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Chapter 7

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

Chapter 7 - The Dialogue between Yoshiharu Habu and Mochio Umeda


The Future of Real-Time Commentaries and "Enjoying Watching" Shogi


Photographs by Noboru Iwahashi (Chapter 7) 


Umeda: I believe that this is our first time to meet each other on business. We both have deliberately kept ourselves from meeting in a work setting, but ever since I visited Niigata for the first game of the Kisei title match, my life began to change drastically (laughs).


Habu: I see (laughs). I am immensely interested in your attempt to write live commentaries, which you have just started. I wonder what people will think about those live commentaries in the future, say five years from now. How will the world of shogi be delivered to people outside. Until recently, there were only limited channels to deliver shogi to the masses. With the outcomes of your new trial, I was made to think that, revolutionary ways are being laid out.


Umeda: I see. Revolutionary ways?


Habu: One of them is the "interactivity." I think that for the generations to come, whatever the context, how you deliver what you feel and why you feel, in the fast-pace setting of "real-time," "live," and "instantaneous" standards are getting more and more crucial. That's what I felt most after I read your live commentaries about the Kisei and Ryuoh title matches. In another recent example, in the first game of the Osho title match that took place a few days ago, two commentary events in Tokyo and Naruto-shi were linked together live.


Umeda: I always watch shogi live on the web from Silicon Valley. I really think those live coverages are superb; what is more, I always think that shogi is indeed suited for live events on the web.


Habu: What I found great about your real-time online commentary is that, you are in fact, also a player in the game! The point I am trying to make here is that, you have prepared and studied a great deal beforehand in order to write a commentary. This process of preparing and studying is exactly what we players go through before a match (laughs). It does not end here, the limited time allocated to you to consolidate and write a considerable amount of text, is equivalent to a shogi players time allocated to play his moves. The sense that both the shogi player and the commentary writers are working side by side simultaneously, has perfectly matched the context of live broadcasting.


Umeda: Well, compared to the immense energy put into shogi by the professional players, what I put in is of less significance and I don't think it should be even compared. However, I understand what you mean. Because I was, indeed, doing my very best in completing the task within the time allowed.


Habu: I happened to find a problem with your work, however. After reading your work, other commentary writers said "Umeda-san is extraordinary and he is unmatched," and no one would dare to say "I will do the same next" (laughs). No other can match your accomplishments.


Umeda: No. That is not true. I think they can do it.


Habu: I wonder whether anyone will stand up and say, "I will do it," in the times ahead. If so, they could be different from conventional commentary writers. For example, it may become that viewers who view live matches on the web, not only contribute by posting their opinions and impressions on bulletin boards but also write about the game in the form of a commentary. Things may progress in that way. I am looking forward to seeing the "next" of you to rise up.


Umeda: The greatest difficulty I encountered in writing real-time online commentaries was that, naturally enough, the explanations for on-going moves did not generate themselves in my mind, because I am not a professional shogi player. Therefore, in order to overcome this, I have related the reality that was observed directly in front of me in the playing room to the material I had prepared in advance. At the same time, I listened to what the professional players would say in the common room, finally integrating all the components into a single writing (refer to the third chapter). For example, a writer like me can team up with a professional player, who understands as well as the actual players and can come up with a seamless flow of commentary and explanations on each move. Then he would definitely be able to compose the ultimate real-time online commentary, although it depends on how much effort we are willing to spend.


Habu: In other words, you need professional players' cooperation to give their commentary on the game, right? But the position of a game is always changing, it is not definite. With one player applauding one side, there is usually another that is unsure about it. Most games, not only title matches, do keep fluctuating by the smallest margins all the time. I have a feeling that the difference between professionals and amateurs in their ability to see those fluctuations is small. Except for a few matches where one player is clearly dominant and winning from the beginning, everyone tends to have a different view towards a match if it's a seesaw game. It has nothing to do with how good one is at shogi when seeing a position where it's hard to tell which direction the needle is pointing to. I think that even amateurs can grasp the atmosphere or the "field" to a great extent as long as they know some basic rules. Of course, professionals are much more able to see the hidden meaning of one move. But on the other hand, they tend to see only those hidden parts. I think it would be best if we could complement the views of professionals and amateurs.



The Ever-Fluctuating Position and the Beauty of Balance


Umeda: If you say something like that "there is not much difference between professionals and amateurs in their ability to watch shogi," it is really pleasing for many of the fans watching including me! Come to think about it, it may be true that there are many fans who are watching totally different things from "the hidden meaning of a move," "positional judgement" or "study of the next move." Professionals come up with many moves after a move and read how the game would branch into those details in an instant. The net live and TV commentaries are also focused on those things. But for me, though I can't play like a professional player, I watch games and get mesmerized by the beauty of the overall flow and storyline of a game. I always watch the overall flow of a game. And as I often use the words "beauty of balance," there are many positions which seem to be tilted to one side at first glance but actually are very well balanced. This may be related to the expression "fluctuations," but in the shogi games of professionals small mistakes tend to happen at the very end, and except for that, the match maintains its beautiful balance throughout the match. I was indeed moved by each of the 140 moves in the seventh game of Ryuoh title match the other day.


Habu: I see.


Umeda: But there is an atmosphere to discourage amateurs from saying such things in the shogi world. It may be because if someone asked "then can you play that way?" we amateurs wouldn't be able to play that way (laugh). I couldn't say anything if I was asked about which part of the game that I was moved by... But for example, we are allowed to say "I was moved by the painting" even if we are unable to draw it. No one would say "but you can't paint it" when I said "I was moved by The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel." But when I say "I was moved by a shogi match," people ask me how good I am at it (laugh).


Habu: (laugh)


Umeda: It would take a lifetime of preparation if we wanted to play a beautiful game like professionals. Many people don't have that determination and therefore become a watching fan. Unless we are good at actually playing, we need to refrain from commenting. I think there has been a tacit understanding of this. Of course, professionals can read deeply hidden meanings of moves, but there are many others who see shogi from a different perspective. Since I wrote real-time commentary from an amateurs' perspectives, more and more "non-playing shogi fans," who just know the basic rules, are starting to write their comments on the web.


Habu: I think that there is a lot of potential there. Though there might have been invisible barriers against commentaries from an amateurs' perspective, I'm sure that many spectators are feeling as if they are watching a drama or reading a story, as you just said. Even I as a player can't tell where I'm going to end up in the end. The game seem that it could end at any minute, but often it doesn't. Even I myself often miss in my predictions. I think it is in this unpredictability that the fun parts of shogi lie. Even for me, for example in the Kisei title match, how can I put it... I felt that every time we played, new discoveries were being made. Although we (Habu and Sato) have played more than one hundred official games, and tried every possible pattern, new positions still keep arising. Unexpected things keep happening and I keep thinking that "you thought this through too much"?


Umeda: Even you yourself can't tell which way the game is heading?


Habu: No. Shogi is something which keeps flowing from the beginning to end. In that flow, I always think "Ah, I finally figured out how this works" and continue to be impressed. At Takashimaya (in the first round of the Kisei title match), for example, even though the shogi remained well balanced, I snapped at the beginning of the endgame.... I deeply regret it. It has nothing to do with whether I won or not. I often think that had the game remained balanced a little bit longer, it could have turned out to be a really interesting and meaningful shogi game.



The World of Modern Shogi, Where a Compass Does Not Work


Umeda: How was the shogi game in Paris? Since Watanabe-san was so disappointed I proposed as my hypothesis that you intentionally lured him into the position of B-6d.


Habu: It was a strange shogi game. I think we were relying on the positional judgement each other. I was thinking I was slightly worse when he made a promoted Rook by trading a bishop for a Gold and Knight, but the truth turned out to be different. It's like we both had wrong positional judgement (laugh). We were agreeing that "Sente (First mover) was leading the position," but we were actually both wrong. It was an unusual shogi game. It's not like I intentionally had a plan. Actually I reluctantly chose that move because I thought there was no other choice. But it turned out to be difficult after that.


Umeda: But you could have chosen not to get into that position before you "reluctantly chose that move."


Habu: Yes. At the position at the end of the first day, I couldn't have played any other way. I already had a feeling that I might not be playing well at that stage. There would have been problems way before then, but I realized that after we got into that position. If we try to get to the core of it, the endgame always turns out to be the borderline. These kinds of position occurred several times in this Ryuoh title match, including the one in Paris, and they often occur in games with other people, too. For some strange reason, strangely unpredictable positions tend to arise in real matches, not in our study. This is one of the strangest things about shogi.


Umeda: It's like if the top two with the same skills confront each other, for some reason, shogi ends up being unpredictable. It sounds natural if we put it like this.


Habu: But I think that there are also many other fields where the smallest difference decides who wins and who loses. For example, baseball. No matter how close both teams are, it's not like every game turns out to be a very close one. But in shogi, for some reason, the possibility of this happening is extraordinarily high.


Umeda: Indeed. There are some baseball matches which bore the audience from the first inning. In the U.S., going to a stadium to watch baseball with the family is a popular leisure time event even for families that are not so wealthy. Once a year, a son may tell his father to go and watch a baseball game, and they will pleasantly come to the stadium. The game sometimes starts with a score of 9-0 in the first inning.


Habu: That's rare in shogi. I can't say that it's impossible, but basically shogi matches always tend to be very close.


Umeda: That's very interesting. I haven't read anything that explains with words the characteristics of shogi like this. In other words, Shogi is extremely excellent as an entertainment!


Habu: Is it? Ah, yes it is (laugh).


Umeda: What I found interesting in Paris is that Watanabe-san kept saying that there was nothing after B*6d, and the shogi ended there, even though Sato-san and Yonenaga-san in the waiting room didn't take it like this at all, and were rather excited saying that it was an extraordinarily great match. You also said in the talk after the match "it was difficult to the end, wasn't it?" However, only Watanabe-san says "(the match) sucked." How can we interpret something like this?


Habu: I suppose that Watanabe-san felt that he was playing very well when he played G*4c. But B*6d was actually unexpectedly difficult, and the gap was so huge that it shocked Watanabe-san to such an extent, I guess.


Umeda: Was his judgement that the game ended there wrong from your viewpoint?


Habu: It's not like whether it was wrong or not... When I dropped a Bishop (B*6d), I neither thought I was winning nor felt confident. It was like "I guess this is the only move, but the most promising move." It was long after that, when I played S*6g a few moves before the end of the game, when I felt I might not lose. When I found the move of S*6g which worked for both my offense and defense, I could begin to think I might be able to manage to win. Having said that, it might also be true that Watanabe-san's style, how can I put it, his ideal way to win and his ideal shogi, began to change at the position of B*6d. I guess this led to his comment. In the end, there lies the difference between the styles of shogi of the professionals in their twenties and those in their thirties, I think. For example in the case of Sato-san, instead of creating shogi with styles and patterns consciously in mind, he reads a great amount (laugh) and manages to make it up as he goes, no matter what position he's in. It is not only Watanabe-san's but also other young professional shogi players' trend to create their own systems and patterns. Even I felt when I was in my 20's that "these ways are the mainstream and if I continue in this way I'll be successful." This may be gradually changing, though.


Umeda: Does it mean that you have.... matured?


Habu: I wonder if I can call it "matured." For example, there are Tactical moves and Shapes, right? The more of those patterns you know, the better you can patternize. But that's not all there is to shogi, and shogi matches often turn out to be twisting and turning. In this case, it is important to flexibly react to complexity and uncertainty, by throwing in a twist.


Umeda: How could you put that "twist" in other words?


Habu: For instance, I think even if a third party made just one move at a particular position, then it would be a twist. I could express using the words "linear" or "curved." A shogi game tends to leave some degree of vagueness. Especially at the crossroad of a game, some uncertainty definitely remains, so if both players try to keep the uncertainty alive, twists occur or the position becomes chaotic. The approach of throwing twists doesn't often happen in the opening, but often occurs from the middle game onward.


Umeda: You mean, to clarify, that a game which proceeds linearly from a certain point is different from a position with twists?


Habu: You're right. One professional once used the words "speed and persistence," that is to say, being aggressive and patient at the same time (laugh). Although both sides are attacking, it's not like they are trying to win directly from those attacks. They might try to avoid some pieces being captured or to prevent the opponent's king from entering into his camp by giving up collateral material or giving up a tempo while making moves that can act on both offense and defense. In other words, they are trying to increase potential by keeping many choices alive. Judging from my experience, this trend can be often observed over the last decade. Such games started to appear with the emergence of the R-8e strategy. Despite that R-8e strategy is pre-study-oriented, unpredictable positions appear from the middle game onwards.


Umeda: I see.


Habu: A compass does not work well in R-8e strategy. For example, Furibisha (Ranging Rook) is a game where the compass works well. I mean, one first makes Sabaki and then begins the attack or strengthens one's castle.

The compass works more easily in the strategies which have been played from old times like the Furibisha (Ranging Rook) and the Yagura Opening. But it doesn't in newer strategies such as B-8e and Itteson Kakugawari (Bishop Exchange with a tempo loss).


Umeda: Do you mean that especially in the last decade, those who are capable of coming up with the best or close to the best move in untrodden positions have an advantage?


Habu: Ummm, it is difficult to say but I think it's up to how much one can withstand uncertainty. I believe it is how normally one can continue to play in the face of this uncertainty and unpredictability that decides who's strong.


Umeda: Does this mean it is better not to think like "I want to go back to the comfort zone from this uncertainty!"? This thought leads to defeat. Do you mean that, on the contrary, those who would enjoy this uncertainty and be willing to think about it forever would win?


Habu: You're right, haha, though I'm not sure I could actually say that (laugh). But it may well be true that it's better to assume this type of attitude.



What players' are thinking


Umeda: This is your interview from around five years ago. You answer the question "What is deep shogi?" by "it is that totally unexpected positions still occur after a great deal of study and mental training. I would say deep shogi is the kind which gives rise to unexpected positions despite that fact that I try to predict as many positions as I can beforehand. (Weekly Shogi, 16th July, 2003 issue)" ... You said you want to play such shogi. When I first read this, it struck my heart. Is "maintaining uncertainty" similar to this?


Habu: Yes, I think they are really similar. I guess it leads to throwing twists at each other in the end. How can I say this... Nothing is better than a clear shogi game that is linearly played, but it is often the case that something happens at the very end in shogi. Although I sometimes feel "I can linearly attack here," there are always some pitfalls in the end (laugh). So based on my experience, it is an important factor to keep that uncertainty, and unpredictability, in other words "possibilities" alive as much as we can.


Umeda: In the endgame, difficult and complicated positions always tend to arise, and no matter how much you read, with just one move by the opponent, your reading becomes meaningless... and this continues, am I right?


Habu: Yes. When entering those positions we can tell to some extent who's winning and losing from the shape. It is sometimes possible to know something like "I'm one move behind," "I can't enter the end game yet" or "I can win by one-move".


Umeda: In a recent interview you said "I was surprised to find how deep the veins of shogi are."


Habu: Yes yes. I often am surprised to find new positions, in the final round of the Ryuoh title match as well. Katsuhiro Kogure-san was writer of the commentary for the seventh round and he asks questions to several professional shogi players when he writes this commentary. It seems he asked Atsushi Miyata-kun (5 dan), and when I went back home a few days after the match, I found four pages of faxes from Kogure-san regarding Miyata-kun's study. They were all about the endgame of that match. To my surprise, they were certainly amazing (laugh). He took a massive amount of time for them.


Umeda: How were they compared to your analysis during the match?


Habu: His interpretation surpassed mine. He spent hours on a move that I played in a minute. But even after studying it, I can still not conclude what was right and what was wrong in that shogi game. When asked for my conclusions, I'm still not sure what was right even now. I found it really unusual that we haven't been able to get any clear insight with this amount of time and effort spent by so many people.


Umeda: Which was the losing move is often the first point of discussion on site. Analysts tend to look for conclusions as soon as possible. When I went to Toyota-city for the second game of Oui title match, you and Fukaura-san were just pondering without uttering any words in the post game analysis. I suppose that you two were reflecting back on the shogi you had just finished in your minds, but you just kept saying "it was really difficult" and "I can't figure it out." But since it doesn't help in writing an article, the shogi writers ask questions about specific positions. Like, "Could you have won if you had done so and so?" I could just watch you from your side since I wasn't writing a commentary on that day, but I was wondering if what others asked you and what you two pondered through during the two days of match and reflected back on in the post game analysis are totally different.


Habu: Immediate after a match, I myself don't usually understand how it went, and am not confident to give correct answers even if asked specific questions. Even though I could say "these moves might exist," it would be... difficult to say "I could have won by doing this." We don't trace back the whole match in a post game analysis.


Umeda: Is it like you're standing at the end of a river flowing forward?


Habu: I might be able to answer with clarity after an hour, but even the player himself doesn't understand the match right after it. It takes more time for really difficult ones because one or two hours easily pass while studying them. It is often the case that after even more time has passed, for example when I publish a book of my game collections and need to study a lot, I can find conclusions to write down. But come to think about it, there's the issue of deadlines for flash news articles (laugh). I get pulled back to reality there.


Umeda: It works like "then, let's decide on this position like this for the time being" and post game analysis converges. It might not be necessary to prove the truth of every match, but I believe it's important, regarding really important matches, to report what the players were thinking about most seriously, including the essence of the match.



Keep Thinking About a Problem With No Answer, Like an Attempt to Stop a Cloud


Umeda: You said that you are still surprised by "how deep the vein of shogi is," but even for fans watching surprises such as "ah, it leads to this kind of position!" and "the flow comes back here from that position!" are the sources of our excitement. We are interested not only by who wins, but also in greater dramas, something like the flow of a game record as being beautiful and like a piece of artwork.


Habu: I could say that the players are creating it on the one hand, but on the other, I could also say that I myself am not feeling that they are part of it. It is... lack of tangibility. For example, artists draw paintings and carve sculptures with tangibility at hand. But in shogi, Deciding a move is always born from intangibility. Basically we can't make a move in a tangible way. It's like "I'm not confident about this, but let's just start, and then finish it." (laugh). After this process of grasping at clouds can we finally figure out something a little bit after the examination during post game analysis. It is often only after we study a match when we can finally understand something about it.

Umeda: I see. Um, is this intrinsically related to the existence of a "the time limit?" In the case of shogi, realistically speaking, each player is allocated ten or less hours. But in the case of artists, they can spend a tremendous amount of time on one piece of painting and only after considering how to compose and color it and being able to see the final image can they finish a work. They can spend as much time as they want on a piece of work. Of course there are some artists like Picasso who draw in very little time, but they are essentially free about their own time. There's no such freedom in shogi. Doesn't this restrict you?


Habu: Umm, time... I think whether a game took tens of hours or hundreds of hours, results would be the same. It's wrong to say we can play better the more time we spend. There seems to be a huge difference between games played with very little time and ones played over a very long time, but actually there is not. Games played with little time can be very good. In addition, another reason why shogi has nothing to do with time is that it's related to some of the characteristics of shogi... Shogi is after all kind of dependent on the opponent. In other words, you shouldn't try to play well on your own. After giving your best shot, you need to give the opponent his turn, saying "I will leave the rest to you." Shogi is not where you complete on your own but where you do your best and leave the rest to the opponent.


Umeda: Shogi is where you say "I'll leave the rest to you"? (laugh)


Habu: That's right (laugh).


Umeda: When I watched Jonetsu Tairiku (a TV program) which featured this season's Ryuoh title match the other day, you said "there are many cases where I can't come up with a good answer. I'm troubled most regarding what I should do when I can't find a good answer." Is that similar to this?


Habu: Yes it is. After all, after you've played your part, your move disappears and so you need to entrust the rest to the opponent. Whatever you think and no matter what move the opponent makes, you need to accept it as it is. How we can overcome this uncertainty, unpredictability and something like fear, I think everything leads to these kinds of things.



People are Fascinated by People


Umeda: About watching the flow of a match with a bird's-eye view instead of looking deeply into a certain position of the match, this may be a little bit off point but .... I wake up around 4 a.m every morning and study what has happened in the world the day before. And I simultaneously keep the live broadcast of shogi matches open if there is any. It's just around 8 or 9 p.m. in Japan. While watching what's happening in the world and following the flow of several shogi matches, I sometimes leave my PC and sit down in front of the board and replay your games on it and go back to the PC if I come up with some good ideas... I spent five to six hours in the morning like this. Pondering about my work, watching the flow of shogi matches and looking at the board.. doing something like this brings me great ideas. It's like a catalyst.


Habu: Catalyst. Ah, I see! I understand.


Umeda: Put it another way, I never improve playing on my own no matter how much I watch... But concerning my business I think I've been doing great because of shogi. It is also similar to watching paintings for example. Shogi has been my only catalyst lately, but I used to go watch paintings over the last ten years. I would fly all the way to New York if there is a retrospective exhibition of an artist, where you could see all of his/her works, and would also visit a museum during my stays in Europe. Though I was watching paintings, what I was thinking tended to be about my work. Following the flow of a shogi match is, as a catalyst, very similar to those experiences. It's a big plus to my work.


Habu: Shogi and paintings and your work are completely different things, but although they seem to be different they actually have something in common. I think I can understand that we tend to be inspired by those things.


Umeda: A methodology of creating something new hasn't yet been founded, so every day is bumpy. In my case, there is no routine work because of the characteristics of my work, and I can't be valuable if I can't come up with something new. If you've been in one specialized field for 20 years, nothing new comes out of your head unless you keep taking in different catalysts. So shogi, which could be especially recent shogi, .... is really interesting. This may be an "amusing point" watchers imagine by preference. It's different from professionals as parties in charge watching a match while looking for "the best move" and "the next move." It's viewing shogi as "a story" as I said before. "He came back here after playing that move!" "Was this played with the intention of having an entering King from the beginning?" "Have they played for two days really wanting to make it this kind of position!?"... My mind becomes sharper when I watch thinking this and that like this.


Habu: Not only from professional shogi players and painters but also from someone who's mesmerized or obsessed by anything can other people learn a hint or a trigger to create something new, this kind of thing is highly possible. How one can influence others, what kind of new triggers one can make for others, what value one can create and what new things one can show to others. I think that there lies the difference between computers and humans. A person doesn't get attracted to someone doing something expected. No matter how much they try to influence others, they would fail to do so if others thought "they are just doing things that have been already planned." The appearance of even themselves not knowing what they are doing at all like professional shogi players (laugh) would attract and influence others.


Umeda: You keep explaining about the "difficulties" of shogi. These days, the trend that things should be easier and clearer, and a steadiness-oriented mind of wanting tomorrow to be the same as today are prevalent. But compared to easier things, I think that the more difficult, the more interesting. In fact, no one can predict the future, and life and human beings are both complicated, but it is only by confronting those difficulties can human beings be human beings. Shogi may represent this kind of thing.


Habu: I agree. It would be troublesome if one asked me if I could ultimately conquer those difficult and unclear problems, but I think what is important is to say "then, let's just put a stone here" and actually make a move like this. It's not like there's a meaning in putting the stone there. Instead of saying "it's so difficult and complicated that we had better go somewhere else (laugh)," it's important that we actually just put it. As a result, something new might happen, or something might collapse. But I think that having the mindset of "let's just put it" is really important.


Umeda: You talked about Sisyphus in Greek Mythology in a dialogue with Mr. Gozo Yoshimasu long time ago, didn't you? Sisyphus keeps lifting rocks again and again. I vividly remembered you, in your twenties, saying that you found pleasure in doing the same things again and again and could feel alive by doing so. I'm wondering if the fact that you're facing shogi with this in mind is the reason that you've remained the top for a long time.


Habu: If you rationalized that actual results are everything, I think then the world would become so boring and tasteless. It's the world of a desert. If you say "then there could be meaning somewhere else" and think about it, things that are left at the end are only processes. What's crucial is what you want to accomplish and what you are aiming to achieve in the processes, I reckon.


Habu: As you once said "if we wanted to decide who the winner is and who the loser is, then we should just do rock, paper and scissors."



In the Age of "Animal Trails," We Look for a Value Wildly



Habu: That is right, indeed. If you have a look at processes which lead to a result, the number of "animal trails" we talked about before is really decreasing. At present, there are only a few animal trails left. However, I think it still is important to keep trying to find something there.


Umeda: I would like to hear more about this "animal trails." Did you mean "animal trails" as a comparison to your "theory of highways"?


Habu: Yes, whatever a genre, by spending time, labour, information and trouble exponentially, places which used to be an "animal trail" are becoming....


Umeda: I see, they are becoming (not to the point of becoming highways) more and more well paved.


Habu: That is right. They instantly get paved and animal trails are only in primitive jungles... even in those jungles there is hardly any place where human beings haven't set foot in. Similar to the earth seen from the geographical perspective, I think every field, a bit more conceptually speaking, has little left untrodden. I have the feeling that the number of the worlds where there is a great deal of possibility and expandability is declining.


Umeda: But you're always experiencing in every match new discoveries, right? Do you think finding those things are great?


Habu: Yes, indeed it is in the shogi world. In this present world where everything is getting paved and although shogi is also influenced by this, the fact that there are still many untrodden paths surprises and impresses me.


Umeda: I see. In fact, what you just said could be also applied to the world in general. I think that the world is now reaching a massive "once-in-hundreds-of-years" turning point, and human beings are confronted by many problems which no one can be sure how to solve. Until now, the developed countries of one billion people plus have gobbled up oils and wasted natural resources. If we keep this up on a worldwide scale, the earth will cease to exist. We need to turn from oil to an oil substitute, but there's been no single path found for that process. How could "ten billion in the future" live with alternative energies and how can we deal with the water and food shortages? I have to image that, contrary to what you just said, the world is becoming filled with new animal trails.


Habu: That indeed is true. I think that wildness is becoming more and more important in the coming ages. There are only a few who are living in a wild world. But I believe that the rest of us have much to learn from those people.


Umeda: Do you mean by wild people the people who are really doing something in the nature?


Habu: Yes. What struck me lately is a story about Mr. Kojiro Shiraishi, who is travelling around the world on a yacht. Having said that, recent travellers usually use GPS. However, interestingly, he goes out onto the deck in the morning to decide the direction of the yacht and it seems that he goes without GPS when he finds that he has with good instincts. Otherwise, he would keep staring at the screen of his laptop and steadily calculate the course (laugh). I think those people who try and search for ways to survive in a wild and primitive world can teach us many things in the coming era.


Umeda: Human instincts decide everything. That is what "animal trails" are all about, you mean? More than the power of logic and mathematics. Those instincts are the last sanctuary left for human beings.


Habu: Yes. However, those people are in a way very conservative because they are always endangering their lives. If they venture too much, they will die (laugh).


Umeda: I see. While honing wild instincts, they need to avoid being too conservative and complement those instincts with logic. It indeed is inspiring.


Habu: Of course I'd never thought about something like this when I started to play shogi. But after I became a professional and found that I would continued to play for the rest of my life, I began to seriously think "why do I play shogi? What value is there in playing shogi?" Professional shogi players' lives are almost the same throughout the year. Game schedules are also fixed throughout the year and in addition to this, every activity follows a fixed routine. Since the cycle of one year and the year before are the same, one may wonder "is there any meaning in all this?" In other words, there's not much meaning in repeating the same things. It's not essential. I came to have the feeling that the key is to seek new possibilities, such as different discoveries and different ways, through many matches with exactly the same people. It's a bit different from expressing my own personality... Discovering unknown and unproven things is the process of finding a new vein, and digging into it. I would feel happy when I hit something, and even if it ended up being nothing, I would just think "it can't be helped, it's just normal" (laugh).



"Habu-san frowns when the opponent plays badly." What is the True Meaning?


Umeda: You said that you wished that during the first round of Kisei title match with Mr. Sato the balance of the match had lasted longer. Does this kind of feeling arise often during a match? There's a winner and a loser after every match. Which is more important at the moment of the end of a match, the result of the match or that you played well?


Habu: Of course I'm concerned about the result right before either player gives up. But for example in the case of the Kisei title match, I was pondering for around two minutes before I resigned it. It's not like I'm thinking about my next move, but actually I'm thinking something like "ugh.. it didn't go well at all today" (laugh). I spent that two minutes feeling like this.


Umeda: If we take the first round of the Kisei title match as an example, you won when Sato-san played badly after it seemed you had lost the match. I think that there are some shogi games where you win in the end while thinking that you've already lost the match. What do you think about these matches? Do you feel less pleased?


Habu: Rather than whether I feel pleased or not, in those cases, I would feel unrefreshed.


Umeda: Umm.. the legend has it that "Habu-san frowns when the opponent plays badly," right? Is there any truth in that?


Habu: Hahahaha (laugh). Well, for example, in tennis, you want a rally to last forever if it's going so well, don't you?


Umeda: You wish a rally to last forever instead of wanting to win as soon as possible. I understand if you're unconsciously frowning when the opponent plays badly (laugh).


Habu: No, I don't believe I'm frowning (laugh)! But it could be true that if I played badly I would feel disappointed. It is the same thing, I guess.


Umeda: People would usually think "Haha, lucky, I've won!" if the opponent played badly, but you would think "I wished the beautiful balance would last..." am I right?


Habu: It's not like I feel disappointed by the opponent nor do I have some kind of aesthetics (laugh). I just like those shogi games which come back to the course in the proper and ramrod-straight manners. Whether it's me or the opponent, if one played a bad move, then it would mean that we had lost a chance to create something greater.


Umeda: "We lost a chance to create something more amazing." Do you have this sort of feeling not only in normal matches but also in the rounds of title matches? Do you think the same way about the whole series?


Habu: For instance, I lost two matches and won three matches in the five rounds of Kisei title match. After having lost two matches in a row, I thought that it could end in the next match, but since the first two matches were so pathetic that I wanted to maintain this sort of balance at least in the third match. I would feel sorry if it ended with that pathetic state. Title matches are on a great stage and are opportunities for every professional shogi player, so in addition to the result, everyone would regret it if they couldn't do their best.



Characteristics of Shogi: All the Information on the Board can be Shared


Umeda: It seems that Watanabe-san was in the same mindset in the 4th round of the Ryuoh title match after he lost 3 matches in a row against you. In this Ryuoh title match, since live broadcasts were good in every match, people from all over the world kept the live board open on the web and watched the match. There are some communities on the web where shogi-lovers can get together and freely write their comments there. When I had a peek into those communities, I could even hear some "screams."


Habu: I see. A variety of things certainly exist.


Umeda: As I said at the beginning of this dialogue, the number of ways to watch shogi on the web is increasing and becoming diversified. I used a comparison with baseball in this book, but I think shogi will benefit more in that all the information on site can be shared on the web. Of course it is impossible to share the mental state of the players in real time. But every bit of information is on the board in the case of shogi, right? In the cases of baseball or football, you can see all the information inside the stadium if you actually go there, but there is only one part which a TV screen cut out at one time. Even though one has deep knowledge about baseball, since they can only see the batter and pitcher on the TV screen, they can't see simultaneously what's happening at the first base and the second, nor can they see how each nine member reacts to each pitch. I heard that both infielders and outfielders always subtly adjust their positions based on the count and the position of runners. It's not as simple as moving forward for a squeeze but more subtle. People with very deep knowledge about baseball pay attention to those things. I like baseball and often go to a stadium but if I study beforehand and am well prepared, the game looks different. It's overwhelming with a vast amount of information but it really helps. "I see, that's why the shortstop could jump sideways and manage to catch the ball." It's not only to do with how physically fit he was.


Habu: He anticipated where the ball was coming and moved his position accordingly, I see.


Umeda: But you can see such things on the TV screen. All you can see is the moment the pitcher throws the ball and the moment the fielders catch the ball. There is a huge gap between the amount of whole information inside the stadium and that cut out for the TV screen. It is, how can I put it, asymmetric or totally different. However, in the case of shogi, there is little, if any, such gap.


Habu: Yes, it indeed is true. Yes.


Umeda: I can see a huge potential in it. Everyone can be watching the same thing in the same position. They can share it. What's on the board is all there is. And this makes us all the more curious about the players' mind state that is invisible to others. With basic rules, even amateurs know how to move pieces. The more advanced one becomes and the more patterns he/she memorizes, the more he/she comes to know. But after all of this, only what the players are thinking while playing is unknowable. In this kind of position everyone from novices to dan-players are anticipating the next move. These spaces emerge on the web one after another.


Habu: I see. Then the live environment will become really important. I sometimes watch others' matches on the web. But if all of those matches were updated on a real time basis, then what we could see would greatly increase. When there are many matches, they are updated in a big chunk and we can't see some of the last parts, can we?


Umeda: Why? No, the recent title matches are almost all updated on a real time basis. I see. Since you played every title match last year, you didn't watch any broadcasts (laugh)!


Habu: Really!? Are they available on a real time basis!?


Umeda: Yes they are. I see I see. Only you don't know this (laugh). You were talking about the broadcast of ranking matches. Since many games are played at the same time and there's a shortage of staff, they are input in a big chunk when the matches enter one-minute shogi in the endgame. But everything is fine with title matches. They are uploaded on a real time basis from the waiting room of the tournament venue, and there's hardly any time difference. Ordinary fans complain about just five or ten seconds of delay. In other words, such a luxurious live environment has all been established.


Habu: What!? Five or ten seconds!? Oh I see, excuse my ignorance (laugh).


Umeda: It's funny that you couldn't watch any "broadcasts" of the title matches last year.


Habu: Indeed (laugh). There's no other way but put a PC next to me (laugh).


Researchers Who Analyze the Evolution Process of Shogi


Speaking of broadcast, I was very impressed when Watanabe-san chose Rapid Attack in Yagura Opening in the sixth round of Ryuoh title match. I even shouted "Eeeh!" What were you thinking about it? Were you surprised when he moved up the Silver on 6b to 5c to choose the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening?


Habu: That was totally unexpected. I had never seen him play that pattern before.


Umeda: Between 1997 and 2000, you wrote Changing Modern Shogi with the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening as the theme. And at one time, people found out that the Sente (First mover) seemed to have an advantage in the Rapid attack and less and less people started to choose it as Gote (Second mover). But it suddenly happened in the 2008 Ryuoh title match. "Alas, he chose Rapid Attack in Yagura opening here!" I was impressed that there should be some reason behind this.


Habu: I see. This is an enjoyment derived from watching with very deep knowledge.


Umeda: The direction that progress is going is in more than one way between this and the ability to play shogi.


Habu: But this is also the kind of knowledge and one of the abilities required for shogi. It is similar to that in baseball where there are some experts who are extraordinarily familiar with data-related things because they always record scores on their own. I recently saw broadcast comments something like "this move has been played x-number of **times in the past." If this could be taken one step further, then it would be much more interesting. If we knew what sort of historical significance there was behind a match, you would be able to watch the game from another perspective.


Umeda: I'm really interested in that. I find it fascinating to see the process of shogi's evolution. Namely, the way we can enjoy shogi as "a story" as we've already discussed, moreover, stories about the evolution of shogi, which are different from individual games. The joy knowing that multiple stories influence each other and are referred to in multilayered ways exists for sure.


Habu: Aaaaa! And, um, when I'm playing, it often happens that the same position can have different meanings. That is to say, people might say that this position has occurred tens of times in the past, but the truth is that the background of when the same position appeared ten years ago and that of today are completely different. They are so different but happen to be the same position.


Umeda: Those differences may include the accumulated experience during the ten years, many twists and turns, new discoveries and so forth. Whether you can pour those into the position or not makes a difference.


Habu: That's right. And I guess maybe there are positions where even professionals in the match sometimes can't understand everything.


Umeda: Even we can't understand everything, I hope these stories will help us watch a match.


Habu: Yes, I totally agree with you.


Umeda: It would be hard to tell when modern shogi began... As I wrote in the first chapter, after reading your Changing Modern Shogi, I was so impressed when I read it by the promising future of shogi that I got pulled back into the shogi world. Yes, I had this feeling! And as expected, the book has gotten lots of interest over the past ten years.


Habu: There is no denying that the whole shogi world was moving as a big wave in the direction which I explained (in Changing Modern Shogi) at that time, though I cannot specify exactly when it had started, say twenty or thirty years ago. I reckon that a person such as Mr. Kozo Masuda might probably have seen that coming already in his time. But as he was the only one person at that time, that small wave did not result in a big movement. Umm, how can I put it.. It sometimes occurs to me that what we're doing has a flavor of academics. There are times when I feel that professional shogi players are working on something like the analysis of a genome.


Umeda: Yes, yes! Shogi players certainly have some traits of a group of scientists.


Habu: It's as if we're saying "I'm through with the analysis here" (laugh).


Umeda: But new discoveries come along even though it is felt that the analysis is complete, as the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening in Ryuoh title match represented.


Habu: Yes certainly. For some strange reason, new discoveries still emerge after several years from where we predicted nothing would come from. It is not a meaningful return like "revival booms" in fashion but just naturally pops out.


Umeda: Then let me ask. Do you think that the Rapid Attack in the Yagura Opening will become popular again?


Habu: I have seen several games with it after the Ryuoh title match. But it's more like "just seeing how it goes" (laugh). They're just giving it a shot to see how the other player reacts. I can't guarantee that it's going to become very popular and do not have a feeling that it's significant. Is Gote winning half the time?


Umeda: I have great interest in the story of "the process of shogi evolution" and feel that "it won't bore me even for the rest of my life." I assume that professional shogi players, including you, must be enjoying more, but those fans who just watch are filled with happiness to have found what they can enjoy for the rest of their lives.


Habu: Yes, I can definitely sympathize with what you are saying.


Thinking About the Future of Shogi Along With Computers


Umeda: The expression "Genome analysis" fits the context very well. TANIGAWA Koji-san once said that "professional shogi players have three aspects as a player who lives in the winning-is-everything world, an artist and a scientist." I frequently talk with professional shogi players and I feel the same way.


Habu: I agree with him. Each aspect is important.


Umeda: Speaking of the shogi evolution, you wrote Changing Modern Shogi in 1997. You suggested there that it might be possible to discover new possibilities by tracing a match backward move by move. If you were to write something about the future of shogi, what would that be?

Habu: Let me see. It's becoming really difficult right now! It has often become too late and the things have often changed by the time I have finished a new book and it got published. Furthermore, if you were to write about the recent shogi such as P-7f P-3d and blocking the Bishop's diagonal line of P-6d, "and what can we do then?," you would need to write about every pattern. It's really difficult to explain modern shogi without the Yagura, the Ranging Rook, the Double Ranging Rook and so on, and broadly covering the whole subject. The trend that it's meaningless to follow only specific and limited areas is becoming prevalent.

Umeda: Does that mean that each pattern is fusing into the others?

Habu: Some are independent, but it's becoming more common that certain patterns are connected. And speaking of new moves, Kakugawari (Bishop exchange) and Itteson Kakugawari (Bishop exchange with a tempo loss) are completely the same pattern except for for the location of pawns, right? The difference is so small that I would wonder there was a printing error (laugh). But they are in two totally different worlds. In order to explain the difference, I need to separate them into two completely different worlds.

Umeda: It seems difficult for me to explain that sense of "two different worlds." Do they seem to be in completely different worlds to you?

Habu: Yes they are. Certainly different. They are definitely in different worlds. It is really difficult to explain. The instant I look at the board, I can tell instinctively which is Itteson and which is ordinary Kakugawari.


Umeda: Whether a Pawn is in the right place or not makes "two completely different worlds." How could you explain that instinct so that ordinary people can understand?

Habu: Let me see..ummm.. I can't find any good words on the spot. They are totally different types of position. Yes. With just one Pawn missing, what I can see would be so different. That then makes how to build piece formation or development that I can predict totally different.. How can I put it... I'm sorry.. I can't come up with a good explanation.

Umeda: Could that mean that professional shogi players who can tell future development at a glance of the board recognize the two shapes to be totally different.

Habu: Yes, that is right. Unless we think about that (future development), the positions seem very much alike because only one Pawn is in different positions.

Umeda: I see. By the way, is the fact that modern shogi came to be greatly intense from the beginning and the fact that computers are becoming stronger in the endgame, especially when a mate is possible, related to each other? Computer shogi is becoming stronger and stronger backwards starting from the end on one hand, and studies by human are progressing forward from the beginning. I wouldn't assume that you're going so far as to prepare to compete against computers, but as a whole, the opening is where humans are still stronger, therefore studies on those openings are being vigorously made in the modern world. Is this view superficial?

Habu: I reckon that in the foreseeable future computers will enter into the openings, too. But they haven't reached that phase at this stage yet. I'm not sure if we're studying openings because we know everything about the end game, or if there's any casual relationship between them. I don't see any reason to believe that the future of studying openings with computers is very far away.

Umeda: Then we will soon start to look up information about openings using computers?

Habu: "Okay, let's listen to what they can say. Click." (laugh)

Umeda: Does that bother you?

Habu: Umm, no, it doesn't, really. This is merely my prediction, but when it actually happens, I don't think computers are any better than humans at finding a creative move in the early part of the game. I suppose they will struggle. But computers have become essential when we require accuracy and precision.


Umeda: Openings remain limitless and there are many more choices. And it is in this quest for possibilities in openings where the profoundness of creativity of a human can manifest itself.


Habu: It might be that the fact that humans are groping in the dark represents the progress of computer shogi. There are many occasions where we can just ask computers. And if humans spend a great deal of time on the study of openings, this will feed computers and raise the level of computer shogi.


Umeda: Computers are absorbing the results of games one after another.


Habu: Yes, many possibilities. But I have had a slight feeling that no remarkable new strategy is out there anymore...since a long time ago. But new strategies still keep emerging despite this, so my predictions are always wrong. But I think now is about the time for no more discoveries...


Umeda: You mean, for example, new findings as remarkable as Itteson Kakugawari (Bishop Exchange with a tempo loss) are...


Habu: No more out there. Speaking of the past ten years, R-8e strategy, Fujii System, Itteson Kakugawari(Bishop exchange with a tempo loss) and Gokigen Nakabisha. And vanguard pawn on the edge in the case of Gote as well..


Umeda: You are feeling that that kind of unpredictable discoveries will not be found in the next ten to fifteen years?


Habu: I can hardly believe that there are still more, though these things emerge when least expected, so I'm not really sure.



The Player and the Watcher Hereafter


Umeda: Ah, time has surely flown like an arrow. I'm really pleased to have spent a tremendous amount of time on shogi in the past two or three years, especially this year.


Habu: Oh, really? I'm glad to hear that (laugh).


Umeda: I just turned forty eight in 2008 thus reaching the fifth round of twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, and "watching shogi" has come to occupy a large part of my life. As I said, watching the evolution of shogi from the macro perspective and individual matches from the micro perspective is a pure source of enjoyment as well as a catalyst for my work. I myself am not a the genome analysts but when expecting something to happen I sometimes use positions from shogi as a metaphor of the tense relationship between my clients and me. As I was allowed to speak about at the inaugural ceremony of Oza the other day that your ideas are the essence of the information revolution and I use shogi as a catalyst to think about society and that shogi has come to occupy a great presence for me.


Habu: Did it? But.. may I ask you what you are planning to do this year? I'd like to hear your plans for this year (laugh)


Umeda: Eh!? (being at a loss for words for a while). Come on, I will keep doing the same things this year! At least I'm planning to write a real-time commentary for the Kisei title match. To begin with, I will head for Nanki Shirahama for the second round of the Osho title match next week.


Habu: I see. The year 2009 starts with the Osho title match for you.


Umeda: But...it's hard to say..There's some truth in it that in 2008 it was because you kept winning the title qualifiers throughout the year that I was driven to go to the title matches! It was not like I was determined from the beginning that I would write a Kisei title match commentary. I was thinking I would do so "only if the match between you and Sato-san came to be." Since then you haven't lost even one match since we last met in January, 2008, and you became the challenger. That forced me to mentally prepare because the match now became very probable and I would need to write commentary. (laugh)


Habu: Certainly. Especially because you need to arrange a flight from San Francisco (laugh).


Umeda: I would have gone to Toyota-city for the Oui title match to see Fukaura-san as the Oui even had the challenger had not been you. But you became the challenger after all, so we had a chance to meet up. The most time and money.... was for the Ryuoh title match. "The round ticket for Paris and a one week of vacation." I wouldn't have gone had it not been for you. So I'd like to answer your question "what am I planning to do this year" by saying "it's up to you" (laugh).


Habu: Yes, that is true. I understand (laugh).


Umeda: To be honest, I am starting to feel a little ambivalent if you keep winning. Writing something about shogi was sort of "the last sanctuary" for "enjoyment after retirement" for me two years ago. Then I made up mind to go see the game if you were the challenger on that chance. But as you continued your winning streak and the possibility of me really having to write commentary increased, it became necessary for me to spend a tremendous amount of energy to prepare. Of course I would never wish for defeat, but I watched your shogi with anticipation and surprise throughout the year. Especially in the qualifying tournament of the Ryuoh title match, you kept making comebacks at the last moment. The live comments said something like "It would be not possible for Habu-san to reverse the match from this position." Although I was rooting for you, I was at the same time to some extent relieved, thinking "Phew, I don't need to go." But at the end, it was like "Oh, he has won! This sort of life still continues..." (laugh)


Habu: This is exactly what professional shogi player's lives are like. If you win the challenger deciding match, your calendar for the coming two months will instantly be filled and if you lose it, your calendar is going to become totally empty, nothing will be written there. What you just said about preparing is.. Umeda-san...You have been following the exact life of a professional shogi player.


Umeda: I see. Following the life of a professional shogi player.


Habu: Indeed, if you were to enjoy the real fun of shogi, it might be important to link this to this reality. Your life is completely dependant on shogi (laugh).


Umeda: "My life completely changes depending on who wins." It's going like this again and again (laugh). And since it happened one time after another, I ended up writing this book. Compared to this kind of experience, gambles which take money are nothing more than a pastime. Your shogi unexpectedly changed my life per se completely. The year 2008 was definitely my best year! And I hope 2009 to be the same.


(Recorded at Ginza, January 23, 2009)




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takuya514 said

at 2:05 am on May 9, 2009



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