Teaching Shogi to Family

I learned shogi a couple of years after finishing high school. I had just turned twenty, and a Japanese friend who was tired of losing chess games to me pulled out his shogi board and taught me Japanese Chess. Of course, he won all the shogi matches we played.

When he and I were no longer living together, we never found time to play shogi. This was in the days before the Internet, so finding anyone new to play shogi with was nearly impossible. So few Americans even know what shogi is, that it is very difficult to meet new shogi players.

Shogi Cat
My cat prefers to play ranging rook. In fact, all the pieces tend to range very quickly with her paws on the board.

Now of course, you can play shogi games online fairly easily. I even have a list of free online shogi sites, and have my own shogi computer game on my site. Also, I will be putting more online shogi games and tools over at my other shogi site. However, finding people near you to play shogi face-to-face can still be a huge challenge, especially if you don’t live near a densely populated city.

My simple solution to finding shogi partners was to teach family how to play. It is pretty common that if you enjoy a game like shogi, other people in your immediate or extended family will also enjoy shogi.

Not too surprisingly, I’ve found that family members that have played and enjoy chess, also end up liking shogi. But, don’t assume that just because a person doesn’t enjoy chess, they won’t enjoy shogi. Sometimes the exoticness of the game, or the fact that it’s from Japan is enough to pique the interest of someone into learning to play.

I have taught all four of my kids, and my wife to play shogi. So I guess my best advise to young single people who can’t find anyone to play shogi is, get married and have kids. Of course, I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I have five people in my household that enjoy shogi. I can usually find someone to play a game with me when I have time and am in the mood to play.

When teaching adults to play shogi, the kanji are unfamiliar and sometimes a challenge to learn. There are several styles of international and western shogi pieces that are easier for adults to learn from. Obviously, anyone who falls in love with shogi will eventually take to time to memorize the kanji used on the Japanese style pieces, but at first it is a bit easier for adults and older children to learn shogi using pieces that have more meaning to them.

Young children who are just beginning to read and write, usually are not put off by the kanji on shogi pieces. In fact, if a child is younger, and has not begun reading or writing yet, learning kanji pose little or no problem for them.

I started teaching my children to recognize all the Japanese style shogi pieces when they were learning to talk. I’d hold out a piece and ask the name. If they got it right, I’d praise them. If they got it wrong I’d say the correct name, and hold it out again for them to guess the name. Oddly enough, toddlers seem to love games like this.

I’d let my children play with the shogi pieces and the board like other toys, as soon as I could trust them not to stick the pieces in their mouths. (Shogi pieces are a choking hazard, so never let them out of your site if they still put things in their mouths!)

When playing shogi games with young children, I’d move my pieces by the rules, but not enforce any rules for them to play by. Then I’d start introducing the rules slowly over many games, so it wasn’t destroying to fun of the game. This required a lot of patience and you should be willing to allow this process to take months or years, depending on the age and interest of your children.

One of the drills I’d do with my children who weren’t old enough to play by the rules, is I would set up my side of the board, and then have them see if they could set up their side of the board by themselves.

Another fun drill to do before starting the game, even if you are not enforcing any (or many) rules with your children yet, is to set each piece one-by-one in the middle of the shogi board, and ask where it can move from there.

Remember to always heap lots of praise on young children who put up with your shogi training. If you’re patient and consistent, by the time you have teenagers, you’ll have some fine shogi opponents to spend time with.

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