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  • Game of the Three Kingdoms

    Also known as Three-Handed Xiangqi, San-quo-qi, San-kuo-qi, San guo qi, Sanguo qi or San-kwo-k'i. This game is a variant of Xiangqi (Chinese Chess), adapted to make a game playable for three players.

    Much of the information we have comes (apparently) from a work written by O. von Möllendorff in 1876. The work is written in German and is titled "Schachspiel der Chinesen" and appeared in the publication "Mittheilungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft fur Natur- und Volkerkunde Ostasiens". The titles in English would be "The Game of Chess of the Chinese" as published in the "Journal of the German Society for Natural and Cultural Science of East Asia". The publisher was: Buchdruckerei des "Echo du Japon".

    The details of when this game was invented, who invented it, and the details of the rules are not known. What has been documented is detailed below, but is in no way meant to be a complete or authoratative description of this game.

    We do know that the game is named after the Three Kingdoms period in China, and that the three armies represent the three kingdoms in power at that time: Wei, Shu and Wu.

    H.J.R. Murray

    This game is mentioned in H.J.R. Murray's book "A History of Chess" on pages 133-134. He writes:
    There are also enlarged games of chess in China. One of these is the San-kwo-k'i, or Game of the Three Kingdoms, which is described by v. Möllendorf. It is supposed to illustrate the war of the Three Kindoms, wei (blue), Shu (red), and Wu (green), A.D. 221-64. I give a diagram of the board; it will be noticed that the lines are not straight throughout, and that each kingdom faces the other two. The pieces consist of the usual 16 with, in addition, 2 new pieces [F] in each of the three armies. These are called: Red, Chuo (fire); Blue , Ch'i (banner); Green, Feng (wind). Their move is an extended Kt's leap, viz. two steps vertically or horizontally and then one diagonally. The game is said to be very complicated and difficult, but is not considered as interesting as the ordinary chess. When one of the Generals, who are named Wei, Shu, and Wu after the names of the three kingdoms, is mated, the player who has mated him removes the King from the board and adds the remainder of his army to his own.

    Here is the diagram that appears on page 133 of the book:

    Das Schachspiel Der Chinesen

    Article from the journal "Mittheilungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft fur Natur- und Volkerkunde Ostasiens" published in 1876, written by Dr. O. von Moellendorff. This article was the source used by Murray (above). This article describes the Game of the Three Kingdoms, and gives an illustration of the board. Here is the illustration (taken from David Li's book 'The Genealogy of Chess', p273):

    You can access digital images of the article (written in German) at the internet archive at: Das Schachspiel Der Chinesen. Note: If any one would care to translate the German to English, we would be glad to post it here!

    Chinese Chess FAQ (Steven Leary)

    Here is a similar illustration, created by Hans Bodlaender:

    The piece marked X is the Fire, Banner or Wind piece. It is not displayed with its proper symbol, because this is not known to me (it was not given in Murray's History of Chess). Clockwise around the board, we have the green, red, and blue army: each has the same opening setup (only the setup of one player is shown in the diagram above.) The pieces at the bottom row are, from left to right: Rook, Horse (or Knight), Elephant, Guard, King, Guard, Elephant, Horse (or Knight), Rook. At the third row, we find the extra pieces, and two cannons, while also five pawns are at the fourth row.

    According to H.J.R. Murray, this game is supposed to illustrate the war of the Three Kingdoms: Wei (blue), Shu (red) and Wu (green), A.D. 221-64. The lines of the board are not straight throughout, and each army faces the other two. The pieces consist of the regular 16, but also a different piece (2 of them for each army). This piece in red's army is designated as (F) for "fire." Blue's is called (B) for "banner" and green's is called (W) for "wind." Their move is an extended knight's move: 2 steps vertically or horizontally and then 1 step diagonally. In the initial position, they each sit 2 spaces directly above the guards of each army.

    When one of the Generals (which are called Wei, Shu, and Wu) is mated, the player who has mated him removes the king from the board and adds the remainder of his army to his own.

    Yu Ren Dong

    Yu Ren Dong writes:
    This game was invented during the Southern Song Dynasty (A.D. 1127–1279). Unfortunately, the inventor's name, the rule books and the detailed rules were all lost.

    Links of Interest


    Hans Bodlaender, Steven Leary, Jean-Louis Cazaux, and Yu Ren Dong all contributed to the content of this page.
    Web page created: 15 August 1996. Last modified: 18 March 2009. Note that some comments made about this page may no longer apply, as the page has been updated in response to those comments. Comments made before 18 March 2009 refer to an older version of this page, which had significant errors.

    For author and/or inventor information on this item see: this item's information page.
    Created on: August 15, 1996. Last modified on: March 18, 2009.

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    Last modified: Sunday, April 1, 2012