Korean Games: How To Play Janggi (Korean Chess)

Written by on February 26, 2013 in Lifestyle

Over the past month, Featured Writer Steve Miller has been introducing popular Korean games on The Korea Blog. Last week he introduced the popular strategy game Baduk. As he concludes the series this week, Steve will introduce another strategy-based came that also originated in China: Janggi (장기). Janggi is commonly referred to as Korean Chess, and for good reason. Many of the pieces have homologues to Western Chess. To help readers better understand Janggi, Steve will use the Janggi piece name and its Western Chess homologue name when possible (eg, General (King)).


Author Harold James Ruthven Murray (A History of Chess) theorizes modern chess games originated in India. From there, they diversified. One of these lineages migrated to China where it most likely was influenced by some local games to become Xiangqi, Chinese Chess. Records indicate Chinese Chess being played as early as 569 CE. The game then moved east once more into Korea to become Janggi.

Xiangqi and Janggi are very similar games, using the same pieces (while some characters have changed). The rules for each game are nearly identical, as is the playing field. The only difference is that in Xiangqi a central area, called the river, is present. In Janggi, the river has been removed. Both games are played on a 10×9 board. As this is a military themed game with the General (King) leading his troops, the board is sectioned off into ranks (horizontal lines) and files (vertical lines).


The Board

The game uses 16 pieces divided into the red player and green (blue) player. Pieces are labeled in Hanja, or Chinese characters. The green (blue) pieces are in a script version that resembles modern Simplified Chinese. Below is the standard starting position of the pieces. Note: In North Korea, the characters on the General (King) pieces are different.


While certainly knowing how to read Hanja will speed up the process, the beautiful thing about the language is that the final character resembles the word depicted. With many of the pieces the individual size and location make recognizing them easy; however, telling the difference between chariots, horses, elephants, and canons requires a bit of imagination for those not fluent in Chinese.

Pieces and Movement




The General is homologous to Western Chess’ King. The General (King) is confined to a 3×3 area in the rear of the board called the Fortress. The General (King) starts in the center of the Fortress and may move one space in any direction. Generals (King) cannot openly face one another during regular play; however, in Janggi, a player may choose to do so in order to end the game in a draw. This differs from Xiangqi, where facing Generals end the game.



Like the General, the two Advisors are also confined to the Fortress and may move in any direction one space. They begin the game at the rear left and right positions of the Fortress.


Has the appearance of a soldier with a hat riding a cart.

Has the appearance of a soldier with a hat over wheels.


Chariots in Janggi are homologous to Western Chess’ Rooks/Castles. In fact, they move and function the same. Chariots (Rooks) move an unlimited number of spaces along a rank or file. They have the option of capturing any opposing piece in its path or stopping short. The only time a Chariot (Rook) may move diagonally is when inside the Fortress (provided the start and end positions are inside the Fortress).


The four dots represent the horse’s legs.

If woman was galloping on a horse, her hair would trail behind her.

Horses serve the same function as Knights in Western Chess and move in the same way. The Horse (Knight) moves one space along a straight line and then one space diagonally. Unlike a Knight, Horses can be blocked if a piece (friendly or opposing) is in its path.



The strokes on the lower left of the piece appear like tusks.

The looping stroke on the lower left appears like the elephant’s trunk.

Elephants are a cross between a Knight and Bishop in Western Chess, or as I like to call them, a super knight. They move in the following manner. An Elephant moves one space along a straight line and then two spaces diagonally. As with Horses, Elephants can be blocked should a pieces obstruct the movement.


The bar on top represents the cannon, while the bottom portion its wheels.

The bar on top represents the cannon, while the bottom portion its wheels.

Cannons are a completely different piece than in Western Chess. Movement in Janggi is a little different than in Xiangqi, so those familiar with Chinese Chess should take note. Cannons move in a straight line by hopping over one intervening piece. It does not matter if the intervening is friendly or opposing. Cannons cannot hop over one another or capture one another. The only time a Cannon may move diagonally is when inside the Fortress (provided the start and end positions are inside the Fortress).



Soldiers function the same as Pawns in Janggi. In fact, Soldiers (Pawns) share many commonalities with their western counterparts. Soldiers (Pawns) may move one space forward or one space along a rank. They are not permitted to move backwards. . The only time a Soldier (Pawn) may move diagonally is when inside the Fortress.




Determining which players use which pieces is a little different in Janggi. The elder (or higher ranked individual in tournament play) conceals a Soldier (Pawn) in their hand. The other player then chooses a hand. Whatever choice is made is what the elder player plays. Each player has the option of switching the starting position of one or both of their Horses/Elephants. When the board is finally ready to be played, the Blue (Green) side moves first. Play continues until one player resigns or has their General (King) checkmated.

As with all chess games, strategy is a key component to its play. The removal of the river makes the game a little more interesting, for in Xiangqi, Elephants may not cross the river. Next month, Steve begins a new series, but until then, what’s your favorite board game?

About the Author

Steve Miller

Steve Miller, the QiRanger, is Korea’s best-known travel video blogger-journalist. His videos have been viewed by millions and seen on media outlets in throughout the word. In addition to sharing his entertaining and informative videos, he writes about life abroad and releases a popular podcast. Steve appears regularly on international radio stations, talking about travel, Korean culture and East Asian news. He’s also appeared on Arirang Television sharing unique aspects of Korean life. You can follow Steve on Twitter @QiRanger or visit his site QiRanger.com.