Problems in the US Shogi Championship

US Shogi Championship was held in Hoffman Estates, Illinois on April 10-11, 1999. The complete results of the event have been reported by George Fernandez.

Everyone needs to express appreciation for all the work and effort which went into this event. It should be noted that Larry Kaufman has made a great contribution to the advancement of shogi by his development of a rating system based approximately on the chess rating system and by developing a handicap system which equalizes the chances of the players so that under his handicap system the weaker player has about a 50% chance to win, whereas under the traditional system the higher ranked player wins about 95% of the games.

However, with all due respect to the organizers, there were serious problems at the US Shogi Championship which I think ought to be addressed.

First was the location, which was at a golf course in a rural area, 30 miles northwest of Chicago, where absolutely no public transportation was available. The nearest bus stop was 15 miles away.

Even some of the local Chicago players complained about this. Most of the players arrived in group, such as the New York group, the Los Angeles Group and the DC group. One group paid $85 to rent a van from the airport to the playing site. They seemed to feel that there was no problem.

However, I came alone. It is true that I made a last minute decision to come. Had I known that the tournament was being held in an extremely remote location, 30 miles from Chicago and 15 miles from the nearest train station or bus stop, I would not have planned my trip better. Rather, I would not have come at all.

After the event was underway, several other players began to face the problem which I was feeling. One player brought his wife. She did not feel like hanging around a shogi tournament all day long and wanted to see Chicago while the games were going. Her taxi ride to the nearest train station cost $15 and after that was the more than one hour train trip into Chicago, each way.

When the event was over, one of the players decided to take a taxi to Chicago. His taxi fare was $70!

I assumed that the reason this event was held at this remote golf course was because of cost. I was shocked to learn that the Hillsdale Golf Club was not cheap at all. The prices were more than double what any comparable facility would have charged. The buffet style lunch alone cost $9.50 per player, which came out of our $50 entry fee, and there was nowhere else in the area to eat.

Apparently the reason for selecting this location was the Japanese who frequently patronize this prestigious golf club. Indeed, the Japan Consul General was making a speech in the next room while some of the shogi games were being played.

However, my main complaint was not the location but the fact that I viewed this as a serious chess event for the US Championship, to which I came with the intention of trying to win, even though I knew that my changes were remote. I arrived at 8:00 AM at Chicago Midway Airport. Since registration was scheduled to start at 10:00 AM, I assumed that I would easily reach the tournament in time. I was appalled to find out that because it took me 4 1/2 hours from Chicago Midway Airport to get to the tournament site, that I had been eliminated from the competition, having forfeited my first two games. Since the organizers knew that I was in Chicago and was on my way to the event and since the problem created by the remoteness of their location was entirely their own making, I feel that they should have either postponed my games or sent somebody to pick me up. I am sure that if this had happened in a normal chess tournament, that would have been done.

In my view, the organizers had a moral obligation to give me a chance to compete for the championship, especially since the tournament announcements had said that the event was being held in Chicago, which it was not, and since there was no indication that the event was being held so far away that it would take 4 1/2 hours to get there from Chicago.

More importantly, since this was the US Shogi Championship, I assumed that all contestants would be given an equal chance to win. Unfortunately, this event was not conducted in accordance with acceptable standards of fairness.

There were two valuable prizes offered. The top US player (which meant any person who was a US Citizen or who had resided in the US for the past five years and who had not been sent previously) was to receive an all expenses paid round trip to Tokyo to participate as the US representative in the Amateur Ryu-O International Shogi Championship.

In addition, the winner of the consolation section, whether Japanese or not, was to receive a round trip ticket to Japan.

It was because of these two prizes that I decided to spend more than $400 to fly to Chicago and compete in this event. Without these two prizes, I would not have considered coming.

However, after the preliminary section, there were already irregularities. Raymond Kaufman qualified to the championship finals by defeating two players in the preliminaries. However, he decided that his best chance to win a prize was in the consolation section, so he agreed to switch places with M. Hayashi, 4-Dan, who had lost two games and had been eliminated.

As it turned out, Mr. Hayashi lost his first game in the finals and Ray Kaufman lost his second, but had either player won, there could have been protests.

I believe that Ray Kaufman was not aware of the rule that Japanese residents were eligible for the top prize in the consolation section but not in the championship section. Clearly, the deal he made was bad, as he had a much better chance of winning a prize in the championship section.

In my own case, long after the event was over, one official said that he had felt that I had wanted to play in the consolation section all along. He said that had he known that I wanted to play for the championship, I could have been put in there. However, nobody asked me anything about this while the event was being played. I find it rather stupid for anybody to presume that I flew all the way from New York to Chicago and spent more than $400 just to play in a consolation group.

More irregularities: After the first day of play, only 13 players had qualified for the finals. To make a round number of 16, three players who had been eliminated under the normal rules were seeded into the finals. I was told that the three highest rated players who had been eliminated were seeded. It was only after the tournament was over and I received the results several days later that I learned that the three "seeded" players were M. Ono, 4-Dan, G. Fernandez, 4-Dan, and F. Bekele, NY, 2-Dan.

With all due respect, Mr. Bekele, 2-Dan was clearly not one of the top three rated players who did not reach the finals. For example, Mr. Hayashi, 4-Dan, who got into the finals by switching with Ray Kaufman, was higher rated. The results of Mr. Bekele from this event confirm this. Mr. Bekele finished the event with 2 wins and 5 losses. Nevertheless, because of being "seeded" into the finals and then winning just one game, he was declared the winner and will represent the US in the Amateur Ryu-O in Tokyo.

I feel that this was not merely unfair and wrong, but outrageous. I came to Chicago thinking that I was playing in a serious competition. I did not know that a prize would be awarded on the basis of being a friend of the organizer. I agree that in a fair competition, Mr. Bekele would be a favorite, but only by a narrow margin. Three other Americans would have a good chance to beat him, had there been a fair competition. These would have been Raymond Kaufman, Douglas Dysart and myself. In addition, there are no doubt Japanese players who have lived in the US for more than five years, who would have had a chance to win under a fair system.

This event was so outrageously unfair that I believe that there should be a playoff match between the four above named persons. I suggest New York for the venue, since two of us live here and I feel certain that both Mr. Ray Kaufman and Mr. Douglas Dysart, who do not live here, would be willing to come to New York to participate.

I would like to mention that although Mr. Dysart is the lowest rated, he defeated M. Ono, 4-Dan, in the preliminaries, and qualified to the finals legitimately, as opposed to Mr. Bekele, who lost and was eliminated in the preliminaries, only to be "seeded" back into the finals.

Mr. Bekele is a great gentleman, a sportsman, and a tireless promoter of shogi. It would be a credit to have him represent the United States at the Amateur Ryu-O. I imagine that Mr. Bekele was as surprised as the rest of us were that he was awarded this prize. I believe that he would prefer to win this prize in fair competition, rather than be awarded it in such an outrageously unfair manner as occurred.

The Amateur Ryu-O in Tokyo is held only once every four years. At stake is not only a valuable prize but the prestige of being the US representative. I believe that a prize such as this should be awarded only after a fair competition. This "US Shogi Championship" near Chicago was not conducted fairly and ought to be replayed, for this and for numerous other reasons which I have not mentioned.

Sam Sloan

The sensation was an 11-year-old boy, ranked 3-dan, who made the finals and could have won, but he misplayed a well known book opening line.

I was very unhappy with the tournament, however.

It was played not in Chicago as advertised but in Hoffman Estates, a rural area 30 miles Northwest of Chicago, where absolutely no public transportation was available. The nearest bus stop was 15 miles away.

As a result, although I arrived at Chicago Midway Airport at 8:00 AM, I could not make it to the tournament site until 12:30 by which time I had forfeited my first two games and was eliminated.

I feel that if the organizers of a national event want it held in a remote location, they should arrange for transportation for those of us who do not have our own cars.

I was allowed to play in the consolation section. In my first game, I had to give four pieces to a 6-kyu player, John Striker. He is probably stronger than 6-kyu, but I won after a long and exhausting struggle.

Then, I had to play a Mr. Sato, who had just arrived from Japan. Because he was ranked as only a shodan, I had to give him a handicap of a lance ("kyo"). It turns out that his true strength is probably at least 4-dan. He was in the consolation section only because he had lost to the tournament winner and to the highest rated player. He played third board for the Midwest team in the team event and defeated a 4-dan from New York, Mr. Ogihara. Mr. Sato finished the event with 6 wins and 2 losses and all of his opponents were dan players, so why should I be giving him a handicap?

The prizes included two round trip tickets to Japan, one of which was won by Mr. Sato who had just arrived from Japan. I took this event very seriously and spent more than $400 to play. I will not be playing again unless it can be organized better in the future.

Sam Sloan

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