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The Blind Have No Handicap in "shogi" Play

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is re-printed from The Asahi Shimbun, December 13, 2001

I recently attended a "shogi'' tournament where the players called out their moves in loud voices-"7-6 pawn," "8-4 pawn," "2-6 pawn'' and so on. It was certainly noisier than "regular" tournaments

This was a national shogi championship tournament for the blind. I play shogi for fun, and I could readily tell I was not even close to the advanced levels of performance of these accomplished players. This was no surprise

Many of the contestants were of the amateur fourth grade

Good shogi players are said to be able to clearly visualize the pieces being moved on a chess board in their minds. I am also told that professionals can play blindfolded and take on more than one challenger at once. But while I can understand all that in my head, I was nonetheless surprised to actually witness the ease with which these blind people played the game so masterfully

Yuji Maeda, an eighth-grade pro who served as the chief judge, told me: "Being unable to see is a handicap, but perhaps because of it, these people are able to decide their moves with swiftness and precision. They are all talented players."

Eiichi Nagai, 66, is a five-time champion of this national tournament. He noted that in the game ``go,'' moves are hard to memorize because the board is big and the pieces are only in black and white. "With shogi, however, it doesn't make any difference whether you are blind or you can see."

Nagai was a 28-year-old factory worker when an iron fragment hit his right eye and blinded it. By the time he was 45, his left eye had also become practically sightless. He quit his job, and enrolled in a school for the blind to learn acupuncture and the traditional kyu moxibustion treatment

Nagai had been a shogi buff as a youngster. He went back to this boyhood passion in his 50s. He has since continued to hone his skill by having his wife read out the newspaper shogi problem section and listening to TV shogi programs

But shogi is not his only hobby now. Together with his sight-impaired friends, he has tried out many other things, such as dancing, bowling, table tennis and pachinko. "We have a lot more going on than many people with sight can ever imagine," Nagai said with a happy grin