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Whale Shogi (鯨将棋 Kujira Shōgi) is a modern variant of Shogi (Japanese Chess). It is not, however, Japanese: it was invented by R. Wayne Schmittberger of the United States in 1981. The game is similar to Judkins Shogi, but with more pieces, and all the pieces are named after a type of Whale.

Rules of the Game[]


The objective of the game is to capture your opponent's White Whale.

Game Equipment[]

Two players, Black and White (or 先手 sente and 後手 gote), play on a board ruled into a grid of 6 ranks (rows) by 6 files (columns). The squares are undifferentiated by marking or color.

Each player has a set of 12 wedge-shaped pieces, of slightly different sizes. From largest to smallest (most to least powerful) they are:

  • 1 White Whale (W)
  • 1 Porpoise (P)
  • 1 Humpback (H)
  • 1 Grey Whale (G)
  • 1 Narwhal (N)
  • 1 Blue Whale (B)
  • 6 Dolphins (D)

Each piece has its initial written on its face. On the reverse side of the porpoise is another letter (K for 'Killer Whale'), often in a different color (commonly red instead of black); this reverse side is turned up to indicate that the piece has been promoted during play. The pieces of the two sides do not differ in color, but instead each piece is shaped like a wedge, and faces forward, toward the opposing side. This shows who controls the piece during play.

Because this is a Western Shogi variant, and kanji for the whales are difficult even for the Japanese, the pieces use Latin letters rather than kanji.


1 2 3 4 5 6  
B N P W G H a
D D D D D D b
D D D D D D e
H G W P N B f

This is the starting setup of a game of Whale Shogi, from the perspective of Black.

Each side places his pieces in the positions shown below, pointing toward the opponent.

  • In the rank nearest the player:
    • The White Whale is placed just left of center.
    • The Porpoise is placed in the adjacent file to the right of the White Whale.
    • The Humpback is placed in the left corner.
    • The Grey Whale is placed between the White Whale and the Humpback.
    • The Narwhal is placed adjacent to the Porpoise.
    • The Blue Whale is placed adjacent to the Narwhal in the right corner.

That is, the first rank is |H|G|W|P|N|B|.

  • In the second rank, the six Dolphins are placed one in each file.

Game Play[]

The players alternate making a move, with Black moving first. (The traditional terms 'black' and 'white' are used to differentiate the sides during discussion of the game, but are not literally descriptive.) A move consists of moving a single piece on the board and potentially promoting that piece, displacing (capturing) an opposing piece or dropping a captured piece onto an empty square of the board. Each of these options is detailed below.

Movement and Capture[]

An opposing piece is captured by displacement: That is, if a piece moves to a square occupied by an opposing piece, the opposing piece is displaced and removed from the board. A piece cannot move to a square occupied by a friendly piece (meaning another piece controlled by the moving player).

Each piece on the game moves in a characteristic pattern. Pieces move either orthogonally (that is, forward, backward, left, or right, in the direction of one of the arms of a plus sign, +), or diagonally (in the direction of one of the arms of a multiplication sign, ×).

Some pieces are capable of more than one kind of movement, with the type of movement most often depending on the direction in which they move. The movement categories are:

Step Movers[]

Some pieces move only one square at a time. (If a friendly piece occupies an adjacent square, the moving piece may not move in that direction; if an opposing piece is there, it may be displaced and captured.)

The step movers are the White Whale, Porpoise, Humpback, Narwhal, Blue Whale and Killer Whale.

Limited Ranging Piece[]

The Dolphin can move along a limited number (2) of free (empty) squares along a straight line in certain directions. Other than the limited distance, it move like ranging pieces (see below) but only if it enters the last rank.

Jumping Piece[]

The Narwhal can jump, that is, it can pass over any intervening piece, whether friend or foe, with no effect on either, but only directly forward.

Ranging Pieces[]

The Grey Whale and Killer Whale can move any number of empty squares along a straight line, limited only by the edge of the board. If an opposing piece intervenes, it may be captured by moving to that square and removing it from the board. A ranging piece must stop where it captures, and cannot bypass a piece that is in its way. If a friendly piece intervenes, the moving piece is limited to a distance that stops short of the intervening piece; if the friendly piece is adjacent, it cannot move in that direction at all.

Individual Pieces[]

Below are diagrams indicating each piece's movement. Pieces with a grey heading start out in the game; those with a blue heading only appear on the board after promotion.

Steps a limited number of squares
Jumps to a non-adjacent square, bypassing any intervening piece
Ranges along a straight line, crossing any number of empty squares
White Whale (白鯨 hakugei) Grey Whale (コククジラ koku kujira)
  • Step: The White Whale can step one square in any direction, orthogonal or diagonal.
  • Range: The Grey Whale can move any number of free squares directly forward or diagonally backward.
Porpoise (ネズミイルカ nezumi iruka) Killer Whale (シャチ shachi)
  • Step: The Porpoise can move one square orthogonally sideways.
  • Range: The Killer Whale can move any number of free squares along any of the four orthogonal directions.
  • Step: It can move one square in any diagonal direction.
Narwhal (イッカク ikkaku) Humpback Whale (ザトウクジラ zatō kujira)
  • Jump: The Narwhal can jump to the second square directly forward; or,
  • Step: It can move one square directly backward or sideways.
  • Step: The Humpback can step one square in one of the four diagonal directions, or directly backward.
Blue Whale (シロナガスクジラ shironagase kujira) Dolphin (イルカ iruka)
  • Step: The Blue Whale can step one square directly forward or backward, or one square diagonally forward, giving it four possibilities.
  • Step: The Dolphin can step one square forward; or,
  • Limited range: It can move one or two squares in one of the two rearward diagonals, but only if it is in the farthest rank.


Captured pieces are truly captured in Whale Shogi. They are retained "in hand", and can be brought back into play under the capturing player's control. On any turn, instead of moving a piece across the board, a player can take a piece he has previously captured and place it on any empty square, facing the opponent. The piece is now part of the forces controlled by that player. This is termed dropping the piece, or just a drop.

A drop cannot capture a piece; that requires an additional move.

A Porpoise cannot be dropped as such. When captured, the Porpoise promotes to a Killer Whale and can only be dropped as a Killer Whale.

There are three restrictions when dropping Dolphins:

  • A Dolphin may not be dropped on the furthest rank, even though it has a legal move on subsequent turns.
  • A Dolphin cannot be dropped into the same file (vertical column) as two other unpromoted Dolphins controlled by the same player. For this reason, one may sacrifice a Dolphin in order to gain flexibility for drops.
  • A Dolphin cannot be dropped if the opponent would have no way to prevent his White Whale being captured on the next move. In other words, a Dolphin cannot be dropped to give immediate mate.

Check and Mate[]

When a player makes a move such that the opponent's White Whale could be captured on the following move, the move is said to give check to the White Whale; the White Whale is said to be in check. If a player's White Whale is in check and no legal move by that player will get the white whale out of check, the checking move is also mate, and effectively wins the game.

A player is not allowed to give perpetual check.

Game End[]

A player who captures the opponent's White Whale wins the game. In practice this rarely happens, as a player will resign when checkmated, as otherwise when loss is inevitable.

A player who makes an illegal move loses immediately. (This rule may be relaxed in casual games.)

There are two other possible (but fairly uncommon) ways for a game to end: repetition (千日手 sennichite) and impasse (持将棋 jishōgi).

If the same position occurs four times with the same player to play, then the game is no contest. Recall, however, the prohibition against perpetual check. For two positions to be considered the same, the pieces in hand must be the same, as well as the position on the board.

The game reaches an impasse if both White Whales have advanced into their respective promotion zones and neither player can hope to mate the other or to gain any further material. If this happens then the winner is decided as follows: each Grey Whale scores 5 points for the owning player, and all other pieces (except White Whales) score 1 point each. Promotions are ignored for the purpose of scoring. A player scoring less than 14 points loses. If both players have at least 14 points, then the game is no contest.

Games which are no contest are usually counted as draws in amateur tournaments, but if a professional stile tournament is to be played the rules may require the game to be replayed with colors reversed (possibly with reduced time limits).


Games between players of disparate strength are often played with handicaps. In a handicap game, one or more of White's pieces is removed before the start of play, and White plays the first move of the game. Note that the pieces removed at the beginning play no further part in the game - they are not available for drops. The imbalance created by this method of handicapping is not as strong as it is in chess, because material advantage is not as powerful in Whale Shogi as in Chess.

Common handicaps, in increasing order of size, are as follows:

  • Grey Whale: remove White's Grey Whale
  • Humpback: remove White's Humpback
  • Porpoise: remove White's Porpoise
  • Porpoise and Grey Whale: remove White's Porpoise and Grey Whale
  • Two pieces: remove White's Porpoise and Humpback
  • Three pieces: remove White's Porpoise, Humpback and Grey Whale

Other handicaps are also occasionally used. The relationship between handicaps and differences in rank is not universally agreed upon; several different systems are in use.

Game Notation[]

The method used in English-language texts to express Shogi moves was established by George Hodges in 1976. It is derived from the algebraic notation used for Chess, but differs in several respects. This notation is modified for use in Whale Shogi in the letters used to name the pieces.

A typical example is P-f6. The first letter represents the piece moved: D = Dolphin, B = blue whale, N = Narwhal, G = Grey Whale, H = Humpback, P = Porpoise, W = White Whale. The promoted porpoise is simply K = Killer Whale. The designation of the piece is followed by a symbol indicating the type of move: - for an ordinary move, x for a capture, or * for a drop. Next is the designation for the square on which the piece lands. This consists of a lowercase letter representing the file and a number representing the rank, with a1 being the top right corner (as seen from Black's point of view) and f6 being the bottom left corner. (This method of designating squares is the reverse of Japanese convention.)

In cases where the above notation would be ambiguous, the designation of the start square is added after the designation for the piece in order to make clear which piece is meant. For example, if Black has two Humpbacks (one was captured and dropped) which can be moved to the square h5 in front of the White Whale, and these are distinguished as Hi6-h5 (moving the left one) and Gi4-h5 (moving the right one).

Moves are commonly numbered as in Chess. For example, the start of a game might look like this:

   1. D-e4   D-c3
   2. D-d4   N-b3
   3. D-d3   Dxd3

In handicap games White plays first, so Black's move 1 is replaced by an ellipsis.

See also[]

External Links[]


Adapted from the Wikipedia article, "Whale Shogi", used under the GNU Free Documentation License.