Ukraine can boast not only a flourishing number of shogi players but also of top-level players who have distinguished themselves in recent years through their achievements in Eastern European and international championships. Sergii Shypkin, one of the founders of the Ukrainian Shogi Dojo, tells us. [Please, read post-scriptum].

Hi Sergii. First of all, thank you for the interview. Tell us a little about yourself so that our readers can get to know you better.

Hi, Francesco. I am a computer engineer, living in Kiev, Ukraine. When I was a student I was a fan of anime.  I was interested in everything related to Japanese culture, so I decided to learn Japanese language. As a result, I obtained the JLPT N2 [Japanese Language Proficiency Test – NdR] certificate in 2015 and I am satisfied with my goal. At first, I only aimed at watching anime without translation, but later on, this language skill became even more useful, allowing me to read Japanese texts about shogi, watch videos and communicate with our friends from Japan.

When did you first encounter shōgi? What prompted you to approach this discipline?

Since I was interested in Japanese culture, of course I knew about Shogi and Go from the very beginning. Meanwhile, I obtained Shogi and Go sets and books. But unfortunately I was was too busy with a lot of other stuff that I was not sure I will ever start to learn them.

I studied Japanese in Ukraine-Japan Center (UAJC) in Kyiv and every year they announced both Shogi and Go classes, but still, I missed them all. Until, in Feb 2018 my wife again pointed me to those classes, I sent an application and here I am.

Did you initially have particular difficulties with the practice of shōgi?

After I have sent the application and before the classes have been started, I decided to practice Shogi a bit. I installed a Shogi application on my smartphone and tried to play with people. The only problem there was that all those games were played in byo-yomi 60 seconds and there was no any time to think about how to counter Bougin, for example. That was terrible.

And here I’ve understood that when we do not have enough time to think about a situation, we should already know what to do. It means, that first of all, we should have some theoretical knowledge like Tesuji, Joseki, Sabaki, Hissi and Tsume-shogi. And the second important part here is a practice, both online and offline.

During those classes, I’ve met Ihor Strumetskyi and in Aug 2018 we decided to launch the Ukrainian Shogi Dojo to popularize Shogi in Ukraine. Danylo Labenskyi joined us in Sep 2018 and from that time we continue to move the Dojo forward. Here, I would like to say “Thank you from the bottom of my heart!” to everyone who has joined the core team, who attend our weekly meetings, and of course to everyone who supports us from Japan.  

On your facebook profile there are several photos of you playing shōgi wearing traditional Japanese clothes. On what particular occasions do you wear kimono?

In Ukrainian Shogi Dojo we consider Shogi not as a clear sport game, but rather as a part of Japanese culture. Thus, we try to participate in different related events in Ukraine, such anime festivals and other. But also we organize some events on our own, such seminars, master-classes presentation and other.

In the end of 2020, we asked UAJC to help as to organize a photo-session where we could simulate Pro Shogi games. Of course, the all participants wore kimonos. That was very funny and we made a lot of interesting pictures. But what if we could not only take some pictures, but rather have a real games there? This is how an idea to hold both the KuroNekoSen (male) and the ShiroNekoSen (female) title tournaments was born.

Do you follow a particular routine to train to improve in shōgi? Do you play only against humans or also against AI?

The COVID-19 helped me here. Starting from March 2020, all offline activities were strictly prohibited here in Ukraine and as the result, we started or activities online.

Before the quarantine, I was asked to clarify which types of debuts exist in Shogi. Well, the challenge was accepted and I started my learning. Once a week we had an online meeting in Zoom where I explained different Tesuji and Joseki. All those lessons were recorded and video is available on our Facebook page. That was pretty taught time. Within a week I had find, check and prepare some material for the lesson. There were no such information in my native language and thus I had to review a lot of materials in English, Japanese, and sometimes other European languages as well. But now we have all that information stored and freely available.

As for games themselves, I like to play offline games. Online games are good as well, because online we could met different people from different countries which play in some different and unusual way. I think, this is very useful for improving my own skills.

I do not like to play against AI. Well, sure it could be useful as well, but sometimes the engine does some strange moves which could never appear in real games. The useful part here is the post-game analysis, where I can see where I was wrong during the game.

Do you have a favorite opening? If so, what fascinates you about that opening?

Before I studied different Joseki, mainly I played either Bougin or Isida Style. Just because those openings were described in my first Shogi book. However, now I can play different strategies and different openings. Of course, there are some pros and cons exist for such approach. For example, in online tournament I can review my opponent’s games and prepare a strategy for that particular case. But it is really difficult to beet someone, who plays a favorite strategy all the time. Nevertheless, I prefer to play Static Rook.

Thank you, Sergii, I hope to meet you soon!

This interview was given a few days before Russia invaded Ukraine. Sergii Shypkin was personally contacted by the editorial team and confirmed that he is fine and said he believes everything will work out for the best. The editorial team expresses its solidarity with Sergii Shypkin, the Ukrainian Shogi Dojo and the whole Ukrainian population.