such as additional configuration of the chess engine, are only available in the paid version, but the free version is good enough for most average players.

 

HiddenLynxHiddenLynx is a good alternative for practicing or playing Chinese Chess. The simple user interface highlights available moves when you place the mouse cursor over a piece—great for learning the game. And you can undo and redo your moves.

The program comes with a built-in engine with 5 levels of strength. It saves games automatically, so you can adjourn and return to the board whenever you want.

Unlike Qianhong, HiddenLynx does not let you install third-party engines or edit opening books. But the program is portable. After downloading, just unzip to any folder you choose, click the executable, and start a game.

 

Milo's Chinese ChessAnother free program Milo's Chinese Chess is worth a try for practicing and playing the game as well. The 3D vivid interface together with animated legal moves enriches your game experience with the program.

It has a built-in engine with 6 levels of strength. You can undo/redo moves, open and save games, play full-screen or windowed.

Other display features include setting board texture, mirror effect and slide pieces, etc.

 

More Chinese Chess Engines

If you're looking for more Chinese Chess engines, you might want to check out this list of Chinese Chess engines which are compliant with the UCCI protocol and free for download. From the list, these are the top five strongest engines (based on a test conducted by H.G. Muller):

  1. Cyclone (commercial software, last free version 0.55)
  2. BugChess
  3. Binghewusi (Soldiers Creek 54)
  4. Kou (Cloud As)
  5. 3DChess

 

Play online Chinese Chess straight from Internet Browser
  • Coffee Chinese Chess gives you a good browser-based experience in playing against a computer opponent without the need to install any software. You can just go straight to the site, choose your pieces and play the game right away.
  • ChessWhiz, a web client which is open source and based on Adobe Flex, allows you to log in as Guest or enter your username, then join a table to observe the game or play Xiangqi with humans on the Internet.
  • Chesscape, an online game running on Java, lets you register a free user ID with password, then log in either to practice game or select a table to start game among other members.
  • Playok.com - Xiangqi is also another option to play Chinese Chess with humans online, just log in with your member ID (free registration), select a set of chessmen and play among other members.
 
Related Products and Links

Both Chinese chess and Western chess share some proximate game rules with Japanese chess (Shogi) after evolving from games of ancient Indian and Persian origin.

Other than that, you might want to check out these board games too:
 
Quick Selection Guide

HOXChess
4.5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Support multi platforms and work with multiple online game sites, configurable user interface with optional board and chessmen designs, support multiple engines with adjustable difficulty levels, open and save games in xml format.
No import from other game formats, no undo and redo moves although steps forward and backward are available for reviewing games. Computer vs computer mode not available.
1.0.0
3.2 MB
Open source freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows, Linux, Mac OS, iOS
Qianhong
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Good for learning with undo/redo moves and hints, scalable board, traditional and western sets of pieces, complete user manual, support icc file format. Various modes of play including user/computer vs. computer.
Stronger third party engine needs to install separately, user interface design not as good as HOXChess.
3.5.1
386 KB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows

ElephantEye engine plug-in (467 KB) http://www.jcraner.com/qianhong/download.html
The interface of the ElephantEye engine installer is in Chinese. Upon installing the engine software, you need to click N (Next) four times, I (Install) one time, and should be able to set up the engine with ease.

WinBoard
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Various engines included, support UCCI engines, play against a chess engine or match two engines with auto-save match results, set conventional clock or incremental clock, open and save games in pgn format, etc.
Setting up Internet Chess Server for Xiangqi not as easy as HOXChess, encountered some bugs such as a blank window for setting some engines with the program.
4.20100807
2.0 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows

On the download page, look for Download XQ installer pack.

XieXie Freeware
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Engine strong enough for most players, handicapped or timed game, various board sizes, styles and colors, chessmen sets; show hints, undo/redo moves, save games and edit opening books.
No third party engine plug-in.
http://www.cc-xiexie.com/home.php
2.5
997 KB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000 to XP
HiddenLynx
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Simple user interface, highlights available moves, undo/redo moves, built-in engine with 5 levels of strength, auto-save games.
No third party engine plug-in, cannot edit opening books, etc.
http://mayoneez.1g.fi/hiddenlynx/
1.0
4.2 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows
Milo's Chinese Chess
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
3D vivid interface, animated legal moves, built-in engine with 6 levels of strength, undo/redo moves, open and save games, etc.
No third party engine plug-in, developer's web site not accessible.
1.0
1.6 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 95 and above

Please rebuild the download link by replacing [DOT] with .
The developer's homepage (http://www.hku.hk/icac/milo) is currently not available.

 
Editor

This category is maintained by volunteer editor Jojo Yee. Registered members can contact the editor with comments or suggestions by clicking here.
You can visit the Google+ profile page of Jojo Yee here.

 
Tags

chinese chess, xiangqi, elephant chess, chinese chess freeware, free chinese chess online, online xiangqi, freeware, free chess, free online chess

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Comments

by Anonymous on 17. March 2009 - 14:26  (18036)

Really glad Elephant Chess has got its own page.

by sandymiss on 23. June 2009 - 4:04  (24270)

Thanks so much for sharing the post.

by Anonymous on 7. October 2009 - 18:33  (34108)

This is a cool site to play Chinese Chess online free :) http://www.chesscape.com
Enjoy!

by Anonymous on 8. October 2009 - 4:07  (34137)

Encountered running error, no luck.

by Anonymous on 14. November 2009 - 6:35  (36595)

thanks really useful guide

by Anonymous on 3. February 2010 - 2:08  (42662)

Weird... Avast picked up something bad (Win32-Malware-gen) for Milo's Chinese Chess. Maybe it is a false positive...
It seemed ok before...and the game was nice.

by Jojo Yee on 3. February 2010 - 5:28  (42672)

VirusTotal has a clean result of 0/40.

by Anonymous on 19. February 2010 - 8:46  (43944)

Yeah I think it is just a false positive.
(I'm the same person as the one who posted a comment on 2/3/2010...)

by Anonymous on 11. June 2010 - 6:03  (51888)

Quianhong is great for a beginner learning to play Xiangqi, I just wish there was more online about openings.

by H.G.Muller (not verified) on 26. July 2010 - 19:39  (54956)

The well-known WinBoard / XBoard user interface for Chess ('electronic Chess board') supports a very wide range of Chess variants, including Xiangqi, Shogi, Makruk. WinBoard can be used in various modes: play agains a computer program ('engine'), play two engines against each other, play over the internet on a Chess server, or use as game viewer. It is available in a speaking version for the blind (relying on the JAWS screen reader).

The tremendous amount of functionality that has accumulated in WinBoard over the years all works for Xiangqi. WinBoard supports its own native protocol for communicating with engines, but through adapters that come with it, all important Xiangqi protocols (UCI, UCCI, Qianhong). As a result there are more than 30 free Xiangqi engines available that can be used with it, (and downloaded from the internet), ranging in strength from absolute whimp to incredibly strong (e.g. Kou, BugCChess, 3DChess).

WinBoard uses English, and supports both traditional oriental representation of the Xiangqi or Shogi board, as well as a westernized representation that will more appeal to Chess players. It is open-source software, distributed under the GPL. Personally I think it is by far the best and most versatile software for Xiangqi (and all other forms of Chess) on the planet. (And if not, I have still got work to do... ;-) )

by Jojo Yee on 27. July 2010 - 4:38  (54966)

Hi Muller, it's great that WinBoard 4.4 now supports a full-grown GUI for both Chess and Xiangqi. I've downloaded it and will give it a try for a few more rounds to see its strengths in Xiangqi before updating this article. Thanks a lot.

by Jojo Yee on 29. July 2010 - 14:38  (55123)

Update: WinBoard is now included in the article.

by lioop (not verified) on 1. August 2010 - 22:06  (55321)

Qianhong is better than HOXchess !

by Jojo Yee on 2. August 2010 - 1:47  (55328)

Good to hear from you Lioop, and share with us more in which you think Qianhong is better even though each of the programs has its pros and cons.

by playxiangqi.com (not verified) on 9. August 2010 - 9:08  (55675)

Hi all,

Visit hoxchess homepage at http://playxiangqi.com. Iphone version also available.

by Thura (not verified) on 11. August 2010 - 11:40  (55796)

Thank you very much for sharing..very helpful..

by H.G.Muller (not verified) on 15. August 2010 - 17:46  (56075)

Thank you for including WinBoard in your review!

I made further progress in improving the usefulness of WinBoard as Xiangqi interface.
* The UCCI2WB adapter (used to run the Elephant-Eye engine included in the download, but dozens of other UCCI engines are available for free download on the internet as well) has been improved: it now supports analysis mode, the retract move command, and transfers the engine options to and from the GUI (so that the engine-settings dialog will not remain empty when running a UCCI engine).
* There now also exists a UCI2WB adapter, which can be used to run Xiangqi engines using UCI, rather than UCCI protocol. (E.g. the super-strong commercial engines Cyclone and ggChess.) It also supports analysis mode, and setting of engine options through the GUI. (And it can also be used to run USI Shogi engines under WinBoard!)

I have prepared a download to install WinBoard configured in a way that would be most useful for people that exclusively want to use it for Xiangqi. (Xiangqi will be the default variant, and the oriental board and piece set the default representation, which makes it much easier to install new Xangqi engines. And it defines alternative piece abbreviations, which allows it to understand the (quite common) non-standard FENs using B and N for Elephant and Horse.) This download also contains a highly improved WinBoard version, (which in the not-too-distant future will be released as WinBoard 4.5.0), which supports scrolling through an engine PV obtained from analysis or play. It is bundled with newer versions of the Elephant Eye and HaQiKi D engines.

The package can be downloaded from http://hgm.nubati.net/

[Moderator's Note : Link to direct download edited. Please do not post links to direct download of exe/zip files. Please post the link to download page.]

by Jojo Yee on 16. August 2010 - 4:08  (56098)

Welcome Muller and appreciated your efforts in developing WinBoard. I'd love to try your new version 4.5.0 when it's ready.

I didn't get to your new package from http://hgm.nubati.net/ probably the link had been edited before I got a chance to see it. As this site does not allow a direct link to an executable file, please help to post a link to a download page containing the new package. Thanks.

by H.G.Muller (not verified) on 16. August 2010 - 13:34  (56116)

OK, I will add a link to the package on the homepage of the mentioned site. For now, you can get the package by just adding WinBoard-XQ.DOOMEDEXTENSION at the end of the URL of that home page.

by Jojo Yee on 16. August 2010 - 15:25  (56122)

Thanks for the latest executable file and I'll give it a try. Please do let us know if your new version is ready.

by Lioop (not verified) on 21. August 2010 - 3:09  (56449)

Qianhong has an especially simple set up making it easy for beginners to get started. The interface is user friendly and not overburdened with options that confuse the novice player. As skill increases, adding additional engines is fairly simple. Hoxchess I find to be more convoluted and I could not get the board to fit my netbook screen. I never had played Xiangqi until I downloaded Qianhong, and thanks to this program I was able to learn the basics rapidly without becoming discouraged. Also kudos to Qianhong for creating the landscape inspired board (the green board with blue river and clearly marked palace), it is attractive and makes the unique features of the Xiangqi playing field easily visible to the western-chess-trained eye. I noticed that Hoxchess imported this board for its own program, a smart choice on their part. Of course regardless of which program is your favorite, the important thing is for more Westerners to learn about Xiangqi because it is such a thoroughly enjoyable game.

by Jojo Yee on 21. August 2010 - 3:44  (56450)

Thanks Lioop for the good comments and I agree with you that Qianhong is really a nice program especially for beginners who would like to learn Xiangqi, in particular it's also very helpful to give a hint for the next move, among other good features.

HOXChess would likely be more suitable for those who have learned how to play the game, and it can easily connect to the server to play members on the net. Not only that it imports the chessboard from Qianhong, it also uses the nice chessboard and pieces from ixiangqi and xqwizard. One very noticeable weak point of this program is that it has not supported undo moves except for viewing forward/backward steps, so far in the version that I reviewed.

Both these programs have limited number of engines to choose from other than what has been built-in or pre-configured. In this respect, WinBoard is the best, you can feed nearly all third party UCCI engines into it.

by Jojo Yee on 21. August 2010 - 4:05  (56454)

You're welcome Thura.

by Lioop (not verified) on 22. August 2010 - 4:27  (56501)

With regards to Winboard, while it offers seemingly endless variety of engines and chess variants, I find it terribly difficult to wield. Are there any resources that provide a decent everyman's how-to for Winboard?

by Jojo Yee on 22. August 2010 - 10:41  (56517)

In the program folder, there's a help file called winboard.chm, double-click it and you will see some guidelines there. Frankly, I've not gone through all of them.

To add an engine to the selection list of the program, you might want to try the following, based on the latest version 4.20100807 for "WinBoard-XQ".

1. Go to the folder c:\WinBoard-XQ\WinBoard
2. Open up this file settings.ini with a Notepad
3. Scroll down to look for this line:
"UCCI2WB -noini ..\EleEye\ELEEYE.exe" /firstLogo="..\EleEye\logo.bmp"
4. Add this line below it:
"UCCI2WB -noini ..\3dchess\3dchess.exe" /firstLogo="logos\chessclub.com.bmp" (assuming you've copied 3dchess engine files to the folder WinBoard-XQ\3dchess)
5. Save the file settings.ini
6. Run WinBoard.exe, 3dchess will then be in the list for selection.

(In step 4, you can add more lines for other engines. Besides, I'm using the chessclub logo that comes with the program. You can add a suitable logo if needed. Do the same for the two blocks: firstChessProgramNames and secondChessProgramNames, but using /secondLogo= for the second block.)

by H.G.Muller (not verified) on 2. September 2010 - 11:23  (57135)

You are right, I could not find a simple, tutorial-style description of WinBoard targeted at first-time users. I guess WinBoard has been around for so long (as Chess interface) that everyone assumes one knows how to use it. The official help file has more the style of a reference manual, and has become extremely bulky now WinBoard has so many features. The HTML files included as README in the Windows start menu group for this install is more about how to do things external to WinBoard (like installing engines) than how to actually use it.

I tried to remedy the situation by starting to write a tutorial myself. The first draft can be downloaded from http://hgm.nubati.net/tutorial.txt . Please let me know if such a thing is useful, and what are the most important qestions that it leaves unanswered.

by H.G.Muller (not verified) on 12. October 2010 - 9:08  (59413)

I am of course interested in any WinBoard bugs you might find, in order to fix them. You mention the blank window, and I assume this refers to the "Engine Settings" dialog. But some engines simply have no options that can be set by the user, or rely on old-fashioned methods for configuring them, like a config file.

UCCI and UCI engines run on WinBoard through adapters (UCCI2WB and UCI2WB) included in the package. Especially of UCCI2WB there exist old versions that did not pass on the engine options to the GUI, but relied for configuring on a .ini file. (I recently corrected that situation by improving UCCI2WB.) In fact it seems that no other existing GUI that supports UCCI actually does anything with the engine options (they do not have dialogs similar to WinBoard's "Engine Settings"), which has led UCCI engine authors to neglect declaring their options at startup, even if they have setable options. I am sad to say that on the average UCCI engines are a quite non-compliant bunch w.r.t. their own protocol...

by beancrisp (not verified) on 25. November 2010 - 0:28  (61632)

How do I get the computer to play as red on HOXChess?

by Jojo Yee on 25. November 2010 - 2:28  (61637)

That's a good question Beancrisp. The current desktop version 1.0.0 doesn't seem to provide this option but the mobile version 1.1 for iPhone/iPod touch is completed with the option for either Human or Computer AI to move first as Red player.

Hopefully the developer can update the desktop version soon since the mobile version is newer.

by SharonSharon (not verified) on 7. January 2011 - 3:20  (64024)

Does anyone know of somewhere that the half game of Chinese Chess is available online? Taiwan Chess or some such name?

Have heard tell it's available now as an iTunes app but couldn't find it when I searched.

Thanks

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