Five professional shogi players from Japan recently descended on campus to challenge members of Swarthmore's Shogi Club, led by Associate Professor of Philosophy Alan Baker and Adrian Wan '15, a Hong Kong native. Swarthmore is the only American college with a club devoted to shogi, which is the Japanese variant of chess and appeals to players who prefer a more fluid game.
With their shogi boards poised, students gathered in Trotter Hall to meet the distinguished visitors. In his opening remarks - with William Gardner, associate professor of Japanese, translating - Baker welcomed the "largest group of Japanese shogi professionals to ever come to the U.S."
Two of the players, Asuka Itoh and Ayano Nadasawa, were familiar with Swarthmore having visited Philadelphia in 2011 for the U.S. Shogi Championship. In fact, Itoh has become something of a patron to Swarthmore's aspiring shogi players and has kept in touch with the club. The other three professionals, including Itoh's father, Hatasu Itoh, had reached out to the College for an opportunity to meet club members and visit the United States.
Baker, a former U.S. shogi champion, described his familiarity with the elder Itoh's books of ingenious shogi checkmate problems. Itoh, though now retired, reminded the Swarthmore players that shogi "is something you can play regardless of age."
The youngest visitor, 24-year-old Hatsumi Ueda, became a professional at age 12 and had just qualified to challenge the reigning women's World Shogi Champion in a title match early in 2013.
After an exchange of gifts, including a Japanese fan inscribed with a shogi problem, the pros sat down to play, each taking on two or three Swarthmore students at once. Shogi is unique among the family of chess variants in that it allows for "handicapping" more experienced players by removing one or more of their pieces in order to even out the match. The playing field having thus been leveled, the Shogi Club members bravely battled the masters.