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【Waseda University Public Relations Magazine "Northwest Wind Vol.12" (Issued in September 2012) Special Project】
Discussion among Mr. Akihito Hirose, Mr. Taichi Nakamura and Professor Takenobu Takizawa

Waseda's professional shogi players: Providing momentum for the future(first installment)

Waseda University graduates Akihito Hirose and Taichi Nakamura are young and prominent professional shogi (Japanese chess) players. They were invited to participated in a discussion moderated by Professor Takenobu Takizawa (Faculty of Political Science and Economics), Chairperson of the Computer Shogi Association and developer of computer shogi programs. Hirose turned professional upon entering university and was the first student in history to capture a title (oi or "position of king"). Nakamura turned professional during his 2nd year of high school and made his first title attempt in 2012. In this article, we examine the inner workings of two outstanding shogi players from Waseda University.
Discussion Venue: Tokyo Shogi Kaikan Dojo (Sendagata, Shibuya Ward)

Participants

Mr. Akihito Hirose
Professional Shogi Player (7th Rank)
Japan Shogi Association

Born in Koto Ward, Tokyo in 1987. Graduated from the School of Education, Waseda University. In 2005, became a professional shogi player in the same year that he entered university. In 2009, won his first shogi tournament by defeating Taichi Nakamura in the finals of the 40th New-Player King Tournament. In 2010, became the first university student in history to capture the title of oi by defeating meijin Yoshiharu Habu and oi Koichi Fukaura at the 51st King Tournament. His teacher is Osamu Katsuura (9th rank).

Mr. Taichi Nakamura
Professional Shogi Player (6th Rank)
Japan Shogi Association

Born in Fuchu City, Tokyo in 1988. Graduated from the School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University. In 2006, turned professional while enrolled at Waseda Jitsugyo High School. In 2011, recorded the 2nd highest win percentage in history. In 2012, won the challenger's final at the 83rd Shogi Kisei Tournament and attempt to capture his first title, ultimately losing to kisei Yoshiharu Habu. His teacher is Kunio Yonenaga (permanent rank of kisei).


Professor Takenobu Takizawa
Faculty of Political Science and Economics
Chairperson, Computer Shogi Association

Born in 1951. In 1980, completed the Doctoral Program in mathematics (specialization in computational mathematics) at the Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Waseda University. Held positions such as Full-Time Instructor at the College of Engineering, Tamagawa University and Professor at the School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University before assuming his current position in April 2004. His research themes include application of artificial intelligence and intelligence engineering to game software, as well as the application of fuzzy logic to educational engineering. Known as the pioneer of computer shogi development.

A world different from shogi
Takizawa

As a shogi fan, I always follow your performances. After turning professionals, many shogi players focus solely on the game. Why did the two of you decided to enter university? Also, why did you choose Waseda University?

Hirose

My parents expected that I would devote myself to shogi without enter university. However, many of my friends were planning to enter university. I got caught up in the mood and vaguely decided to enter university. I took entrance examinations for about 3 schools. I passed the examination for Waseda University, which I took through the special admission system of self-recommendation based on my shogi ability. However, even though I sat for examinations, I never expected that I would actually pass. Actually, I didn't even go to the announcement of passing students! Today, I feel glad that I had the opportunity to experience studying at a university.

Nakamura

I attended Waseda Jitsugyo Junior High School and High School and entered Waseda University through a recommendation system. When I was an elementary school student, I had already decided that I wanted to be a professional shogi player. Therefore, when selecting a high school, I made it a priority to enter an "escalator school" which doesn't require students to take entrance examinations for university. Moreover, I had a positive image of Waseda University since one of my family members is a Waseda graduate. Also, Waseda Jitsugyo relocated close to my home just when I was trying to decide on a school. Everything just seemed to fit perfectly into place.

Takizawa

We're very happy to hear that you had a positive image of Waseda. I'm sure it was difficult to balance your academic studies and practicing shogi. How was your time at university?

Hirose

I had just become a professional during my 1st year at university. I was totally engrossed in shogi and I wasn't a very good student. I finally changed my ways during my 3rd year. I began taking more credits and my academic performance improved. Ultimately, I managed to graduate in 6 years. I was enrolled in the Department of Physics (currently the Department of Mathematics) at the School of Education. The material was very difficult for me and I had a tough time. Although I had thought that mathematics would have some similarities with checkmate problems in shogi, my expectation was naive! It was a very good learning experience.

Nakamura

I had turned professional during my 2nd year of high school, so I was in the 2nd year of my professional career when I entered university. When I was a 1st year student, I didn't really understand the best way to take credits. I enrolled in too many classes and ended up going to university 6 days per week. Reflecting back on my time at university, I enjoyed seminars the most. I received an award for the thesis that I wrote during my 3rd year, and I made lots of friends. The two years I spent studying in the seminar were a very enjoyable time.

Hirose

Speaking of which, I remember when you took a university questionnaire and wrote the answer "seminar" to the question "What are you interested in nowadays?" Just like you, I didn't understand the best way to take credits at first. As a result, I took too few classes in the beginning and had I difficult time later on. My experience was the opposite of yours!

Takizawa

Akihito, you entered university 2 years before Taichi, but you both graduated at the same time! Taichi, when you were in your 3rd year, you wrote a thesis entitled "Favorable Image of Political Parties among Unaffiliated Voters-Approach from policy and performance evaluation." The thesis was awarded the Faculty of Political Science and Economics Scholarship at the Waseda University thesis contest. It seems as if you were very passionate about your studies. Didn't this interfere with your shogi career?

Nakamura

Some people think that it is best to concentrate solely on studying shogi after becoming a professional. However, I wanted to know about the world outside of shogi. Since I felt that way, I never viewed my studies as interfering with shogi. Even when I look back today, I am very happy that I had the opportunity to study at university. University is a place for having unique experiences and making friendships which can't be found anywhere else. I still often go out for drinks with my friends from university. I enjoy listening to them talk about their work and other topics other than shogi.

Takizawa

The friends made at university are truly important. Akihito, even after graduating, you continue to interact with younger students in the shogi club and have made broad contributions to our university.

Hirose

You're giving me too much greater. I just spend a little time with the students. Today, there are about 150 professional shogi players who are currently active. In that respect, it is a surprisingly narrow society. You could say that it is narrow but deep.

Nakamura

There are a fair number of professional shogi players who have graduated from Waseda University, but I don't think that anyone else has contributed to the university shogi club as much as Akihito. I knew about Akihito ever since I was an elementary student. Shogi players began to show their talent in elementary school and then that generation grows to become professionals. In that meaning, it really is a narrow but deep society.

The barrier posed by Yoshiharu Habu
Takizawa

It's amazing that you knew about Akihito since you were in elementary school, that you graduated from the same university and that you have both established professional careers. In 2010, Akihito was the first university student in history to capture the title of oi. Taichi, your winning percentage last year reached 85%.

Hirose

Winning the oi title while still at university was really a coincidence. You could say it was an unexpected success born out of failure. I guess it was good luck that I still hadn't graduated and was in my 6th year when I won the oi championship! That aside, it is unbelievable that Taichi posted a winning percentage higher than 80%. It's difficult to win even 70% of your matches.

Nakamura

It's true that I won a lot of games last year, but I have to ensure that I can continue my success. In my quest to capture the title, I have to compete in the preliminaries again this year. I want to win and climb my way to the top.

Takizawa

We are very happy that two Waseda University graduates are active as professional shogi players. However, even though you graduated from the same school, you are rival players. I hope that you will grow by challenging each other and complete in a title match.

Hirose

If I remember correctly, the only time I played Taichi was at the New-Player King Tournament in 2009.

Mr. Hirose and Mr. Nakamura play each other in the 2009 New Player King Tournament
(Photograph: Shukan Shogi)

Nakamura

That's right. A lot of focus was placed on that match since two Waseda graduates were competing for the title. Since then, we haven't had a chance to play each other. That's because Akihito and I were almost never in the same class at the same time. Now, Akihito is 7th rank, B-class, group 1, while I am 6th rank, C-class, group 1. It seems that every time I move up a rank, Akihito also moves up a rank. I can't quite catch up with him!

Takizawa

Before the two of you can compete against each other in a title match, you have to break through the barrier posed by Yoshiharu Habu. Akihito, you defeated Mr. Habu in the challenge championship match of the 2010 King Tournament. How did it feel to play him?

Hirose

Mr. Habu is a very strong player. Although I defeated him in the 51st King Tournament, I lost to him when he challenged me at the 52nd tournament. Ever since I was a little boy, I grew up studying Mr. Habu's games and I really looked forward to playing him. Conversely, Mr. Habu has almost no data on my games, which I think is an advantage to me. However, I began losing to him in the 3rd game of the 52nd King Tournament and have had I tough time with him ever since. The most unique aspect of his game is his persistence. Considering the psychological effect of playing him, I felt that his game exceeds mine more than the score reflects.

Nakamura

Many people felt that Akihito had an advantage at the 52nd King Tournament. I can't believe that Akihito actually felt that his ability wasn't the equal of Mr. Habu-shogi is a mysterious game. I have played Mr. Habu five times but have yet to win. At the 83rd Shogi Kisei Tournament I played a good game and was on the verge of win, but ended up losing. As you might expect, I felt that my defeat was due to peculiar feelings associated with playing Mr. Have. The first step to beating Mr. Habu is to get rid of those feelings.

Hirose

Mr. Habu is a superstar of shogi and has established an entire era of shogi. Upon actually playing him, I felt that he is in his own special class.

Nakamura

Although shogi appears to be played only on the board, the game is actually greatly influenced by psychology. I always looked up to Mr. Habu and dreamed of becoming a professional shogi player. For that reason, I may have a preconceived notion that I cannot defeat him. When I played him, I tried to eliminate such feelings of awe. However, when looking at the results, it seems that I was still intimidated. I hope to draw upon my experience and play better next time. I have to develop a heart of steel, just like a shogi computer!

Takizawa

Of course, you're correct in saying that a computer's game isn't influenced by emotions. I'm sure that it is difficult to overcome the obstacles in front of you, but I hope that you will draw upon your studies at Waseda and recall your university friends as you press forward. People who can draw upon such resources are capable of special effort when confronted with a challenge.

Nakamura

Professor Takizawa, I have known you since long ago as the developer of computer shogi. This January, a match was held at this Shogi Kaikan Dojo between shogi software and Chairperson Yonenaga of the Japan Shogi Association. In an unfortunate result for human players, Chairperson Yonenaga lost to the software. However, the game was extremely interesting because move arose that would never have been made in a match between humans.

Hirose

That's true. The movement of the game had a different feeling than usual. It was interesting to see positions and moves which would never occur in a game between humans.

Takizawa

In fact, a computer can only learn from moves which have actually been made. Therefore, we had to try a lot of different things in order to create software which can defeat a human player. We gradually began winning games from 2005 and software has been released that can defeat professional shogi players. Everyone involved in the development works desperately to further our research.

A commemorative photograph taken in front of the Tokyo Shogi Kaikan Dojo

(continued in the second installment)