Monday, July 27, 2015

Chess vs Shogi

During our last day in Tokyo, that beautiful clean maiden of a city, I forced my better half to come with me and find a place to play shogi. I had been disappointed because no one seemed to be playing the game out on the streets. Come to figure, there were clubs, and so after looking it up online we went searching. We found a neighborhood that smelled like the usual clean Tokyo with remnants of noodle dinners, and were quickly lost, as the exact address was hidden in Japanese characters we could not discern. I walked up and down the narrow street, surprised that there wasn’t a huge sign somewhere. Dropping into a restaurant, I asked a woman sweeping up about shogi. My horrendous accent must have thrown her off, for she stared at me. Luckily, I remembered a movement, a jerk with two fingers, to indicate movement of the pieces, of the game. Ah, her eyes lit up and she dropped her broom and walked out into the street, indicating that we should follow her.

For some reason, people were following us, and the woman telling them something or another about us. A businessman, seemed to understand our precarious situation and when the old lady pointed at a building, then the businessman, he nodded and with a slightly accented English, told us it was on the second floor. We went up and there was a club with men hunched over those wooden shogi boards, the smell of sweat and cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air.

At first, the people in charge didn’t want me to come and play, but some of the members chimed in and said that I should be allowed. I was given a slip of paper and immediately the nearest English speaker started a game with me. They were amazed that an American had bothered to learn the game; I told them where: the internet, parent to many children these days. 

What kind people. They all gathered and talked, happy that I was from New York, that I played somewhat well (they were being nice on that account), and crushed me to a pulp in the three games I played against different people.
Each time in each game, I struck too early, mainly for a lack of a better idea, and each time they parried my strike and punished me. It was a cruel punishment, a slow one I could see coming once my strike had missed. And the buildup (remember those slow pieces require this kind of attack, a smothering attack, if you will) that leads to a slow evisceration of my forces, then King.

It was humbling to say the least, but I enjoyed being in the midst of locals who played the game (unfortunately they mainly looked older, I wonder if the younger generation even bother to learn the game, a source of national pride, from what I hear). Certainly, I needed to learn more, but I enjoyed that moment, as it proves once again that nothing beats playing a person over the board, for a game on the internet doesn’t have the same feel as the game of minds one gets playing one on one.

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