Still Problems with the US Shogi Championship

Dear George Fernandez,

May 20, 1999

Thank you for your reply to my letter entitled "Problems in the US Shogi Championship". I realize that these problems are not of your making and that you are probably just as concerned, if not more concerned, than I am, about the irregularities which took place in the US Shogi Championship. You also want to keep your newly founded organization, which has just gotten started, together. However the solution is not to say to me and to the others who are equally unhappy just to wait four years and to try again. These problems must be dealt with now.

It is clear that, under the rules, Mr. Fassil Bekele did not win the tournament. Far from it, his over all result was 2 wins and 5 losses. Not only did he not have the best record, but he had actually the worst record of any dan rated player in the event.

One of the attractions of a game like shogi is that it is not a personal popularity contest. The winner is decided, not by who has the most friends in high places. The winner is decided only at the board. Who ever wins the games played on the board by making the best moves wins the prize. If you toss away this and decide that the winner is to be selected on the basis of a popularity contest, then you defeat the entire purpose of a game like shogi.

Let me be clear about this: If your group does not back down and allow some kind of play-off to determine the real winner, I intend to file a protest with the Shogi Renmei in Tokyo, which after all has put up the prizes for this event. I have already consulted with my counter-parts in Japan about this and they have advised me to go ahead with my protest.

Here is how, according to your letter, Mr. Bekele was selected as the "winner":

"It was clearly announced that in the event the winner of the tournament was ineligible to represent the U.S. in the Amateur Ryu-O tournament in Japan, Mr. Ishikawa would make the final selection on behalf of Shogi Renmei and the Yomiuri Shinbum (tournament sponsors).

"The three logical candidates based on their performance and eligibility were Mr. Bekele, Mr. Uechi and Mr. Yoshinari. Mr. Uechi has not participated much in U.S. shogi activities (this was only his second tournament) and lost to Mr. Bekele in the tournament. Mr. Yoshinari, being Japanese, perhaps had a higher standard to achieve (like making the final two or final four at least). In any case, it was a tough choice but no other player merited any serious consideration. Tournament winner Mr. Suzuki has been in the U.S only four years."

This is really ridiculous. Mr. Uechi was eliminated in the first round of the finals. How did he merit any consideration at all? If he was to be considered, why not consider Douglas Dysart who was also eliminated in the first round of the finals and Ray Kaufman, who qualified to the finals but did not play because he switched places with Mr. Hayashi.

In addition, I do not recall it being announced that Mr. Ishikawa, a professional player, would decide who got the prize. I had always assumed that the player who achieved the best result would get the prize. Had I known that friendship could be a factor in making the selection, I would have not bothered to compete.

Moreover, given that Mr. Ishikawa was told to choose between Mr. Yoshinari, Mr. Uechi and Mr. Bekele, and was given no other options, what were to be his criteria for selection? Was he asked to chose the strongest player among the three? If he was asked that, he would clearly not have selected Mr. Bekele, who was the weakest. Undoubtedly he would have selected Mr. Yoshinari, who is a recognized 4-dan player in Japan.

However, if he was asked which of the three would be most suitable to be sent as the representative of America to the Amateur Ryu-O in Japan, obviously he would select Mr. Bekele, who I believe is a US citizen now. The reason the Shogi Renmei is giving a free ticket to Japan to the winner is not to give Japanese citizens a cheap flight home but to give a person such as Mr. Bekele who has never been to Japan or competed in a shogi tournament there the opportunity to play and thus to spread the popularity of shogi around the world. If Mr. Bekele had won this tournament legitimately or if he were the strongest player, I would applaud his participation in the event in Japan. However, Mr. Bekele did not win the tournament. Under the rules, he was eliminated because he lost two of his first three games, unlike Douglas Dysart and Ray Kaufman, both of whom won two of their first three games.

The way you now formulate the rules, the results of the actual games were of no consequence. Unless an "American" won first prize overall, the prize winner would be decided by Mr. Ishikawa, a professional player. If that was the rule, why did we bother to go to Illinois to compete? We could have stayed home and allowed Mr. Ishikawa to decide which of us would get the free trip to Japan.

Regarding my own case, in which I complain that I was told that the event would be held in Chicago whereas it actually was held in a remote rural area 30 miles from Chicago, you say: "First, most people would seek help from the ground transportation information booth. There were several transportation options better and faster than the one you chose."

In fact, the first thing I did when I got off the airplane was ask for help from ground transportation information. The lady there told me that there was only one way to get to Hoffman Estates, which was take the Orange Line to the Chicago Loop, then walk six blocks to the train station, then take the train to Schaumberg, Illinois and then a taxi to Hoffman Estates. That is the route I followed. There was no other way. The alternatives you suggest, such as renting a limo at the airport, would have cost a very high amount. It was cheaper for you, because you came in groups of 6 to 8. Also, your suggestion that I could have shared a limo ride with you to the tournament site was invalid, because you and the other players arrived the previous day, whereas I arrived at 8:00 AM on the day of the tournament.

You say that it was explained in announcements dated March 2 and March 14 that the event would be held some distance from Chicago. I have just looked at the March 2 announcement. Down at the bottom of the lengthy announcement, it says: "Directions: The playing site is 35 miles NW of downtown Chicago and 14 miles West of O'Hare International Airport. Additional directions will available next week."

Although this announcement promises "Additional directions will available next week", that did not happen. The next announcement, which was sent on March 14, simply deleted the words "Additional directions will available next week" and did not provide any directions. Also, saying that the event would be held "35 miles NW of downtown Chicago" does not make it clear that the event would not be held in Chicago at all.

You also say that when I called, the games were already in progress. That is not true. The first time I called was at 9:00 AM. The games did not start until more than one hour later. I was in the train station in Downtown Chicago. I informed you that the first train out would get me to Schaumberg, Illinois at 11:21 AM. That still would have been in time to get to the tournament and compete. Somebody could have and, in my opinion, should have picked me up from the Schaumberg train station, especially since the remoteness of the location was entirely the organizers making. I did not know that the Schaumberg train station is so small that there is not even a taxi stand there. There are no stores or shops or anything in that area. It is really in the middle of nowhere. That is why it took me more than an hour, even after I got to Schaumberg, to find the number of a taxi company, call a taxi, wait for a taxi and finally get to the tournament site, by which time the second round was just underway and I had been eliminated.

However, the main point is that the initial tournament announcement said: "On behalf of the recently formed United States Shogi Federation, and the Chicago Shogi Club, I'd like to cordially invite all of you to attend the 1999 U.S. Shogi Championship. This year it will be held in Chicago, Illinois, on April 10 & 11."

This announcement clearly said that the event will be held "in Chicago". If someone announced that a chess tournament would be held in New York City but the actual playing site was Stamford Connecticut, which is about the same distance from New York City as Hoffman Estates is from Chicago, people would be angry, but at least there is public transportation to Stamford Connecticut, whereas absolutely no public transportation is available to Hoffman Estates, which is not even a town but is an unincorporated rural area.

Next, you say: "Your game with Mr. Kugai 5Kyu [but probably Shodan+], another latecomer WAS in the preliminary competition, and had you won, you quite likely would have qualified for the "A" section. The issue was a moot point after your loss and Mr. Kugai was ineligible to qualify, due to his very low rank. ... As I stated earlier, the issue of your qualification became a moot point after your loss to Mr. Kugai."

Mr. Kugai was not really competing in the tournament. He did not come until after 1:30 PM and came just to play a few friendly games, as he did not intend to return the next day. My game against him was not part of the competition, as far was I was aware. However, if it was part of the competition, the rule was that everybody who won two out of three games qualified to the finals. My one loss was not enough to eliminate me. There should have been another game.

In addition, calling Mr. Kugai a 5-kyu player is ridiculous. All of the Chicago players had absurdly low rankings. Mr. Kugai is at least a dan player, probably 2 or 3 dan.

As you point out, for reasons best known to him, the tournament director created four strong and two weak preliminary sections. As a result, there were players who qualified to the finals who are weaker than I am. Clearly, I should have been allowed at least a chance to compete. I had come all the way from New York City for this.

Next, Mr. Fassil Bekele was or should have been eliminated when he lost two out of his first three games. How was he allowed into the finals, when I who had not even been allowed to play on the first day was not allowed into the finals? (I do not consider Mr. Bekele to be stronger than I am. I feel that we are an even match.)

Now, look at the overall results. Among the Gaijins, Ray Kaufman scored 6 wins and 3 losses, Douglas Dysart scored two wins, three losses and one draw, I scored 2 wins and 4 losses and Fassil Bekele scored 2 wins and 5 losses. Thus, the obvious choice was Ray Kaufman. More than that, Ray Kaufman is only 16 years old and undoubtedly will become far stronger than the rest of us eventually, if he is not already. However, Mr. Ishikawa, the professional player, was not given the option of selecting Ray Kaufman. He was apparently told to chose between Mr. Yoshinari, Mr. Uechi and Mr. Bekele, and he selected Mr. Bekele for obvious reasons.

A separate issue concerns the fact that I was allowed to play in the consolation section but was required to give the handicap of kyo to Mr. Sato. It was later discovered that because Sato is a common name in Japan, Mr. Sato was mis-identified and his true rank was 4-dan. So, under the rules, instead of me giving him the handicap of kyo, he should have given me the handicap of bishop, in which case I would have had a really good chance to beat him, since I nearly beat him even when I had to give him a handicap of kyo.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Sato won a free round trip ticket to Japan based on being wrongly identified and mis-rated.

Finally, I would like to point out that if Mr. Ishikawa had been asked to select between Mr. Bekele and myself, he might have chosen me, because I defeated Mr. Ishikawa, whereas Mr. Bekele lost to him. Of course, the reason I won is I received a very large handicap (four pieces) plus more importantly Larry Kaufman taught me a killer joseki which Kaufman had invented which enabled me to wipe up Mr. Ishikawa rather easily. Nevertheless, still I had to play a few good moves on my own to win that game.

I feel that if you want your organization to be taken seriously and its events to be taken seriously, you must have serious rules. The first prize cannot simply be given to a friend of a friend. One a year ago, I wrote a letter to the shogi list which said that the previous event in Washington DC had been conducted without firm rules, but I had no complaint with that because I understood that it was just fun and games, but if serious prizes are going to be awarded, such as an all expenses paid round trip to Japan, and serious entry fees charged, such as $50 in this case, you had better have fixed and firm rules which everybody understands before the event is played.

Everybody seemed to agree with me at that time, but this has apparently been forgotten since.

I believe that under the circumstances where the top prize was awarded on the basis of friendship to a player who did not win under the rules, you have no real choice but to arrange another event such as a play-off match among the top contestants.

One again, I do intend to complain to the Shogi Renmei if this is not done, because I think it is a disgrace to shogi the way this "tournament" was conducted.

Sam Sloan

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