Shogi / Japanese Chess
The Game of Shogi explained...
Of all the varieties of Chess, SHOGI or Japanese Chess is the most fun to play badly.
Yet for those who play well it is undoubtedly the most lucrative, for in Japan it has the kind of following and media coverage more likely to be associated with golf in the West.
The number of players in Japan alone is of the order of 20 million. SHOGI is featured regularly on television and clubs abound in every corner of the country. The Japanese are notably not significant in World (Western) Chess since they find the game very limited and with too many defects. SHOGI on the other hand, is a major pastime and the professional players, of which there are hundreds, enjoy good income and status. The top few are millionaires and enjoy star billing wherever they go.
There is a city in Japan Tendo which specialises in making SHOGI sets: streets are named after SHOGI pieces and a huge replica of a King dominates the skyline. The level of craftsmanship is so high that auction room prices bat no eyelids. Yet for all that, the equipment is utterly simple.
As is often the case where Western translation creates 'another Chess' (here it is, Japanese Chess) the pieces invariably assume the names associated with our Western Chess version, although the pieces are in fact tiles or koma with Japanese writing to define each piece. It is virtually impossible to find sets where the tiles have been replaced by three dimensional characters, largely because there is no 'black' and 'white' differentiation of opponents because captured pieces can change sides, i.e. 'black' can become 'white'. The koma are shaped in such a way as to indicate their direction of play, so to change sides following capture is just a matter or reorienting the piece through 180 degrees.
Boards are extremely simple in layout without even the traditional checkered design of draughts and chess boards, this may well be because the play area is 9x9 as opposed of the more balanced 8x8 of Western Chess.
It is only relatively recently that SHOGI has become established in the West, but through the past efforts of various Shogi Associations there are now players in most countries and a substantial number of books written in English. Alas the British Shogi Association is no more.
The features of SHOGI that have found most favour with those Westerners who have embraced it are the tactical richness due to the facts that:-
captured pieces are never out of the game but can be re-entered anywhere on the board;
the virtual lack of draws; and,
the relative unimportance (compared to Western Chess) of learning opening moves - so no need to pour over books full of openings..
SHOGI can be as deep or as shallow as you want it to be; hence the slightly unusual claim that, unlike Western Chess and many other games, it can be great fun to play badly.