We exclusively interviewed one of the leading exponents of European shogi: Mr. Sergei Lysenka.

Hi Sergei, to start with tell us a bit about yourself.

Hey! My name is Sergei. I was born in Minsk. Graduated from the Belarusian State Pedagogical University with a degree in “Mathematics. Informatics”.

How did you learn about shōgi? Does Belarus already have a strong shogi tradition? 

I learned about shogi when it was autumn 2002. I was introduced to the game by my older brother Andrei, who was part of a small group of enthusiasts who at that time in Belarus began to get acquainted with Japanese chess. And if at the beginning of the 2000s no more than 10 people knew about the game in our country, today more than 1,000 people took part in rating tournaments and about 10,000 people know the rules of shogi.

Apart from shogi, do you also play other board games?

No shogi – one love!

You are one of Europe’s biggest promoters of shogi. Every year you hold shogi classes, organize tournaments, run a YouTube podcast, give interviews and participate in TV programmes. When did you realise that shogi was your path?

Thank you for your kind words. It took a lot of time and a lot of work to have so many shogi activities in Belarus, so many fans of the game and, I must emphasize, strong fans of the game. When did I realize that shogi was my path? When I entered the university, in the very first month I opened a shogi club in my native university, which existed for all 5 years of my studies and united shogi lovers in Minsk. After all, there was finally a place where you could meet regularly, learn new strategies, solve problems together, read shogi sekai magazines, and, of course, play shogi. As a student in 2007, I managed to organize the first international shogi tournament in Belarus on the basis of the university. Japanese chess has been systematically developing, gaining new fans. But the real leap happened after my graduation from the university. After all, then I had a choice: what to do next? Can I leave my shogi to be in the state it was before I opened the club at the university? And I chose to combine my specialty (teacher) with my favorite pastime – shogi. And I decided to teach shogi to children. I started working at the Palace of Children and Youth in 2010, probably then I decided on my path. In 2013, in the Palace of Youth in Minsk, I organized and held the European Championship and the Open World Championship (at that time the largest number of participants in history), which had a very strong line-up. For example, the World Championship was then won by ten-year-old Ito Tokuni, now a professional player. Also in 2013, I started teaching shogi in one of the Minsk gymnasiums, now it can be proud of its dan players and winners of the European youth championships. But I consider one of the important achievements that Yaroslav Kondratov, Andrei Lysenko and I opened a private shogi club “Ginkammuri” – the only one in Europe. And I think that outside of Japan there are not so many of them at all. The opening took place on Shogi Day – 17/11/17. For more than 4 years, many games have been played here, and the guests of the club were, in addition to shogi lovers from different countries, also professional shogi players and the Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of Belarus.

The shogi situation in Belarus is really flourishing and we congratulate you on your excellent work. As a European, how do you rate the spread of shogi in the rest of Europe? What would you recommend to European shogi associations?

Unfortunately, this is a sore subject for me. Of course, I would like to see shogi in Europe develop at the same pace as in my country. After all, the first European Championship was held in 1985, and in Belarus they only learned about shogi in 2000. And other countries had a head start of 15 years before our country. But all the time that I develop the game in Belarus, I see that in most European countries there is stagnation. I’m not in a position to recommend anything, because in fact, the answer to why this happens is simple: for everyone, shogi is just a hobby. I am the only shogi professional in Europe. I just made shogi my job and started doing it for a living. Amateurs do not devote enough time to the development of the game. And this is understandable, because there is the main job, family, duties that take up most of the time. Therefore, it turns out that basically in most European countries people play shogi once a year – at the European Championship. What European shogi lacks to develop is promoters! As soon as such people appear, we immediately see 400 players in France, or super organized European Championships in Krakow and the Netherlands. But as soon as the promoters leave, no one supports the movement. Therefore, it is very important to support the promoters! Every three years, the International Shogi Forum is held in Japan. And this event is of interest to strong players from different countries, because the winner will get the opportunity to fly to Japan for free. But unfortunately this encouragement does not lead to the development of shogi in countries. There are examples, such as Finland, where the same player flies to Japan every three years and does nothing domestically to develop the game. And why should he raise competitors? It’s easier to do nothing and visit different cities in Japan. I would advocate that promoters should be encouraged, so that they would have an incentive to develop the game in their country. A strong player is a single product. The promoter will bring hundreds of shogi lovers.

 To date, shogi in Europe is regularly played only in three countries – Russia, Poland and Belarus. What can be advised here? As long as there are no sponsors in shogi, there is no money, one cannot expect a sharp interest. But on the other hand, in European shogi there is still a warm atmosphere, trust, there is no suspicion of cheating, because only your honor is at stake.

Shogi requires not only passion, but also study and analysis. This is why many young people find the experience of playing generic board games and video games more immediate. As a teacher, how do you propose the study of shogi to young people? What are the advantages of studying and playing shogi?

That’s just due to the passion and love for the game, which the children adopt from me and manage to keep interest in shogi for a long time. Most children do not want to learn theory, record games, analyze. Therefore, my task is to show them the beauty of the very process of the game and in an unobtrusive form to give them a portioned theory. And, of course, you also need to be encouraged. For example, I give stickers for solved tsume shogi. And at the end of the school year, in each study group, the “Tsume Shogi Champion” cup is awarded to the one who has the most stickers.

For a European player, approaching the study of shogi can be difficult as the vast majority of publications are all in Japanese. Do you think this will change in the future?

Unfortunately, I see no preconditions for this situation to change in the near future. In at least the last 15 years, nothing has changed significantly. But those who want to study shogi on a serious level find no problem in reading Japanese books. After all, the coordinates or how the hieroglyphs denoting the figures look are familiar to them.

Give us a glimpse of what you have planned for shogi in this year.

I am sure that if we manage to repeat all the events of last year, it will already be a great success. Let me give you a little statistic. In 2021, 334 players from Belarus participated in 162 ranking tournaments, of which 19 were major (multi-day) tournaments. In addition to Minsk, Minskers played in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Mogilev, Grodno and Brest. We did not stop the drawing of three Belarusian titles: “Champion”, “Master” and “Silver Crown”. In addition, the online space has also been actively developing – these are Ginsen online tournaments, and various rubles on Youtube: weekly gincast, shogi battles, game analysis, shogi news, interviews. It all takes a lot of time, effort and money! But, if we find a little more time (probably we will have to give up sleep), then another very interesting project awaits you.

Would you like to wish the players of the Italian Shogi Association well?

Italy is one of those countries that I would personally like to visit. And most of my travels are connected with shogi tournaments. Therefore, I wish shogi lovers from Italy to meet more often for shogi games and organize a two-day international tournament. So that it becomes regular and you can plan in advance your family vacation on the sea coast with a visit to a shogi tournament (this is how I visited Spain twice). I want to wish good luck to the whole Italian shogi movement! But luck will help when you start doing something. I see that players from your sunny country have been doing a lot of work on the Internet lately. Therefore, I also wish you a lot, and better and even more work offline, meet, play, bring friends! May the shogi community in Italy be at least tripled this year!

Thank you for your availability, Sergei, we hope to visit you soon in Belarus.

Thank you for your interest in Belarusian shogi and our experience.

Saremo lieti di incontrarti a Minsk!