Shogi Masters play Chess

1/9/2014 – The Japanese form of chess is called Shogi. It enjoys a national prestige we in the West can only dream of. Some of the Shogi masters are dabbling in our form of the game, and making rapid headway. One of the best Shogi players in the history of the game, 43-year-old Yoshiharu Habu, recently returned to chess with a remarkable performance in Poland. GM Peter Heine Nielsen reports.

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Shogi Masters play Chess

By GM Peter Heine Nielsen

Japan's top rated player, Yoshiharu Habu, 43, made a comeback to chess after an almost seven year break. Little known in the rest of the world, Habu is a national icon in Japan. While he played the Open Chess tournament in Cracow over the New Year, Japanese national television aired a 1½ hour long documentary celebrating his career. It's focal point is 1996, when Habu became the first ever to hold all seven titles in the Japanese version of chess, shogi.

Yoshiharu Habu, 19e Lifetime Meijin in Shogi

Eighteen years later, Habu still tops the rankings, holds three titles, and is very active. As late as December 20, 2013, he played a shogi game in Tokyo, and on the 12th of January he faces titleholder Akira Watanabe in game one of the Osho title match.

Starting out with 3/3 in Cracow, and a winning position in round four against Malaniuk, Habu seemed on track to repeat the success from the World Open in Philadelphia 2006, where he, rated 2378, achieved a grandmaster norm. Despite losing to the later tournament winner he scored 6.5/9, shared 3rd and achieved an IM-norm. An excellent result, especially after a break of such duration.

Top standings at the XXIV Chess Festival Cracow 2013

Ti. Name Fed. Rtng
MBch. Rp
GM Malaniuk, Vladimir P UKR 2545
39.00 2586
IM Leniart, Arkadiusz POL 2472
34.00 2511
IM Bernadskiy, Vitaliy UKR 2561
43.00 2582
GM Mastrovasilis, Ath. GRE 2550
40.50 2565
IM Kanarek, Marcel POL 2473
40.50 2510
IM Kolosowski, Mateusz POL 2438
40.00 2569
GM Grabarczyk, Miroslaw POL 2470
39.00 2552
FM Habu, Yoshiharu JPN 2404
37.00 2486
IM Warakomski, Tomasz POL 2499
36.00 2480
IM Matuszewski, Michal POL 2408
35.50 2450
  Yarmysty, Mikhail UKR 2265
31.00 2362
CM Lewicki, Miroslaw POL 2225
30.50 2277

Full results and tiebreaks here

Yoshiharu Habu's presence in Cracow did draw attention, especially as a shogi tournament was played parallel to the chess event. Even so, the contrast from being an ordinary participant of an open tournament, as compared to the title matches in Japan is enormous.

Shogi title matches, both in terms of spectators, media coverage as well as prize funds, compare only to absolute top chess tournaments. It is characteristic that such matches are always held in a very traditional Japanese setting. For instance, Game 2 of the last year's Meijin match was played in the town hall at the foot of the picturesque Mount Fuji.

Above is a picture of the Meijin match with Yoshiharu Habu playing Toshiyuki Moriuch. As you can see, both players and the officials are wearing the traditional Japanese clothing, and the game takes place in a traditional setting. But the media-coverage is modern, and naturally the game is televised.

As a chess player one can't help noticing the differences with our top matches. The playing hall is completely sealed off for spectators. But thanks to Jacques-Marie Pineau, a French chess an shogi enthusiast who has been living in Tokyo for twenty years, we got an unique opportunity. After talks with both the sponsors and the Shogi Federation, Viktorija and myself became eyewitnesses of the match from behind the scenes. A very interesting mix between what would seem like an absolute top chess event and a traditional Japanese tea ceremony! The few select guests who were allowed at the playing area before the game, having removed their shoes, kneeled on carpeted floors...

... except two western visitors, who were given chairs

Before the game started we could see the arbiter carefully polishing each of the handmade wooden pieces. After nine (!) hours of play the previous day, the game was adjourned, and the following morning resumed at 10.00 a.m. In ceremonial manner, the arbiter read the moves aloud, and the players replayed them on the board up to the adjourned position.

We spent a couple of enjoyable days together with Jacques-Marie Pineau and Mr. Ishii in Fujitsu, the city next to Mount Fuji, and I got my first experience of the Japanese chess environment, saving a very difficult position by a swindle against Mr. Ishii in the game we played on the train from Tokyo! A few days later, together with my wife Viktorija Cmilyte, I visited the Shogi Renmei (the Japanese professional shogi association) and had the chance to discuss chess with Yoshiharu Habu. A very enjoyable and interesting experience!

In the red tie in the picture above is the Greek ambassador Nikolaos Tsamados, and to the left Naohiro Sanada, who is a tireless promotor of shogi. Being of noble descent, he was in his youth a classmate of the present Emperor and played numerous shogi games with him. Yoshiharu Habu is showing me a “Tsume”, where one has to constantly check the king until it is finally mated. Note the piece-stand on the left. The key difference between chess and shogi, is that captured shogi-pieces can be “dropped” and thus reenter the game. similar to bughouse chess.

While in general the training of shogi players is very reminiscent of the way we work with chess, there are notable differences. It is well illustrated by the two positions from Yoshiharu's chess games:

[Event "World op 34th"] [Site "Philadelphia"] [Date "2006.07.01"] [Round "4"] [White "Habu, Yoshiharu"] [Black "Cadman, Chuck"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B42"] [WhiteElo "2382"] [BlackElo "2272"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventDate "2006.06.28"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2006.07.14"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Bd3 Bc5 6. Nb3 Be7 7. O-O d6 8. Qg4 g6 9. Qe2 Nd7 10. Nc3 Qc7 11. Kh1 b6 12. f4 Ngf6 13. Nd4 h5 14. Nf3 Bb7 15. e5 Ng4 16. exd6 Bxd6 17. Ne4 Bxf4 18. Bxf4 Qxf4 19. Rae1 Nc5 20. Nxc5 bxc5 21. Bxg6 O-O-O 22. Bd3 Kc7 23. Qd2 Qd6 24. Qa5+ Kb8 25. Be4 f5 26. Bxb7 Kxb7 27. b4 cxb4 28. Rb1 Ka7 29. Rxb4 Ne3 30. Nd4 Rb8 31. Rxb8 Rxb8 32. Qd2 $2 {This move could have spoilt the GM norm for Habu, but Cadman generously returned the favor:} Nc4 $4 ({A player brought up in a chess environment immediately spots} 32... Qxh2+ 33. Kxh2 Nxf1+ {winning on the right side of the board. But in Shogi knights can only move forward, and promote on the three final ranks (they have to on the last two), so the knight on f1 does not give check and does not attack the queen.}) 33. Qf2 Qb6 34. Nc6+ {Habu has moved decisively forward (!) with his knight and now forces Black to resign.} 1-0

Against GM Peter Wells, Habu sacrificed a serious amount of material and finished the game with a magnificent final sequence.

[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+ (28... Qd2+ 29. Kb1 c2+ 30. Kb2 c1=Q#) 0-1

– Part two to follow soon –

Previous ChessBase articles on Shogi

  • 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!

  • On top of the world – Vachier-Lagrave at Tokyo Skytree Tower
    12/30/2012 – At 2000+ feet it is the tallest tower in the world. Recently the French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ascended the Tokyo Skytree for a simultaneous exhibition against two Shogi legends: Yoshiharu Habu and Meijin Toshiyuki Moriuchi. The IM-strength chess masters played interesting games (Grünfeld and Taimanov), which Maxime won – and graciously annotated for them to study.

  • Chess and Shogi – GM Alexander Chernin in Japan
    5/4/2012 – It is astonishing that Japan, the third largest economy on the planet, with a population of 127 million, ranks at a paltry 92th on FIDE's chess world rankings, just behind Monaco. On the other hand the national version of chess, Shogi, is played by millions. Jacques-Marie Pineau has tried to rectify the situation by inviting a strong GM and trainer to motivated students – with resounding success.

  • Chess and Shogi – Chernin in Japan (Part 2)
    5/7/2012 – When Jacques-Marie Pineau, chess enthusiast and trainer in the emerging western-chess nation of Japan, invited grandmaster Alexander Chernin to take part in a good-will tour, which involved lectures and simultaneous exhibitions in a country mainly fascinated with Shogi. Jacques-Marie starts his final report with a description of how a young Shogi talent can take to chess. Impressive.

  • Chess-playing Japanese Shogi champions
    4/15/2012 – The Japanese chess variant Shogi is the most popular board game in the country. In recent years some of its greatest contemporary champions have started taking up chess, and two intersting experiments were recently conducted: a top GM played a chess simul against two Shogi masters, and the top Shogi champion a three-board Shogi handicap against chess masters. Illustrated report with games.

  • 800 Wins at 32 Years Old!?
    2/25/2003 – It's chess all right, but Japanese chess, or shogi. The popular sport has its own icon, Yoshiharu Habu, whose games are regularly on TV in Japan. On Sunday Habu became, at 32, the youngest player ever to reach 800 career victories, breaking the record by six months. Kasparov has yet to reach that number in competitive play. More...

  • Joel Lautier's Shogi simul
    11/6/2002 – He is by his own admittance a "patzer-level" Shogi player. But chess grandmaster Joel Lautier, whose mother is Japanese, recently took on three of the best Shogi players in Japan in a clock simul. In chess naturally. It was not, however, a trivial task. Japan's top Shogi player, Yoshiharu Habu, is of IM strength. More...

  • When a Shogi champion turns to chess
    5/17/2002 – Michael Jordan tried it with baseball – it, like, didn't work out. But what about a professional Shogi champion switching to chess? Yoshiharu Habu, one of the most gifted players in the history of the ancient Japanese game, has taken a casual interest in chess – and already reached IM strength. He is currently playing in a tournament in Paris, where Joel Lautier interviewed him.

Topics Shogi
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