Grandmasters at the Shogi Forum (2/2)

by ChessBase
1/12/2015 – In this second part, GM Peter Heine Nielsen describes the unique atmosphere of the 6th Shogi Forum, in which shogi and all chess variants are explored and exhibited. As an example of how different it is, he recounts how he, and fellow amateurs suddenly notice a multiple world champion join the analysis and offering suggestions! They are then given a tour with temples and blessings.

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By Peter Heine Nielsen

The best view ever from a tournament hall? This picture is taken through the panoramic
windows at the Shizuoka Convention center, while waiting for Day Two to start.

Yannick continued his strong play, but also kept getting difficult pairings and was eliminated
from the Knockout stage by the three-time European Champion, Jean Fortin from France.
Another complex game in the Yagura opening, but although Yannick had his chances, it was
the experienced Frenchman who progressed.

Despite being a shogi event, other exotic forms of chess were also promoted… Exotic for
the Japanese of course! In the analysis area both Western chess as well as Xiangqi was
played. Here Jacques-Marie Pineau, for more than 20 years  has been promoting western
chess in Japan, and shogi in the West, and does his part by playing chess while in Japan.

By the way, Jacques-Marie was the man who introduced me to the Shogi world the last time I came to Japan. The tradition of the best Japanese board game players, to be interested in a game other than their ”main” one is known from Nobel Prize winner Kawabata's masterpiece “The Master of Go”.

Therefore, in order to promote Western chess in Japan, the current Meijin, Yoshiharu Habu
accepted to play an exhibition game, and I had the honor of facing him

Habu, aged 44 is the current Meijin, the first ever to hold all seven top titles simultaneously in 1996. He has already won 90 titles during his career. His fame and popularity is only comparable to Carlsen's in Norway, and Anand's in India. It might seem odd to have the arguably best shogi player ever, not playing the event, but he is simply too strong! Earlier he has beaten reigning European Champions at handicap-games, so this time the handicap was to change the game instead! Habu, rated 2415 plays chess rarely, but weeks before our game had a two-game exhibition match against Kasparov in Tokyo. And although he lost 2-0, he had excellent chances in the second game.

During the game, Jacques-Marie Pineau and Yasumitso Sato  did commentary for the spectators,
and here invited Yannick to give his point of view on the position.

While chess might be widely unknown in Japan, Yoshiharu Habu is quite definitely not, and
our game attracted a rather large crowd. Consider that this was in spite of the fact that most
of the spectators very likely didn't even know the rules of Western chess!

After the game, which ended in a draw, we joined the commentators in trying to explain a
few key-points to the spectators. As can be seen, Habu, very true to his shogi style, also
attacks vigorously in chess and had me very worried, before I got the advantage in the
endgame, which was eventually drawn.

Yasumitsu Sato, Meijin in 1998 and 1999, both times having won the decisive seventh game
in his 4-3 match wins against Tanigawa, is also an excellent chess player in the best of Japanese
traditions, Here he explains my choice of the Dragon variation to the spectators.

The final in the shogi tournament was between Jean Fortin and Haruto Takahashi. And yes,
the boy next to Fortin is certainly not there to help with the demonstration board, but is the
tournament winner, having won all of his games!

During the final, 9th dan Aono Teruichi would give witty comments in Japanese, and the
president of the European Shogi Federation, Frank Rövekamp, would translate them into
English. Meijins Habu and Sato would also join the commentary, and Fortin admitted it was
rather unusual since it was somewhat comparable to 2400 players having Anand, Carlsen
and Kasparov commenting their game!

Takahashi seemed more at ease, attacked vigorously and convincingly won the 6th International
Shogi Forum, at the age of twelve!

Nothing unusual or unexpected in that at all. It simply makes no sense comparing the level in Japan to the rest of the world. It's a very competitive professional board game in Japan, and largely unknown elsewhere in the world. Actually it could have been a pre-teen Japanese final since…

…in the semifinal Fortin faced Hana Wada, also aged twelve!

While in chess we have Titles like FM, IM and GM, in shogi they use the traditional Dan system,
even known from Karate! Here Vladimir Frolochkin receives his 1st Dan diploma certified by the
Japanese Shogi Association.

On the day after the tournament, we were invited to a touristic trip to the land of Shogun
Ieyasu Tokugawa. First we visited Kunōzan Tōshō-gū, a Shinto shrine and the burial place
of Tokugawa. The white barrels are typical “sake barrels”, always found at Shinto shrines.

Quite extraordinarily a religious ceremony was arranged for us

A Shinto priest blessed us all with good health, and good luck in shogi! It was definitely a
beautiful sight and a unique experience.

Having received our blessings we walked from the Shrine, and could enjoy the following view...

The Pacific Ocean is a majestic sight, that no picture can do justice to. The small rectangular
objects near the beach are greenhouses, where most of Japan's strawberries grow!

Having walked to the beach, it was a first at the Pacific for myself and others. Some took it
to extremes, even insisting on getting their feet wet. European Champion Karolina Styczynska
and Chile's Christopher Gallardo, who traveled the maximum twelve time zones to play the
event. Chile actually borders the Pacific from the other side, giving one an idea of it's magnitude.

Enjoying the beach and the view

Just to give you an idea of how spoiled we were. This is the view, from the beach, facing
the other way from the Pacific!

”Gens Una Sumus” is the motto in the chess world, but it very much felt like the Shogi world
in Shizuoka. 46 players from 38 countries participated in the 6th  International Shogi Forum,
and it was a fantastic experience, reminiscent of the pioneering days of chess.

Back in Europe one could easily be the only shogi player in one’s country, but in Shizuoka it indeed felt like one small family of shogi enthusiasts. Nothing says it better than this:

During the analyses of a friendly game between Yannick Pelletier, and Adrien
Levacic quite a number of us gathered to kibitz. At some point a quiet, polite
suggestion was made, but obviously incredibly strong. It took some amusing
seconds until we realized the Meijin has joined the post mortem!

It became quite a lively discussion, and might have postponed the closing for a while, but
then at least the wait for the 7th  ISF in 2017 would be just that much shorter. The hope is
50 countries then! And what do you do when such an event ends? You try to make it last
just a little bit longer.

Sushi, sake and shogi. A worthy end to a great time in Japan.

In the image above, Fabien Osmont, the man behind the hundreds of kids playing shogi in France, as well as the photographer of many pictures in this report, joined “ team chess” against reknowned shogi players Frederic Verheyden and Andreas Kapnser. Frederic is a Belgian diplomat, who shifted from chess to shogi while being stationed in Tokyo, and Andreas managed to qualify for the German spot in the ISF, definitely one of the most competitive.

While we do have to wait until 2017 for the next ISF, the European Championship will be held in Prague on August 20-26. We all expect to be there, even our Japanese, Ivorian and Chilean shogi friends!

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

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