Basic Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) Midgame Tactics 03 Trading Material

Author: Jim Png from

Note: This article first appeared on

This article is the third article in a series of articles introducing the basic tactics used in Xiangqi (Chinese Chess). In this article, the author will focus solely on introducing the tactics used to trade material.

The author has done a series of videos on this topic that can be found on Youtube at the following URL:

The article presents this article in the following format:

Some Background Theory

a) Direct Exchanges (直接兑换 zhí jiē duì huàn)

b) Indirect Exchanges (间接兑换 jiàn jiē duì huàn)

c) Unequal Exchanges (轻重兑换 qīng zhòng duì huàn)

Trading for the initiative

Some observations by the author



  Some Background Theory

As mentioned in the previous article, every tactic can be considered in terms of material, position or space. Tactics used to trade material focus on trading material to gain an advantage in position or space.

Trading material usually involves exchanging material of the same value or approximately value. For example, a friendly Chariot is traded for an enemy Chariot or a combination of a Cannon and Horse. The Cannon and Horse are considered to be about the same value as a Chariot. This form of trading material is most commonly seen.

Sometimes, a Chariot may be traded for an enemy Cannon which would result in a trade of material that is not of the same value. This is known as a trade of unequal value and will be discussed later on.

The nature of a material trade or exchange can be divided into three different categories for further discussion (1) (2 页 69):

a) Direct Exchanges (直接兑换 zhí jiē duì huàn)

Direct exchanges would be the simples form of this tactic. It is commonly seen when the pieces of a player are pinned or that when the situation was complicated. By trading material, the protecting pieces is targeted such that it would not be able to protect that piece anymore.

b) Indirect Exchanges (间接兑换 jiàn jiē duì huàn)

  • An indirect sacrifice is considered to be one of the more sophisticated tactics.
  • In actual battle, when one color is under attack and placed under great danger, it would not be a good idea to try to defend passively as things could go from bad to worse.
  • Instead, the player should try to be proactive and formulate his plans. One way to do so would be to use the tactic of an indirect exchange where a piece is voluntarily given up. An attack would be started at another place on the board whereby the material loss would be recovered later on in the game.
  • This tactic is often used to resolve dangerous situations and can also be used to gain tempi.

c) Unequal Exchanges (轻重兑换 qīng zhòng duì huàn)

  • An unequal exchange would refer to an exchange of material where the pieces are not of similar or the same value. Although this tactic would usually involve simpler plays, they often have the added advantage of a surprise attack.
  • In entangled situations or when both colors were attacking aggressively, it would be important to pay attention to this tactic. If one was caught unawares, the scales could tilt rapidly in the favor of the enemy.
  • The most common situations include taking out the root of the enemy and trading material and also the "Rendezvous of the Four Chariots" situation.
  • As we all know, when piece A is protecting piece B of the same color, piece A would be called the root of piece B. Therefore, when trying to gain material, it would be important to inspect whether the root piece itself is safe or not.




Trading for the initiative

Trading for the initiative (兑子争先 duì zǐ zhēng xiān) will refer to setting up a trade in order to gain the initiative after finishing the trade. According to Grandmaster Liu Dianzhong in his book, trading for the initiative is done in one of the following three ways (2 页 69):

a) using a friendly piece which is badly positioned to trade for an enemy piece that is well-positioned,

b) using a friendly piece that has made only a few moves to trade for an enemy piece that has moved many moves (thereby gaining an advantage in tempi),

c) using a friendly piece that has little effect on situation to trade for an enemy piece that has a huge impact on the situation.

The concepts mentioned above can be abstract.

This example was from Master Huang Shaolong's Xiangqi: Steps for beginners 《象棋入门初步》.

It demonstrates how trading material can lead to an advantageous position.




Some observations by the author

On the flip side of the coin, beginners often trade material for the wrong reason(s).

For example, they may trade an open and active piece for an enemy piece that was closed or limited in function. By doing so, the work that has been done to get the piece to that advantageous position will have been wasted.

The same can be said for trading a piece that has moved many times for an enemy piece that has moved only a few times. Such a trade will result in a loss of tempi (loss of ‘moves’). For example, if you moved a Chariot that has been moved five times to trade for a Chariot that has only been moved for only twice, you would have wasted three moves in the trade as those three moves could have been put to better use.


Learning to trade material is one of the fundamental lessons in Xiangqi. Exchanges of material are seen in every game. Material exchanges should be carried out such that a player will be able to profit in terms of space and position after the trade. A trade that has been carried out correctly can lead to a win or defuse a potentially disastrous situation. 

Works Cited

1. 李海鸣 林秦. 象棋战术初步. 北京 : 新华书店北京发行, 1986. 7015.2281.

2. 刘, 殿中. 象棋新编教程 象棋初学门径. 北京 : 北京体育大学出版社, 2000. 7-81051-484-9.

3. —. 象棋新编教程 象棋中局战法. 北京 : 北京体育大学出版社, 2003. 7-81051-905-0/G.756.

4. 王, 贵龙. 象棋名词术语手册. 呼和浩特 : 远方出版社, 2000. 7-80595-652-9.

5. 黄少龙. 象棋入门初步. 成都 : 成都时代出版社, 2009. 9787807055228.

6. 朱, 宝位. 棋牌入门丛书 象棋入门. 合肥 : s.n., 1994. 978-7-5337-0734-7.

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