Promoting Shogi

Promoting Shogi and the difficulties that come with it.

There are around 20 million people in Japan who play shogi at least once a year.  Compared to that number the shogi community in Europe is almost non-existent with only 1140 players listed on the FESA webpage. Be that as it may, most shogi players that I have met are passionate fans of the game and many of them spend a considerable amount of their time promoting shogi in their country or area. Shogi promotion comes in many shapes and forms. You may have taught one of your friends how to play the game, maybe you established a small club or meeting in your area, or you might have showcased shogi at an anime convention or some other venue from time to time.         Apart from having established a small club in my hometown Düsseldorf and having forced this wonderful game on a number of friends, I’ve promoted shogi on three occasions so far. The first time I was fortunate enough to be able to promote shogi with women’s professional player Madoka Kitao, who regularly visits Germany to sell shogi related goods at the SPIEL board game fair in Essen, the world’s biggest fair for analogue games.

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The second and third time, I got to promote shogi in the city of Cologne. On one of those occasions I was asked to give a presentation on it in the Museum für angewandte Kunst (Museum for applied arts), which I think sounds pleasantly pretentious.  There are many other places where one can promote shogi. The Dutch Shogi community, which is also very passionate about this game and deserves much praise for their efforts, promoted shogi in Schools and the Spanish Shogi community regularly visits conventions.

 

Regardless of where you promote shogi the difficult part is how to teach shogi.

First of all, you’ll have to become aware of the difference between teaching shogi to a friend of yours and teaching shogi to people you don’t know at a place such as a convention.  The difficult part about conventions and, for instance, Japanese summer festivals, is that visitors don’t go there exclusively to play shogi and while some may be interested in giving it a shot, most are neither prepared nor willing to stay at the same booth for a very long time. Unfortunately, shogi is a difficult game and even explaining the rules can take quite some time and don’t even ask about the Kanji written on the pieces. Fortunately, more experienced advocates of shogi have already collected and invented useful material for the promotion of shogi, which range from clever sheets about the movements of the pieces to specially made pieces that are suited for beginners.  I think most shogi enthusiasts know about the great beginner sets made by the Czech Shogi community.

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In my opinion, the most important thing to keep in mind when promoting shogi in this context is to accept the fact that people will play the game incorrectly. No matter how good your explanation , how self-explanatory the additional material and how intelligent the visitors are, they will mistake the Silver-General for the Gold-General and vice-versa, they will occasionally forget about the drop-rule and sometimes even think that once a piece is defeated, it returns to the original owner’s piece stand. While the latter example may demand you to step in and explain again, it is totally okay for them to make these mistakes as they are not there to learn how to play shogi but to develop interest in it and it is the promoters’ job to make this a fun experience.

Sometimes, though, this can go horribly wrong.

There was this couple that visited our booth at the Japanese summer festival in Cologne. It was already quite crowded and all boards were already occupied, so I got another cheaper set and an additional table for them to play on. I usually start off with a very brief explanation of the rules and the differences between chess and Shogi e.g. the drop-rule, pawns don’t take diagonally, promotion etc. and let the explanation sheet do the rest for me. Occasionally, I stop by and monitor if everything is okay but this time they asked me to have a look at their game. After a couple of moves it became fairly obvious that the guy, with aid from the explanation sheet, quickly got a grasp for the pieces’ movements while his girlfriend, who had a very hard time making sense of the Kanji, didn’t. Despite his quick understanding, his moves were just as undirected as his girlfriend’s and often one of his moves left a severe opening in his defence. Over time, however, he closed in on her, leaving the holes in his defence. The Girlfriend asked me for a hint and I showed her a move expecting that she would know what to do afterwards.  She, of course, didn’t.  After showing her this move, I had to make another one and another one, leading to a situation where it was actually me who was playing the game. At one point she even stood up and encouraged me to play against her boyfriend, which neither of us really wanted. This is the worst type of situation you can possibly find yourself in.  CIMG2293The couple was actually very nice but they simply weren’t a good match-up because of the guy’s quick learning ability. It would have been better had I played against him or them from the very beginning, which brings me to the last point I want to make.

 

 

Playing shogi can be boring as well.

Typically, a game of shogi is extremely exciting and my heart often pounds against my chest during the endgame but playing shogi at conventions and such is boring.  What can you expect if you put a total beginner against an opponent of a higher level?   I always offer the people I am playing against to play with a handicap but they usually decline, saying that they want to get an authentic idea of what the game is like. I get that but spending several hours (a whole work day as was the case at Essen Spiel) playing bad shogi is just straining.  I once heard that it is regarded as bad manners if you decline a handicap proposed by a professional player and that they will demolish you with all their skill. I would suggest playing likewise while promoting shogi. I usually choose a pretty straight-forward Ibisha (Static Rook strategy), leaving the Bishop on its original square in order to take advantage of holes in the opponent’s defence.

Like I said, playing shogi against beginners without a handicap can be exhausting and it is better to end it quickly. I found that many will agree to a second round after having learnt that a game can come to a rather abrupt ending.

Conventions, exhibitions, summer festivals and such are great opportunities to promote shogi and meet people of similar interests.  Despite the difficulties that come with it, I can only encourage you to jump on the bandwagon and promote shogi. Start within your family or with your closest friends and see how far this’ll take you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Losing and Coping

You may have won your fair number of games, some of which were won easily with barely any effort put into the game by yourself and others which you hadn’t won if it wasn’t for that one crucial mistake made by your opponent. However, you certainly also lost many games.

Today I’m going to look into the not so great part of playing shogi i.e. losing.

Why is it that one is more frustrated by one loss than by another?

Starting from a social angle there simply are players you don’t want to lose against.

Sometimes that is because the person opposite the table also is the player you proclaimed to be your rival, other times you just have a simple and genuine dislike for the person in front of you.

Fortunately, I have never been in the latter situation up until now but I can imagine that something like this can happen from time to time.

I, personally, feel that it is much easier for me to accept a loss against my rival than against someone I can’t come to like. That does not mean to say that losing against someone you set out to be your goal in some way doesn’t stink, however.

Even though I haven’t played against someone I can’t stand, I certainly played and lost against players who were objectively speaking far weaker than I was. These losses, at least for me, are the hardest to swallow.

I regularly play shogi with my girlfriend, who is an 8Kyu right now, and usually enjoy playing shogi with her.

Shogi, in fact, has become an integral part of our lives and has brought us to various cities in Germany we probably wouldn’t have cared to visit before if it wasn’t for the shogi tournaments held there and the wonderful people associated with those places. Be that as it may, nothing is more frustrating for me than to see her fail to remember the first steps in a Joseki we’ve gone over time and time again.

More often than I openly like to admit, I would get bored with her moves, pay little attention to what was going on on the board, and lose the game because of my arrogance.

This type of loss is, as I’ve already said, the gravest one, at least for me.

Knowing that I’ve lost against someone else who hadn’t had invested as much effort into his studies as I had because of my own hubris is almost unbearable. What’s even worse (though at the same time may be proper punishment for such behaviour) is that after such a loss against my girlfriend or against one of my friends I have to congratulate them on their win and encourage them to keep up with the good work. I will talk about this topic further in an upcoming blog post on teaching shogi and its promotion.

Another not so pleasant way of losing your game is by making an illegal move.

Keeping up your concentration on the game can be challenging at times and there are many distractions placed around the board you’re playing on. The opponent you are playing against may be having a mild case of restless leg syndrome, the slightly overweight kid watching your game may be so interested in what is going on that it literally rests its belly on your table, and so on.

The reasons why you may get distracted from your game are manifold and these distractions sometimes lead to illegal moves being made.

I remember one of my recent games which I lost due to having promoted my Bishop (Kaku) on 64.

My opponent had built the Yagura Castle while I had put my King into Anaguma Castle and when preparations for battle were made it was fairly obvious that I would emerge victorious after the skirmish. This battle was (or I should say: would have been) initiated by an exchange of Bishops on 64 and would continue with a bishop drop of mine that would give me either his rook or his silver for free. However, I usually play ranging rook vs. static rook games and am therefore used to exchanging Bishops within the opponent’s camp. The etiquette of shogi dictates that even for a regular Bishop exchange, the Bishop has got to be promoted if the exchange occurs within the opponent’s camp.

This I did, except I did it not in his camp but on 64, and my opponent declared his victory. I suppose the motion of turning my bishop around for a bishop exchange was etched into my muscles’ memory because of the countless Shikenbisha games I had played before.

I cannot describe the frustration I felt when I realised I had lost the game because of something like this. For a few minutes I couldn’t bring myself to accept my defeat and wished for my opponent to tell me that I need not worry and that we could simply continue. Unfortunately, this isn’t what shogi is like and actually I believe that to be a good thing. In the end, I resigned after I composed myself and went on to the next games in the tournament playing extra carefully.

 

In fact, I lost my very first official tournament match because of an illegal move I made.

It was in 2016 when my girlfriend and I participated in the Open German Championship for the first time. Both being without a rank, we were matched against each other in the very first round of the tournament. We played a really exciting Yagura game that would see my King (Ousho) flee to my girlfriend’s camp and her King cornered within a field of Pawns (Fu) and Generals (Kins and Gins).

It was my turn then to enter the end game with a Silver drop (Gin) on the second rank. I extended my arm to the right without looking, lifted the piece from my piece stand and dropped my Knight(!) (Kei) where I had planned on dropping the silver. I had taken the wrong piece from the piece stand and dropped the Knight on an illegal square. I once heard that Habu once felt his blood flowing backwards after he had put his King into a position that would have him mated in the next move during a Game between Habu and Kimura on Sep. 1st, 2001.

This adequately describes the shock I felt when I noticed my mistake. Not only did I lose against my girlfriend for the first time but it was also the first time I lost because of an illegal move AND it was the first game at a tournament I had ever lost because it was the very first.

My girlfriend, who was also in shock, looked around frantically and gestured that she wanted to continue the match as if nothing happened. Weak in character as I was, I accepted her offer and went on “winning” the game in the end. We went on and wrote a 1 next to my name, indicating that I was the victor of our battle. With a lousy feeling in my stomach, I had to leave the building for a few breaths of fresh air, during which I decided that this was not how I wanted to start my tournament career and that I had to change the result, so that my girlfriend would have her well-earned win and I suffer my equally well-deserved defeat.

Conclusion:

Losing, as you can see, is a very personal matter and it took me much courage to write so openly about it. I believe shogi is great because it demands you to grow as a person. It is not often that one has to openly admit defeat and I understand that it can be hard sometimes. While losing hurts and temporarily calls into question all the hours you spent learning about Shogi, it is just an instance in between many instances of success. I’m sure I’ve only scraped the surface of this topic and maybe you have your own stories to tell. Please feel encouraged to write down your experiences or other ways in which you can lose a game down in the comment section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Shogi Village

Hello and welcome to everyone who stumbles upon this blog,

My name is Julian and I’m a shogi player from Germany. I’ve been playing shogi for a little over a year now and decided that it was time to start an English language blog on shogi of my own.

A question sheet sent to me by professional turned Karolina Styczinska, who has her own blog on shogi at https://shogiismylife.wordpress.com/ ,  inspired me to start a blog directed towards shogi enthusiasts and those people who aspire to become shogi enthusiasts (there’s hardly any way around it, anyways).

As you might have gathered from this blog’s title, I’m but a mere 4Kyu (according to FESA ranking) and there is, of course, the valid question of what I could have to say about Shogi that stronger players don’t already know.

Surely, there must be at least one stronger, smarter and more knowledgeable player who would be willing to start a blog?

Maybe so, but I plan on doing something different here.

Instead of going into the intricate lines of various Joseki, which are most probably already covered in some of Hidetchi’s videos on YouTube or discussed in a book you probably own, I want to write about everything that has got to do with being an amateur player in this small, tight-knit shogi world that has been built in Europe. I may, however, occasionally post pictures of situations I encountered in my own games and invite the reader of my blog to participate in a conversation about these positions.

Topics that I have already kind of planned out are:

  • Losing and coping: The balancing act between self-acceptance and self-loathing
  • Inexplicable blockages and an explanation for them
  • Teaching and promoting shogi to others
  • Knowledge, Brain power, Experience: The essentials of Shogi?!
  • A quick and confused guide through the labyrinth of outdated Joseki

I hope that there is a readership for such topics among the small group of shogi players. Even if there isn’t, I hope I will continue this blog in order to articulate my thoughts on shogi.

Feel free to suggest any topics you’d like to have discussed on this blog in the comment sections below.