Artikel in The Japan Times über Shôgi außerhalb Japans

In der The Japan Times ist vor einigen Tagen ein sehr interessanter Artikel über Shôgi außerhalb Japans erschienen. Es geht um alte Bekannte wie Hidetchi und Karolina Styczynska, aber auch um die kleine Blüte des Shôgi Downunder besonders jetzt während der Pandemie. Absolute Leseempfehlung. Der Artikel ist auf Englisch. Japan Times verlangt manchmal, dass man sich zum Lesen einloggt. Mit dem Umschalten in die Leseansicht (F9) bei Firefox kann man den Artikel aber auch so lesen.

Joel Tansey: Amid a global chess boom, shogi eyes its own winning moves, The Japan Times, 09.02.2021.

Thailand’s Most Glamorous Chess Fan Yingluck Shinawatra Celebrates 53rd Birthday

By René Gralla

She is one of the most brilliant and attractive chess fans these days: Yingluck Shinawatra who became Thailand’s first female Prime Minister on August 5th, 2011, after a landslide victory of her Pheu Thai Party as the result of the general elections on July 3rd, 2011, by conquering 265 of the 500 seats in The House of Representatives at Bangkok. The younger sister of elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra who ran „Prathet Thai“, translation: „Land Of The Free“, as being its Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006 – until he was toppled and forced into exile by a military coup on September 19th, 2006 – has celebrated her 53rd Birthday on June 21st, 2020. Though Yingluck Shinawatra’s schedule uses to be busy and challenging, the tough and charming career woman regularly finds the time for some relaxing moments to chill out at the board of 64 squares. Whilst shaping politics at the beginning of the second decade of the third millennium, Thailand’s most glamorous Head of Government supported the renowned Bangkok Chess Club, and she helped to bring new attention to Siam’s traditional chess variant „Makruk“ by closely working together with Kittirat Na-Ranong who was Deputy Prime Minister in her cabinet apart from having been elected President of the Thailand Chess Association in 2013.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (right) meets Bangkok Chess Club Chairman Kai Tuorila (left) on the occasion of the 12th Bangkok Chess Club Open in April 2012 (at the center in the background: Deputy Prime Minister Kittirat Na-Ranong – who will be elected President of the Thailand Chess Association one year later).

After having got to the helm of chess sports in The Kingdom of Smiles,  Kittirat Na-Ranong not only has focused on International Chess but has started to intensively promote Makruk as well. His most spectacular stroke of genius in that respect: He has taught the rules of Makruk to former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov  when the latter paid a visit to Bangkok in December 2013.

Former World Champion Garry Kasparov (left) discusses Makruk with Kittirat Na-Ranong (right), President of the Thailand Chess Association, at Bangkok in December 2013.

Siam’s own brand of The Game of Games is very popular throughout Thailand, therefore it is a quite surprising fact that there can not be purchased any downsized magnetic sets of Makruk. That is deplorable because Makruk editions en miniature would be very helpful in view of the current restrictions on social life worldwide that have been taken  in order to fight the Corona pandemic. Magnetic Makruk would enable aficionadas and aficionados to comfortably play on the lawn of a park or on the beach. That obvious deficiency has motivated Hamburg-based author René Gralla to tinker a little bit in his quiet closet. The result: René Gralla has transformed a miniaturized set of International Chess …

Portable edition of International Chess (photograph by: Bernd-Jürgen Fischer).

… into a corresponding prototype of magnetic Makruk. 

Handmade prototype of magnetic Makruk that has been fabricated by René Gralla (photograph by: Bernd-Jürgen Fischer). Please pay attention to the four elephants that are actually waiting on those positions that are occupied by „Bishops“ in International Chess (the elephants en miniature have been purchased at the specialized shop for Asian handicrafts „Om Shankari“ at Hamburg, Germany, in the street Hahnenkamp No. 12 close to the railway station Hamburg-Altona). Talking of several markups on some squares of the playground: these hotspots are the legacy of the ancient Indian game Ashtapada. Those special zones had been „castles“ where pieces were safe from being captured. Later Chaturanga, the prototype of chess that has been created in India sometimes during the 5th century A.D., has been played on the board of Ashtapada as well – with the initial protective function of the old „fort“-style sections having been abolished, therefore the obsolete strongholds only used to fullfill decorative purposes from now on. Since Makruk is that very living variant of chess that actually is closest to the original Indian edition Chaturanga, therefore the traditional design of the board of Chaturanga – the typical ornaments of Ashtapada including – has been used to transform a set of International Chess into Makruk. That shall underline the strong cultural links between India’s Chaturanga and Thailand’s Makruk.

The simple trick: now the well-known starting out positions of „The Bishops“ in the battle formation of International Chess are occupied by exotic elephants – thus playing the part of noblemen (in Thai language: „Khon“) in the theatre of Makruk because daring noblemen were supposed to mount imposing pachyderms before storming into real battles. Plus: the so-called „Met“ of Makruk that is the counterpart of the notorious „“Queen“ of mainstream chess will be represented by a former „Bishop“ figurine piece that finds itself in a new and more prestigious role by serving the commander in chief of either the white or black army (the technical term in the world of Makruk: „Khun“) as being the close advisor of His Lordship on the board. The foregoing concept works and is real fun: that is the conclusion that has unanimously been made by Weeraphon Junrasatpanich, the winner of „The King Naresuan The Great Makruk Memorial 2015“ at Hamburg, Germany, and René Gralla after a friendly game at the rustic pub „Thämer’s“ at Hamburg’s scenic town square Großneumarkt on June 13th, 2020. Therefore René Gralla, the creator of magnetic Makruk, and Weeraphon Junrasatpanich have dedicated that innovation to Yingluck Shinawatra who is the one and only female pop star of Thai Chess.  René Gralla and Weeraphon Junrasatpanich hope for having the chance to hand over that belated birthday present to Yingluck Shinawatra sometimes and somewhere on this planet. But that will probably take a while for Yingluck Shinawatra had to flee Thailand after a cold coup d’état: she was removed from office by the Constitutional Court on May 7th, 2014, and that was the prelude to one more putsch by the Royal Thai Armed Forces on May 22nd, 2014. Today Yingluck Shinawatra is rumoured to hold a UK passport and to be in London – apart from having been granted citizenship by the government of Serbia …

Belated birthday greetings to Thailand’s former Prime Minister and chess supporter Yingluck Shinawatra: Weeraphon Junrasatpanich (left) and René Gralla with a magnetic set of Makruk that has been created by René Gralla and that has been dedicated to Yingluck Shinawatra. The photo has been taken on Saturday, June 13th, 2020, at Hamburg, Germany, in front of the Pub „Thämer’s“ (photograph by: Chatchawan Thongmi).

Into the Great Wide Open … with a Garden Set of Xiangqi

By René Gralla, Hamburg/Germany
(photographs courtesy of Juergen Woscidlo, Hamburg, Germany)

It’s summertime, and the living is easy … – and so it is the best time for playing Xiangqi outside in the sun. But there has been a problem until now: it is nearly impossible to get garden sets of Xiangqi, at least if you do not live in China.

What to do about that? German journalist René Gralla – who works in cooperation with the Confucius Institute at Hamburg – has realized a simple, but effective concept: He has created an outdoor set of Xiangqi by transforming and mildly modifying a garden set of International Chess.

Photo by Jürgen Woscidlo
Photo by Juergen Woscidlo

The background of developing that set: Even in The People’s Republic, those sets of International Chess (with these well-known figurine pieces of Kings, Queens, Bishops, Horses, Rooks and Pawns) are nowadays getting more and more popular – because International Chess is supposed to be more modern than old-fashioned Xiangqi, at least that is the deplorable attitude of many young people in China. One striking example: On the occasion of a chat by email, René Gralla has learned from a real super star of Chinese mind sports, namely Ms. Hou Yifan (who has been China’s Lady World Champion of International Chess for some years), that – when being a child – she had made up her mind to play International Chess because she thought back then that the figurine pieces of International Chess look „more beautiful“ than the traditional pieces of Xiangqi.

Photo by Jürgen Woscidlo
Photo by Juergen Woscidlo

And outside China there is the big problem that people often assume that the traditional design of pieces of traditional Chinese Chess (namely those typical discs) might indicate that Xiangqi is a very difficult game – because of those Kanji on the pieces – , whereas the 3-dimensional sets of International Chess seem to be more or less self-explanatory, due to their shape.

Since the Confucius Institute at Hamburg has launched the policy of integrating Xiangqi into its efforts to build bridges between the people of China and Germany – by means of motivating German people to learn more about Chinese culture and history (Liu Bang and Xiangyu and the Battle of Gaixia 202 B.C.) by inviting German people to meet Chinese people at the board of Xiangqi – , therefore the quite obvious fact could not be ignored that the original discs of Xiangqi are a not the most convincing way to persuade non-Chinese people to play Chinese Chess .

Therefore René Gralla came up with the idea of designing a garden set of Xiangqi that is based on the well-known features of International Chess. And now the big surprise: one can arrange 3-dimensional sets of Xiangqi by re-arranging the pieces of International Chess! In fact you have only to produce one (!) extra unit – that is the Xiangqi-Cannon – , whereas you can represent the bodyguards of the Xiangqi-Generals by letting additional pieces of the notorious „Queens“ of International Chess simply take over the jobs of the Xiangqi-advisors inside the palaces of Chinese Chess. And the „Bishops“ of International Chess will simply get a new label: From now on they move into battle as being the Elephants of Xiangqi.

Photo by Jürgen Woscidlo
Photo by Juergen Woscidlo

The result of that transformation: there has been created an outdoor set of Xiangqi that is the fusion of both the features of a garden set of International Chess and the basic features of Xiangqi (the latter having been adopted to the features of 3-dimensional figurine chess).

And that fusion has a deeper meaning as well: Both Xiangqi and International Chess, they are important members of the big family of chess, and therefore it is fairly justified to realize a kind of fusion like the foregoing concept.

In this context one should mention that even Chinese historians assume that there have indeed existed 3-dimensional pieces of Xiangqi during the early spring of Chinese Chess. Therefore it is no violation of the spirit of Chinese cultural tradition to replace the flat-disc pieces of Xiangqi with 3-dimensional figurine pieces.

There is one more advantage that is related to that 3-dimensional garden set of Chinese Chess that has been created by the author René Gralla: it is more easy to play with those 3-dimensional pieces outside in the open rather than being forced to handle flat discs. The Hamburg-born set has already been tested on the occasion of several Xiangqi events at Hamburg’s Confucius Institute in scenic Yu Garden, and that has always been great fun, for the kids, but for adults as well.

The corresponding photos (that have been taken by Mr. Juergen Woscidlo during the 1st Xiangqi Youth World Championship in Hamburg 2016) demonstrate the innovative features of that very garden set, and there one can see the Xiangqi-Cannon, in particular. That is the only extra piece that has to be added, but everybody can do that and produce the additional Xiangqi Cannons. You do not need to be a seasoned craftsman: You have just to fix an outdoor-figurine piece of Pawn (International Chess-style) on top (!) of a flat outdoor-piece of Checkers (!), and the result of that combination convincingly looks like a Cannon, no doubt about that!

Photo by Jürgen Woscidlo
Photo by Juergen Woscidlo

One more advantage of that concept: you can easily mark a „board“ of Xiangqi on the ground – by using the colours green, red, blue for the two opposing territories and the river that divides the warring armies.

The author René Gralla is deeply convinced that his project of representing Xiangqi in squares and parks throughout China and the rest of the world has the potential to generate more public awareness for The Game of Games that has been born in The Heart of Asia. Therefore René Gralla hopes for that the World Xiangqi Federation (WXF) and the Chinese Xiangqi Association (CXA) might consider his proposal to launch that garden set as being a joint effort by WXF and CXA to promote Xiangqi all over the globe.