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.

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Chess-playing Japanese Shogi champions

Report by Jacques-Marie Pineau from Villandry

Doesn't a good game of chess represent our our ability to learn from our opponent? Doesn't it include the understanding of cultural differences? In an increasingly complex and interactive world, the willingness to understand each other might also be a clue to create more harmony on our planet. A real life experience of such intercultural ecology certainly took place late last year in Paris, in the nice Renaissance castle where Henri Carvallo lives, surrounded by the magnificent Villandry gardens.

Château Villandry, a castle-palace located in Indre-et-Loire, France

Villandry is open to the public and is one of the most visited châteaux in France

Assiduous readers will certainly not have forgotten that the best chess players in Japan are also the most famous Shogi players in the world: the lifetime Meijins Yoshiharu Habu and Toshiyuki Moriuchi.

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

These Shogi champions have been my regular students from 1995 to 2005. Since that time, they have trained with famous GM, including the sympathetic and renowned chess coach Alexander Chernin, whom you will also meet in this report, as he has also contributed to success of this event.

We will witness the two Shogi champions putting up strong resistance to one of the stronger GMs on the planet, the young French champion Maxime Vachier Lagrave (Elo 2710).

[Event "Villandry"] [Site "Villandry Castle, France"] [Date "2011.10.29"] [Round "?"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Moriuchi, Toshiyuki"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A84"] [WhiteElo "2715"] [BlackElo "2316"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2011.??.??"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 e6 4. e3 f5 5. g4 {!? Maxime decides to venture into a tactical melee. Bd3 for Nge2 and Nf4 or Nf3 are a more natural and practical approach.} Nf6 (5... fxg4 {! The Steinitz's advice to play a gambit} 6. Qxg4 ( 6. h3 {!?} g3 {! Black will be the first to play on the open "f" file by Nf6 & Bd6 then O-O}) 6... Nf6) 6. gxf5 exf5 7. cxd5 cxd5 8. Bg2 Na6 {A clever but dubious way to develop. In the analysis room my friend Henri Carvallo and I went for 8...Ne4.} (8... Ne4 9. Nge2 Qh4 10. Ng3 Nd7 {!?} 11. Nxd5 Bd6 12. O-O O-O {needs a tempo to be effective.} 13. Qc2 Ndf6 14. Nxf6+ Rxf6 15. Bxe4 fxe4 16. Qxe4 Bxg3 17. Qe8+ Rf8 18. Qxf8+ {! the point} Kxf8 19. fxg3+ {and White recovers the piece.}) (8... Nc6 9. Nge2 Bd6 10. Bxd5 Nxd5 11. Nxd5 Be6 12. Ndf4 Bf7 {and 13...g5}) 9. Nge2 {Going for e5 with 9.Nf3 maybe more simple. But as it is often said "Japanese simplicity is always difficult"} Nc7 10. Qb3 (10. Nf4 Bd7 $1 {is a defensive resource}) 10... Bd6 11. Bd2 O-O {!} 12. Nxd5 Ncxd5 13. Bxd5+ Kh8 14. Bf3 {?!} (14. Nc3 {looks more natural} Nxd5 15. Qxd5 a6 { with Ra7! and b5 Black is still in the playing zone}) 14... Ne4 15. Nc3 (15. Bb4 {!} Be6 $1 16. Qa3 Qh4 17. Ng3 Bxb4+ 18. Qxb4 Bd5 19. Qa5 Rad8 {and now Black threatens 20...f4! As noted by GM Chernin, Black is a pawn down but his king is safe and the center is under control}) 15... Qh4 16. O-O-O Nxc3 {Very well played by Moriuchi Meijin. It's always difficult to make a choice between good moves. In the analysis room the debate was on 16...Nxf2!?} (16... Nxf2 {!? } 17. Be1 Qh3 (17... f4 $5 18. e4 Qh3 19. Bxf2 Qxf3 20. Nb5) 18. Qd5 Nxd1 19. Qxd6 Bd7 $1 20. Bxd1 Bc6 21. d5 Qg2 22. Qg3 $1 Qxh1 23. Bf3 Qf1 24. dxc6 bxc6 25. Be2 f4 $1 26. exf4 Qxf4+ 27. Qxf4 Rxf4 28. Bg3 {which looks quite balanced} ) 17. bxc3 Qxf2 18. Rdf1 Qh4 19. Kb2 a5 {? The mistake.} (19... Qe7 20. Ka1 Rb8 {and with 21...b5! Black is better ! I must confessed that here that in the analysis room I suggested also 20...a5. GM Chernin reacted immediately and showed what the difference is between a merely chess amateur and a strong GM: "Not the a-pawn, the b one".} ({GM Chernin suggested} 20... Be6 $5 21. Qxb7 Qd8 22. Rhg1 g6 23. Qa6 (23. d5 $6 Be5) (23. Qxa8 Qa5 24. Qxf8+ Bxf8 25. d5 Bxd5 26. Bxd5 Qxd5 {Queen vs two rooks is debatable, but the white pawns are all weak and the black bishop is stronger than its white counterpart, and the white king can be checked easily.}) 23... Rc8 {with a serious initiative.} 24. Be2 Bd5 25. c4 Be4 26. Bc3 Qe7 {with 27...Bb7 and 28...Qxe3}) 21. Bd5 Bd7 $1 { And Bc6 exchanges White's only active piece. Put Nd6 instead of Bd6 and you got the kind of position that Chigorin used to win at the beginning of the last century} 22. Qc2 Rbe8 23. e4 fxe4 24. Rxf8+ Qxf8 25. Bxe4 Qf2 {Black has the easier game.}) 20. Ka1 Qe7 21. Rb1 a4 22. Qc2 Qc7 23. c4 Rb8 24. c5 (24. e4 {!?}) 24... Bd7 {?? 24...b6 was the last chance to stay in the game. Now it's over. Maxime will keep his grip until the end.} 25. Rb6 Be7 26. Rhb1 Bc6 27. Bxc6 bxc6 28. Rxb8 Rxb8 29. Rxb8+ Qxb8 30. Qxa4 h6 {Despair in time pressure 30...Qe8 is normal} 31. Qxc6 Qxh2 32. Qc8+ Bd8 (32... Kh7 33. Qxf5+ {is clearly winning too}) 33. Qxd8+ Kh7 34. Qa5 Qe2 35. c6 {Had Moriuchi Meijin found Chernin's plan 19...Qe7 with Be6 & b5 the result may have been totally different.} 1-0

The second game was even more precarious:

[Event "Villandry"] [Site "Villandry Castle, France"] [Date "2011.10.29"] [Round "?"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Habu, Yoshiharu"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E90"] [WhiteElo "2715"] [BlackElo "2404"] [PlyCount "110"] [EventDate "2011.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 {Yoshiharu Habu played the King's Indian at his debut, winning brillantely in 1998 against FM Watanabe Akira. But a few years ago Habu started to play Slav Defense too.} 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 {Maxime doesn't want the Grunfeld Defense he used to play himself.} d6 5. d4 O-O 6. h3 e5 7. d5 { Shows more than a relationship with the Petrosian System.} Nh5 (7... a5 {with the idea Na6 and Nc5}) 8. Nh2 Qe8 9. Be2 Nf4 10. Bf3 f5 11. g3 $5 (11. h4 {An original way to open the h file, but this pawn moves then twice.} Nd7 12. g3 fxe4 13. Nxe4 Nh5 {is nothing to be afraid of} 14. Bxh5 {doubles the pawn but gives up a precious light square bishop} (14. Ng4 Nc5 $1 15. Nxc5 (15. Nh6+ Kh8 16. Nxc5 dxc5 17. Qe2 e4 $1 {is powerful}) 15... e4 $1 16. Nxe4 (16. Bxe4 $2 dxc5 17. Qe2 Bxg4 18. Qxg4 Nf6 {is dreadful}) 16... Bxg4)) (11. Nf1 {seems a subtle alternative} Qf7 $1 12. Ng3 (12. g3 $2 Nxh3) 12... Nd7 $1 13. exf5 Nc5 { offers Black enough for the pawn.}) 11... Nxh3 12. Bg2 fxe4 13. Be3 Na6 14. Qd2 (14. Nxe4 Nf4 $1 15. gxf4 exf4 16. Bd2 f3 $1 17. Bxf3 Rxf3 $1 18. Qxf3 Bf5) ( 14. Ng4 $5 Nb4 $1 15. Bxh3 Nd3+ 16. Kf1 h5 17. Nf6+ Bxf6 18. Nxe4 Nxb2 19. Qb3 Bxh3+ 20. Rxh3 Qd7 {and 21...Na4}) 14... Nc5 (14... Nb4 $5 15. Bxe4 (15. Nxe4 $6 Qa4 $1) 15... Bf5 16. Bxf5 gxf5 17. a3 f4 {is unclear}) 15. Bxc5 dxc5 16. Nxe4 Bf5 {Still in time to help Nh3} 17. Ng4 (17. Nxc5 b6 18. Nb3 (18. Ne4 $2 Bxe4 19. Bxe4 Nxf2) (18. Ne6 $2 Bxe6 19. dxe6 Rxf2 20. Qd5 Rd8 21. Qc6 Qf8 { Black is winning}) (18. Na6 {isn't really appealing} Rc8 {putting the piece for what it is.} 19. Nf1 Nf4 $1 20. gxf4 exf4+ 21. Qe2 {Qa4 wins back the piece and the e-file as a dividend.}) 18... Bd7 19. Rf1 e4 $1 {with the threat of Rxf2 and e3. Black is better.}) 17... Bxg4 18. Bxh3 Bf3 (18... Bxh3 $6 19. Rxh3 {is a typical Ne4 vs Bg7 and with a h file open, one can't say Black is a pawn up}) 19. Be6+ Kh8 20. Rh4 Bxe4 21. Rxe4 Qa4 (21... Rf3 {is more dynamic, as suggested by the FFE president Carvallo. I was for 21...Rf6} 22. Bg4 Rf7 23. O-O-O Qf8 24. Rf1 Bh6 25. f4 exf4 26. gxf4 {then Qh2-Rh1. In the analysis room, the feeling was: "a slight edge for White, but Black should still defend" - until the GM Bachar Kouatly suggested the intricacy of 21...Qa4!? before the move came in the playing hall.}) 22. Ke2 Qb4 23. Qc2 (23. Qxb4 {Maybe White should focus on the queenside too.} cxb4 24. c5 a5 25. a3 $1 bxa3 26. Rxa3 { White seems better} h5 {gives h7 for the king and a potential passed h-pawn. But this is a little slow...} (26... Bf6 {Those examples to show how strong the white pawns on queenside are.} 27. Rea4 b6 28. b4 Be7 29. d6 $1 {White is better} Bd8 30. Bd5 Rb8 31. Rb3 axb4 32. Raxb4 cxd6 33. cxb6 {and with b7 one day the rooks will come to a8 and/or c8}) (26... Rf6 $5) 27. Rea4 b6 28. d6 $1 cxd6 (28... Rf6 29. Bd5 Raf8 30. dxc7 Rxf2+ 31. Kd3 {and the c7 pawn is a monster}) 29. cxb6 Rab8 (29... Rfb8 $6 30. Bd5 Ra6 31. b7 Rb6 32. b4 $1 {as axb4 Ra8 casts in gold the b7 pawn.}) 30. Rb3 {white b6 pawn is still too strong}) 23... Rf6 24. Rh1 Raf8 25. Rh2 b5 (25... c6 {Otherwise as noted by GM Chernin 25...h6 is more than playable.} 26. Rxe5 Rxf2+ $1 27. Rxf2 Rxf2+ 28. Kxf2 Bxe5 29. Qxg6 Qd2+) (25... g5 $2 26. Rxh7+ $1 Kxh7 27. Rh4#) 26. b3 (26. Kf1 $1 {for 27.Kg1} h6 {comes late} 27. g4 g5 28. Rxe5 {and Rxg5, with some initiative.}) 26... c6 27. Reh4 h5 28. Qc1 Kh7 29. Qc2 Kh8 30. Qc1 Kh7 31. g4 cxd5 32. Bxd5 $2 (32. gxh5 $1 {As noted by Habu after the game} g5 33. h6 $1 Bh8 (33... gxh4 34. hxg7 Kxg7 35. Qg5+ Rg6 36. Qe7+) 34. Rg4 {White should win} ) 32... Rf4 33. gxh5 g5 34. Qc2+ Kh8 35. Rxf4 exf4 36. h6 Bd4 37. Kf3 {37.Kf1 was more prudent} bxc4 38. Bxc4 $2 (38. Qg6 Qe1 39. Bxc4 Qd1+ 40. Be2 Qg1 41. Rg2 Qh1 42. Bd3 Qd1+ {should draw}) 38... Qb7+ {Indeed Habu's fighting spirit is beginning to give some results} 39. Kg4 (39. Ke2 g4) 39... Qd7+ 40. Kxg5 $2 (40. Kh5 g4 {still wins easily} 41. Rh4 g3 42. fxg3 fxg3 43. Rg4 g2 $1 44. Qxg2 Qe8+ 45. Rg6 Rf5+ 46. Kh4 Bf2+) 40... Bf6+ 41. Kh5 Re8 42. Rg2 Re5+ 43. Kg6 Qh7+ {Just after the game I mentioned to my friend that 43...Bd8! is "hishi", a shogi expression to say there is nothing to do} 44. Kxf6 Qxc2 (44... Qe7+ $1 {noted by GM Chernin} 45. Kg6 Qd6+ {mates}) 45. Kxe5 f3 46. Rg8+ Kh7 47. Kf6 Qxf2 48. Rg4 Qb2+ {48...Kxh6 or 48...Qxa2 with a4-a5 wins technically} 49. Kf5 Qc2+ 50. Kg5 f2 51. Rf4 Qg6+ 52. Kh4 Qg2 (52... Qxh6+ {is of course good for Black}) 53. Rf6 Qh2+ 54. Kg4 Qg2+ 55. Kh4 Qh2+ {Indeed a strange draw but obviously both players wanted to relax. I suppose Habu was under the shock of having played so well against a 2710-2720 GM, and Maxime had realized that a Japanese player, mostly unknown in the international circuit, could be a very dangerous opponent. Let's not forget that it is a simultaneous on two boards, and the other shogi champion, Moriuchi Meijin posed a lot of problems as well.} 1/2-1/2

After the games, Maxime very sportingly was clearly impressed with the level of play of these two Eisei Meijins. He admitted that he had had a very difficult time, and that both games could have gone either way. Conversely the Shogi champions expressed their gratitude to the French Champion for these chess lessons. Truth be told such opportunities are nearly non-existent in Japan.

GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri, Toshiyuki Moriuchi, WGM Almira Skripchenko

Another pleasant surprise was the level of enthusiasm shown by the chess champions at the simultaneous Shogi game organized by the French Shogi Federation, in the town hall of Rueil Mailmaison, with the active support of my friends Eric Cheymol, the national French Champion for maybe 20 years, as well as Nicolas Wiel, President of the Paris Shogi Association.

The present "world champion" (Meijin title holder) of Shogi, Toshiyuki Moriuchi, played three handicap games with the young French champion Maxime Vachier Lagrave, Dutch champion Anish Giri, both of whom I met for the first time, and the always friendly WGM Almira Skripchenko. The Shogi master Aono (9 Dan), who witnessed the games, was very surprised by the resistance they offered – although the chess champions only had a few hours to prepare themselves for this new game.

Almira (above middle) even managed to win her game, with some assistance from
her friend, the woman professional Shogi player Madoka Kitao.

Shogi game by GM Maxime Vachier Lagrave

Shogi game by GM Anish Giri

Shogi game by WGM Almira Skripchenko

I would thank all my friends who helped me to make these encounters possible. This is one step, waiting for another, to put Japan on the chess world map, and to popularize the Japanese traditional version of Shogi outside its homeland. One may ask why chess isn't popular in Japan? I heard many times that Shogi occupies the whole stage. After having lived in Japan for 25 years I would not share this view, especially not for the future. China has his own version of chess, but nevertheless emerged as a major chess power. Games and cultures should cooperate. Having in mind how much the American genius Paul Morphy's visit to Europe rejuvenated European chess in the middle of the 19th century, I hope to see the near future non Japanese playing Shogi, as well as Japanese playing chess, in a fashion never seen before.

Some Shogi sites

Chess and Music Festival in the Château de Villandry
13.10.2009 – A Renaissance château on the banks of the River Loire, with splendid gardens and stately rooms. The owner a great chess enthusiast, as well as a music aficionado. The participants: two young French players and two from China. The event: a friendship match which includes a "mixed double". And on the side: a concert of Chinese and French classical music. We have pictures and videos.
A chess feast in Château de Villandry
28.10.2007 – The location was magical: a Renaissance châteaux on the banks of the Loire, with decorative and herbal gardens that must be seen to be believed. A pianist gives a recital of music by Danican Philidor, and four great chess masters (Korchnoi, Fressinet, Kosteniuk and Skripchenko) play a chess tournament. One of the games is the longest rapid chess game in history. Report with pictures and videos.

Copyright Pineau/ChessBase

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