Maybe this was his plan all along and he’s playing 3-D shogi.

Although chess is the most famous game of its kind on the world stage, its Japanese cousin shogi is considerably harder. It’s a lot like chess but if the chess pieces could change their move sets in the middle of the game and captured pieces could suddenly return to the board in any location.

▼ You really need an eye for kanji to stay on top of things too

To excel at the game one would need an incredible amount of discipline as even the slightest misstep can spell defeat. That goes for moves both on and off the board as seen in the recent loss by 9th Dan player Amahiko Sato at the 81st Meijin Tournament A Class Ranking Match in Shibuya, Tokyo on 28 October. These matches determine which A Class player can take on Akira Watanabe for the title of Meijin (“Master”).

Sato’s match against Takuya Nagase, who is a four-time undefeated Oza (“Throne”) title holder, started at 10 a.m., at which time both players were wearing face masks. This is in accordance with rules established last February stating that all players must wear face masks during matches “except for temporary occasions” or unless it is unavoidable for health reasons.

By the 112th move, which took place sometime around 11 p.m., Sato was contemplating his next move when he removed his mask so that it was dangling from one ear. He kept the mask in that state for at least 10 minutes before Nagase started repeatedly leaving the room, presumably to mention it to the officials and ask if it wasn’t grounds for losing the game.

Although the game was broadcast live by the Japan Shogi Association, there wasn’t anyone in the room with Sato and Nagase at the time who was authorized to call the game. As a result, it took some time for Association Director Daisuke Suzuki to confer with other officials about what was going on during which time Sato remained maskless for about an hour. In the end, at six minutes past midnight on the 124th move, Sato has handed down a loss by foul for violating the mask rules.

▼ A video of the final six hours of the match. After about four hours and 18 minutes, Sato removes his mask. Nagase leaves the room several times after that. At about the 5:23 mark Suzuki enters the room and ends the game.

Sato argued the ruling, saying that he was never given a warning about his mask, but the officials stood by their decision at the time and advised Sato to file a formal complaint within a week. Including the lack of a warning, there is also ambiguity surrounding the rule’s caveat of “except for temporary occasions.” According to the association, this is intended to cover cases where a player takes a drink, eats, or is at a safe distance from others. However, there is no clear definition of how long “temporary” is.

Nevertheless, the Japan Shogi Association issued a statement on their website on 31 October, saying that the decision stood because players were given regular briefings on the rules at meetings and that the rule was important to prevent other players from having to forfeit future matches in the event they were found to be in close-contact with an infected player.

Online comments such as the following seemed to largely go in favor of the Association.

“People will probably still disagree with it, but the association’s rule makes sense.”
“The point is to keep the mask on as much as possible. If they set a time limit, then people would abuse it by removing their mask for exactly that amount of time.”
“Sato was stupid for breaking such a simple rule.”
“It was a reasonable ruling, but I’m sure anti-maskers who don’t even care about shogi will all have an opinion.”
“I was watching the broadcast and was surprised when it ended suddenly.”
“Is it permitted to capture your opponent’s mask in shogi?”
“The game was going for 14 hours, so I can’t blame them for not watching it closely every minute.”

Although they stand by their ruling, the Japan Shogi Association admitted that more could be done in such cases and promised to have an authorized impartial observer on site during long games such as this one. They will also continue to monitor the need for face masks during matches and revise the rule when conditions permit it.

As for Sato, while the loss means he may not get his shot at taking on Watanabe soon, at least he’ll go down in the annals of shogi for his unprecedented way of losing.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, Nikkan Sports, Japan Shogi Association, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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