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.

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GM Alexander Chernin in Japan

Report by Jacques-Marie Pineau from Kawagoe, Japan

A few years ago, sensing my own limits, I introduced my chess student from Japan, Toshiyuki Moriuchi, to grandmaster and acclaimed chess coach Alexander Chernin. They were soon on friendly terms: GM Chernin taught the importance of pawn structure and positional play to Moriuchi in Budapest six years ago, and gave some lessons to Yoshiharu Habu last October shortly before another event held at my friend (and French Chess Federation President) Henri Carvallo's Villandry Castle, during which French Champion Maxime Vachier-Lagrave faced both Habu and Moriuchi simultaneously. Moriuchi lost and Habu drew, but both put a lot of fight, and until the very end all results might been possible. GM Chernin was already there to help me to comment the games. We reported recently about this event.

Alexander Mikhailovich Chernin, Ukrainian GM and a former Soviet Champion

Following these intriguing exchanges, I began to entertain the thought of inviting GM Chernin to Japan, and have him share his deep positional chess understanding with the small but dedicated local chess community. Especially when Chernin and his wife said to me their dream to come in Japan.

The GM and his wife in Japan

As you probably know, Japan has its own, very popular, version of chess called shogi. Shogi has officially a 400-year history and is considered a traditional art much like tea ceremony or Ikebana. But Shogi is also very contemporary and popular played by millions of Japanese including a few hundred professional players, the best among whom are regarded as celebrities. Yoshiharu Habu and Toshiyuki Moriuchi are respectively the 19e and 18e Lifetime Meijins.

Yoshiharu Habu, 19e Lifetime Meijin in Shogi

This title is disputed each year and award to the best professional – it is like winning a World Championship match in western chess. To become a Lifetime Meijin you have to win it five times. Emanuel Lasker, Mikhail Botvinnik, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov would be Lifetime Meijins of chess. Incidentally Habu and Moriuchi are also among the very best chess players in Japan, performing steadily at IM level, despite of having had little time and few opportunities to hone their skills.

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

As hinted above, a feature of most Japanese chess players' style is that their tactical ability is more developed than their positional sense. One anecdote illustrates this point beautifully. About fifteen years ago I showed shogi champions (then chess beginners) Habu and Moriuchi the game Kasparov-Kramnik, Dos Hermanas, in 1996 – a tense game which the young Kramnik won. As I was going through the moves they interrupted me before the end with a shocking question: "Wait, can't Black mate here?" In just a few seconds, they had seen the mate in four which the very talented Kramnik missed, opting instead for a more practical ending.

Kasparov,Garry (2775) - Kramnik,Vladimir (2775) [D48]
Dos Hermanas Dos Hermanas (6), 27.05.1996
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.0-0 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 0-0 22.fxe4 Qh3 23.Nf3 Bxg3 24.Nc5 Rxf3 25.Rxf3 Qxh2+ 26.Kf1 Bc6 27.Bg5 Bb5+ 28.Nd3 Re8 29.Ra2

Here Kramnik played 29...Qh1+ 30.Ke2 Rxe4+ 31.Kd2 Qg2+ 32.Kc1 Qxa2 33.Rxg3 Qa1+ 34.Kc2 Qc3+ 35.Kb1 Rd4 and winning. But he missed a mate in four in the diagram position, which the Shogi masters immediately spotted – and which our chess specialists will hopefully also find.

Garry Kasparov trying his hand at Shogi, against Eiichiro Ishiyama, a 3-dan player

Although I knew that shogi is tactically more complex than chess, this caught me completely by surprise. Conversely, the fact that shogi players have some difficulty to grasp positional play can in part be explained by the fact that there is no pawn structure in shogi. The first man who developed a theory from a chess practice the 18th century, chess champion Philidor from France, would likely turn into his grave should he witness a game of shogi!

When considering how Japanese people can excel at highly complex games, it is quite astonishing to note that in spite of being the third largest economy on the planet, Japan with a population of 127 million people ranks at a paltry 92th place on FIDE's chess world ranking list, just behind Monaco. Quite a disheartening thought – also on a personal level, since for the last 25 years or so I have tried to promote chess to Japan, founding two clubs, one in the Tokyo suburb of Asaka, the other at the French Embassy the at French Institute of Tokyo. I have also been teaching chess in schools, writing several books in Japanese, and training two of the most famous shogi players and friends Habu and Moriuchi of the Japan Shogi Renmei (Federation of Professional Players) for the past ten years. Against this rather difficult backdrop, I am deeply grateful to my friend grandmaster Chernin and his wife, for accepting to devote part of their recent vacation to Japan to promote chess in this country. Here follows a brief account of their stay.

Chess lecture and simultaneous exhibition in Asaka Chess Club

The purpose of this event was to be accessible to a large audience of chess players of different generations and playing strength. This opportunity was so well-received among Japanese chess community that some players came especially from Niigata, situated 350 km from Tokyo, just to meet the GM.

The lecture was on how to weaken a kingside castle and how to make use of it, showing the logical and historical bacground of the famous Fischer vs Myagmarsuren during Itz of Sousse, in 1967.

[Event "Sousse Interzonal+"] [Site "Sousse"] [Date "1967.??.??"] [Round "3"] [White "Fischer, Robert James"] [Black "Myagmarsuren, Lhamsuren"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C00"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "1967.10.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "10"] [EventCountry "TUN"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. e4 e6 2. d3 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. g3 c5 5. Bg2 Nc6 6. Ngf3 Be7 7. O-O O-O 8. e5 Nd7 9. Re1 b5 10. Nf1 b4 11. h4 a5 12. Bf4 a4 13. a3 bxa3 14. bxa3 Na5 15. Ne3 Ba6 16. Bh3 d4 17. Nf1 Nb6 18. Ng5 Nd5 19. Bd2 Bxg5 20. Bxg5 Qd7 21. Qh5 Rfc8 22. Nd2 Nc3 23. Bf6 Qe8 24. Ne4 g6 25. Qg5 Nxe4 26. Rxe4 c4 27. h5 cxd3 28. Rh4 Ra7 29. Bg2 dxc2 30. Qh6 Qf8 31. Qxh7+ 1-0

After the lecture Chernin played a 25 board simul, conceding only three draws

Chess lecture in Kaisei High School

I think it is safe to say that this was the first time a chess grandmaster ever gave a lecture in a school in Japan. Kaisei High School is one the most famous schools in Tokyo. Considering chess as very formative for young people, I suggested inviting pupils from other schools as well. For some of them it was a very first occasion to even see chess pieces, let alone a GM such as Chernin. After the lecture, the famous poet and chess fan Matsuura decided to draw a team among these students from the different schools. Here is the game they played with Chernin, who of course played the Pirc Defence. I encouraged the students to buy "Pirc Alert", the invaluable book which he wrote with GM Alburt. This book have the educational virtue to teach ideas to different level.

[Event "Chess lesson in Kaisei"] [Site "HIKARU-HP"] [Date "2012.05.03"] [Round "?"] [White "Kaisei High School"] [Black "Chernin, Alexander"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E90"] [Annotator "Pineau,Jacques-Marie"] [PlyCount "62"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] 1. e4 d6 2. d4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. Be3 a6 $5 5. Qd2 ({It seems that none of the student team members knew Morozevich's line} 5. f4 b5 6. Be2 b4 7. Nb1 Bb7 8. Bf3 Nf6 9. Qd3 {and the Nd2/Ne2 setup recommended by GM Chernin's book.}) 5... Nd7 6. Bc4 $5 {A bit naive, but it's young people bringing us fresh idea. Black can play e6 this bishop might not have the brillant future one could hope for. A memorable game won by Black in 49 moves is:} (6. f3 b5 7. a4 b4 8. Nd1 Rb8 9. c3 bxc3 10. bxc3 c5 11. a5 d5 $1 12. exd5 cxd4 13. Bxd4 Ngf6 14. Bc4 Qc7 15. Qe2 O-O 16. Nh3 Bb7 17. Ne3 Nxd5 $1 18. Bxd5 Bxd4 19. cxd4 Qc3+ 20. Kf2 Bxd5 21. Rhc1 Qxd4 22. Rd1 Qh4+ 23. Kg1 Be6 {Black has a big advantage. Kindermann vs Chernin. BAWAG, 1996.}) 6... b5 7. Bb3 (7. Bd5 Rb8 {Black can play 8...e6 9.Bc6 Ne7 and open the position for the remaining light squares Bishop, thus White should react quickly.}) (7. Bd5 Rb8 8. Bc6 Ngf6 (8... e6 { Now this is too slow...} 9. d5 Ne7 10. Ba7 b4 11. Nd1 exd5 12. exd5 O-O 13. Ne2 {Black has not enough compensation for the minor exchange.}) 9. Nf3 O-O {One piece exchange and Black is no more worried by his constricted structure. Morever Black schemes are connected to Bc6. Nb6-Nc4-Na5 or Nb6 (Bg4) and Nc8-Na7. Black should be ok here.}) 7... Bb7 8. Nf3 e6 {Typically GM Chernin keeps matter in a most flexible manner.} (8... c5 9. Bxf7+ $5 Kxf7 10. Ng5+ Ke8 (10... Kf6 {?? A monstruous move!} 11. Qe2 {Among many good moves.} Nh6 12. Qf3+ Nf5 13. e5+ dxe5 (13... Nxe5 14. dxe5+ dxe5 15. Qxb7 {Piece up and still attacking the king!}) 14. Qd5 {!! But this move is so funny.} Nxe3 15. Nce4+ Kf5 16. Qe6+ Kf4 17. g3#) 11. Ne6 Qa5 12. Nxg7+ Kf7 13. dxc5 Kxg7 14. cxd6 {is not the kind of game a GM wants in an exhibition. Especially considering that 9.dxc is simpler and good enough.}) (8... Ngf6 9. e5 dxe5 10. dxe5 Ng4 11. e6 $1 {is also not appealing for Black.}) 9. a3 (9. d5 {Might be better according to GM Chernin.}) 9... c5 10. d5 e5 {A typical move from GM Chernin. The position is closed but overall this may favor Black.} 11. O-O Ngf6 12. Bh6 O-O 13. Rae1 Ng4 14. Bxg7 Kxg7 15. Ne2 (15. h3 Ngf6 {and the Knight has now h3 as a new target (Nh5-Nf4).} 16. Ba2 Nh5 17. Ne2 h6 18. Nh2 c4 $1) 15... a5 $1 16. c4 a4 17. Ba2 Ba6 {Black is better.} 18. h3 Ngf6 19. Qc2 Nb6 20. Nc3 {!?? An active attempt before Black slowly but surely takes the control of the queen side.} (20. Nd2 Qe7 {and Rfb8.}) 20... b4 $1 21. Nxa4 Nxa4 22. Qxa4 Bxc4 23. Qxa8 {Probably the best decision under such circonstances.} (23. Qc2 $2 Bxa2 24. Nd2 Qa5 25. Ra1 c4 26. Rxa2 b3 27. Nxb3 cxb3 28. Qxb3 Nxe4 {White may resign here.}) 23... Qxa8 24. Bxc4 bxa3 25. Ra1 Nxe4 26. Rxa3 Qb7 27. Rfa1 $2 { 26.b3 is more resilient. But Black's advantage is still decisive.} Qxb2 28. R3a2 Qc3 29. Bf1 Rb8 30. Ra7 Qc2 31. R7a2 Rb2 {And here the high school students' team, lead by the famous Japanese poet and chess fan, Matsuura Hisaki, resigned.} 0-1

Chernin with the students of the most famous Tokyo high schools: Kaisei, Azabu, Gyosei, Osyukan

– Part two to follow soon –

Previous ChessBase articles on Shogi

Chess-playing Japanese Shogi champions
15.04.2012 – 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.
Garry Kasparov – taking up Shogi?
01.04.2008 – It was an interesting experiment: the former World Champion has, after his retirement from chess, tried his hand at the Japanese version of the game. Shogi is played on a 9 by 9 uncheckered board with flat wedge-shaped pieces with Kanji characters written on them. In his very first game Kasparov came ominously close to humiliating a three-dan player. Report and game.
800 Wins at 32 Years Old!?
25.02.2003 – 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
06.11.2002 – 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
17.05.2002 – 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.

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