More Problems with the US Shogi Championship

May 20, 1999

Larry Kaufman has made the disturbing suggestion that the prize award at the US Shogi Championship was in part made on the basis of pre-tournament rating. Here is what Larry says about that:

"As for the awarding of the Ryu-O spot to Mr. Bekele, I can only say that no eligible player really earned the spot, and Mr. Ishikawa's choice was not easy. As already noted, an elimination tourney does not settle the question of who did better among the non-winners. Among the U.S. citizens who had not played in Ryu-O before, Rob Uechi was by far the strongest player, with Bekele being rated a distant second but far above any others (including Sam Sloan). Since Bekele won his game with Uechi, the choice of Bekele was not unreasonable."

If this is how the tournament was decided, it is extremely objectionable. The rating a player had before entering the tournament should have no bearing on who gets awarded a prize. Otherwise, why hold the tournament at all, if the winner has already been decided?

In this case, it is especially wrong to use rating as a factor. I am aware that Larry Kaufman has worked long and hard to develop his rating system and is justly proud of his work. However, the situation is that Mr. Fassil Bekele plays every week at the New York Shogi Club and his rating is based substantially on those games. On the other hand, my own rating before this tournament was based entirely on one event: the 1997 US Shogi Championship in Falls Church, Virginia, where I played about 5 games altogether.

It is clearly unfair to compare five games I played two years ago and use that as a basis to decide who won the tournament last month.

In addition, during that event two years ago, one reason I had come to Virginia was because I had a child custody case there regarding my daughter, Shamema, who was kidnapped. During the first round of that event, a lawyer whom I was hoping to retain came to see me but said he could only stay a few minutes. Meanwhile, I was in the middle of a game and my clock was running. As the custody of my daughter is more important than a shogi game, I had to talk to the lawyer and let my clock run. When the lawyer left, I had less than a minute left on my clock and I had to play quickly and lost.

My opponent was rated only 2-kyu or 3-kyu, and a loss to a player with such a low rating had a big adverse effect on my rating, especially since I only played about 5 games in the entire event. After that, I beat two shodans and I do not believe I lost to anybody rated less than 3-dan but that one loss to a 2 or 3 kyu player was a major factor in my having such a low rating.

However, that is not really the point. The point is that I and the other players came to the 1999 US Shogi Championship laboring under the belief that our results in that event alone, and not the results of some event played years ago, would determine who won the prize.

Larry Kaufman also says that "As for Sam's complaints about the location being outside the Chicago city limits, I feel that that is really nit-picking and irrelevant. 'Chicago' can mean greater Chicago."

However, this event was not held in Chicago or in Greater Chicago either. This event held was out in the countryside in farmland area on a golf course far from any city or town.

George Fernandez compared Chicago to Los Angeles. However, this comparison is invalid. Everybody knows that the City of Los Angeles is tiny and that most of the people in Los Angeles County live in communities such as Santa Monica, Pasadena, Burbank, Beverly Hills, etc. In all of those places, public transportation is available. The US Shogi Championship was held in a location where no public transportation of any kind was available. There were no trains or busses of any kind going to Hoffman Estates or any where near there. This fact was not disclosed in the tournament announcements. Had I known about this, I would have saved $400 by not attending.

I paid $326 for my round trip airplane ticket from New York to Chicago, $50 entry fee to the tournament, $15 for the taxi from Schaumberg, Illinois to the Hillsdale Gold Club, and almost $10 for the Orange line from the airport to Chicago and the train from Chicago to Schaumberg, so it cost me more than $400 to get to the tournament, only to be told that I came too late for the main competition.

Larry Kaufman states: "I can't imagine that anyone would take away Mr. Bekele's spot, especially since the injured party (whomever he might be) hasn't complained."

The fact is that Mr. Bekele did not earn a spot. I would not want to be given a prize that I did not win through fair competition, especially in view of protests from the other players, and I would imagine that Mr. Bekele should feel the same way. Mr. Bekele did not defeat any of us and over all he had the worst result of any of us in this event.

It is not true that nobody has complained. I have received private e-mail from almost all of the contenders and every one of them is complaining. The only exception is Ray Kaufman and he was clearly unhappy at what happened to him when I spoke to him at the tournament.

I understand that Mr. Rob Uechi is a fourth generation Japanese American and thus was eligible for the prize. However, it is apparent that Mr. Uechi has lived for years in Japan. He was also reluctant to play in this event and had to be almost coerced into doing so. He was not the ideal candidate, to put it mildly. Mr. Bekele was on the other hand the ideal candidate. Mr. Bekele is an enthusiastic shogi player and has never been to Japan. It would be wonderful if he had legitimately won this event and therefore could represent America. But, the point is, by any standard or criteria, Mr. Bekele did not win.

The only reasonable solution is to have a playoff among the eligible players. I agree with Larry Kaufman when he says: "I can only say that no eligible player really earned the spot". This is not the usual case where the choice is between one of two players. Because of the poorly organized way in which this event was conducted, nobody has a sound claim on the top prize. The only solution in this case is to play another event.

Larry Kaufman does agree with me that the prize in the consolation section was improperly awarded. The finals in that section were between two players, both of whom were considerably underrated. Ray Kaufman, who was rated 1-dan, lost because had to give a handicap of a bishop to Mr. Nakano, who was rated 2-kyu. It seemed clear that Mr. Nakano was stronger than 2-kyu. Then, Mr. Nakano lost in the finals to Mr. Sato, who had to give him the handicap of a bishop. Previously, Mr. Sato had defeated me because I had to give him the handicap of kyo. All of these results were improper and the only proper solution is to replay the event. It is important to note that the top prize was a round trip ticket to Japan and a valuable prize such as this should be based on the results of a fair competition.

Somebody asked the question of who actually won the event. An interesting fact is that nobody won all their games. Mr. Suzuki, the official winner, lost to Mr. Tsuruoka in the second round. However, that loss did not really count against him because he made the finals by winning two out of his first three games.

Sam Sloan

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