Shogi and the Battle of Athenaeum

Shogi and the Battle of Athenaeum

IM Spinaltap
Dec 14, 2012, 12:56 PM |

      152 years ago in June 1860, a Japanese delegation group visited Philadelphia after completing the ratification in Washington D.C. Eight delegates from the group were invited to the legendary Philadelphia Chess Club and showed Japanese Shogi.  It took place in Athenaeum in Old City Philadelphia (mecca of chess club at the time, an archive library building constructed in 1845) which has a small room called the “Chess Room” on the second floor where the chess table used back then is still left intact to this day.


The article at that time interestingly described that two gentlemen named Umajiro Yamada and Ken Sano showed how to play Shogi by comparing Shogi and Western chess in traditional Samurai clothes and swords. It also mentioned a Shogi board and pieces, unique Shogi rules, comparison between Shogi and chess, and harmonious atmosphere among players and introduced “Shogi” as “Sho-ho-ye.” 

I started playing shogi about a year ago due to an obsessive interest of any and all  games, and there happend to be a shogi club 15 minutes from my house. Since there's only two such known shogi clubs in the country, this happend to be quite awesome. The founder of the club, Professor Alan Baker, who besides being 2008 US Shogi Champion, (also happens to be an expert chess player) helped arranged a trip in which 5 shogi professionals were to come to Philadelphia. After much speculation, last week they came in what is an unprecedented shogi and chess cultural bonanza. This is the first time any Shogi Professional has ever been on American soil.

The event began with the pro's coming to the club for some shogi. With quite a sizable 2 peice handicap I was able to win against a prominent woman pro. My reward for winning was this:


This is  called a Tsume Puzzle. Equivalent to your typical mate puzzle in chess. It was written by hand and bestowed upon me by Mr Itoh. A retired 7 dan professional who has been playing shogi professionally for over 40 years. He's written several books dedicated to Tsume problems. For the few of you who don't read Kanji, It's forced mate in 13, (7 in chess notation) black has 2 bishops in hand, and black to move.

During our group train ride into Philly I passed the time by trying to solve it, and was eventually sucessful. Probably the biggest highlight of the trip was me showing Mr Itoh the solution, and then him giving me this look of partial joy, bewilderment and curiosity. If you could read his face it would be something like "I've never seen a white guy solve a tsume problem before."

After getting into Philly we soon found ourselves at the Athenaeum Library where it all started 152 years ago. I was challenged to chess by one of the shogi pro's, who had been honing his chess game since June. Next thing you know I'm sitting down on the same table chairs and board that were used during the historical meeting.


Above is a picture I took of a corner of the "chess room" The picture on the wall is Morphy-Elkin, which was played at the club. Elkin was a local master from Philadelphia.

With the pride of the Western World on my shoulders, I reluctantly offered my "beginner?!" opponent a queen handicap, and so it began...


Serveral excruciating moves later of me trying to stave off a rook trade and/or massacre on the d file we reached the following:
A fitting result. He could offer me a similar handicap in Shogi with mixed results. I hope that I inspired as much as the joy of Chess in Mr Oikawa, as him, and  the other shogi pro's did for me in Shogi on that day.