Chess

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The Independent Culture
JAPAN is a foreign country and they do things differently there. Their chess-players use kings, rooks, bishops, knights and pawns, but they also employ lances and gold and silver generals. This mutant Ninja chess is called shogi and is played by around 20 million Japanese, including 130 professionals.

The two best shogi-men, Koji Tanagawa, 30, and Yoshihari Habu, 22, were in London this week playing the first game of the Ryuo title match, highest of the game's seven major titles.

In shogi, the pieces, unlike chessmen, are mercenary warriors. A piece, when captured, does not die quietly but promptly changes sides. Captured men become an army of paratroops which may be dropped onto empty squares.

So every game starts as slow positional manoeuvring (most of the pieces are short-distance plodders) and ends with mating attacks raining down from clear skies. Draws are practically impossible and computers are hopeless at it.

There is, however, an even greater difference between shogi and chess: in the Japanese game, the players are meticulously polite. With a ritualised etiquette determining how you pick up the pieces (middle finger on top, second and fourth fingers on the sides and thumb beneath), what you wear (kimono and pleated trousers), where and how you kneel at the board, and how you hold your fan to help concentration, there is no room for bad behaviour.

Might one player complain at another's frequent visits to the lavatory? Tanagawa and Habu looked puzzled even to be asked. 'It is not a manly thing to do, to disturb the opponent,' they said, after a long consultation with the interpreter.

With that attitude, I can't see shogi catching on in the West.

Yesterday's answer: 1. Qd2] (threatening Qh2 mate) Qxd2 2. Nc4; or 1 . . . Qxb3 2. Nd7; or 1 . . . Qxf3 2. Qd4; or 1 . . . g4 2. Qf4; or 1 . . . Kd6 2. Nc4.

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