After my son and wife went back to the States, I made a last-minute decision to go “off the grid” and take a trip to Korea. South Korea is reputed to have the fastest internet in the world, so I guess I didn’t really go off the grid, but while there I was personally online the least I’ve been in a very long time.
Before making the visit, I did some searches and sent a few e-mails to see what kind of chess/shogi action I could find. I made contact with the Bongcheon Chess Club (BCC) in Seoul, that was having a tournament the weekend I was there. I originally intended to participate in their monthly club event, but the day I arrived I received an email from Mr. Choi, the FIDE (International Chess Federation) Ratings Officer in Korea, who had seen my name posted on the BCC’s website. He invited me to a FIDE rated league event that was happening the same Sunday as the BCC event. I was pretty conflicted about which event to attend, but was ultimately swayed by the chance at obtaining a FIDE rating.
I believe there were about 50 players, many of whom were kids and/or female players. I was second board of what was surely one of the strongest teams, with an FM (FIDE Master, the third highest official chess title one can obtain) on our team’s first board. We were paired against a team of under-rated junior players. In the first round, I played their first board player, a 1600 rated kid who was maybe 12 years old. He skillfully played me to the following, very equal position.
Here, as white, he played the move b5, which allows me to win a pawn (by hitting the a4 pawn with Bb3). After this mistake, I won the game fairly easily. Had he played a5 or just shuffled his king around, the game likely would have been a draw.
This is my first round opponent in the round after lunch, playing our team’s FIDE Master. To the amusement of the other players and onlookers, he fell asleep at the board. Pretty funny!
The games were played at a very slow time control of Game/90+ 30 second increment. This was another reason I chose this tournament over the club event. While I only got two games in the entire day, it was a pleasant change from internet blitz. My second game was against a 1400 Rated player, which I won and was less interesting than the first game. I was disappointed not to play any higher rated players, but what can you do? I guess my initial FIDE rating will be about 1900 … not bad, but not as high as I’d like! One day soon, I’ll be over 2000 FIDE!
Of course, I did a lot of tourist stuff in Seoul (and Busan too). One of the highlights for me was Seoul Tower. If you are in Seoul, it is a must-visit. The view from the top is NUTS!
My overall impression of Korea is “dirty modernity”. It’s a lively, beautiful, culturally fascinating place where old mixes with new … and the modern mixes with dirtiness. I mean, a lot of both Seoul and Busan seemed to be covered in grime, and there was definitely a pollution issue. That aside, it seems to be so alive and vibrant, and for me Korea’s good qualities far outweigh the bad.
Another highlight of the trip for me was the food. There were food vendors everywhere, selling countless varieties of street food. Yum!
I didn’t have have any plans or follow any rhyme or reason while there. I mostly just wandered around aimlessly, taking taxis hither and thither. Taxis are super cheap (maybe $15/hour) and I would usually just tell the driver to drive somewhere and then stop when I saw something interesting. I stumbled on this park with some Buddhist artifacts, nationalistic statues and lots of older guys milling about. I thought this was a very photogenic moment. (If only I were a better photographer!)
Travelling by myself was lonely at times and I often missed my wife and son immensely. Moments like these cheered me up. The joy for life these guys seemed to have was really infectious.
While I didn’t get the chance to see or share shogi in Korea, I did come across an antique shop that was selling this Janggi (Korean Chess) set. I didn’t bother asking how much.
I had many people ask me if I was in Korea to escape the radiation. I would laugh and humor them. Lots of banners and signs of support all around, though, which was nice to see.
It was mostly good times in Korea and I’d love to go back soon. Next time, I don’t think I’ll go alone!
I had a very busy weekend. After going to Kagoshima on Friday, and a restful Saturday, I woke up at 3:30 AM on Sunday morning and drove 5 hours to Fukuoka to play in a chess tournament, the Kyushu Chess Championship. I’ve wanted to play a chess tournament in Japan since I’ve been here, but they are few and far between and usually very far away from me.
When I arrived at the tournament I was pleasantly surprised to see one of the participants setting up shogi pieces. However, what he was setting up wasn’t normal shogi, it was a variant I had neither seen nor heard of before. I asked him about it and I think he said he either made the game, or the pieces. I mean, I couldn’t understand if he was the creator of this variant, or had just made his own pieces. I have a feeling it is the latter, but I’m not sure.
The game is played on a 10×10 board and utilizes a bunch of pieces not used in traditional shogi. I didn’t take the time to learn the rules of all of the pieces, but he showed me a couple of the piece movements. There’s a piece that moves like a chess knight but kills everything in it’s path and another one that moves like a chess queen. The golds and silvers promote to rooks. Very complicated and intriguing stuff. I wish I had learned more about the game.
14 players entered the tournament, which should give you an idea of how popular chess is in Japan. I guess there are only about 300 registered members of the Japan Chess Federation in all of Japan! For every eight players, one player could advance to the National Championship. Therefore, one player at the end of the tournament could thus advance.
I was welcomed very kindly by the Tournament Director, Yamaguchi and the Assistant Tournament Director as well, a very cheerful and goofy young guy. The enthusiasm for chess in the room was contagious, and it was really nice to be around fellow chess enthusiasts.
My official US Chess Rating is 1864. However, I play online between 2000-2200, so am a bit stronger than my U.S. rating. I was paired with a 1700 player in the first round and won an interesting game. In the second round, I was matched against Yamazaki, the top rated player in the tournament, and lost spectacularly in 20 (!) moves. I made one tactical error and was punished severely for it. I think he is stronger than his 2005 rating suggests.
In the third round I played a 1600 and won a piece early in the game. I converted the advantage in that game fairly easily. The final round saw me paired against Yamaguchi-San, the tournament director and an 1800 player. This last game was extremely exciting and well-fought. In the end, I was lucky enough to emerge the victor.
I ended the tournament tied for 2nd-3rd place, missing the entry to the National Championship by one or two spots. I don’t think I would have been able to go anyway, as it would cost a fortune for me to participate. Besides transportation to and hotel costs in Tokyo (probably 7 nights), the Japan Chess Federation charges a 2.5 man (about $300) entry fee to the tournament as well as a 1.5 man (about $180) Dan Certificate Fee. I guess you have to be a certified player to participate! Strange and expensive rules!
Thanks to the Fukuoka Chess Club and the directors for putting this on and welcoming me so generously. It was a great time! There are some pictures from the event on the Fukuoka Club’s website as well.
In a few days I will play in another chess tournament … in Korea! I am headed to Busan by ferry from Fukuoka tomorrow and then on to Seoul! I decided only recently to take the trip and it just so happens that the Bongcheon Chess Club in Seoul‘s monthly tournament is this weekend. Very excited to play in that. I’ll be sure to blog about the experience! Maybe I can also learn Korean Chess!
It was a sad day for me this past Friday as I took my wife and son to the airport in neighboring prefecture, Kagoshima. They flew back to the States to be with family. I’m here in Japan by myself until August, when I too will go back.
To get my mind off of them leaving, I went into the city to do some chores and to try and visit a club.
I’m going to try and take level 3 (N3) of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) in July. I had to pick up the application at a bookstore in Kagoshima’s Big Mall, Amu. I also picked up a copy of Habu’s new Book “Ketsudanryoku” for a friend in Russia. I had ordered this for him from Amazon.jp awhile ago, but it had yet to arrive, so I figured I would just speed things up and buy a copy.
After eating some delicious Indian Food (something I definitely can’t get where I live) and walking around the mall a bit, I headed to downtown Kagoshima to look for the shogi club. Using the google maps feature on my iPhone, I found the general area quickly, but was a bit lost as to where the club was. When I finally went in the right building it was easy to find the club with all of the signs around.
Upon entering the club, I was greeted with the predictable looks of confusion. I could tell that they thought I was lost or something. In my broken Japanese, I quickly let them know that I am a shogi player from Hawaii living in Miyazaki, etc. I was asked for the 900 Yen Entry Fee and was welcomed with what seemed like skepticism.
The club had a dingy and nostalgic feel to it. I’m not sure how old the club is, but I saw some trophies in there from the 60s. Despite the dinginess, it was definitely an intriguing place to be and play shogi at.
There were only about 6-8 players at any given time in the 5 or so hours that I was there, most of whom appeared to be retirees.
My first game was against this fellow who honestly seemed a bit uncomfortable playing with me. He resigned prematurely and got up in a huff when a few others were watching our game. I think that I unfortunately have this effect on some (especially older) players. I’m not sure what it is – probably something related to my being a foreigner.
The manager of the club was a friendly 5-dan, Kozai-sensei. I had a very exciting game with him where we got into a mutual mating race. He mated me when I had him in a certain death (hisshi) position. Good times! It was one of the better games I’ve played, I wish I had taken score.
I enjoyed the visit to the Kagoshima City club a lot. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it back to this sometime.
Sunday was the big day – the Miyanichi Oui Sen Challenger’s Battle! The top players from around the prefecture came to battle it out at the Otsuka Shogi Dojo in Miyazaki City. In the end, one player would qualify to face last year’s Oui Champion. I was lucky enough to qualify for this tournament and despite my eagerness to win, I lost my first two games and was thus quickly dispatched.
It was a wonderful experience and event that I was, again, just happy to be able to participate in. I even got featured in the event write up in The Miyanichi – Miyazaki’s paper. I recorded a low-quality video of the event and have posted some pics below. I don’t any time to narrate these as my wife and baby will be going back to the US this week and it is a hectic time! I’m sure you understand.
On the day before yesterday, I played in the Mimata dojo’s local qualifier to the Prefectural Oui Sen ( “Battle for the Throne”) tournament sponsored by Miyazaki’s newspaper The Miyanichi. In Japanese, the 宮日王位戦.
I learnt of this tournament only late last week — and thankfully so, as it would have driven me nuts with nervousness! My understanding is that all of the major clubs in the prefecture hold qualifying tournaments; qualifiers from these tournaments advance to the Prefectural Throne Battle, and from the Prefectural Battle, one challenger advances to face the winner of last year’s Oui. I mean, the champ from last year sits on the throne and the winner of the Prefectural Battle gets to face him for the chance to de-throne him!
Besides knowing that seven players from the club would advance, I went to the club with no idea about the format, etc. I was curious when the Dojo’s Sensei had the participants , 14 of us in total, pick bunched up pieces of paper. Each paper had a “A” or “B” on it and a number from 1-7. I drew “A-3″, which corresponded to the A Group 3rd seat. Three players from each group would advance, with the fourth place in each group having to play a playoff for the seventh spot. This brought an element of luck into the competition, as theoretically all of the stronger players could be in one group. Luckily this didn’t happen, and the groups seemed pretty well-balanced.
Despite some comically bad play at times, I ended up with 3-3 … good enough to advance! I tied for 3rd-4th in the group, but got the 3rd spot because I beat the other player at 3-3. He was forced to play in the playoff game against the #4 in the other group.
Sorry as I was a bit lax in taking pictures during the tournament this week. I was very focused on the games!
So, I’ll be heading to the Ootsuka Shogi Dojo in Miyazaki City (home of the Miyazaki Branch of the Japan Shogi Federation) to battle for the throne on January 20th! I’m honestly not sure of the format of the next stage, but I do know that one player will advance to play a best of three game match against the current Oui Title Holder. This final match will be in April and is at a swank hotel with press coverage, etc.
I’m not sure if the Throne Battle is a round robin format (play games against those in your group,etc.), knockout (lose once and you’re out) or some other format. I’m hoping it won’t be a knockout as I’m eager at the opportunity to get more games in against strong players. Unfortunately, however I think it is a knockout format. The Professional Oui uses a knockout system, and I’m guessing Miyazaki’s tournament is modeled after the pro version.
The current Prefectural Oui title holder is Takahiro Kubota, whom I mentioned in an earlier post. I guess when he won last year he was the first high school student to ever win the title in the prefecture. Here’s an article in Japanese about his winning the Oui last year. I’m fairly confident I would have no chance against him, nor do I see myself going very far. I’m just stoked to be able to play in the tournament. If not in all of Japan, I’m fairly confident I’m the first foreigner to ever get this far in Miyazaki.
Humbled and beyond excited!!
Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since my last post and I apologize. I am finding myself exceptionally busy these days, enjoying time with my wife and my young son, school, pressing online projects and other commitments. Shogi has been on the back-burner, but I have a couple of exciting things to share.
I just found out that I could qualify to play in the Miyazaki Prefectural Championship! Apparently, the Mimata Dojo, where I’ve been playing the monthly Handicap Advancement tournaments, is holding a qualifying tournament this weekend! If I can place in the top 7 at the dojo, I will advance to the Championship later this month. Exciting, right? The dojo sensei thinks that I have a good chance to qualify. It will be a great challenge and very nerve-wracking, as I’m usually about 7th or 8th in ranking in the monthly tournaments. It will be tight, I’m sure!
OK, let me preface the second news item by saying that I do not fully understand the way that shogi rank is obtained. I hope others will comment on this, but it seems that every club has their own ranking system. For example, a 1 dan at one club, could be classified as a 2 kyu at another club.
I have no fantasies about my own shogi strength, but it has been one of my primary goals to reach 3dan during my time in Japan. That gives me until August, as I am probably heading back to the States at that time. I recently called to inquire about how the Advancement Tournament system works and the sensei’s response was that it is a very difficult to obtain rank using the tournament system. He then went on to say that, “You are very strong, I will grant you 2dan…” This is honestly how I was given the shodan (1dan) title in the first place and while it is flattering, it seems whimsical and maybe without merit?
Coming from chess where there is a standardized ELO rating system, I like to know exactly where I stand against other players. That is, I could play in a chess tournament anywhere in the world and know my exact strength relative to other players.
So, I guess I am a 2dan now? I’m very happy to have been given a higher rank, but am just a little confused by the system. Anyway, in the end I guess it shouldn’t matter and I should just be concerned with playing better shogi!
Wish me luck this weekend!
I am blessed with an 11 week-old son, Finn. He was born here in rural Miyazaki in late November. He is our first, an absolute joy and constantly keeps us on our toes. I will be very excited to teach and share shogi with him in the future. As you can see, he’s already fairly exposed to the game.
Of course, I’m not going to force the game on him (or any of my many hobbies for that matter), but if he takes an interest I will nurture it as best as I can. That’s true of anything healthy he takes an interest in really, but as this blog is about shogi … hehe.
This past Friday, my wife, Finn and I went to Kagoshima City to complete the paperwork and process necessary to make him an official U.S. citizen. My wife and I are both American but, as he was born here in Japan, he was in citizenship purgatory — a baby without a nation. Many people ask us if he has dual citizenship, and he unfortunately does not as neither of us is Japanese.
It was a fun and wholly positive experience. The consulate is in Fukuoka, about 6 hours away from us, but luckily they had a special visit to Kagoshima planned and were taking special appointments. The Consul, Juan Avecilla, was most personable and friendly. The visit and meeting even got me interested in possibly applying to the Foreign Service in the future. A shogi-playing diplomat, now that would be something!
This past Sunday I had the chance to play in a monthly shogi tournament put on by the Mimata Shogi Dojo, about an hour from where I live. It’s an advancement tournament, meaning that the Dojo grants promotion (to higher kyu or dan levels) to qualifying players. Further, it’s a handicap tournament, meaning that all games are played at a suitable handicap according to the players’ strengths. I think that the format is really fun and highly conducive to improving one’s shogi.
I may be wrong, but I believe that this dojo is the only dedicated shogi building in Miyazaki Prefecture. There are of course other clubs, but I think this is the only shogi club with a dedicated building. Note that the gray stuff in the parking lot is volcanic ash from the recent volcanic eruption in neighboring Kagoshima.
The tournament starts at 10 am and goes until about 4. On Sunday I arrived very close to 10 and was greeted by a plethora of mostly kids shoes.
I believe that the players (kids especially) at this dojo are some of the most accomplished in the prefecture. The many trophies in the main playing room attest to this.
These are two of the stronger players at the club (and in the prefecture, for that matter) playing 10 second byoyomi per move. The girl with her back facing the camera is Emi Yamaguchi, and was Miyazaki’s female representative to the National Scholastic competition this past year. Interestingly enough, her brother has been the male representative for the last couple of years, even placing third in the nation in 2008. If you read Japanese (or use google translate like me), there’s an article on the talented Yamaguchi siblings here. The brother has been an applicant to the Shoreikai (organization for apprentice professionals) these past couple of years as well. Their mother maintains a blog (in Japanese, of course) about them here. Her blog was actually how I found the Mimata club in the first place. Unfortunately, I have yet to play either of the Yamaguchi siblings.
The young man pictured here is Takahiro Kubota, an absolute shogi machine. This month marks the third time he’s beaten me at a two piece handicap. While it’s very humbling to get beat at such a large handicap, it’s a privilege to be able to play such an amazing player every month. He’s also been in the paper multiple times. Here’s an article on Kubota-San.
Besides watching the two young masters play bullet chess, I spent the few minutes I had before the tournament paging through some of the many shogi books the club is home to.
As you can see, all of the participants were very young this month. Whereas in my tournament last week I was younger than everyone by at least 10 years, in this tournament the age difference was reversed.
Same as my tournament last week in Nichinan, the games were all played at a time control of game/25, so I got three games in before lunch. I started the tournament well, winning two games out of three. I lost a game to a fellow shodan at hirate (even game, no handicap) and beat a 1kyu and 2kyu, both at hirate as well.
During the tournaments, everyone sits in the side room and eats lunch together. It’s a nice and relaxing break from the extreme mental exercise.
My result in the five rounds after lunch wasn’t as good. I lost to the above-mentioned Kubota at two piece handicap, to two young 3-dans at bishop handicap, and to another shodan at hirate. I won a very exciting game in an intense time scramble at lance handicap against a 2-dan (yellow jacket in the picture above). I was winning most of the game, but he ran out of time when I had only three seconds left on my clock!
I ended up with three wins and five losses (my name and results are on the far right of the above table). I’m not disappointed, but feel that I could have done better. Particularly, I would have liked to win the two piece handicap game, considering the studying I’ve been doing on that handicap. I’m confident I’ll be able to conquer it soon.
I’ll be able to get in a few more of these before I return to the states, and hopefully I can earn promotion to 2-dan. That aside, it’s just an awesome and thoroughly enjoyable experience. I’m extremely thankful to the dojo and especially the dojo’s headmaster(?), Mitsuishi-Sensei for allowing me to participate.
In the next few days, I’ll probably post a game or two from the tournament. As I’ve mentioned before, my bad play should hopefully amuse you!
For any student of the game of shogi, learning through studying and playing handicap games comes highly recommended. The best English-language resource for anyone wishing to study handicap games is Larry Kaufman’s Handicap Series. For those of you who don’t know, Larry is a U.S. chess Grandmaster and an Amateur 5 dan in shogi. He is widely reputed to be one of the best non-Japanese players of the game and learned the game (and got to the strength he is at) through studying and playing handicap games.
As Larry outlines in his introduction to the Series:
HANDICAP SHOGI IS a great way to learn shogi, for two reasons. First of all, as you learn the techniques needed to break through and win at each handicap, working from largest to smallest, you will learn most of the techniques needed to do well in the opening and middlegame of even-game shogi. You will learn the most important castles and how to attack them, and you will learn how to judge material sacrifices and how to evaluate positions.
I myself learned shogi primarily in this way. The strategies of even-game shogi are far too difficult for the amateur player to understand without the proper background afforded by handicap study.
The second reason to study handicap shogi is that it is widely played. Most clubs in Japan and in the United States stipulate that handicap games should be played in formal club play and in many tournaments whenever there is more than a single rank difference between the opponents.
Moreover, the Shoreikai (professional training organization) also follows this practice in all official games, though except for special events only the smallest handicap is used. There is also the tradition of an annual game between the Japanese champion (Meijin) and the Japanese Amateur champion, at bishop handicap.
To prepare for my monthly Kyu-Dan Promotion Handicap tournament at a club across the prefecture, I have recently started to study this Handicap Series in depth. As much to aid in my own studying as to make it easier for you to follow the analysis, I am starting to input the games and analysis into BCM Shogi.
If you don’t have BCM Shogi yet, it is a must for shogi players. It is simply the best shogi program available in English. Many of you are probably familiar with the program through Hidetchi’s Video Series. Anyway, if you have a PC, get this program – it’s free and will greatly aid in your shogi progress.
If you have BCM Shogi and want to follow the Ni-mai ochi (two piece handicap – white remove his rook and bishop) analysis, I have inputted the analysis of the introduction to this handicap. In the near future, I hope to input the rest of the analyses on this handicap and the other handicaps as well.
Download the ni-mai ochi introduction as a .usf (universal shogi format file) here. To save, right click and choose “Save as…” After you’ve saved it, just open the file in BCM Shogi and enjoy!
As Larry mentions, it is said that you have to be of amateur 2 dan level to be able to have a chance at this handicap against a pro. In my last two visits to the club that hosts the monthly Handicap Tournament, I lost two games at this handicap. Sure, it was against maybe the best amateur player in the prefecture (rated over 2200 on Shogi Club 24), but it definitely inspired me to get better and learn the proper way to play the handicap.
I look forward to your feedback on the file. If you have any suggestions on how I could improve it, please let me know. If someone wants to help me with this project (perhaps by inputting some of the different analyses), I would be very open and appreciative.
Today I had the opportunity to play in a local club’s (almost) weekly tournament. This was my fourth time visiting this club since I’ve been in Japan. While this club meets three times a month, family and other commitments have kept me from going too often.
While I did little in the way of prep for the tournament, before heading to the tournament site, I got my McD’s coffee buzz on while doing a few tsume shogi (checkmate) problems.
This club is located at the “Manabi Pier” Community Center in Nichinan, about a 45 minute drive away from where I live. It’s a nice spot with lots of community activities, sports and other events often going on.
Today there was a children’s art exhibit up. A lot of fascinating stuff from some talented kids.
The tournament entry fee is 500 Yen. As far as I can tell, a bit of the money goes to support the community center and the rest goes to prizes – Toshio gift cards in different denominations, good for use at most bookstores.
The makeup of this club and format of the tournament is a lot different than the other club I visit. All tournament games are played at hirate (that is, no handicap). At 31, the youngest player I’ve met here is probably ten or fifteen years older than me. The first two times I played here, I was placed in the “B” class, with some very old dudes. One of these guys (the fellow in the back right) has to be in his nineties. I managed to win all of my games those first two times so I was promoted to the much stronger “A” class.
You can see my name on the third line of the top “A” sheet. (ボウー Bou) In the end, I managed to do one better than my last visit, winning two games out of eight against all strong dan players. All of my games were exciting and competitive – I didn’t feel like I was getting destroyed like my first experience in the “A” Class.
Hopefully, my result next month will improve. I have some studying to do! Also, the games are fast at game/25 (must make all of your moves in 25 minutes, so the game can be as long as fifty minutes). I need to work on my time management skills as well, as I was low on time in most of the games.
Next week, I’m going to a club in another part of the prefecture to play in the monthly Kyu-Dan Advancement Handicap Tournament. All of the games are played with a handicap based on the difference of strength of the players. I’ve played in two of these and they’ve been humbling to say the least. I’m looking forward to blogging about it!