Check out Chess with Different Armies, our featured variant for July, 2024.

The Piececlopedia is intended as a scholarly reference concerning the history and naming conventions of pieces used in Chess variants. But it is not a set of standards concerning what you must call pieces in newly invented games.

Piececlopedia: Vao

Historical notes

The Vao is a diagonal version of the Pao, which is the Cannon from Chinese Chess. According to Dickins, it was "introduced by T. R. Dawson from Chinese Chess, probably before 1914." According to a source that Hans had when he originally wrote this page, it was designed in 1936 by Dr. P. Seyfert. Since it was attributed to Dawson at an earlier date, he probably deserves the credit for the piece. Whoever invented it, the piece has been commonly called Vao by fairy problemists throughout the twentieth century.

Contrary to what Dickins' words suggest, the Vao is not from Chinese Chess. It is merely based on a piece from that game. In fact, the name Vao is not Chinese. It appears to be a made-up word that was designed to sound something like Pao. Vao is not a Chinese word, and the letter V isn't even used in any system of Chinese transliteration. So the word has no meaning except as a name for this Chess piece.

The Vao has been used in Yáng Qí, Eurasian Chess, and Gross Chess, some recent variants created by Fergus Duniho. In creating the first of these games, Fergus tried to give the piece a more meaningful name. The first name he gave it was Canon, which is a homonym of Cannon, meaning a type of cleric. It's a good pun, because a Bishop is a cleric, and the Vao is to the Bishop what the Cannon is to the Rook. But it's not a practical name for the piece, because it sounds just like Cannon, which makes things confusing, especially in a game that has both pieces, as these all do. In creating a set of Chinese character pieces for Yáng Qí, Fergus later settled on the name Arrow. Like an arrow that flies over one piece to strike another behind it, a Vao captures by jumping over an intervening piece. The Chinese name is Shǐ. In transliteration, it looks very much like Shì (see Ferz), the name of the piece it takes the place of. But it is a different Chinese character, and that character is shown on some pieces pictured below. Besides meaning Arrow, this Chinese word also means the English word vow, making it an apt name for the piece.


The Vao is a divergent piece, moving in one way and capturing in another. When it isn't capturing, it moves like a Bishop; when it does capture, it moves diagonally like a Bishop, except that it must jump over a single intervening piece, which may belong to any player. It moves like a Bishop until it reaches this piece, leaps over it, and continues moving like a Bishop until it captures its target. When it isn't capturing, it may not leap; and it may not capture without leaping.

Movement diagram

The Vao on d5 can take the black rook on a8 and the black knight on a2; it can also move to the squares marked with a black circle.


The Vao cannot inflict checkmate on a rectangular board with only assistance of its own King, (and neither can a pair of them), and is thus a minor piece. The problem here is that it needs an extra piece to use as a screen to activate its captures. And even when activated is is a color-bound piece, so the screen should attack a fair number of squares itself before a mate posiiton can even exist. The compound of Knight and Wazir (sometimes called Marquis) appears to do it. You can practice this here.


Click on an image to view the full piece set it belongs to.

Abstract Set Alfaerie Set
Yáng Qí
Traditional Chinese Set National Standard Chinese Set


Dickins, Anthony. A Guide to Fairy Chess, 1969.

This is an item in the Piececlopedia: an overview of different (fairy) chess pieces.
Written by Fergus Duniho and Hans Bodlaender.
WWW page created: December 23, 1999.