Philosophy Professor Alan Baker Organizes 150th Anniversary 'East Meets West' Chess Event

Alex Weintraub '11

Philosophy Professor Alan Baker Organizes 150th Anniversary 'East Meets West' Chess Event

by Alex Weintraub '11
6/29/10

Philosophy Professor Alan Baker
Alan Baker, associate professor of philosophy, on the left

Alan Baker, associate professor of philosophy, recently organized an "East Meets West" Chess Event at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, which served as the home of the main chess club in Philadelphia during the first half of the 19th Century. The event marked the 150th anniversary of the historic meeting of American and Japanese chess players and the introduction of Shogi to the United States. In 1860, following two centuries of cultural and economic isolation, Japan dispatched its first ever Japanese diplomatic delegation to the U.S. In June 1860 the delegation arrived in Philadelphia, and some members were invited to visit the Philadelphia Chess Club. The Japanese players turned up in full samurai regalia and proceeded to demonstrate the hitherto unknown Japanese version of chess, or Shogi, to the city's top chess players.

Historic image of the 1860 diplomatic delegation
Historic image of the 1860 diplomatic delegation

This year's event brought together Shogi experts and prominent representatives of the Philadelphia chess community. As part of the re-creation of the original 1860 encounter, two of the Japanese Shogi players appeared in traditional dress and played an exhibition game. The chess experts in attendance included 7-time Delaware state champion David Gertler '83, and 2-time U.S. women’s champion Jennifer Shahade. For Baker, one of the highlights was the opportunity to play a game of Shogi against Jennifer Shahade. In conjunction with the event, the Atheneum displayed various chess-related books and equipment from its collection.

Professor Baker was the winner of the 2008 U.S. Shogi Championship. At Swarthmore, he teaches courses in the Philosophy of Mathematics, the Philosophy of Science, and Metaphysics.