Professional shogi players have been told not to compete against computer programs in public without permission from their association in the face of emerging competitive software, association officials said Saturday.
The Japan Shogi Association says it will respond discreetly if such a match offer is made. Some software programs have already reached a level equal to top amateur players.
Shogi is a strategic board game often referred to as Japanese chess.
A national tournament for amateur players held in June in Tokyo was the first to let players compete against the "Gekisashi" computer program developed by Yoshimasa Tsuruoka. The program made it through the preliminaries and advanced into the top 16.
The association's move appears to have been motivated by an open match held in September in Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, during which a software program almost defeated a pro, which generated a sense of crisis within the association.
If one pro loses, it could create the perception that pro players "are weaker than the software," said Kazuyoshi Nishimura, a director of the association.
Another motive for the restriction may be the association's drive to control business opportunities that software matches may provide.
"A match with a computer has a market value of its own," said association chief Kunio Yonenaga, who himself has overseen the production of a software program for shogi beginners. "We would like – to be cautious about an easy offer for a match.”
The association says on its Web site that there are around 150 pro and 35 retired players, who all happen to be men, and another league of around 50 pro and retired female players who have won a female pro title and compete in tournaments for women.