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Servers | KGS | An interview with Jean Fortin, the European Shogi Champion


2011-11-12 Expert: DanielTom Rate: (4.7)  10 ratings

An interview with Jean Fortin, the European Shogi Champion

First of all, congratulations on your recent success in the last European Shogi Championship! I heard that the deciding match (you against Mirnik Boris, from Germany) was really tough. What was your impression? 

    Thank you. In the final game, my opponent decided to open the position and attack quickly, but neglected a bit his castle (defensive formation) in the process, which was what allowed me to win the game in the end.


Could you please introduce Shogi to our readers who are not yet familiar with it? I heard that the two main differences between Shogi and Chess are the 'drop' rule and the tempo (it seems that Shogi is like a race over checkmate!). Is that description correct? 

    Shogi is an old game. Like the Western Chess, it comes from the Chaturanga. As you said, the main difference with Chess is the drop rule, which allows the return of captured pieces to the board, to use them as one's own. This rule makes the endgame very different from Chess, since the number of pieces never decreases. The attacks will become almost impossible to stop, and at the end it is a race to mate the other king. This makes the game very dynamic and exciting.


Is it true that Japan is the best Shogi country in the world? 

    Definitely. In Japan, Shogi is more popular than Go or Chess. Like in Go, there is a very developed professional association. Professional players compete in major titles, the most prestigious one being the Meijin.


Do you have a Shogi trainer or you study Shogi by yourself? 

    I study by myself, by playing on the Internet, watching high level games, and reading books.


It is said that to be a champion it takes desire, dedication, determination, concentration and the will to win. What do you believe to be the most important factor of them all? And is there a secret ingredient? 

    I think the most important one is dedication. To become a champion, one needs to train, to play again and again, to reach the necessary level to fulfill one's dreams.


    Just so we understand where you are coming from, please tell us, if you can, where your passion for board games comes from. When were you introduced to them? 

    I have always liked board games. I started learning chess when I was a child: I used to play with my dad. From elementary school, I started going to a chess club and participating in tournaments.


When did you decide to get serious about Shogi? 

    I started playing Shogi one day on an impulse - not really sure what I was getting into - after reading about it in the manga Hikaru no Go. The Kanji (Chinese characters) on the pieces were intimidating at first, but I really liked the dynamism of the game, and very soon I started playing a lot on the Internet.


There are some countries in which chess is compulsory in schools. What do you think about that? Do you believe that it would be beneficial to introduce a board game as a mandatory school subject? 

    I don't think a board game should be a mandatory subject. I know people who were forced to practice a game (by their family) in their childhood, it doesn't leave them with a good feeling about the game. However, I think it's good to have an introduction to a game in class, and clubs to go further.


What are your plans and expectations for the future? And how does it feel to be the European Shogi Champion for the third time in a row? :) 

    I'm very happy to have won for the third time. In the future, I hope to be able to visit Japan and the world of Shogi there, and maybe take part in some tournament.


    What do you like doing besides playing board games? 

    Besides playing board games, I enjoy music (listening, and playing the guitar), reading, and many other things.


Other questions: 

    Jokep (AT): 1) I often hear that Shogi is easier that Go ... can you comment on that? 

    The rules of Go are very easy, but it's hard for a beginner to understand what the game is about, without the help of an experienced player to show the basic ideas. On the other hand, learning the rules of Shogi is a bit more complicated, since you need to learn the pieces and their movements, while the idea of the game is simple - take the king of your opponent. But I think that after the beginner stage, both games are very deep, very complex, and very interesting.

    2) Also, I once read (in a text by Oskar Korschelt about Go) that it's not possible to plan ahead in Shogi as well as in Chess because of the possibility to use captured pieces as your own. What do you think about this? 

    It is a bit more difficult to plan ahead because you have to take into account all the possible drops, but it is not impossible, far from it. For instance, experienced Shogi players will often train by solving 'tsume' problems that can be more than 20 moves long.

    3) What would you recommend to a Go player who wants to learn Chess? 

    I don't really know how to answer this, because I experienced the opposite, learning Go after playing chess.


FoUw (FR): 1) Don't you get confused, playing 3 (or more) different board type games? 

    The games are different, so there is no real confusion between them. The chess and Shogi pieces look very different, and Go is a totally different game.

    2) Is it easier to play other board games when you are already used to one? What kind of advantages do you get? 

    Chess, Go, and Shogi all feature a similar thought process to choose the best move. For a candidate move, you imagine the best answer of your opponent, then your best answer, try to evaluate the position, etc. So having already practiced one game will usually help learning other games. In addition, some concepts come back from one game to the other. The concept of 'keeping the initiative' in Go can help in Shogi, for instance.

    3) How big is the Shogi community (worldwide, in Europe, in France), do you think it can grow up fast in Europe? 

    Shogi is very developed in Japan, but it is not played a lot in the rest of the world. Big Shogi tournaments in Europe have about 100 players, which is much less than Go or Chess tournaments. Recently, the number of clubs in France have greatly increased thanks to some very active players. But it remains very minor compared to Go or Chess.

    4)    Is there any server to play Shogi for Europeans ? is a user-friendly server for European players. It is translated in several languages, and you can choose if you prefer to learn with Westernized (with symbols) pieces or the traditional Kanji pieces. It is developed by Hidetchi, a Japanese player who also made a very interesting series of videos on youtube to learn Shogi (in English): 

    5) What is your favorite board game? 

    I like all board games, but nowadays I probably tend to prefer Shogi and Go over Chess.


Nohei: In your opinion, what is the deepest game in term of sensations / impressions and involvement? And, maybe, in the relation with the opponent and the pawns / stones? 

    I don't think there is a 'deepest game'. Chess, Go, and Shogi are all three very deep games.


    noth1ng: 1) Why Shogi is not included among 5 world mind games along with Go, Chess, checkers, bridge and xiangqi? 

    Go, Chess, checkers, bridge are very international games. Shogi is mostly played in Japan. But it was included in some other international mind games events.

    2) What is computer level in Shogi?  

    The only match between a computer and a professional player saw the victory of the Human player. But computers are improving very fast.


Breakfast: 1) Japanese Shogi pros are not allowed (by Shogi Federation) to challenge computer Shogi programs on public (to keep the face). Is it a good idea to accept the same rule in Go and chess? 

    In chess, computers have already proven that they are as strong, or stronger, than the best human players. The same is probably inevitable in Shogi and Go in the future. I don't think that forbidding professionals to play against computers will change that.

    2) What was the biggest cash prize you got in European Shogi tournament? 

    In Europe, Shogi is played purely at an amateur level, and most tournaments (including the European Championship) don't offer any cash prizes.

    3) Is it possible for you to live only by playing Shogi tournaments and teaching Shogi, or is it necessary to find other source of income? 

    I do not think it is possible to live from Shogi in Europe.

    4) What is the difference in level between you and top Japanese Shogi pros? 

    I recently played a game against a top Japanese pro, Yoshiharu Habu, at rook handicap, and lost. The difference in level is still very big.


WinPooh (RU): 1) Who is your favorite Chess player 1) in the past 2) among modern GMs? The same questions for Go and Shogi.

    I like a lot of players, I can't really choose favorites. One thing I can say is that I like to see chaotic and risky games, rather than slow positional play.

    2) Do Shogi players use computer programs (both playing modules and databases) for training and preparations? 

    Yes, databases are available and widely used.


    Aokame: 1) When did you started with Shogi and why did you stick mostly (I guess) to it? 

    I started playing Shogi about 4 years ago. The game captivated me with its very dynamic tactics, and to understand more about it and improve fast I have been playing mostly Shogi since then.

    2) Are Go and Chess helping you to improve your Shogi reading? If yes, how much? 

    Yes, Go and Chess both help me in Shogi. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the techniques and concepts in Go and Chess can be useful in Shogi. The opposite is also true, I know at least one player that has improved greatly in Chess after learning Shogi.

    3) Can you briefly explain us joseki in Shogi? Where are the differences and are any trick plays involved? 

    Joseki in Shogi is a bit different from Joseki in Go, because it is a whole board sequence rather than local sequences. It is more similar to the study of openings in chess. Like in Go and chess, there are some trick plays. Joseki are also constantly evolving, and some new moves are played every year.

   4) How strong is the European Shogi level compared to Asia? 

   European Shogi level is very far from the professional level of Japan. At the amateur level, the difference is not as big, but I think the strongest amateurs in Japan are still above the western players.

    5) If I ever start, which Shogi professional shouldn't I definitely miss? (present and past) 

    Yoshiharu Habu is the one that comes to mind first. His playing style is very creative, very exciting, and he is the only player that held the 7 major titles at the same time.

    6) Any advice in improving in the game of our choice? 

    Keep playing, and enjoy your games!


1d 2011-11-15 12:11
" The same is probably inevitable in Shogi and Go in the future."
Maybe in shogi computer is already as strong as a top professional. But in Go as long as I know it's only around 5d KGS level. I don't believe that in my lifetime there will be a computer able to defeat top pro.
( PT ) 2011-11-14 05:11
@PeterCook: Besides playing Shogi (and Chess) Jean also plays Go. We already said that he plays on KGS as 'racine'. As we have previously explained, we thought that it would be of interest to the Go Community to get the insight of the best European Shogi player on other board games.
PS: You may find that most articles in the KGS section are not about KGS itself; but of course they have to be related to KGS (as is the case here)
4d ( US ) 2011-11-14 05:11
What the heck does this have to do with KGS? LOL !
2011-11-14 02:11
Just a small remark. The Japanese shogi association did not prohibit players from challenging computer shogi programs, but took this process under its control in order not to lose the economic benefits. There are fees for the participation of one or another pro player in such event. Since "the ban" imposed in 2005, several human vs computer fights have already taken place. The next event will be held in January 2012, the computer will challenge the head of the association 67-year-old ex-Meijin Kunio Yonenaga. This match will cost organizers ??10 million (considered to be relatively low-priced).
( FR ) 2011-11-13 07:11
Additonal info for the readers: For 2 weeks, Jean has also won the 5th International Shogi Forum tournament that is somehow recognized to be the amateur shogi world championship...
5D ( CA ) 2011-11-12 08:11
Nice interview! Thank you :-)
( PT ) 2011-11-12 07:11
For the record, the delay was my fault, and I apologize.
I should also explain that some (very few) questions were not included in order to avoid redundant responses.
We want to thank Mr. Jean Fortin for the time and effort he has put in for the interview. We hope you enjoy it!
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