Our shogi player Francesca gives us a page of almost diary-like information about her experience of shogi and, between introspection and healthy realism, offers us four important pieces of advice on how best to start playing shogi. Let’s read them together.

When I first started playing Shogi I had a recurring thought in my head: ‘it’s not a game for me, it’s not a game for me’. How can Shogi be a suitable game for someone who is slow-thinking, sensitive, has no knowledge of strategy and whose mind is constantly in the clouds?

If you too have had this doubt while playing or for the same reason are afraid to even try then this article can help you, because I have felt the same feelings and doubts, letting voices from the past tell me that I could not learn such a complex game. I write this out of personal desire, because I would like more and more people to approach strategy games without the fear of “not being enough”. I haven’t been playing for long, but I have been thinking a lot about what Shogi is teaching me and its potential as a therapy for performance anxiety.

For this reason I approached it with the intention of putting myself to the test, challenging that part of me that has lost confidence in the face of so many ‘NO’s. I don’t want to frighten anyone. I do not want to frighten anyone, Shogi itself has simple rules, but the world that unfolds behind them is vast and you have to enter it with spirit. That’s why I’m leaving you with four rules that have helped me to take the game in the right way beyond personal insecurities. I’m going to talk mostly about Shogi, but these points can be adapted to any kind of strategy game. Let’s get started!

1. Don’t be afraid of getting hurt

Let’s start from the premise that Shogi is a game and as such needs to be played in order to be mastered. It seems strange to point this out, but the frustration of losing often leads away from the most basic of rules, which is that nothing can be learned without making a mistake first.

There is nothing to be ashamed of: I called myself incompetent at the first tournament. Nine defeats out of nine, a bloodbath that stayed in my head for days. But do you know what happened after all those defeats? When I decided to take up the shogiban again, my eyesight had sharpened.

A beginner’s eyesight is limited by inexperience and is not conducive to reading the game. At the beginning it seems as if one is groping in the dark, one’s hands groping randomly at the pieces and the area of the board, afraid of what may happen. The light comes little by little, every time the opponent captures an important piece, every time the defence gives way, every time the king falls. Every time a mistake is made, the mind is illuminated by new possibilities and with it the game takes on an increasingly clearer form. This is what mistakes are for (in Shogi as in Monopoly).

2. No one runs after you

Photo by S. Lysenka, Minsk, Belarus

We are naturally inclined to measure ourselves against the phenomena, obsessed with levels, scores and podiums, we like to finish first and most importantly we are thrilled to do it in the shortest possible time.

Take a deep breath… reality is different.

As we said, losing undermines enthusiasm, because simply no one likes to lose. But what makes the game clean, precise and fair is precisely the time taken to cure it.

Shogi needs time and study, it is not an easy game and rushing into it does not make it any easier to understand.

It is true that there are people who are inclined to learn more easily, but nothing helps like experience and constant practice.

In this regard, the AIS (Italian Shogi Association) interviewed shogist Madoka Kitao, who suggests that beginners give priority to Tsume, exercises designed to recognise patterns for victory and the particularities of the pieces.

The question is, would you climb a mountain without climbing equipment?

No one is asking us to become Shogi champions when we first sit in front of a shogiban, so it is only fair to take the time to assimilate the counters, their movements, promotions and all that the game requires, and if this takes us a minute, an hour or a day longer, no harm done, the sun will rise tomorrow anyway.

3. You can learn a lot about yourself

Photo by S. Lysenka, Minsk, Belarus

Shogi can help a lot in understanding oneself (as well as other games).

My game, for example, reflected, and still reflects in many cases, shyness, fear of making mistakes and fear of competition. I played with the brakes on, making millimetric steps, building impassable walls, leaving no openings for the adversary, but not even for my pieces, which in the end were blocked. On the contrary, some begin to play with an emphasis on attack, demonstrating a more expansive and light nature, but letting their field take the shape of a colander.

Shogi is a game of exchanges, it is not possible to go through a game without losing a single pawn, just as it is not possible to hope to win only with the help of powerful pieces such as the rook.

This concept can help one to discipline oneself by accepting for example the loss of a piece in favour of a broader strategic design or by being able to understand how putting a pawn back into play sometimes does more damage than a promoted bishop.

It is about accessing the form of play that is closest to our nature, so that we can measure ourselves by trying to adjust what we want to change, or refine qualities that are helpful.

Finally, a little practical advice that I have found particularly effective…

4. Play together with someone

Photo by S. Lysenka, Minsk, Belarus

This statement may also be silly, but these days we tend to rely a lot on the internet and consequently start playing against computers. The online platforms where you can play Shogi are many and good for both beginners and experts. But for those who suffer from anxiety, keeping a constant eye on their own score and that of others can be uncomfortable. This is why approaching the game with a friend or asking if there are any Shogists in your area through AIS groups and meeting up for a game helps to keep you engaged in the game and maintain the enthusiasm needed to continue playing.

Maybe Shogi will give me some more ideas on how to combat anxiety and fear that I can share with you. For now, I hope I have been helpful!

Credits: The editors would like to thank Sergei Lysenka for permission to use the photos in this article.