International chess match Skripchenko-Habu in Tokyo

1/7/2013 – There are many millions of Shogi players in Japan, and some are finding out that Western chess is not so different from the game they play. Yoshiharu Habu, one of the greatest Shogi players ever, has reached IM level. Recently he played an exhibition match against the French Women's Champion IM Almira Skripchenko, who has kindly annotated their games – while coming to grips with sumo!

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International chess match Skripchenko-Habu in Tokyo

By Jacques-Marie Pineau

This event took place in the newly opened Shibuya Hikarie in Tokyo and pitted former European Woman Champion and five times French Women Champion WGM Almira Skripchenko against Japan's great Shogi star Yoshiharu Habu.

The Shibuya Hikarie is a commercial tower which takes the concepts of shopping, dining, entertainment and business to new heights. Hi-tech signage and billboards throughout relay information in real time from all corners of Shibuya to numerous locations within the complex.

The event was connected in fact to the one I recently reported on at Skytree, which pitted French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave against Shogi legends Yoshiharu Habu and Meijin Toshiyuki Moriuchi. While I was partial to an encounter between the chess and shogi communities, the event sponsor SkyPerfect TSAT was essentially interested in a chess match involving shogi star Mr. Habu. In my search for a worthy opponent, I remembered that my friend GM Alex Chernin mentioned, during his stay in Japan, WGM Almira Skripchenko's willingness to come back to Japan. This was, therefore, one of those uncommon but enjoyable occurrences where you could satisfy every party involved.

Should I introduce the charming chess champion who is Almira Skripchenko? I doubt. Most of you know her. Therefore, having spent a few days with Almira, I could appreciate not only a very talented chess player but also a very cultured and warm lady.

Shogi star Yoshiharu Habu is the strongest chess player currently living in Japan. He really started to play chess in 1996, and we played on regular basis something like one or two games a month. This until the turn of the new century I would say that Habu had reached a strong FM level. In fact he achieved an IM norm at his first participation in an International Open near Paris. It was at St Quentin, in 2001. Here are the final top rankings:

#
Player
Rating
Score
1
GM Delchev, Aleksander
2587
7.5/9
2
GM Apicella, Manuel
2518
7.5/9
3
IM Bergez, Luc
2426
7.0/9
4
GM Eingorn, Vereslav S
2589
6.5/9
5
GM Shchekachev, Andrei
2537
6.5/9
6
IM Shirazi, Kamran
2402
6.5/9
7
IM Leroy, Didier
2345
6.5/9
8
Te Llalemand, Rosa
2291
6.5/9
9
Goulenok, Eric
2188
6.5/9
10
Callet, Emmanuel
2158
6.5/9
11
FM Stroppa, Daniel
2145
6.5/9
12
FM Habu, Yoshiharu
1499
6.5/9
13
IM Pira, Davoud
2449
6.0/9
14
FM Gerard, Nicolas
2320
6.0/9
15
FM Piot, Olivier
2277
6.0/9
16
Midoux, Sebastien
2252
6.0/9

Habu, rated 1499 at the time, showed a 2356 overall performance in this tournament. Here is a memorable game of this tournament:

[Event "St Qientin"] [Site "?"] [Date "2001.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Lallemand, Roza"] [Black "Habu, Yoshiharu"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B92"] [WhiteElo "2291"] [BlackElo "1499"] [PlyCount "88"] [EventDate "2001.??.??"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Kh1 Nc6 10. f4 b5 11. Bf3 Be6 12. Nd5 Rc8 13. c3 b4 14. f5 ({According to Habu} 14. c4 {was stronger.}) 14... Bxd5 15. exd5 Na5 16. cxb4 Nc4 17. Qe1 Re8 18. Qg3 e4 19. Bh6 Bf8 20. Be2 Qb6 21. a3 e3 22. Rf4 Nd2 23. Nd4 Nde4 24. Qxe3 Nxd5 25. Qg1 gxh6 26. Rg4+ Kh8 27. Bd3 Nef6 28. Rh4 h5 29. Nf3 Re3 30. Bc4 Rce8 31. Rd4 Qb7 32. Qf1 R3e4 33. Bxa6 Qa7 34. Rd2 Bh6 35. Bb5 Bxd2 36. Bxe8 Rxe8 37. Nxd2 Ng4 38. h3 Nf2+ 39. Kh2 Qd4 40. Nf3 Qf4+ 41. Kg1 Nxh3+ 42. gxh3 Rg8+ 43. Kh1 Ne3 44. Qe2 Rg3 (44... Rg3 45. Ne1 Rxh3+ 46. Kg1 Qg3+ 47. Ng2 Rh2) 0-1

Alas Yoshiharu Habu has only few weeks a year to devote to chess, but when he is able to train for a few days consecutively even a strong GM can lose against him. Just remember this game:

[Event "Hoogeveen Essent op"] [Site "Hoogeveen"] [Date "2005.10.22"] [Round "2"] [White "Wells, Peter K"] [Black "Habu, Yoshiharu"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D47"] [WhiteElo "2513"] [BlackElo "2341"] [PlyCount "56"] [EventDate "2005.10.21"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "NED"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2005.11.24"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Be2 b4 9. Na4 Bd6 10. e4 Nxe4 11. Qc2 f5 12. Ng5 Nxg5 13. Qxc6 Ne4 14. Qxa8 O-O 15. Qc6 Ndf6 16. f3 Bd7 17. Qa6 Bxa4 18. Qxa4 Bxh2 19. Rxh2 Qxd4 20. fxe4 Nxe4 21. Rh1 Qf2+ 22. Kd1 Rd8+ 23. Kc2 Qxe2+ 24. Kb1 Nc3+ 25. bxc3 bxc3 26. Ba3 Rb8+ 27. Qb3 Qd3+ 28. Kc1 Qd2+ 0-1

How can shogi players could be so strong at chess? More and less because chess and shogi are related games. Of course both games, like the languages of two very different cultures, have their own way to express the battle of ideas. Nevertheless these differences can, I imagine, be mastered quite easily, just as a poet of one language may produce something very interesting in another language. And Habu is particularly gifted in his own game. A few months after he started to play chess with me, Habu had won all the shogi tournaments of the year. This is an incredible and unique record in the history of the game, and could be compared to Fischer's record of 20 straight wins at the top of the chess world. In fact the two players share nearly the same percentage of wins in their careers: 72-73%. At the age of of 42. Habu has won already 83 tournaments! In fact the two players share nearly the same percentage of victory in their career 72:73%. At age of 42, Habu has won already 83 titles! (The previous record, 80 titles, was held by the greatest shogi champion of the 20th century, the 15 Lifetime Meijin Oyama, 1923-1992). There are millions of shogi players in Japan. If one shogi player in ten starts to play chess, then Japan could in few years become a respectable chess nation, with IMs and GMs.

Returning to the visit by Almira Skripchenko I must report that she clearly enjoyed her nearly two weeks in Japan, and was also able to fulfil a dream: to see a genuine Sumo tournament. She got an opportunity during this trip, when she joined Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to attend...


... a genuine honbasho or Grand Sumo tournament in Ryogoku, Tokyo

Sumo is a competitive full-contact wrestling sport where contestants try to force each other out of a circular ring (dohyo) or to make them touch the ground with anything other than the soles of their feet. The popularity of the sport in Japan and the adulation afforded to it super-heavyweight athletes defies belief.


If chess only had this number of spectators, right, Maxime?


Maxime and Almira decide to give it a try, with Jacques-Marie as gyōji (sumo referee)


Okay, the stance is not yet perfect – that's Greek-Roman style wrestling, guys...


This is how you do it, and you will still need to gain a couple of hundred pounds...

Back to the chess: Habu was happy to meet a strong chess opposition in his own country. The challenge was by no way easy. Here's the first game, annotated by Almira:

[Event "Exhibition Japan"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.10.03"] [Round "?"] [White "Habu, Yoshiharu"] [Black "Skripchenko, Almira"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B01"] [Annotator "Skripchenko,A"] [PlyCount "63"] [EventDate "2012.10.03"] [SourceDate "2012.10.03"] 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 {I have recently included the Scandinavian Defense in my repertoire.} 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 Bf5 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bd2 Bb4 8. a3 Bxc3 9. Bxc3 Qb6 {The position of the black queen seems insecure but it is not easy for White to take advantage of it.} 10. Ne5 Nc6 11. O-O O-O 12. Nxc6 Qxc6 13. Qe2 Nd5 {The position is equal now.} 14. Bd2 (14. Bxd5 exd5 15. Rfe1 Rfe8 16. Qd2 Qg6 17. Qf4 $11) 14... Bxc2 15. Rfc1 (15. Bxd5 Qxd5 16. Bb4 Qf5 17. Bxf8 Bd3 18. Qe5 Qxe5 19. dxe5 Bxf1 20. Bxg7 Bxg2 {Black is pawn up with a comfortable position.}) 15... Bg6 16. Bxd5 Qxd5 17. Rxc7 Rac8 (17... Be4 {is critical but with a precise play White saves the draw.} 18. Re1 $1 (18. f3 $2 Qxd4+ 19. Be3 Qe5 20. Rc3 Bd5 $15) 18... Bxg2 19. Rc3 $1 {threatening Rg3} f5 20. f3 $1 (20. Rg3 f4 21. Bxf4 (21. Rxg2 f3 $19) 21... Rxf4 22. Rxg2 Rxd4 $15) 20... Bh3 21. Qxe6+ Qxe6 22. Rxe6 f4 23. Re7 Rae8 24. Rcc7 Rxe7 25. Rxe7 Rf7 26. Rxf7 Kxf7 27. Bxf4 $11) 18. Rac1 Rxc7 19. Rxc7 Qxd4 (19... Be4 20. Rc5 (20. f3 Qxd4+) 20... Qxd4 21. Rc4 Bd3 22. Rxd4 Bxe2 23. Rd7 $11 {With the activity of its rook and the opposite color bishops, White is confident of a draw.}) 20. Rxb7 Rd8 21. h3 h6 22. Be3 Qd1+ 23. Qxd1 Rxd1+ {Most pieces have been exchanged, the draw is unavoidable.} 24. Kh2 a6 25. a4 Ra1 26. b3 Bc2 27. Rb6 a5 28. Bd2 Ra3 29. Bc1 Rxb3 30. Rxb3 Bxb3 31. Bd2 Bxa4 32. Bxa5 1/2-1/2


Before the start of the match in the Shibuya Hikarie tower


The games Habu vs Skripchenko were shown live on the Go & Shogi TV Channel

If the first game of the match soon turned into a draw, the second game showed more tension, with both players trying to win until the very end. Short on time, making mistake, both sides got a dramatic control of opposite squares with their bishops. Then, with only two minutes left, Almira missed a tactical point which could have brought her the full point. Major pieces were exchanged and a draw was the conclusion of this friendly match.

[Event "Exhibition Japan"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.10.03"] [Round "?"] [White "Skripchenko, Almira"] [Black "Habu, Yoshiharu"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C47"] [Annotator "Skripchenko,A"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2012.10.03"] [SourceDate "2012.10.03"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 cxd5 9. O-O O-O 10. Qf3 (10. h3 {Kramnik recently played 10.h3, which looks more accurate}) 10... Be6 (10... Bg4 $5 {equalizes immediately} 11. Qg3 Qd7 12. h3 (12. Bg5 Nh5 13. Qh4 f6 {White has some problems}) 12... Bf5 13. Bxf5 Qxf5 14. Qf4 (14. Qxc7 Rfc8 15. Qb7 Bxc3 16. bxc3 Ne4 $15) 14... Qxf4 15. Bxf4 $11) 11. Ne2 Bd6 (11... Bg4 $5 {Even a tempo down this is still good.} 12. Qg3 Bd6 13. Qh4 Bxe2 14. Bxe2 Re8 15. Bd3 Be5 {Black is ok}) 12. h3 c5 13. c3 Rb8 14. Nf4 Qc7 (14... Bc8 $1 {To keep this bishop alive on another diagonal by Bb7. Black has some dynamic play. Of course} 15. Nxd5 $4 {loses to} Nxd5 16. Qxd5 Bh2+ $19) 15. Re1 Rfe8 16. Nxe6 fxe6 17. c4 Qf7 18. Bg5 dxc4 $2 (18... Rxb2 $1 {was correct} 19. Bxf6 (19. cxd5 $5 exd5 20. Rxe8+ Nxe8 21. Bxh7+ Kf8 22. Bf5 g6 {with a complex position but probably equal}) 19... Qxf6 20. Qxf6 gxf6 21. cxd5 e5 $11) 19. Bxc4 Rxb2 20. Bxf6 $6 (20. Bb3 $1 {traps the rook and wins the exchange} c4 21. Bc1 Rxf2 22. Qxf2 cxb3 23. axb3 $14) 20... Qxf6 21. Qc6 Qxf2+ (21... Kf7 $1 {forces White to play precisely to save the draw} 22. Qxe8+ $1 Kxe8 23. Rxe6+ Qxe6 24. Bxe6 Be5 25. Bc4 Bd4 26. Re1+ Kd7 27. Re2 $11) 22. Kh1 Rf8 $2 ({The brilliant} 22... g6 $3 {forces the draw} 23. Qxe8+ Kg7 24. Be2 $8 (24. Qd7+ Kh6 25. Rg1 Qg3 26. Qxd6 Qxd6 $19) 24... Qf4 25. Kg1 $8 Rxe2 26. Rxe2 Qd4+ 27. Kf1 Qxa1+ 28. Kf2 Qd4+ 29. Kf1 Qa1+ $11) 23. Rf1 $2 ( {Here, I could have won with} 23. Rxe6 $1 $18 {threatening the Bd6 and a discovered check. It is not possible to answer to both threats.} Qc2 24. Bd5 $18) 23... Qg3 24. Bxe6+ {It is still possible to make mistakes.} (24. Rxf8+ $4 Kxf8 25. Qc8+ Ke7 26. Qxe6+ Kd8 27. Qg8+ Kc7 28. Qf7+ Kb6 $19 {No more check. Black will mate.}) 24... Kh8 25. Rxf8+ Bxf8 26. Rf1 Rf2 27. Rxf2 Qxf2 28. Bd5 { and with less then one minute on the clocks (there was no increment) a draw was agreed.} 1/2-1/2


After their games the two players analysed them for Japanese TV

I must say again that Mr Tanaka of the Go & Shogi Channel and his team did a fantastic job. I was surprised myself by the success of both events. If chess is not popular in Japan it is not for of a lack of interest, from the public or from the Shogi Association. Together with its top players, the Shogi Association has contributed to the success of these meetings and I would thanks here not only my friends the Shogi Champions Habu and Moriuchi, but the whole shogi community for their kindness.

The web site of the event was developed by Nekomado, a company founded by Madoka Kitao (above with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave). I would like to add that Madoka is trying to develop Shogi outside Japan, very much in the same way I try to develop chess in Japan. We work in harmony, by helping each other in our reciprocal efforts. Thus I hope this article will help promote shogi in Europe as well it helps to promote chess in Japan!

Copyright Pineau/ChessBase


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