The 6th Ryu-O tournament

For every European Shogi player who not only considers the game as a nice way to kill time, playing in the amateur Ryu-O tournament is the highest goal that can be reached. For those who know me, it will not come as a surprise that I have been preparing for the amateur Ryu-O tournament since my disappointing result in Frankfurt in 1990, where qualification for the Ryu-O tournament of 1991 could be achieved. This was not because of the free trip to Japan (although this was nice), but mainly to show the Japanese Shogi players that it is possible to play Shogi at a high level outside of Japan.

Therefore, when I qualified for the Ryu-O tournament by winning the tournament that was played in London last year (just before the first game of the "real" Ryu-O tournament), it was only half of the task that I set myself. I wanted to win at least one game in the tournament itself, since none of the previous European players (Lamb and Murphy) had been able to do that. Secretly, I even hoped to be in the tournament on Sunday and I went to great lengths to do so: apart from numerous hours of study (including the first week I was in Japan), I also bought a special prayer-board they sell at the temples hoping to please the gods.

Before the start of the tournament, there was another ordeal that I had to survive, the Friday night reception. I managed to get through the mandatory speech, thanks to Mr. Onogi of the Shogi Renmei, who translated my speech into very polite Japanese. There were several speeches that night, including those of several participants, who were less lucky than I was and had to speak without any preparation at all. There was a big buffet and after that most players went to their room early, at another part of the same building (Nakano Plaza, Tokyo). The playing hall was also at the same location.

After a good night's rest (surprisingly so, because the moment I waited for for almost three years, had finally come), the first round would start: Nakano plaza, 19 June 1993, 9:30. The tournament rules were strict and simple. All participants (about 60) are randomly put in groups of four. In every group number 1 plays again number 2 and number 3 against number 4. In the second round the winners and the losers of round one play each other. If you win both games, you are throught to the knock-out final of about 30 players. If you lose two games, you are out of the tournament and you can go home. This is very strict, you have to check out of your hotel and if you want to stay for the rest of the tournament you have to pay for yourself (unless you are the European representative). The players who have one win and one loss play against the players in another group who are in the same situation. The winners of these two decisive games are through, the others are out. After that, one game of the knock- out is played, the other four knock-out rounds are on Sunday. The available time for every game is 45 minutes per player without byoyomi. For the Sunday games, 40 seconds byoyomi is added. Beforehand, I didn't consider that to be a problem, since most of my games in European tournaments are finished within 45 minutes anyway.

I couldn't complain about my group. There was only one really strong player, Suzuki, who dropped out of the Shoreikai after reaching 3-dan. The other two players were from small prefectures and I saw some chances to beat them. My first opponent was Ogawa Atsushi, who came a few minutes late, thereby giving me hope that I could reach my goal without a fight. But he arrived anyway, so I had to play for it. This is what happened....

Black: Ogawa Atsushi
White: Reijer Grimbergen
6th Amateur Ryu-O Tournament, 1st round
Nakano Plaza, Tokyo, 19 June 1993
Time: 45 minutes per player

1.P7f P8d 2.S6h P3d 3.S7g

Yagura. Actually, everything was going my way. An opponent
against whom I had chances to win is playing an opening that I
understand quite well. It was a pity, though, that I spent
most of the hours before the tournament in trying to improve
my play against Furibisha (Ranging Rook).

3... S6b 4.P2f

No hisaki-fuzuki yagura ("not-playing-the-pawn-in-front-of-the-
rook-yagura"), an opening which is very popular among

4... S4b 5.S4h G3b 6.P5f P5d 7.G4i-5h K4a 8.P6f P7d 9.G6g G5b
10.B7i S3c?!

Still a little nervous? This move is not good, because black
can win a move by playing a quick castle. Correct is 10... P9d
and if black plays the same plan 11.K6h P6d 12.K7h S6c 13.K8h
N7c 14.G7h white can attack strongly with 14... N8e 15.S8f P5e
(immediately 15... P6e then 16.B4f and white has some
problems) 16.Px5e P6e 18.Px6e?! S5d!. Professionals will only
play the king to 8h if the white bishop has been moved from

11.K6h B3a 12.K7h P4d 13.K8h P9d 14.G7h P9e 15.P3f B6d 16.N3g

The Morishita-system, a system that seems to go against all
logic of modern opening play. Black chooses a certain position
early, thereby giving his opponent the chance to take
countermeasures. Even so, the Morishita system is very popular
among professionals and it seems no better or worse than
classic Yagura systems.
     An alternative would have been 16.S3g, which changes the
position completely. The other possibility 16.B4f is not so
attractive, since with that, black gives up the move he has

16... K3a 17.R3h G5b-4c 18.P1f P1d

Consequent. The classical Yagura position S4f-N3g-R3h-P3f-P2f-
P1f followed by the strong attack N2e-Nx1c+ is bot possible


A different (and better) plan is P4f-S4g. Professionals do not
play the plan S5g-S4f anymore.

19... K2b 20.S4f S2d 21.B6h?!

Strange. Black returns the tempo he has won. Apparently he
doesn't know this variation well and doesn't know how to
continue. This is not surprising, as we can see from the
following variation from an article in Shukan Shogi: 21.L1h
P8e 22.N2e P4e 25.Sx4e B1i+ 26.B4f +Bx4f 27.Px4f B'5i 28.P5e
Bx2f+ 29.Px5d Sx5d 30.Sx5d Gx5d 31.S'4e P'5c and because of
the strong horse it is very difficult for black to continue
his attack.
     Of course, 21.B6h is not a bad move. After all, the real
fight hasn't even started yet.

21... S5c 22.R5h!?

Out of book. According to my knowledge, this move is new
in this position. It is not without danger, because black
threatens 23.P5e Px5e 24.Sx5e B7c 25.P'5d S4b 26.P4f
followed by 27.P4e which would give him a big advantage.

22... B7c?!

Looks a bit weak, because it give black a pawn in hand
without a fight. However, after 22... P4e 23.Nx4e S4d
24.L1h I saw no continuation. Black threatens 26.P6e B7c
27.P7e so it seems I must play 27... P8e. But after
26.P6e B7c 27.S6f followed by B7g, I didn't trust white's
     I decided to use the moves I get from the pawn
exchange to strengthen my own position and wait for the
chances that will come.

23.P5e Px5e 24.Sx5e P'5d 25.S4f P8e 26.L1h B8d 27.R3h P6d

Black has a pawn in hand, but white's pieces are almost
ideally placed for a counter attack. The preliminaries are
over, the game is about to start.


Dubious, as will be clear from the next moves. The natural
attack is of course first 28.N2e, but with the lance on 1h I
can imagine black fearing the variation 28... P6e 29.Px6e Sx2e
30.Px2e N'2f 31.R2h Nx1h+ 32.Rx1h B3i+. Black has many pieces
in hand, but his pieces are not working very well.
     Only after studying this game, I started to
understand why professionals prefer the formation P4f-S4g. It seems
that black's attack is very difficult in the P4g-S4f formation.

28... Sx3e 29.Sx3e Px3e 30.Bx3e S'2g!

The problem. All black's pieces on the right hand
side of the board are vulnerable. With the silver
drop, the white counter attack is starting.

31.R3i P'3h

I still think this is best, although 31... Sx1h=
followed by 32... S2g+ looks good too.

32.R2i S3f+ 33.B4f?!

Confusing move. Black hopes to build up a new attacking
formation after 33... +Sx4f 34.Px4f followed by 35.P4e.
     However, white can also attack strongly with 34... P6e
(35.Px6e P3i+). I didn't trust the white position
without pawns in hand and decided to take pawn and
knight, which looks more save. I also win a move in
comparison to the variation where black plays 33.B7i
right away.

33... +Sx4g 34.B7i +Sx3g 35.P2e +S3f?

A crucial point in the game and played after several
minutes of thought. I chose this move because I thought
that 35... P6e rightaway would be dangerous after
36.B4f and that 35... N'5e would be met with 36. G5f,
threatening 37.Gx5e Px5e 38.P2d Px2d 39.P'2c Gx2c
40.N'3e. 35... +S3f defends against both B4f and N'3e.
     After the game Toshiaki Tanigawa explained that in
the last variation white can safely play 39... K3a or even
39... K1b. However, it seems to me that white has lost some of
his advantage in this variation.
     The really important thing I missed was that even after
35... P6e 36.B4f I can play 36... N'5e!. After 37.Bx3g R6b!
(37... Nx6g+ 38.Bx8b+ +Nx7h 39.Kx7h Px6f 40.P'6h seems a bit
too much) black is in big trouble and also after 37.G5g +S3f
38.B7i R6b white is clearly better.


An evil drop. 36... Rx5b is not possible because of 37.S'6c
folowed by 38.Sx7d+.

36... P6e 37.P2d Px2d 38.P'3g Px6f?

Here 38... +Sx3g 39.B4f N'5e is again the variation that
should be played. Because black has no pawns, this is even
stronger that the variation above and white can even
choose 40.Bx3g Nx6g+ 41.Bx8b+ (41.Gx6g Px6f 42.Sx6f R6b)
+Nx7h 42.Kx7h Px6f.

39.Gx6f P'6e 40.Gx6e P3i+ 41.R2h

Subtle play. 41.Rx2d P'2c only helps white.

41... +Sx3g 42.B4f! B7c

Better than 42... +Sx2h 43.Bx8b+ B5g+ 44.S'6h and
black's castle is much stronger than that of white.

43.S'6d Sx6d 44.Gx6d +Sx2h 45.Gx7c Nx7c?

Only after this move it is white, who must fight for his
life. With 45... N'8f! white still would have had good
chances to win. For example:
     a) 46.G7i R'4h or even 46... P9f
     b) 46.G6h P'6g
     c) 46.Sx8f Px8f 47.Gx8b Px8g+ with a strong attack.
     d) 46.Px8f Px8f 47.Gx8b R'4h (threatens mate) 48.N'7i
Rx4f+, also with a strong attack.

46.Bx7c+ P8f?

The decisive mistake. Even though the bishop is not on 4f
anymore, N'8f is still the best attack. It should be said that
black's attack with P'2c-N'3e is also very strong. The pawn on
5b makes an escape to 3a impossible.

47.+Bx8b Px8g+ 48.Kx8g P'8f 49.Sx8f S'6i 50.G8h R'3h 51.P'6h!

The white attack didn't look that bad, but with this natural
defensive move, black easily turns the tables.

51... Rx6h+ 52.S'7g +R7i?

Quickens the end, because I am overlooking black's 54th move.
After +R3h I can still hope for a miracle.

53.P'2c K3c 54.B'4f!

End of game. The other moves are only in the hope to win on
time. Even though some strange things happen in the next
couple of moves, the black win is inevitable.

54.... G'7h 55.Bx7i Gx7i 56.R'6h N'5f 57.R'3f B'3d 58.R6c+
S7h= 59.Gx7h Gx7h 60.Kx7h G'2e 61.R4f N6h+ 62.Kx6h Bx8i+
63.S'7h P'6g 64.+Rx6g N'5e 65.+Bx5e +Bx7h 66.Kx7h Px5e 67.K8g
B'4e 68.Rx4e Px4e 69.P'4d Kx4d 70.B'7a K3c 71.P'4d G4c-4b
72.G'4c G4bx4c 73.Px4c+ Gx4c 74.P'4d R'8i 75.G'8h Rx9i+

And with only a few seconds left, I resign.

This was quite a painful defeat, after getting an advantageous position in the early middle game. However, after only a few minutes to stomach the disappointment, my next opponent waited: Narita Kouya. From the game, which was clearly worse than the previous one, it can be concluded that I failed to forget the first round and play my best in this one.

Black: Narita Kouya
White: Reijer Grimbergen
6th Amateur Ryu-O Tournament, 2nd round
Nakano Plaza, Tokyo, 19 June 1993
Time: 45 minutes per person

1.P7f P8d 2.S6h P3d 3.P6f S6b 4.P5f P5d 5.S4h S4b 6.G4i-5h G3b
7.G6g K4a 8.G7h G5b 9.K6i S3c 10.S7g P4d 11.B7i B3a 12.P3f P7d
13.S3g B6d 14.B6h G5b-4c 15.K7i K3a 16.K8h P8e 17.P2f K2b
18.P2e S5c 19.B4f P9d 20.P9f L9c?!

I think this is not so good. Because the bishops will be
exchanged sooner or later, white will not be able to play R9b,
since this would be answered by B'8c. Furthermore, this move
creates a weakness on 9a, which can later be used for a bishop
     In the opening, black gave me the initiative by losing a
move with B6h-B4f. This might not be very professional, but
from a psychological point of view this is a clever strategy.
In hindsight, I think I should have left it to black to think
out a cunning plan and that I should have played 20... Bx4f
21.Sx4f S6d. From this symmetrical position I can decide at
every move to follow blacks moves or not.
     Of course, it is the waste of a move...

21.P1f P1d 22.Bx6d Sx6d 23.S4f

At this point, Marc Theeuwen (who kept the gamescore for
me) wrote a '=' behind the move to indicate that he felt
the position was equal at this point. I do not completely
agree, since the lance on 9c must be seen as a weakness.

23... P7e

I think this is the only possible continuation, but I
have no idea about the follow-up.

24.Px7e Sx7e

The alternative is 24... B'6i, but this is far from
clear-cut, as can be judged from the comments at white's
27th move.

25.P'7f S8d

I am planning to play an edge-attack, although black has
several possible counters with a bishop drop. However, I do
not have to worry about black's answers to my attack, because
he decides to attack first.

26.P3e Px3e 27.B'4a B'7c?

The first difficult decision and also the first big
mistake. We both had spent a lot of time on the previous
moves, and this was played a little hastily. I feared the
variations after 27... R6b 28.Sx3e and now:
     a) 28... G3b-4b 29.P2d etc.
     b) 28... G4c-4b 29.P'3d Gx4a 30.Px3c+ Gx3c 31.P'3d
G3b 32.P2d Px2d 33.Sx2d P'2c 34.Sx2c+! Gx2c 35.P'2d G1c
(35... Gx2d 36.Rx2d P'2c 37.S'3c Nx3c 38.Px3c+ Kx3c
39.G'3d) 36.S'2c K3a 37.P3c+ Nx3c 38.S3d+! and white is in
big trouble.
     c) 28... P'3d 29.P2d Sx2d 30.Sx2d Px2d 31.S'5a and
black has a big advantage. However, I overlooked that in
the last variation can play 29... Px2d 30.Sx2d Sx2d
31.Rx2d P'2c 32.R2h S'5b!. After 33.Bx5b+ Rx5h 34.S'4a R4b
35.Sx3b+ Kx3b black can not continue his attack. There
might be a leak in the above variations, but I should have
played it anyhow and let my opponent figure it all out.
In the game black gets a big advantage without a fight.

28.Bx6c+ P4e

With this I exchange the promoted bishop (on 29.S3g it
follows 29... P3f) but the price is too high. All my
attacking pieces are at the wrong squares.

29.+Bx7c Nx7c 30.Sx4e P8f 31.Sx8f P'6e!

Shoobute ("win-or-lose- move"). The attack is good,
but probably not enough.

32.B'7a R8a 33.Bx3e+ Px6f 34.Gx6f P'3d?

The decisive mistake. My last chance is 34... B'3i 35.R6h
S8e and my attacking pieces come to life. I feared 36.Sx8e
Nx8e 37.S'4h. After 37... B2h+ black can play the strong
attack 38.P'3d S4b 39.P2d Px2d 40.P'2c (Kx2c/Gx2c 41.P'2e; K3a
41.S4d). Even so, with P'7g white's attacking chances are much
better than in the game.
     Note that white cannot play the save defending move
P'3d at any point: after 35.R6h P'3d 36.P'3d +B4f white
can not play S8e anymore, after 36.Sx8e +B4f 37.Nx8e
S'4h or 37.S'4h P'3d 38.+B4f white loses the bishop.

35.+B5g S8e 36.Sx8e Nx8e 37.S'8f!

Strong defence. Black wins.

37... P9e 38.Px9e P'9f 39.Lx9f B'6d 40.P4f S'9g

Every danplayer sees immediately that I sacrifice
way too much material to get near the king. Unfortunately,
I have no alternative. My only chance is to win on time and
for that I have to create problems for my opponent. By
the way, this was much more realistic in this game than in the previous one,
since black had less than 10 minutes to finish the game. However, he
doesn't give me a chance and when I am mated, he still has
about two minutes left.

41.Nx9g Nx9g+ 42.Sx9g Bx9g+ 43.Kx9g N'8e 44.K8h Lx9e 45.Lx9e
S'9g 46.K7i P'7g 47.G6h S9h= 48.P8f S8g+ 49.L'8i N9g+ 50.B'7e
G4d 51.S3f R5a 52.Lx8g +Nx8g 53.N'9i L'7h 54.K6i +N8h 55.P4e
G4d-4c 56.Gx7g L7i+ 57.K6h +L8i 58.N3g +Lx9i 59.P1e Px1e
60.P'1c Lx1c 61.P'1d Lx1d 62.P2d Sx2d 63.S'2e P'7d 64.B8d R6a
65.P'6b R8a 66.B7c+ P'8e 67.Sx2d Px2d 68.P'2c Gx2c 69.P'2e
Px2e 70.P'2d G2c-3c 71.Nx2e Px8f 72.Nx3c+ Gx3c 73.S'2c K3a
74.+B6d P'4b 75.S'3b Gx3b 76.Sx3b+ Kx3b 77.P2c+ K4a 78.G'3b
K5b 79.G'5c    1-0

And with that the dream was over. I had no choice but to stand at the side-line and watch the playing hall get emptier and emptier until there were only four players left. The tournament was won by Kikuta from Kyoto, who already won the amateur Meijin and amateur Osho title once. He beat Yamamoto, a player I hoped to play against, since he was graded only 3- dan(!) in the booklet I received before the tournament.

A lot went wrong in the games I saw and this knowledge, together with the games I played, give me reason to believe that a win for a European player is only a matter of time. Although we can not expect to win the amateur Ryu-O for a long time, I am convinced that before the end of the century the first win will be scored. Provided of course, that Yomiuri continues this experiment.