Lately, I’ve been regularly playing Shogi with a Japanese co-worker. My skills are rusty because I haven’t played in years, but lately I’ve been researching strategy on Japanese websites. Previously I had to use English-resources but they are very limited. They explain some basic strategy, but often lack detail.
So I wanted to share more information about castles in Shogi. I wrote a much older post, but the details were limited. This post supersedes that one. :)
Castles (gakoi 囲い) in Shogi serve two purposes:
- They protect your king by moving him away from the center.
- They line up other pieces for a concerted attack.
So, when you decide what castle to make (if any), you should consider both. Which will protect your king the best? Which one will move the pieces in the best position in relation to where the opponents king is? Many attacks in Shogi involve a coordinated attack using your rook (飛車, hisha), so it’s helpful to line up your rook someplace it can threaten the enemy king somehow. That way, it can protect other, weaker pieces that advance first.
The are two “regions” to put your rook:
- Ibisha (居飛車), which means it stays in its original position, on the right-side of the board.
- Furibisha (振り飛車), which means it crosses over to the left side of the board.
You can see more diagrams on this Japanese website (scroll toward the bottom).
There are 4 castles typically:
- Mino Gakoi (美濃囲い) – A relatively quick castle to assemble, plus it lines up your rook on the left side of the board (furibisha). This one is popular and often mentioned in English-language texts.
- Yagura Gakoi (矢倉囲い) – A large complex castle that is popular in Shogi. It also has many variations, and is complex to setup. This one takes practice. It is an ibisha castle.
- Funa Gakoi (舟囲い) – A smaller, quick castle. Easy to setup, but not as difficult to break through. Like the Mino Gakoi, this might be a good beginner’s castle though. This is an ibisha castle.
- Anaguma Gakoi (穴熊囲い) – This castle can be setup on either side, and is thus flexible. The catch is that this castle takes a lot of work to setup, but buries your king way in the corner and is thus difficult to break through.
However, each castle often has slightly “alternate” forms, which you should use depending on your situation. For this post though, we’ll focus on just the standard forms.
This is my personal favorite. It doesn’t take long to setup, but provides enough defense to keep most players safe. If you see your opponent moving his king to the left (your left, his right), consider using this castle to shift your rook (飛車) somewhere you can threaten him, while moving your own king further away.
The setup I use is:
- Move the rook (飛車) all the way over to the 4th column from the left.
- Move the king (王・玉) up-and-right, then two more moves to the right. It will sit where the rook used to be.
- Move the right silver-general (銀将) up a square.
- Move the left gold-general (金将) up-and-right.
The Yagura Gakoi, as stated above, is a stronger, more robust castle. If I’m playing an aggressive enemy, I’ve found this castle can take too long to setup, unless you do it in careful pieces (move a few pieces, attack, move some more). If your opponent is being defensive though, then you may want to use that chance to set this castle up. Here’s one suggested method I’ve used in the past:
- Move the 3rd column (from the left) pawn up first. This is the traditional bishop opening anyways.
- Move the left gold-general up-and-left, defending the bishop.
- Move the left silver-general up-and-right.
- Now move the 4th column pawn up.
- Move the left silver-general up-and-left, so it sits above the gold.
- Now move the bishop down-and-right, so it sits under the gold.
- Now move the 5th column pawn up. Your bishop now covers a nice diagonal across the middle of the board.
- Move the bishop up-and-right on square so it sits right of the gold-general.
- Now spend two moves moving the right gold general up-and-left so it sits above the bishop.
- Now spend three moves moving the king to the left where the bishop had started out.
The fune gakoi is another castle I like to use, especially if the opponent moves their king to the right (your right, their left). In such a case, the Mino Gakoi might not be sensible, so instead, I set this castle up.
The moves are fairly straightforward. Here’s one suggested approach:
- Move the king up-left and then left once more (2 moves).
- Move the right gold-general (金将) up and left (1 move).
- From the left, move the pawns in columns 1, 3 and 5 up one space. The jagged line will help discourage certain drops that could break your castle easily particular with knights.
Another alternative form I’ve seen is to also move the silver-general (銀将) up and right, then up one more. The pawn there has to move up as well to avoid blocking it. But once done this creates a strong deterrent for attacks to the right because the gold-general is double-protected.
The “badger hole” castle is kind of an odd one. You can make it on either side, and it costs a lot of moves to make, but if you succeed, it is pretty hard to break through. I played one player and had to keep throwing pieces at until eventually I could break through. It was pretty time-consuming. Your mileage may vary of course. :)
Since there are multiple ways to make this castle, I will focus just on general steps:
- If making the castle to the right, first move your rook (飛車) over to the left side of the board. In other words, you’re playing furbish as mentioned above. If you make the castle on the left-side, move the 3rd column pawn up one space, and then put the bishop (kakugyō 角行) in its old spot. If you fail to remember this, you’re king will get tangled up and vulnerable.
- On the side you’re making the castle, move the lancer (kyōha 香車) up one space. This is really important as it lets the king hide in the deep corner of the board.
- Now move your king to that corner as soon as possible. This will cost several moves, so don’t do this unless your enemy is really defensive. Or, do it in pieces while still trying to push an attack on the other side.
- Next, move the closest silver-general (銀将) up and left (or up and right) to cover the king.
- To the left of the silver-general (or right), move both gold-generals to form a secondary wall, one directly above the other. Your other silver-general should be free for an attack on your opponent.
These guidelines are only suggestions. There are many variations to each castle, and as you use them, you learn to apply variations as your situation dictates. My own personal advice is to not always rely on one castle. Get to know their strengths and weakness and see what your opponent is doing, then decide what’s best for you.
Shogi is a game that favors aggressive (though smart) players, so always remember to keep pushing an attack even while building up defenses. Otherwise, even the best castle will be besieged and destroyed.
P.S. For non-shoji readers, I’ll post other stuff this week. :)