Chicago Shimpo
15-Year-Old Wins 2018 U.S. Shogi Championship
In Tournament Hosted by Chicago Shogi Club

" Fifteen-year-old Hana Wada from Houston, Texas is the 2018 U.S. shogi champion, winning the tournament held at Sysmex America Inc. in Lincolnshire on April 14 and 15.

" The U.S. Shogi (Japanese chess) Championship Tournament is held annually, organized by shogi clubs across the country. This year, the 22rd tournament was hosted by the Chicago Shogi Club, which also hosted a tournament back in 2013.

" Every year, the tournament invites professional shogi players from the Japan Shogi League. This year s visiting professionals were Akio Ishikawa (7-dan), Masakazu Kondo (6-dan) and Asuka Ito (Ladies 1-dan).

" A total of 32 players from across the U.S. competed in the individual matches as well as team matches. The three-round qualifying matches for individual players were held in Day 1 to determine A class players (those who won two rounds) and B class players (the rest of the players). In Day 2, the players competed in the final matches for the first place for each class.
" Members of the shogi clubs from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and  other cities joined the team tournament, along with the team of the visiting professionals.

" The winner of the individual A class was the 15-year-old Hana Wada, securing the title of the 2018 U.S. shogi champion. Yoshiro Yamashita, manager of the Chicago Shogi Club, said that Wada beat her opponent, a highly competitive former member of the Osaka University shogi club, completely.

" Wada, whose older sister, Aki, is a professional shogi player in Japan, currently lives in Houston with her parents. She plans to follow her sister s footsteps after returning to Japan later this year.

" Another 15-year-old player, Sota Fujii, has recently become the center of national attention in Japan with his 29 consecutive wins since his 2016 debut as a professional player.

" The U.S. Shogi Championship Tournament boasts a high level of competitiveness in its own right: Keiji Tomita of the Los Angeles team is the winner of the A class at the 7th International Shogi Forum, which was held last October in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka; Yoshihisa Suzuki of the New York Shogi Club is the B class winner of the same world tournament.

" Koji Nozawa, president of the Chicago Shogi Club, has won the U.S. championship several times since 2001 and is now considered as 4-dan in the U.S.
" Nozawa feels the U.S. championship tournament attracts the best of the best players in the country.
"  Shogi is analogous to various aspects of our lives  we can think each koma (shogi piece) represents work, life, everyday routine, etc. There s no end to learning how to use each of them. It s such a profound game, he commented.

" Also remarkable about this year s tournament is that three children participated from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. According to Yamashita, the  Fujii effect is helping expand the population of young shogi players.

" One of the visiting professionals, Masakazu Kondo, tutors future professional players at the training organization Shorei-kai in Japan. He was pleased to see the three young players competing in the tournament.
"  They just put down their koma without thinking much, and that s the key - to follow your instinct. When a kid makes quick moves, I pay attention and see if their moves follow a proper pattern. I thought they [the three children players] had a fairly good sense, Kondo said.

" Shogi is supported in the U.S. not only by Japanese players but also American shogi enthusiasts. The Chicago Shogi Club itself was founded by Americans. David Rockwell, one of the founders, thinks it s great that the U.S. tournament attracts so many high-level players.
"  It s so good to have professional players from Japan, he said.  We want to have more children to compete in the future.

" Danny Dowell, a first-time participant from Chicago, loved to play chess. Then he discovered the game of  go, which he s been playing for the past 15 years. It was his go playmate who introduced him to the world of shogi about five years ago.
" On Day 1, he won two games and lost four.
"  I ve played go longer so I play it more. Shogi is fun because it gets more and more exciting toward the end of the game, Dowell said.  Hopefully I can win another couple of games tomorrow. It s just fun playing shogi.

" While players were engaged in quiet but fierce battle, the tournament also featured demonstrations of koma (shogi piece) making by four members of the Osaka-based Kansai Koma Club, a koma making group. It offers a set of handmade pieces to shogi lovers upon request.

" The preferred material for quality koma is hon-tsuge (box tree), whose hardness and color patterns vary depending on where it came from.
" First, a piece of paper, on which letters indicating the name of each koma are written, was pasted on the face of the piece of wood cut into the shape of koma. Then the letters were carved into the face of the koma over the paper with a chisel. The grooves created by carving were filled with black lacquer, or  urushi, and, when the lacquer dried, the koma were smoothed down with sandpaper to remove the paper and finish it to perfection.
" The participants of the tournament were invited to experience the final stage of koma making.

" Yamashita owns a set made by Hideo Hayashida, former president of the Kansai Koma Club. He uses the set when competing in a final match in the tournament every year.
"  These [handmade] pieces have a superb feel. They feel so comfortable, and make me want to play. Good pieces get better as you use them. Having quality pieces can make a difference, Yamashita said.

" Hijimaro Kobayashi from the Kansai Koma Club began playing shogi when he was a little boy and still enjoys playing it today.
"  I was always No. 1 in shogi when I was young, and that gave me so much confidence and the ability to concentrate, recalled Kobayashi.
"  When I lost a game, it gave me a boost to try harder the next time, and such experience continued to help me in many aspects of my adult life, he said.  Now I m over 50, and I want to introduce shogi to a lot of people because I feel like I should give back what I ve received from shogi.

" Photo caption:
" Keiko Suwa of the Kansai Koma Club demonstrates  animal shogi, a simplified version of shogi created by a professional player. It is made easy for children who don t know the kanji characters to understand the basics of the game. It attracted overseas players attention after having been introduced in Germany, which is known for its enthusiasm for board games.

Interview with a Professional Player:
Masakazu Kondo on Training Future Pros

A total of approximately 200 young hopefuls are currently trained by the Japan Shogi League s Shorei-kai, 100 in Tokyo and 70 in Osaka. Kondo, who is a tutor of Shorei-kai, says out of the 200 trainees, only two are promoted to 4-dan and become professional players every six months.

Q: What kind of training do you provide at Shorei-kai?

Kondo: Regardless of the ranking or ability, you must be able to conduct yourself properly in everyday life, including proper greetings, speech, the way you dress, how to behave, and so on. It s a common sense. You need to understand that first, before learning how to play shogi. We keep telling that to the trainees.

Q: Shorei-kai is said to accept many young  shogi geniuses, yet I heard that 80 percent of them don t make it. It s such a competitive world.

Kondo: In the world of shogi, talent, effort and luck are everything. You must try hard, that s obvious. Talent means the love for shogi; if you don t love it, you won t try hard. And in the end, luck  the  god of shogi values those who work hard. A child in a lower rank can grow a lot if he or she works hard. You can beat the odds only when you combine effort, talent and luck.

Q: The power of concentration the players demonstrate in a game  which lasts for hours  while surrounded by the press and spectators  that s amazing.

Kondo: They train for it at Shorei-kai. Plus, they have pride as professionals  they are on the edge of winning or losing each game. You can t survive without the ability to concentrate.
Also, there s a sense of responsibility. You demonstrate in public what you represent, and what you do and how you behave have an impact on the public image of the other professionals.
[Well-known shogi professional] Yoshiharu Habu is an excellent example in that respect. He doesn t just win many games; he is also a great role model as a human being. And that helps him continue winning at the top level like that.

Q: Thank you very much.

Interview with Asuka Ito:
Women in Shogi

Q: Please tell us about your career in shogi.

Ito: Currently about 60 women professionals are active in Japan, and they belong to Joryu Kishi-kai (the women shogi players association). I am a board member and primarily responsible for training young female players.
We still don t have a superstar like Sota Fujii, but we do have a teenage woman professional. We also have many good women players, ranging from the teens to the 40s. In the end, regardless of the gender, I hope that we will have a highly competitive shogi scene for both men and women players.

Q: Are there any differences that separate men and women players?

Ito: Of course there are. Men and women are offered different training structures, and, overall, men are required more than women to become a professional. I think that makes men more competitive and better equipped as professional players.

Q: What s it like to play in this tournament?

Ito: It s not possible to play all the participants one on one, so I m playing against two different players in one setting. This is a multiplayer game where one player plays against a multiple of players, and when a professional player does this in Japan, the norm is usually one against six to eight [amateur] players. The pro can keep track of all of the pieces and their moves.
In this tournament, I feel the level of the players is pretty high, even the lower-rank players. So I have to pay attention at all times.

Q: Thank you very much.

A total of 32 players compete each other in the 2018 U.S. Shogi Championship.

Shogi Professional Masakazu Kondo (L) plays against two players.

The members of the Kansai Komano Kai.

Keiko Suwa demonstrates "animal shogi," a simplified version of shogi created by a professional player. It is made easy for children who don't know the kanji characters to understand the basics of the game. It attracted overseas players' attention after having been introduced in Germany, which is known for its enthusiasm for board games.

All the participants of the 2018 U.S. Shogi championship pose for a photo.