Grandmasters at the Shogi Forum (1/2)

by ChessBase
1/11/2015 – Ever wondered what the Shogi equivalent of the Chess Olympiad is like? GMs Nielsen and Pelletier qualified to play in the International Shogi Forum, where they learn just how big a gap there is between Westerners and Japanese in the game. In this cultural exchange. Nielsen gives them a book signed by Kasparov in his recent training session with Carlsen.

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By Peter Heine Nielsen

Mount Fuji is one of the world’s top sights. Its beautiful symmetrical snow-capped top certainly
worth the trip alone, but my trip to Japan...

...together with fellow chess grandmaster Yannick Pelletier had quite a different purpose.

We both had qualified to represent our countries in the 6th  International Shogi Forum, an event best compared to the Chess Olympiad. The whole international Shogi community gathered in the Japanese city of Shizuoka on December 6-7.

Shizuoka is located just next to the Pacific Ocean, and thus from a chess-player's perspective:
at the edge of the world. From a shogi perspective, however, Japan is the center with its
approximately six million players, while the rest of the world only has a few thousand.

The reason for choosing Shizuoka specifically, is due to the two people
in the picture: Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun of a dynasty that
governed the country for more than 250 years. the Edo period. Edo is
the old name of Tokyo, which then became the center of Japan.

Tokugawa Ieyasu ended his life in the castle of Shizuoka establishing two schools of Go and Shogi held by the first called Meijin, a long tradition which celebrated its 400th anniversary during this Forum.

Also, it is the home-region of Aono Teruichi, a 9th dan professional, who did a great deal during his career to promote shogi abroad, and e.g. wrote ”better moves for better shogi” A classic, similar to Dvoretsky's works in chess, and specifically made bilingual in Japanese and English.

And so, we traveled almost half way around the world, to participate in what was only a
two-day rapid tournament! While a Chess Olympiad is an important sporting competition
for a grandmaster, for most it's a cultural event, an opportunity for making new friends,
and helping to spread the knowledge of the game across the world. The Shogi Forum
definitely served that purpose too.

At the opening ceremony we were greeted by some of the best professional players. It is
a surreal experience for a very average player, together with the rest of the European
delegation, to walk into the hall and be applauded by former Meijins! Meijin is the highest
shogi title, comparable to the World Champion title in chess.

The opening ceremony was both very formal in appearance, our hosts all wearing impeccable
suits and traditional dresses, and pleasantly light and friendly. Having enjoyed excellent sushi,
the festival was opened with a toast of locally produced beer!

Koji Tanigawa, who made the opening speech, has a career that even
Garry Kasparov might envy! Not because he became the Meijin at the
age of 21, and won it five times for total of 25 titles, but by the fact that
he also became Chairman of the Shogi federation, which has been under
his excellent leadership since 2012.

Madoka Kitao, 5th dan might be the best known player in the West as
she has been a front-runner for ”Shogi in Schools”, promoting it in a
number of countries, and even invented ”Dobutsu” shogi, a kids friendly
version, excellent for providing a gentle introduction to the game.

The female professionals, who incidentally have their own professional federation, were also present and were wearing kimonos, as the tradition requires.

Manao Kagawa one of the most famous and popular female players in Japan

Last year at the age of 20, she won the Women Osho-title. In August 2013,
she kindly collaborated to a cultural event between University students from
Russia and Japan in which each teams have to play both games Chess and Shogi!

After the opening ceremony, despite the tournament starting the next morning at 10 am, we went to the practice room where professional were play training games.

In the photo, 5th dan Harue Tanikawa plays me and Yannick simultaneously

Yannick got some useful experience in the ”Yagura” opening, which he would play later in the tournament, while I managed to win a two-piece handicap game for the first time, meaning she would play without her rook and bishop! A very traditional way of playing against amateurs. Chess grandmaster, and 5th dan Shogi Amateur Larry Kaufmann even wrote an excellent book in English on the opening theory of such handicap games! He is also one of the authors of the Komodo chess engine.

Not only is it tradition for a professional to play with amateurs, but also
to spend ten minutes analyzing the game afterwards. Here Akira Nishio,
6th dan, explains to Yannick, while the rest of us try to follow. Akira has
an excellent blog in English, giving very well explained guidance to
shogi-openings and concepts.

The tournament was done in the format known from the Soccer World
Cup. A Group-Stage followed by a Knockout format.

There was no seeding, and Yannick was not exactly lucky, ending up in a group only consisting of Dan-strength players. However, he fought formidably, and created the sensation of the tournament:

Facing reigning European Champion, Karolina Styczynska, who lives in Japan and striving to
become a Shogi-professional, Yannick managed to win!

In the position in the image above Yannick's King is
at g7 (the equivalent of c3 on a Western chess board),
but then did an amazing tour.

And just when Karolina had finally woven a mating net around his King, he struck with his counter-attack, mating her just in time! Having won his first two games, Yannick advanced to the Knockout stage.

As for myself, in the first game I played Toshio Awano, aged 71, from Japan. And while age
might matter, being from Japan certainly overrules!

In an interesting ”double-Anaguma” opening, he sacrificed an exchange, after which his attack proved much too powerful. I won my second game, but in the deciding third game, I misplayed a promising attack, and was thus eliminated in the group-stage.

Day one finished with a charity-auction, to help the victims of the great East Japan earthquake.
Shogi professionals donated, and each representative gave something particular from their country.

Here the Osho-title holder Manao Kagawa, who hosted the auction, in the typical fashion
signs a traditional Japanese fan with Chinese characters

Although representing Denmark, I decided to represent chess in this
matter, and brought Kasparov's recent book, signed at the training
session he had with Magnus Carlsen before the World Championship match.

Continued in part two

Photos by: Fabien Osmont, Yukitaka Ozaki, Yuji Kikuta, Jacques-Marie Pineau

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