Latest News

Wednesday, 26th October 2016
In Events In Japan,

Professional shogi world rocked by cheating accusations

You may be forgiven for not knowing what shogi is, but in Japan, the variation of chess is a pretty big deal. That’s why shock waves have been sent through the country after a top-ranked player was suspended from an important tournament.

Hiroyuki Miura was due to face Akira Watanabe in the Ryuo Championship earlier this month when the Japan Shogi Association stepped in. On October 12th, just three days before the competition was due to start, it accused Miura of cheating.

The accusation suggested that the player could have been assisted by software to ensure he won his games. Despite such a serious claim, no hard evidence has been brought forward since Miura was prevented from playing in the seven-game tournament and people have started to question the investigation process.

Miura is the holder of the ninth dan, the highest ranking position in the world today. He was going to come up against Watanabe, the title holder for the Ryuo Championship in what was expected to be an exciting face-to-face.

It is thought that the accusation of cheating has come from Miura exhibiting strange behaviour during some of his matches of late. Fellow competitors have remarked on the fact that he has spent more time standing up than is usually during games of shogi.

They suspected him of using a smartphone to access software running on a PC, which would tell him the most effective move to make next. If this were true, it would be a clear breach of shogi rules, but as yet the investigation has not moved any further forward.

It is only in recent years that sophisticated shogi software has been developed and become widely available. The computer programs regularly beat the world’s top players when pitted against them and has led to a climate of suspicion within the sport when players do exceptionally well.

Watanabe is thought to have become wary of Miura and his behaviour in recent games, meeting with six other players to discuss the issue. Japan Today quotes a shogi association source suggesting that the group got together on October 10th and discussed the matter.

The meeting included Koji Tanigawa, a ninth dan and head of the association; Akira Shima, a ninth-dan association executive; and Shota Chida, a fifth dan with expert knowledge on shogi software. The source suggested that data was reviewed that showed Miura’s moves of late have mimicked what programs would have suggested in the same position.

Watanabe then announced he would withdraw from the tournament and perhaps sacrifice his title as a result, as he refused to play against someone accused of cheating. Miura denied the allegations but agreed to skip the championship while the matter was being investigated.

The association put a suspension in place for Miura that unless successfully challenged will last until the end of the year. Lawyers are now investigating, although the process is slow-moving and seems far from being resolved.

At present, there are no rules banning players from getting up during games and even taking a break in another room. It is currently expected that those involved will act properly and not cheat, but many prominent figures in the game are asking for rules to be changed and players kept within the gaming space during matches.