Uyghur board games
November 10, 2007 11:31 AM   Subscribe

What board game are these Uyghur men playing?

I snapped this photo of some neighborhood game playing when I was in Urumqi. I've never seen anyone playing this game, or western chess for that matter, in inner China.

Any idea what game it could be? It's definitely not Go. I was thinking it might be Nine Men's Morris, but there are too many pieces on the board for that.
posted by pravit to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Looks like Othello to me. Also known as "Reversi"
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:36 AM on November 10, 2007

Or possibly something more like "pente" although the number of squares on the board looks too small. The board is a bit smaller than what I recall as the standard othello size (8x8) and also the boards look strange for an othello game in mid progress.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:38 AM on November 10, 2007

Response by poster: Hmmm. Othello is played with the pieces on the squares, but in this game, the pieces are played on the points.

I was thinking of 五子棋(five-in-a-row) but the board is too small and that game does not allow capturing. Pente allows capturing, but the board seems too small.
posted by pravit at 12:21 PM on November 10, 2007

Yeah, typically othello is on the squares but as long as there are 8x8 points, points is the same as squares. These are 7x7 though. Anyway, see how most of the adjacent strips are mostly rows? Makes me think it's another game entirely. Anyway, good luck.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:23 PM on November 10, 2007

(I am interested to taste the pickled cabbage in that jar in the front! - winner takes all indeed)
posted by growabrain at 12:52 PM on November 10, 2007

It looks like 围棋 weiqi (or Go as the Japanese call it) being played on a quarter-size board, which is how I was taught as a beginner and maybe works as a speed version?
posted by Abiezer at 1:24 PM on November 10, 2007

Or when you say definitely not, did you watch them long enough to see them jump pieces or something un-weiqi-like, pravit?
posted by Abiezer at 1:25 PM on November 10, 2007

Abiezer: I'm just learning to play Go, and I'm playing a quarter-board, which is 9x9; that board looks to be 7x6 to me.
posted by creasy boy at 1:35 PM on November 10, 2007

Sorry it's 6x6.
posted by creasy boy at 1:38 PM on November 10, 2007

Buggers that guess then, doesn't it? :D I just tried googling around in Chinese for a specifically Uyghur version of Go but drew a blank, too. I'd best shut up now.
posted by Abiezer at 1:39 PM on November 10, 2007

I am going to ask my Uyghur friend.
posted by typewriter at 2:13 PM on November 10, 2007

Unless my ability to count is a lot worse than I'd assumed, those boards are 7x7. Go can be played on 7x7 boards, though it typically isn't, but from the board positions they're obviously not playing Go (or playing it exceptionally badly). If it's some variant of Othello then it's certainly different enough to have its own name.

Google for "7x7 game" turns up the game of Siga (or Seega), which is often played 5x5 or 7x7. From the rules, I think the Seega board would typically look much like those pictured, so that's my guess.
posted by sfenders at 5:00 PM on November 10, 2007

Response by poster: It's definitely not Go, because you can see entire surrounded pieces that haven't been taken off the board. I think 9x9 is typically the smallest board that bare beginners play.

Interesting idea about the sandwiching game - certainly seems a possibility.
posted by pravit at 9:13 PM on November 10, 2007

My Uyghur friend knows the game but is not sure what it is called. She says it must be a Chinese game, because she has only ever seen it played when she lived there. She has ever seen it played in Uyghur communities in Turkey or Canada.

I'm not sure that you can conclude that it is a Chinese game from that info, but that's what she said! And she's as Uyghur as you can get!
posted by typewriter at 6:30 AM on November 11, 2007

'never' seen it, of course.
posted by typewriter at 6:33 AM on November 11, 2007

Response by poster: Hmmmm. I posted on an Uyghur-American board, who also told me the game was Chinese, but they didn't know which one. Time to take this one to Ask Baidu...
posted by pravit at 12:24 PM on November 11, 2007

I would highly recommend you also post this on The knowledge of some of the members is frightening...
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:08 AM on November 12, 2007

Best answer: The game has been found!

Apparently, this is a game unique to Xinjiang - 新疆方棋, or "Xinjiang Square Chess." The game is a variant of 方棋(square chess) games played in Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, and Shaanxi provinces. There are a few slight differences, the main one being that Xinjiang Square Chess is played on a 7x7 board, whereas regular Square Chess is played on 7x8.

Information on the game (in Chinese)

Here is some information on square chess in English. My suspicions were correct; it is similar to a Nine Men's Morris game.

Since the game is played among Dungans and Hui, I would guess that the game is originally of Chinese Muslim origin, but spread to other Central Asian peoples. This would explain why the game is played in Xinjiang but not in overseas Uyghur communities. I'll be looking up more about this game in the future. Fascinating stuff!
posted by pravit at 11:04 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: BTW, special thanks to skylee at for identifying the game.
posted by pravit at 11:05 AM on November 12, 2007

My Google-fu is severely lacking then; I tried various combinations of "qi" 'Xinjiang" and Uyghur" in Chinese and got nowhere near. I am Internet fail :(
So interesting though! One of our old professors in London collected all sorts of different Chinese cards games (those ones you see people playing in the countryside with the long slim cards etc) and I always found it fascinating. Thanks for the follow-up pravit.
posted by Abiezer at 11:51 PM on November 12, 2007

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