So we see, the victorious person creates the conditions for certain victory and then does battle with the enemy.
–Sun-Zi, “Art of War”
In Shogi, or Japanese Chess, the opening of the game is seemingly simple, but quickly opens into a wide variety of possibilities. Though I am only a beginner, and do not compete, here’s some advice on how to take advantage of the opening game.
There are really only two legitimate ways to begin. You can move other ways of course, but you are almost guaranteed to put yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t use one of the standard openings. I’ve seen people try to be sneaky with non-standard openings, and they just get crushed.
The more aggressive opening is the rook-opening:
This opening straightaway begins with moving the pawn above the rook. The idea is that by doing this, you can move the silver-general (seen on the bottom-left of the picture), and possibly the knight, for a combo attack. If your opponent doesn’t put up a good defense, the silver, knight, and pawn backed up by the rook will break through and leave a gaping hole on the other side. Remember too that pieces promote if they reach the third-to-last line, so getting some promoted pieces there would be good.
However, a player whose more experience will know how to defend against this. The opponent can move his nearest gold-general beside the bishop, then move up the silver for further defense. Things can get messy also if you don’t have the right rhythm, giving your opponent more time to defend against your attack.
Japanese professional players have tons of variations on the rook-opening. It’s very popular and you can spend a life-time learning all the permutations that go into it. Personally, I am not good with the rook-opening, so I prefer the other opening: the bishop-opening:
The bishop opening involves moving the 3rd file pawn up, allowing a diagonal attack by the bishop toward the other bishop. The opponent should respond in kind or he puts himself at a big disadvantage. Now both bishops are staring each other down, waiting for the other two twitch. Now you’ve got two possibilities:
- You capture the other bishop. You will lose your bishop in the next move, but now you have a bishop to drop anywhere in the board. Then again, so does your opponent!
- You can either move up the 4th file pawn, or move the gold-general next to the bishop protecting it.
The capturing of bishops makes the game more wild because people can start dropping bishops in all kinds of sneaky places. If you manage to drop a bishop in such a way that it attacks the opponent’s rook and king, you’ve got a devastating fork, and will gain a big advantage. Lesser forks can be done with a rook and gold general, or king and gold-general.
I play these kinds of games a lot with my colleague Thrig, and other co-workers, and we like to call these “machine-gun” games because instead of being subtle, we just break out the AK-47s and start blasting away. In other words, we play pretty reckless.
If you decide to defend the bishop instead, then you begin to set yourself up for any number of castles. The game becomes more defensive and subtle. I like this approach usually because after moving the 4th file pawn, I can now setup either a Yagura Castle, or a Mino Gakoi, depending on which side the opponent starts to attack. The rook-opening doesn’t lend itself to castling as easily (takes more moves to get things done), so I just avoid it.
Lastly, here’s some advice on where to drop that sneaky bishop you captured. If the opportunity presents itself, try dropping in the very middle. Shogi pro, Trevor Leggett, in his book calls this square the “Square of Death” since you can do some good attacks with this:
Here I am attacking two different corners. The silver-general on the right is in danger, unless he moves down and right (so the knight now backs him up). Also, on the left, the rook is in danger because if I move the pawn (shown on the bottom left) too close, he’s stuck. The can’t capture with his own pawn or the rook will be exposed. If he doesn’t bolster defense there with the nearby silver general, the bishop and pawn can cause some big damage on that side, possibly a lost rook.
So that’s Shogi openings at a glance. Your mileage may vary of course. Enjoy!
P.S. Images were made by me using MacShogi. It’s a great program if you own a Mac. The saved games are worth it!