Shogi Masters play Chess (2)

1/14/2014 – The Japanese form of chess enjoys a national prestige its western counterpart can only dream of. In part one you saw how some of the best Shogi players in are turning to our version of the game – with remarkable success. In part two of his report GM Peter Heine Nielsen, himself a shogi player, expands on the theme and takes us on a tour through the former imperial capital of Japan Kyoto.

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Shogi Masters play Chess – Part 2

By GM Peter Heine Nielsen

Over the New Year 2014 Japan's top rated Shogi 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. He played the Open Chess tournament in Cracow, starting out with 3/3 the chess FM finished in eighth place, with 6.5/9 and a 2486 rating performance, which gave him an IM norm.

The contrast from being an ordinary participant of an open tournament, as compared to the shogi title matches in Japan, is enormous – in terms of spectators, media coverage as well as prize funds. It is characteristic that such matches are always held in a very traditional Japanese setting.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Habu's opponent (right) in the above picture of the Meijin match looks familiar to chess players. Toshiyuki Moriuchi is the current “Meijin” in Shogi, as well as a chess player who participated in the 2012 edition of the London Chess Classic.

Toshiyuki Moriuchi at the London Chess Classic 2012

A more or less well-known player kibitzes one of his games...

... after which Moriuchi does a post mortem with IM Almira Skripchenko, herself a shogi fan

Toshiyuki Moriuchi is rated 2310 and ranked fourth on the Japanese ratings list. Both the chess playing shogi champions, Moriuchi and Habu, were only introduced to western chess after they turned twenty, and have played few tournaments. Their contact to chess started thanks to Jacques-Marie Pineau.

Shogi Master and chess trainer: Toshiyuki Moriuchi and Jacques-Marie Pineau

From 1995 to 2003 the Shogi Renmei employed the Frenchman to do a monthly chess lesson for the two shogi champions! During one of their sessions, he showed them the following game, played just briefly before in Dos Hermanas:

[Event "Dos Hermanas"] [Site "Dos Hermanas"] [Date "1996.05.27"] [Round "6"] [White "Kasparov, Garry"] [Black "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D48"] [WhiteElo "2775"] [BlackElo "2775"] [PlyCount "70"] [EventDate "1996.05.??"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "ESP"] [EventCategory "19"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1996.08.01"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 Bb7 9. O-O a6 10. e4 c5 11. d5 c4 12. Bc2 Qc7 13. Nd4 Nc5 14. b4 cxb3 15. axb3 b4 16. Na4 Ncxe4 17. Bxe4 Nxe4 18. dxe6 Bd6 19. exf7+ Qxf7 20. f3 Qh5 21. g3 O-O 22. fxe4 Qh3 23. Nf3 Bxg3 24. Nc5 Rxf3 25. Rxf3 Qxh2+ 26. Kf1 Bc6 27. Bg5 Bb5+ 28. Nd3 Re8 29. Ra2 {[#]Kramnik efficiently collected the point with} Qh1+ ({However, the Shogi champions thought that the gamescore was incorrect, as from the diagram position it is mate in four! And so it is:} 29... Bxd3+ 30. Qxd3 ({or} 30. Rxd3 Qh1+ 31. Ke2 Qg2+ 32. Ke3 Rxe4#) 30... Qh1+ 31. Ke2 Qe1# { For novices to chess this is an impressive performance. For world elite shogi players, whose games are almost always decided in brutal attacks involving exact calculation, it is quite trivial.}) 30. Ke2 Rxe4+ 31. Kd2 Qg2+ {winning the rook on a2 and later the game.} 32. Kc1 Qxa2 33. Rxg3 Qa1+ 34. Kc2 Qc3+ 35. Kb1 Rd4 0-1

As the Shogi-champions are both very well-known and popular with the Japanese public, it's clear that their efforts, even on the western chess board, are keenly followed. Apart from Habu the top ranked player is Shinya Kojima, and on his blog he made numerous posts from Cracow, following Habu and commented on his games, for instance Habu’s win against GM Bartlomiej Heberla. For those of our readers who do not read Japanese he kindly translated the comments to the game to English:

[Event "XXIV International Chess Festival"] [Site "-"] [Date "2013.12.29"] [Round "3.2"] [White "Heberla, Bartlomiej"] [Black "Habu, Yoshiharu"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2561"] [BlackElo "2404"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] {Yoshiharu Habu is one of the strongest chess players in Japan although he is a professional shogi (Japanese chess) player. I am sure that he will become an IM in the near future.} 1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 d5 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nf3 c6 5. b3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Bb2 b6 8. cxd5 exd5 9. Nxd5 $5 {Polish GM Heberla, B had decided to attack quickly.} cxd5 10. Qc6 Qc7 11. Qxa8 O-O {Such an exchange sacrifice reminds us of a famous game played by FM Habu against GM Wells, P. 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 / Wells, P - Habu, Y / Essent Open 2005} 12. Rc1 Nc5 13. b4 $6 {This is a weak move. During the game I was considering} (13. Bxf6 Nd3+ (13... gxf6 14. Qxd5 Nd3+ 15. Qxd3 Qxc1+ 16. Ke2 Rd8 $14) 14. Bxd3 Qxc1+ 15. Ke2 Qxh1 16. Qxd5 gxf6 17. Qxd6 Qxg2 18. Qxf6 $14 {The position remains complex, but I think white is slightly better.}) 13... Bd7 14. Qxf8+ Kxf8 15. Be2 Qb8 16. bxc5 bxc5 {Black regains a lost material, and has a satisfactory position.} 17. Ba1 c4 $5 {A difficult decision. It restricts an activity of the light colored bishop. On the hand, it gives white a nice outpost on d4. After that, the game continues calrmly.} 18. O-O Bf5 19. h3 Ba3 20. Rce1 Nd7 21. Nd4 Be4 22. Bg4 Nc5 23. Bf5 g6 24. Bxe4 Nxe4 25. Rb1 Qc8 26. Rfd1 Bc5 27. Nf3 Bb6 28. Bd4 Bxd4 29. Nxd4 Qa6 30. Rb2 Qf6 31. Rb8+ Kg7 32. Nf3 $2 {This is a critical mistake. White should have played} (32. f3 Nxd2 33. Rb2 $1 (33. Rxd2 $2 Qe5 $1 $17) 33... c3 34. Rc2 Nc4 35. Rxc3 $11 {Draw is a reasonable result for both sides.}) 32... g5 $1 {FM Habu found a winning idea. He intends to remove an important defensive piece from f3 by pushing the king side pawns.} 33. d3 $2 (33. Rf1 h5 34. Nd4 Nxd2 $17 {It is better although black has a clear advantage.}) 33... cxd3 34. Rb3 h5 $1 35. Rf1 g4 36. hxg4 hxg4 37. Nd4 d2 $19 {The strong passed pawn is a factor enough to decide a result.} 38. f3 g3 39. Rd1 Kh7 40. fxe4 $4 {Probably white was in a serious time trouble.} Qf2+ {White king will be mated.} 0-1

Kojima’s energetic blog is very typical for the Japanese chess scene. While very few in numbers (just 100 Elo rated players in a population of 128 million!), one gets the impression of enthusiasm and knowledgeable experts and fans.

A visit to Kyoto

During our stay in Japan my wife Viktorija Cmilyte gave simuls in Tokyo and Kyoto...

...while I lectured on being a second for Anand and Carlsen

Traditional japanese Sukiyaki, prepared at the table. Our companion is Tadashi Wakashima, an active chess and shogi study comopser, organizer of the World Chess Compositions conference in Kobe 2012. Tadashi is also a member of the Nabbokov Society and translated Lolita into Japanese. He lectures English literature at Kyoto University.

Even in the restaurant a shogi set is never missing

Incidentally GM Viktorija Cmilyte and I got married last December in the
Lituanian seaside resort Palanga, and now live together in Lithuania.

I also had a chance to visit the Japanese Championship, which was won by Junta Ikeda (above), who represents Australia but lives in Japan, ahead of Shinya Kojima.

Neither Habu nor Moriuchi attended, quite understandably, as their Meijin title match was still ongoing. Both great shogi champions could considerably strengthen the Japanese Olympic chess team, but as they are involved in numerous matches in 2014 – Moriuchi in at least two, Habu in at least four. So it is very unlikely that we will see them at the Tromsø Olympiad next summer. But hopefully we will not have to wait seven more years to see Yoshiharu Habu back at the chessboard.

I will leave you with some impressions of Kyoto, which served as Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. It is now the country's seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million people.

Kinkaku-ji ("Temple of the Golden Pavilion") is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto

The pavilion successfully incorporates three distinct styles of architecture shinden, samurai, and zen, on each floor. The roof is in the shape of a pyramid, topped with a bronze phoenix ornament. Noticeable from the outside is the amount of gold plated added to the upper stories of the pavilion.

Beautiful and peaceful: the Kinkaku-ji temple complex

The Todai-ji Daibutsu-den (Hall of Great Buddha) in Nara (50 km from Kyoto) is the world's biggest wooden building, even though the reconstruction in 1709 left it only two thirds of the original size. In the above picture I am with former Japanese national team player Yukitaka Ozaki.

The five-story pagoda of To-ji is a Buddhist temple, also known as Kyo-o-gokoku-ji ("for the Defense of the Nation by Means of the King of Doctrines"). It dates from 796 and was one of only three Buddhist temples allowed in the capital at the time, and is the only of the three to survive to the present.

Photos: Peter Heine Nielsen, Frederic Friedel (of Moriuchi)

Previous ChessBase articles on Shogi

  • 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.

  • 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 Japan, Shogi
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