Hanyu 9-dan and Fujii 5-kan, “32 years of age difference,” face off…Research: “Is the Younger Player Stronger in Shogi? | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Hanyu 9-dan and Fujii 5-kan, “32 years of age difference,” face off…Research: “Is the Younger Player Stronger in Shogi?

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Interview with Hirokyo Nakatani, a researcher of “cognitive function” and “brain activity” of professionals.

The first Shogi title game of 2023, “The 72nd ALSOK Cup Oushou-Sen Shichibankacho” will start on January 8. This is the first title match between Yoshiharu Hanyu 9-dan (52) and Sota Fujii 5-kan (20). Since Hanyu 9-dan will be challenging Fujii for his 100th title, the tournament is suddenly attracting a great deal of attention.

In 2021, Hanyu 9-dan lost for the first time in his career with a record of 14 wins and 24 losses, and there were whispers that he was declining due to aging. However, in 2022, he achieved an unprecedented total of 1,500 wins in official tournaments and returned to the title game stage.

Is there really an “age barrier” in the world of Shogi? We asked Mr. Hiroyuki Nakatani, a specially-appointed lecturer at Tokai University’s Faculty of Information and Communication, who is a first dan amateur Shogi player and uses his knowledge to study the cognitive functions and brain activities of professional Go players.

The Ousho Tournament is a game played over two days. While Fujii Gokan has an impressive record in two-day title tournaments with long durations, Hanyu has always been strong in shorter one-day games,” said Nakatani (photo: Afro).

Shogi of 30 years ago is out of date! Can Hanyu 9-dan catch up?

I think there is still an age barrier. One factor is the aging of the brain: after the age of 30, the number of brain cells gradually decreases and declines with age.

The other factor, I hypothesize, is whether you are acquiring new knowledge. This is because Shogi has its own fads and strategies are constantly evolving, so the more new knowledge you acquire, the stronger you are.

It is possible to acquire new knowledge in one’s 40s and 50s, but is the effect of age inevitable?

I am not an expert on the effects of aging on brain activity, so I did some research. The intelligence that acquires new information, processes it, and manipulates it is called “fluid intelligence,” and according to aging research, it peaks at age 30 and declines relatively quickly after age 65. In other words, it is more advantageous to be under 30 years old to acquire new knowledge. Since Mr. Hanyu is in his 50s, it may be a little more difficult for him to acquire new things.

On the other hand, the ability to cope with situations based on knowledge and experience acquired in the past is “crystalline intelligence,” which increases gradually after age 30 and does not decline much after age 65. Professionals first think of moves to be made intuitively and analyze their readings (future developments), and this crystalline intelligence is related to intuition.

Experienced professionals often say, “Even if I cannot think deeply as I get older, I can still play using the big picture that I have acquired. This means that they make decisions based on their intuition, which is based on their accumulated knowledge and experience. However, their intuition is based on knowledge gained 20 or 30 years ago. Even if it was the best move at that time, it does not necessarily mean that it is the same today.

This may be true for Hanyu 9-dan as well. The difference in age between Hanyu 9-dan, the “genius of the Heisei era,” and Fujii 5-kan, the “genius of Reiwa,” is 32 years. There seems to be a gap in the freshness of the knowledge on which their intuition is based.

Hanyu’s fluid intelligence is still lower than Fujii’s. His crystalline intelligence has not declined as much. Hanyu’s fluid intelligence is still lower than Fujii’s. His crystalline intelligence has not declined that much, but the question is what kind of knowledge and experience he has acquired. In the case of Mr. Hanyu, the knowledge he has accumulated in his 30-plus years of playing Go is the foundation. I think he is now in the stage of trying to reapply a new coat of knowledge by incorporating research using AI.

Now that the use of AI for analysis and research of Shogi is commonplace, it is obvious that new knowledge is more correct and stronger. When he looks at the board and intuitively thinks of moves to make, he uses his acquired knowledge, so I would say that Mr. Fujii, whose knowledge is newer, has an advantage. However, Mr. Hanyu is also working hard to acquire new knowledge, so whether he can catch up or not may be the deciding factor in the upcoming Ousho Tournament.

At a time when the mainstream view of Shogi was that it was a game in which all human power was concentrated, Hanyu 9-dan in his younger days said, “Shogi is a game. The photo shows Hanyu 9-dan at the age of 20 (taken in 1990) (Photo: Kyodo News)

A player’s brain is at its most powerful in his 20s and early 30s.

I wonder if Shogi strategies and tactics have evolved and changed that much.

When I look at shogi played 30 years ago, even as an amateur, I feel it is old-fashioned.

For example, 10 years ago, when AI appeared, it was common practice to build a castle and surround the king to protect him. Nowadays, however, it is not always the case. With the advent of AI, the common sense of Shogi has completely changed.

In the past, it was considered to be played by constructing an offensive and a defensive line, but now it is difficult to know where is defensive and where is offensive,” he said. Naturally, he says, old knowledge is no longer applicable.

In the shogi world, more than 4-dan professional players are now considered to be professional. In the Shogi world, professional players are those who have reached the rank of 4-dan or above, and those who have reached the rank of 1-dan to 3-dan are considered to be professional players, but it is said that those in their teens actually have the most new knowledge. That is why professional professionals who have just become professionals have a 70% or 60% winning rate. Because they jump into the game with new knowledge, they win a lot. In the world of sports, it is unusual for newcomers to suddenly become successful, but there are many newcomers in the Shogi world who are stronger than veterans.

At present, the top 10 players in the Meijin and Rank A ranks are in their early to mid 30s. Are these the age groups in which professionals’ brains are at their best?

It is from their 20s to early 30s. It is the brain function in terms of concentration and learning ability, and young people are more capable of learning new things and concentrating on the board for hours. The ability to learn new things and concentrate for hours on a board is higher in younger people.

Concentration declines with age. In Shogi, if you make a mistake, you lose the game, so it is important to be able to think without losing concentration. In this respect, young players probably have an advantage.

When I think back to 30 years ago, Mr. Hanyu was as active as Mr. Fujii is today. Considering that Mr. Hanyu was in his prime, holding titles from his 20s to his 40s, I think that Mr. Fujii, who is entering an age when his brain is at its strongest, will become even stronger.

At the press conference held after winning the Ryuoh Tournament last December, Gokan Fujii said of his match against 9-dan Hanyu in the Ousho Tournament, “I am very much looking forward to it. I hope to be in good shape. The photo shows the 2017 Ryuoh Tournament, the year after he turned pro. Fujii Fever” was that year’s new word of the year (photo: AFLO).

If it was Mr. Hanyu, he might be able to overcome the age barrier.

Hanyu 9-dan and Fujii 5-kan are both called “prodigies. How does Mr. Nakatani, who is also an amateur professional Go player, view the genius of both players?

I learned Shogi from the older Hanyu when I was in junior high school, so he was like a star to me. Every move he made was amazing, and I remember watching him thinking, ‘As expected of Mr. Hanyu.

I could not understand Mr. Fujii’s moves, and even when I saw them, I did not understand what they meant. Even now, I can somehow understand Mr. Hanyu’s Shogi. I honestly don’t understand the AI-like moves of the younger players, led by Mr. Fujii. It is as if I am looking at a new world.

Of course, it is true that Mr. Fujii is great, and the fact that he can play AI-like moves is because he has studied and understand AI moves. However, his intuition contains his original knowledge and ideas, so I believe that Mr. Fujii himself is playing the game without being aware of AI moves.

The match of the century between these two superstars of the Shogi world is approaching. Will Hanyu 9-dan be able to overcome the age barrier? Even if you are not a Shogi fan, you must be very curious about it.

He said, “In 2021, my performance was very poor, which is unusual for Hanyu 9-dan, and I fell out of the rank A in the Ranked Tournament. However, in 2022, he is doing very well and his winning percentage is back to around 70%, which is close to his prime. 52 years old, his fluid intelligence is declining, and although he is facing the age barrier, I have high expectations that Mr. Hanyu, who is always eager to acquire new knowledge, may be able to overcome this barrier. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Ousho Tournament. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Ousho Tournament.

Hironori Nakatani, specially-appointed lecturer at Tokai University’s Faculty of Information and Communication, was born in Miyagi Prefecture in 1973. He graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, Tohoku University, and completed the doctoral course at the same university. After working as a researcher at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute and as an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo, he assumed his current position in 2022. He is a first dan amateur Shogi player. He is the co-author of “How to decide the next move: Intuition and brain science of professionals” (Keiso Shobo).

  • Interview and text Sayuri Saito

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