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2 About the game of shogi

“Japanese chess cedes nothing in depth or beauty to the European game... it is at least as interesting.”

— Alexander Alekhine
(quoted in David Pritchard, The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants)

“... shogi [is] by far the most complex form of chess that has ever achieved widespread popularity.”

— R. Wayne Schmittberger, New Rules for Classic Games

Shogi is the version of chess played in Japan. It is strikingly different from standard chess (which I shall refer to henceforth as “international chess”) and also to all other regional variants, because captured pieces can re-enter play on the side of the capturer. This has several interesting effects on the play of the game:

  1. Shogi is much more complex than international chess, at least in terms of the average number of possible moves per turn (estimated at about 35 for chess and at about 80 for shogi).
  2. There are almost no draws (about 1-2% of all games in professional play).
  3. Exchanges complicate the play rather than simplifying it.
  4. There are no “endgames” in the standard chess sense; all pieces remain in play throughout the game. Games typically end in a race to checkmate the other player before being checkmated oneself.
  5. Ownership of a piece is not indicated by the color of the piece; instead, pieces are wedge-shaped and point towards the opponent. The name of the piece is inscribed in Kanji characters on the front of the piece.
  6. Most importantly: it’s more fun than other forms of chess :-)

Shogi is extremely popular in Japan; it has been estimated that 20 million Japanese can play shogi, of which perhaps 1 million are active players. It is even more popular there than the game of go, Japan’s other favorite board game. There are a number of professional players who make a considerable amount of money playing in shogi tournaments, and the game receives extensive newpaper and television coverage. Despite this, the game has yet to become popular outside of Japan. Part of this is because the Kanji characters on the pieces scare away some people, but mostly it’s due, I think, to lack of exposure to the game and to the difficulty of finding opponents. I hope that GNU shogi will help introduce shogi to a wider audience.

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