With chess enjoying a global boom on the back of pandemic-induced lockdowns and the smash-hit Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” lovers of shogi — often referred to as “Japanese chess” — are sensing an opportunity to grow their game overseas, writes Joel Tansey.
Mention shogi to anyone in Japan and it won’t be long before the name Sota Fujii enters the conversation. The meteoric rise (follow his story arc here) of the young prodigy has fueled a surge in popularity for the game in its country of origin over the past few years.
Overseas, however, it’s the gargantuan efforts of Hidetchi, aka Tomohide Kawasaki, to produce English content on the game — from YouTube videos to translations of shogi books — that have allowed shogi to get a foothold in disparate corners of the globe, from the Europe to Australia.
It was through Hidetchi that Karolina Styczynska learned the basics of the game. She went on to become the first and only foreign shogi pro, and is now paying it forward with her own Shogi Sunday channel on Twitch where she analyzes fans’ moves in English, Japanese or her native Polish.
But why bother with shogi when we have chess? Well, while the two games have the same roots, shogi’s “drop rule” allows players to keep pieces they’ve taken and return them to the game, which can make for some wild endgames. “If a person loves chess, I would say, ‘Aren’t you bored with draws?’” Styczynska explains. “It’s much more dynamic, much more fun.”
Just like chess, shogi has also seen much off-board drama, from controversy over players’ reliance on honing skills using AI programs (which only learned to beat their human masters in 2013) to a scandal over accusations — never proven — of smartphone cheating by a top player of the game.