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Chapter 6

Page history last edited by Jun Koda 14 years, 11 months ago

Chapter 6 - Akira Watanabe, Who Utilized the Window of Opportunity



After the Game, at a Café at Paris


It is 6:15PM and the first Ryuoh battle in Paris has finished. Soon after seeing commentary which has continued for about an hour, I return to the common room. With checking looking at backing the staffs off, I wrote up a web-based commentary named "Meijin Habu, victory by interest with great perspective" (See Ch.5), and uploaded it at 7:58PM.


Right next to me, Yasumitsu Sato explained the battle for the accompanying reporters. He highlighted Habu's perspective at times, and he represents this style of shogi as a "renaissance" of  right-Gyoku; a new sense of shogi born in Paris. The common room was enveloped with the air of excitement, because of the excited battle afterglow. The word "Renaissance," which was spoken by Sato, made us more and more excited. We were all happy because we saw the artistic battle in person.


At 4:17PM, I uploaded an article titled Kio Yasumitsu-Sato, who explains modern shogi (Chapter 5) publicly, and it was a significant outcome for me that I could raise an issue about the essence of this shogi game in real time. This is because Watanabe's statements during post-game analysis in the final commentary coincide with Sato's indication some hours ago. I felt gratified that I could convey the commentary for internet users in real time.


The two players changed their clothes, and went to a café within a two-minute walking distance from the hotel with Yonenaga, who is both chairman and observer. The French shogi federal staff was there, and the other staff in the common room were supposed to go there after they finished their own work.


Because of knowing both the fun and fear of writing web-based articles in real time, I was nervous about the last sentence of the commentary. Shogi is an art made by two professional shogi players, and it's not correct to write things such as "a piece of art which was made only by Habu" because that does not coincide with common sense. But I made up my mind that I could not conclude my commentary but that way, while I was watching Watanabe at post-game analysis. However, because of the nature of real-time commentary, I have to publish without enough time to reflect upon that question. I kept thinking whether my last sentence was appropriate in terms of "fairness to Watanabe."


It was about a half past eight when I reached the café, which was simple and typical of Paris. The feast was in full swing. Related parties huddled up all day in Paris like a training camp, and they didn't have to reward someone for their services. The party was very casual, which was not like the one that was after the second battle in Toyota city. Yonenaga and some shogi fans from around Europe were around Habu, and they were playing chess and enjoying themselves. After having a pleasant chat, I headed toward Watanabe, because I wanted to talk with him. Watanabe, who was relieved after two days of fatigue and was keeping quiet while eating, saw me and said

"You came all the way here, and I'm sorry for playing a poor shogi."

He was not his usual self and looked depressed.



"I May Have Time to Reorganize Myself."


It was one and a half years since I met Watanabe. Instead of from shogi, I thought he looked like one of the brightest scientists or engineers, who comes to study from all around the world to the United States, after they graduate from college. As an example; when a top ranking high school student in mathematics in California state went to Harvard, the number one students of India, China, and Hungary were also there, and from day one, they were competitive with each other. A first-class university in the US is like this.


How Watanabe is similar to the top young students from other countries is that he is free and vigorous, reasonable, bullish, hard-nosed, clever, speaks fast, open-minded, and open with what he thinks one after another. Instead of being credited with a special talent, he accepted a strict and competitive environment, and kept up his efforts. "The talent is the effort, in the end," he said to himself, and felt self-confident. As he is strict with himself, he is also strict with others and tends to evaluate others severely due to his youth. He really looks like those students from that point of view, too.


Soon after Watanabe lost to Habu, he looked to be quite another man.


"My point of view about Shogi was revoked. The best move was the one that looked most unlikely to be the best for me. I was aware of that move, but I eliminated it at the first glance. My view point of Shogi was controverted."

He burbled on. 

Although I said to him "Everybody evaluated that the battle was very difficult in the common room, and Habu said that it was very difficult in his commentary," it was meaningless for him, and he was very disappointed.


After I saw his figure with such a heavy heart, I understood that Habu cut him down roughly. This is an awesome world, I thought. In his commentary, Habu evaluated that it was "very difficult shogi till the final position," and people in the common room said that the game was like a masterpiece that the winner could not be predicted. It was only Watanabe that concluded  Habu's clear-cut victory and Watanabe's lackluster loss. I wondered if this defeat was due to Watanabe's ability to foresee moves too far ahead?  Because Watanabe was a genius, he understood the genius of Habu's greatness. He might lose, I thought. I summed up that it was not bad to evaluate the game as "a piece of art made only by Habu."


After having a chat, Watanabe said, as if his worries were gone: 

"The title match would be over, if today's game appeared in the middle of the series. I have to appreciate that today's game was the first. I may have time to reorganize myself."

This meant that he would lose one or two matches due to the momentum of this defeat. But he had "time to reorganize myself", and he would not lose three matches in a row. He evaluated himself objectively. Come to think of it, his statement is very curious. Watanabe is such an interesting person, in my opinion. Does he really have "time to reorganize myself"? Thinking about such things, I returned from Paris to Silicon Valley.

Watanabe lost his next three games in a row in 3 weeks, as he predicted: the second match held in Toya lake in Hokkaido and the third match held in Hiraizumi in Iwate prefecture. Habu had only one game left for "the title of 1st Permanent Ryuoh."



The Celebration Speech for Oza Habu and the Length of Seventeen Years


Exactly one month later, the inaugural ceremony for the Oza title was held on the evening of Tuesday, the 18th of November, in between the third and the fourth games of the Ryuoh title match. It was also to honor Habu's seventeenth consecutive victory in Teikoku hotel. It was held just when I happened to be on a business trip, and I arranged my schedule to attending it. Here was my speech:

"It was September in 1992, when Habu got his first Oza title. He was just twenty one years old. Seventeen consecutive championships is the only record which has not been recorded in any other realm, they said. We have to think deeply about the meaning of this record, because the modern age is condensed.

Modern shogi is a world, which moves more rapid than the one of the internet. As we call the internet time "Dog years (seven times faster)," the modern shogi moves twice as fast as that, i.e. it was developed with "the modern-shogi year (fourteen times fast)." I emphasize that the seventeen consecutive championships in such a realm means to keep a reign of more than two hundred years.

The reason why time is so condensed is that the revolutionary change is on going for information. Once something is thought of or developed, it will go out and others will fine tune it. Such a process goes very rapidly in the shogi world. Habu's seventeen consecutive championships completely differs from "accomplishment something for seventeen years hundred years ago."


And then, I explained that Habu's hypothesis "There should be time to change quantity to quality" is similar to Google's premise:


"I guess the greatest concentration of intelligence in Japan that can compete with the innovations of Google, is NOT in the industrial arena, but is here, Habu-san. The accumulation of shogi research is essentially equivalent to Google's kinds of challenges, and its accumulation is created by not only Habu but other professional shogi players. Things to come in the shogi world can give us many hints about society's future. One of the most important things that Habu represents to us absolutely, is the future of our society. Habu-san has been showing us the cutting-edge of an informational society.  I strongly believe we must now recognize that; otherwise Habu-san would not be rewarded.


The theme of the ceremony was "the span of seventeen years." When Habu got his first title in 1992, Watanabe was only eight years old. Thinking about this fact, I was astonished by the tremendous pure battles in shogi world, done by such few people during a long time.


The Rapid-Attack-Yagura Strategy, Chosen by a "Devil of Games"


At that time of the inaugural ceremony of the Oza title, everyone thought that Habu should be entitled to both "the first Permanent Ryuoh" and "a permanent grand slam of the seven crowns."   I think so as well. But, thinking about Watanabe's words "I might have time to reorganize myself,"  Sato's "Watanabe is strong!" and Fukaura's "conjecture of Watanabe's defense with four victories and three losses," anything could happen. That is because they will battle in a close match, and that professional shogi players know each other's strategies.


Here is the fourth game in Kikuike city in Kumamoto prefecture. Watanabe challenged Habu with an aggressive fight and won the super-difficult end game, in a way completely different from his negative second and third games which turned out unfortunate. "Even if there are risks, I'll not win without taking further steps. When in doubt, I'll be active." This is how he thought. He could spark large shifts, and he won the fifth game in Nankishirahama, and the score was now two victories and three defeats for him.


By the way, how was Habu's mind-set after three consecutive victory? 


When Kozo Masuda was thirty years old (in the year of 1948), which is just in the middle between the ages of Habu and Watanabe, he left the interesting statements below:

I'd like to fight NOT with a shogi player, BUT for the board. I came to this realization recently. Of course, my fighting spirit appear on the position (board), and the other player's fighting spirit directly reach me; we are having a duel such that each move express our fighting spirits. So, it means neither getting rid of players nor doing away with them. Fighting spirit on the board and pieces absolutely means overcoming not only the rival but myself. In my opinion, overcoming my limitations is similar to fighting with the truth.

They call us -professional shogi players- "devils of the game." The professional shogi players always lives in the winning-is-everything world, and we must think about only victory. When at a disadvantage, we must not lose our fighting spirit. ... But, can "devils of the game" master shogi or reach the truth of shogi? I believe we could be stronger if we pursuit the essence of shogi more than the "devils of the game." I would like to call those players "the devils of shogi." (Best of five match between Meijin Tsukada and 8-dan Masuda)

Some professional shogi players say "Habu has recently experimented in his games when he leads the score in title matches." It means that he uses a title match to verify a "hypothesis about the truth of shogi." In the beginning, it was scientists that researched or experimented to find the truth. Additionally, Habu expressed his strong will at the place of the first game, Paris: "I'd like to play shogi like a work of art," which is beyond the game itself.


According to 9-dan Tanigawa Koji, professional shogi players have three aspects: a player who lives in the winning-is-everything world, a researcher and an artist. Using Masuda's words, Watanabe may become "a devil of the game," and Habu can be "a devil of shogi" (both researchers and artists) before the 4th match. As Masuda proclaimed when he was thirty years old, top professional shogi players would change from "devils of the game" to "devils of shogi" in their life cycle. Such thinking might be one of the essences of shogi, I thought.


The next game was the 6th and it was held at South-Uonuma city in Niigata prefecture. When Watanabe selected S6b-5c, I was impressed so much, because I got to see the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening which is a motif  in Changing Modern Shogi (See Ch.1). According to internet broadcasting, they say "Habu has had eight consecutive victories without a loss in today's position. Watanabe should know this fact." After Habu referred to the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening with "Sente (first mover) might have the advantage" this positional judgement has become almost a common sense. There have been only few games, where the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening has been used by top professional shogi players, recently.


Board: 18th move and its Japanese version

[The 18th move △S6b-5c]

The Twenty first Ryuoh Match, Game 6

Yes - the importance of "time to reorganize himself" means not only mental reorganization but also time to reconstruct strategies and techniques. I wanted to applaud him, because he reconsidered the strategies he uses in shogi. In fact, Watanabe had the advantage in this match, and won it in less moves than everyone thought.

And after this, both players could get the title of "Permanent Ryuoh", if they won the last game. If Habu won it, he would be entitled a "Permanent Septuple Crown Holder," and if Watanabe won, it would be "Four consecutive victories after three consecutive defeats in a best of seven match" which would be for the first time in the history of professional shogi. What a once in a century game it is!.



The Wide Open "Window of Opportunity" for Young Ryuoh Watanabe



One of the important things I learned in my life in Silicon valley is that, there are a few cases where people could open a "Window of opportunity," no matter how gifted they are. Some people can get only one chance for it. Similar to Japanese proverb "meeting only once in a lifetime (Ichigo ichie)," it's important that we can exploit a "Window of opportunity" or not. To be brutally honest, these opportunities decide our lives. Compared to Habu who has won all of the glory, Watanabe was under heavy pressure. It was "the first match, Watanabe could get entitled to a permanent title," and this was a "Window of opportunity" for him.


I was very happy to watch this defining moment from the internet, although this is another realm of life.


This was the seventh game held in Tendo city in Yamagata prefecture; the game determines their destiny. According to the result of the Furigoma (five pawn toss), Watanabe became Gote (second mover), and he adopted the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening as he did it in the sixth match. Also, he used a new strategy for this match. It had been tension-filled for all 140 moves i.e. from the AM of the first day to the last moment that he had to make a move with less than 60 seconds per move on the evening of the second day. It was a fierce fight, and was a precious match, which kept the "beauty of equilibrium" till the final position. "Ryuoh Watanabe’s shogi was an impressive performance in his end game. He has a natural feel for shogi," said Yasumitsu Sato in his comments. After the match, he also said "It was a historical shogi match. Although there were backtrackings, we could sense the players' feelings. As a result of their skills, fortune, obsession and spirits, Watanabe defended his Ryuoh title with four victories and three defeats. I cannot find any other words except Super!. I may not be able to sleep tonight with all of the excitement, although I usually do well."

Watanabe got his "Window of opportunity." He defeated Habu, and got the title of the first permanent Ryuoh.

Here are the words of the now-deceased 9-dan Kingoro Kaneko in his notes titled "What is the best part of shogi played by professionals?":

"I think it is a human interaction in the form of matches. ... Also, it is a behavior, in which they prune their lives and by which they represent themselves through shogi." (Kindai Shogi, March issue, 1964)

This 7th game was a precious game, in which both Akira Watanabe and Yoshiharu Habu "represented themselves," as Kaneko said above. Moreover, we were greatly impressed. Even if computers get stronger, our impressions, which are created from human matches, would NOT be diminished at all, I believe. This precious match made me find this afresh.



Celebration Speech for Watanabe's Title of the First Permanent Ryuoh — The First Year of Shogi Globalization


It was the evening of twenty sixth January in 2009. The party was held to applaud for Watanabe's victory of the title of first Permanent Ryuoh in the Palestine Hotel. Here is my congratulatory speech which I felt responsible to accept the offer to give there since I had gone to Paris to report the first match and observed it in its entirety from beginning to end.

"Europeans in Paris enjoyed the match very much in the midst of a depression around the world. Obama recently became the president of US, and the world has reached a turning point.  At this time, the important thing to remember is soft power or the power of culture, I think. Now, we have to recognize "the power of the Japanese culture" like in shogi again.


The Ryuoh title match made a wonderful story, where Habu won three games in a row to start and Watanabe-san took the remaining four games. It generated enthusiasm for people all over the world. The number of internet accesses reached seventy six million views from all around the world which is fairly big because of the attractiveness of shogi. The internet has a global character essentially, and it is good that the power of shogi as content in software is being added there, I feel sure. Also, I strongly expect that this year will be "The First Year of Shogi Globalization" when Watanabe-san got the title of Permanent Ryuoh. Watanabe-san wrote a great book named Duel of Brains (Zuno Shobu) one year and three months ago. I was very surprised its content. What a capable person he is who can express himself well using such plain words!. 


What one accomplishes in his early twenties represents his essence. Watanabe-san wanted shogi to be enjoyed more casually by people like popular sports such as baseball, soccer and so on, for example, like spectators could enjoy watching ball-games by bad-mouthing professional baseball players. It was a great book not only with "the power of words" but also with the scope of a much wider audience.


As you know, Watanabe-san updates his blog and, he continues to explain there why he thinks he won or lost his last game and how he felt the day after the game. It's easy to say, but very difficult to do actually. The internet has a negative side that can be criticized easily. But, because Watanabe-san has the belief that "This is the role of a top player in any field," he carries it out. This has been his consistent way of thinking and behaving since he wrote the book.


Then, I remembered that this way of thinking is similar to top researchers in science or mathematics coming to the US from all over the world. He is twenty four years old now. If he didn't meet shogi, he would win the Olympics of mathematics and would pass by the University of Tokyo to go to a university in US directly. That could be imagined easily and realistically.


The senior generation of Habu-san and Sato-san seems to be the successors of shogi as a traditional Japanese culture. On the other hand, Watanabe-san seems to have a cosmopolitan attitude, I think, which is suitable for getting along with the age of the globalization. Such an attitude is good for dealing with the world. English skill has little thing to do with it. He must be the very person with such beliefs and policies who will play a role in taking the leadership to spread the wonderful Soft Power of shogi abroad, I believe."


I'd like to add comments, which aren't included in the congratulatory speech above. 


They are about the characteristics of Watanabe's strategy.


I estimated Koichi Fukaura, in Chapter 4,  from my experience in Silicon valley to be as below: "A person is silent but has an inner fortitude and also develops social skills. He/She has a great talent for technology in youth, and will reveal his/her total powers." Compared to the above, Watanabe has a "great talent for technology by nature and developed social skills and his full power in his early twenties. As he can perform any kind of job, he can't be set in a mould and will found a venture company." Such people understand their environment objectively, and adjust for it.


Now, what surrounds Watanabe is the following environment: "A Habu generation with lots of actual achievement and power of existence which are still working and his own twenties are overlapping." In such an environment, it's not meaningless if he battles with shogi players of the same generation. For the purpose of making great achievements, he has to evaluate himself as "relatively weaker," and has to try his luck at aiming for his target. This is a common way of thinking when young people are ambitious. Watanabe is no exception to this rule.


Continuing to not gain other titles and "get the title of the 1st permanent Ryuoh with five consecutive victories" was Watanabe's intention, I think. This way of thinking is similar to "Success in business by founding a new venture cooperation investing resources intensively in a target market." These examples are both very strategic. I'd like to evaluate such thinking positively and highly.


The Ryuoh match permits "for young shogi players to advance to the final round straight away." It come with a structural twist, and there is a big chance for young shogi players to obtain the fame of Ryuoh holder and big prize money. Watanabe had consciously aimed for this title, the Ryuoh, as the target of his big business to concentrate on in his twenties since he became a professional player. Even this time, though he was put on the ropes after three consecutive losses to Habu, he won the "biggest match in his life" by "preparing two novelties in the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening, which is rarely seen recently,  in the 6th and 7th games." At last, he managed to open a "Window of opportunity" to make a big leap. It was beyond brilliant!



Wills to Make Progress, No Matter How Small It is


Two days after the inaugural ceremony of the Ryuoh, I dined with Watanabe in Tokyo, in order to keep the promise we made upon parting in Paris "to drink together after the Ryuoh title match." We talked about the Global economic crisis, which we would remember in the future along with the Ryuoh title match, but shortly after, I shifted the topic to what I had been desperate to ask him — whether or not he had read the series of Changing Modern Shogi, which Habu had started when Watanabe was thirteen years old.


  "Although I do not remember what was written there, I surely remember reading it." "Many were describing the series as very difficult at the time, and whilst I could have understood the moves written there, but I must have been unable to see his background thought," he answered. He continued, "it should be interesting to read now, and as I had prepared the novelties of Rapid attack in Yagura Opening for the most crucial positions in the Ryuoh title match, ‘what to do about the Yagura Opening on Gote's side’ is my main theme of study, so I would like to read it in the near future."


I asked him to give me his thoughts if there was any he found interesting.


On February 23, around a month after this conversation, he sent me an email with his thoughts on the series attached to it.


In the email, he described Habu’s Changing Modern Shogi as follows,


Reading this series requires a fairly high level. It was started in 1997, so I was 12 or 13 years old, and was at the sho-dan (1-dan) level of the Shoreikai (Apprentice Professionals' Association). Had I read it at the time, I would not have been able to understand it. The fact Habu-san continued this for forty-one issues even under the assumption that few could understand it gives me the idea that Habu-san thought "I want to write it down here," and "only I can do this."


The most impressive thing about this series is that he did not cut corners even on the middle game and endgame. Most standard sequence textbooks make soft variations which are easy to explain and tend to reach conclusions where it is most convenient. The middle game and endgame are riddled with too many choices and possibilities to seriously ponder over, so few want to get out of their comfort zone and talk about them. This is of course to make it easier for the readers to understand, but also for the author to easily finish (laughs). There is anything but that kind of half-heartedness in this book. It would have taken a tremendous amount of time to write just one series, I suppose. I can hardly believe that he was writing this in the midst of all of those title matches.


And he remarked regarding today's significance of Changing Modern Shogi.


Since the Ryuoh title match has ended, I have been pondering over if it would be impossible for Gote to adopt the Rapid Attack of the Yagura opening to attack first. In the series of Changing Modern Shogi, the Rapid attack in the Yagura opening is rich in variations which are in Sente's favor on the whole, (It's natural since every Gote player would adopt it if it were in Gote's favor). I felt it would be very unlikely that the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening could become a mainstream strategy.

My initial feeling is that the position at the twenty fourth move of the new Yagura Opening is in Sente's favor ultimately since Gote already advanced his Rook pawn in spite of being the second mover while Sente reserves advancing the Rook pawn which gives Sente wider options and makes it possible for Sente to make the good formation of S-4f and N-3g. Then, thinking about where Gote made a mistake, I have a feeling that it may go back to how to punish the fifth move of blocking the Bishop's diagonal line with S-7g or P-6f which seems somewhat illogical though it's much quicker. Though it seemed natural to adopt the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening when I thought about the way of utilizing the merit that only Gote's bishop's diagonal line was not blocked, I'm not sure that it really worked. At the 5th move, Gote's advantages are the following two; (1) The Bishop's diagonal line is not blocked (2) The locations of Gold and Silver are not yet fixed. And the Sente's disadvantages are these; (3) The Bishop's diagonal line is blocked. (4) S-6h indicates a commitment to adopt the Yagura already. I haven't come up with a concrete idea about how Gote can get an advantage combining these four conditions (laugh). I feel this is likely to repeat and repeat with a trial and error of new moves.


Board: the 5th move P-6f in modern Yagura and its Japanese version

[The state of the board at the 5th move, ▲P-6f, in modern Yagura opening.]  

I see. The propositions Habu has made in Changing Modern Shogi regarding the Yagura opening is still towering over professional shogi players as one of the most important questions to be answered, and the main theme Watanabe himself is "pondering over."


At the end of the email, 

Regarding "the fruit of efforts made by every shogi player" in the preface of the series (author's note: his wish is that a professional shogi players take responsibility to always try to progress no matter how small a step it might be. Refer to the first chapter), I thought not so many professional shogi players have enthusiasm to that degree (laughs).

In the manner stated above, he has responded to very harsh criticism. Because of his own strong resolution for shogi, he is very strict on others and himself, which vividly manifests itself in this message. The very person, who is in the unlimited competition of devotion to infinite vastness, surely utters intensive words. "Not so many professional shogi players" have enthusiasm for shogi to that degree. Watanabe’s determination, which is vividly observable in his email, made me sure that the time will surely come when "we will be able to watch many great battles between Habu and Watanabe."



Next > Chapter 7



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