Professional shogi player

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Professional shogi players, Yoshiharu Habu and Akira Watanabe, in 2014 with women's professional player Aya Fujita as timekeeper and (former) professional apprentice Naoto Kawasaki as game recorder
Professional shogi players at a human shogi [ja] exhibition match in Himeji, Japan in 2018. From left to right: Toshiaki Kubo, Keita Inoue, Masakazu Wakamatsu, Tetsurō Itodani, Akira Inaba, Shinobu Iwane, and Rei Takedomi.

A professional shogi player (将棋棋士 shōgi kishi or プロ棋士 puro kishi "professional player") is a shogi player who is usually a member of a professional guild of shogi players.

There are two categories of professional players: regular professional and female professional. All regular professional shogi players are members of the Japan Shogi Association (JSA). However, only regular professional players, who are all male, are considered to be full-fledged members. Female professional players belong to groups distinct from regular professional players. In Japanese, the term 棋士 kishi only refers to regular professional players to the exclusion of the female professionals, who are termed 女流棋士 joryū kishi.


During the Edo period (1603-1868), shogi followed an iemoto system centered around three families (schools): the Ōhashi (main) [ja], the Ōhashi (branch) [ja] and the Itō [ja].[1] Titles such as Meijin were hereditary and could only be held by members of these three families. These three schools were supported by the Tokugawa shogunate and thus controlled the professional shogi world up until 1868 when the Meiji Restoration took place.[2] By the time Sōin Itō [ja], the eighth and last head of the Itō school and the 11th Hereditary Meijin, died in 1893, the influence of the families had decreased to such an extent that they had no real power at all.[3]

The earliest form of the JSA was founded on September 8, 1924 as the Tokyo Shogi Federation (東京将棋連盟, tōkyō shōgi renmei) later renamed as the Japan Shogi Association (日本将棋連盟, nihon shōgi renmei).[4]


All shogi players are ranked by a dan system. In the current system, apprentice players become professional when they achieve the rank of 4-dan. Apprentice players aspiring to become professionals are ranked from 6-kyū to 3-dan.[5] Amateur and professional dan ranks are not equivalent with amateur 3- to 5-dan being roughly equivalent to apprentice professional 6-kyū and amateur 2- to 4-dan being roughly equivalent to female professional 2-kyū.[6]

Unlike western chess, shogi players do not have official Elo ratings although unofficial Elo scores may be calculated by shogi fans.[a] Unlike Elo scores which may increase or decrease, players who achieve a certain dan are never demoted to a lower dan. Thus, the dan system may be thought as a performance milestone indicator or somewhat like the peak Elo rating that is used in western chess.

Apart from the dan system, players are also ranked according to their results in the Meijin ranking tournament. Their performance in the ranking tournament may also affect their ranking in the dan system. Unlike the dan system, a player may be demoted to a lower Meijin ranking tournament class (as well as promoted).


Regular professionals (kishi) are ranked from 4- to 9-dan.[6] All new professionals start at 4-dan and are subsequently promoted based upon criteria established by the JSA. A similar system exists for female professionals who have their own separate ranking system from 2-kyū to 6-dan.[6] Satisfying one of the required criteria is sufficient for promotion. The JSA board of directors may also promote active professionals for exemplary results, etc. when deemed appropriate, and upon their official retirement in consideration of the number of years active, etc.[7]

Promotion criteria for regular professionals
Rank Criteria
  • Win outright or finish in sole 2nd place in 3-Dan League play
  • Obtain 2 promotion points in 3-Dan League play
  • Win 120 official games since promotion to 5-dan
  • Win tournament open to all professionals since promotion to 5-dan
  • Become official challenger for a major title since promotion to 5-dan
  • Be promoted consecutive times in Ryūō tournament ranking games or win three Ryūō ranking groups overall since promotion to 5-dan
  • Be promoted to Meijin Class B2
  • Be promoted to Ryūō ranking group 2
  • Win 150 official games since promotion to 6-dan
  • Win tournament open to all professionals since promotion to 6-dan
  • Win major title
  • Be promoted to Meijin Class B1
  • Become challenger for Ryūō title
  • Be promoted consecutive times in Ryūō tournament ranking games or win three Ryūō ranking groups overall since promotion to 6-dan
  • Be promoted to Ryūō ranking group 1
  • Win 190 official games since promotion to 7-dan
  • Win two major titles[b]
  • Be promoted to Meijin Class A
  • Win the Ryūō title
  • Win 250 official games since promotion to 8-dan
  • Win three major titles[c]
  • Win the Meijin title
  • Win the Ryūō title twice
Promotion citeria for female professionals
Rank Criteria
3-kyū Provisional female professional status based upon results achieved in training group play. A player who has been promoted to Group C1 and has played at least 48 official games can apply for provisional professional status and the rank of 3-kyū; however, they must achieve one of the promotion criteria for 2-kyū or above within a two-year period or their provisional status will be revoked. A player who loses her provisional status can return to Group C2.[10] Female amateurs under the age of 27 who reach the quarterfinals of an official women's tournament may also apply for provisional professional status; however, they must do so within in two weeks of the result or lose the right to do so. They can, however, repeat the process up to three times. Players still considered to be minors need to have the consent of their parent or guardian to apply. Players who belong to the JSA are required to have a professional player as their sponsor; those without sponsors will be granted a grace period of six months before losing the right to apply for provisional status.[11]
  • Achieve a number of wins equal to the number of official tournaments participated in a one-year period
  • Achieve a winning percentage of 75% or more in official women's tournaments over a two-year period
  • Advance to the semi-finals of the Women's Yamada Challenge Cup
  • Win 30 official games since promotion to 2-kyū
  • Win at least 50% (7 or more wins) of total official games played in a one-year period since promotion to 2-kyū
  • Advance to the final of the Women's Yamada Challenge Cup
  • Advance to the quarter-finals of the Kurashiki Tōka Cup
  • Be promoted to the Women's Ōshō League
  • Be promoted to Women's Ōi League
  • Advance to the finals of the Women's Meijin League preliminary tournament
  • Be promoted to the Women's Ōza League
  • Be promoted to the Mynavi Women's Open main tournament
  • Win 50 official games since promotion to 1-kyū
  • Win at least 50% (7 or more wins) of total official games played in a one-year period since promotion to 1-kyū
  • Win the Women's Yamada Challenge Cup
  • Advance to the semi-finals of the Kurashiki Tōka Cup
  • Advance to the semi-finals of the Women's Ōshō tournament
  • Avoid demotion from the Women's Ōi League
  • Be promoted to the Women's Meijin League
  • Advance to the semi-finals of the Women's Ōza tournament
  • Advance to the semi-finals of the Mynavi Women's Open main tournament
  • Win 60 official games since promotion to 1-dan
  • Become challenger for a major female title
  • Win 90 official games since promotion to 2-dan
  • Win a major female title
  • Win 120 official games since promotion to 3-dan
  • Win three major titles
  • Win 150 official games since promotion to 4-dan
  • Win seven major titles
6-dan (and above) Reserved for female professionals who have achieved exemplary results over their career as determined by the JSA board of directors

Professional players[edit]

Professional shogi players – Hiroyuki Miura, Rieko Yauchi, Takeshi Fujii, Yoshiharu Habu (from left to right) – at the 2013 Tokyo Shogi Matsuri.

JSA professional shogi players (正規棋士 seiki kishi or 棋士 kishi for short) are ranked from four to nine dan. Players receive a monthly salary according to their rank as well as game fees based upon performance, which historically have mostly come from media conglomerates in exchange for exclusive publishing rights.[12][13][14] In addition, popular players may also earn income from teaching, publishing, media appearances, etc. As of December 2017 there are 162 active professionals.[15]

Training group system[edit]

The JSA offers official "training" or "study" groups (研修会 kenshūkai) in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka where promising young amateur players can play instructional games against shogi professionals as well as official ranking games against other players of similar strength. These groups are open to all amateur-dan-ranked male and female players aged 20 years (25 years for females wanting to become a female professional. In this case a master is required) and under who can pass the entrance examination and pay the required tuition and other fees. Players are divided into seven groups from S to F according to playing strength: S is the top group, while the strength of a typical Group F player is generally considered to be amateur 2-dan. Each group is further divided into two sub-groups, 1 and 2, with promotion and demotion from one group or sub-group to another being determined by actual game results. Players who perform at high levels in the top groups can qualify for entry into the Apprentice School (for Group S or A2, depending upon age) or provisional female professional status (for Group C1) if they satisfy certain other conditions.[16]


Strong amateurs wishing to become professional must be accepted into the JSA's Apprentice School (新進棋士奨励会 shinshin kishi shōreikai). Apprentice professionals are initially ranked from 6-kyū to 3-dan based upon their results on the apprentice school entry exam or performance in certain amateur tournaments.[17] Apprentices are guided through the system by their master (師匠 shishō)—a currently active professional who acts as their sponsor and teacher—and are promoted or demoted in rank based upon performance.[12]

Players who successfully move up the ranks to 3-dan participate in the 3-dan League (三段リーグ san-dan riigu). This league is held twice yearly and the two top finishers of each league are promoted to 4-dan, thus gaining professional status.[18] The 3-dan League was established in 1987 with an initial limit of four players qualifying for 4-dan promotion in response to a concern that the average of five to six new professionals every year was diluting the professional pool.[19]

Amateurs of either gender can apply for entry into the apprentice school, but they must be promoted to 1-dan by age 21[5] and 4-dan by age 26[20] and those who are not must leave the school.[21] Those newly promoted to 3-dan are given at least five chances to obtain promotion to professional status in the 3-dan League, with anyone under age 29 who can maintain a win rate over 50% in 3-dan League being allowed to stay. Anyone over age 21 who drops from 1-dan to 1-kyū must achieve promotion to 1-dan again in six months or leave the school.

Professional admission test[edit]

There is an alternative way for amateurs to obtain professional status called the Professional Admission Test (プロ編入試験 puro henyū shiken) which was established by the JSA in 2006 in response to a former apprentice school 3-dan's successful attempt to become a professional.[22] Shōji Segawa was unable to gain promotion to 4-dan professional before turning 26 in 1996, and thus was required to withdraw from the JSA's apprentice school. Segawa continued to play shogi as an amateur and won a number of national amateur tournaments which allowed him to qualify for tournaments involving professionals. Segawa's record of 17 wins and 5 losses against professionals in these tournaments led him to request that the JSA grant him another opportunity to become a professional. In response, the JSA arranged six games for Segawa to play against a variety of opponents and stated that he would be granted 4-dan professional status if he won three games. Segawa's opponents included four professional players, one female professional player, and one apprentice school 3-dan.[23] The games were held from July to November 2005, and Segawa achieved his third win by winning game 5 on November 6, 2005 and was granted professional status by the JSA on the same day.[20] In 2014, the JSA announced the qualifications for those wishing to apply for the Professional Admission Test.[24] In July 2014, the JSA announced that it had accepted the application submitted by amateur Kenji Imaizumi, a 41-year-old former apprentice school 3-dan.[25] Imaizumi became the first amateur to successfully obtain professional status under the new system in December 2014.[26]

Female professionals[edit]

Sae Itō (right), a women's professional player currently ranked 2-dan, and Momoko Katō (left), currently ranked 3-dan
Karolina Styczyńska became the first non-Japanese professional shogi player in 2017

Female professional players are in groups distinct from regular professional players. Currently, no female professional player has yet qualified to become a member of the same category as regular professionals although 20 female shogi apprentices have competed to become professional. Currently, there is one female apprentice player, Tomoka Nishiyama (西山朋佳), who is in the 3-Dan League.[27][28]

There are two guilds of female professionals. Before the creation of the female guilds, women were historically not allowed to become professional players.


The JSA has a separate system for female professionals (女流棋士 joryū kishi) and ranks them from 3-kyū to 6-dan.[29] Female professionals are ranked and promoted differently than professionals (kishi) by the JSA.[30] As of December 2016, there are 52 active female professionals.[31] Strong female professionals are able to participate in some tournaments with men, but most professional tournaments are restricted to (all male) professionals. However, there are also major title matches and other tournaments for women only. Many of the women's tournaments are also open to the public for amateur female players who are not members of the JSA or LPSA. Until the 1990s, the strongest female professionals were considered to be roughly equivalent to 1- or 2-dan apprentices in playing strength.[12] Now, the strongest female professionals are close to professional level playing equivalent to 3-dan apprentices.

Strong female amateur players aged 25 or under who wish to become a female professional must be accepted into the JSA's Kenshūkai (研修会 "training group"). Female amateurs who are promoted to Class C1 are granted the rank of provisional female professional 3-kyū.[32] Those achieving the provisional rank of 3-kyū have two years to gain promotion to the rank of 2-kyū and thus obtain regular female professional status.[33]

Prior to 1984, female professionals were determined by their performance in national tournaments. From 1984 until March 2009, amateurs aspiring to become female professionals competed against each other in the Female Professional Apprentice League (女流育成会 joryū ikuseikai), a system similar to the 3-Dan League of the Professional Apprentice School. The winner of the league was promoted to female professional 2-kyū. In April 2009, the JSA disbanded this system and merged it into the "training group" system.[34]

Akiko Takojima [ja] joined the JSA in 1974 becoming the first female professional. She was also the first female to join the Professional Apprentice School and reached 1-dan before withdrawing.[35] She later left the JSA to join the LPSA.

In February 2017, Karolina Styczyńska became the first non-Japanese to be awarded full professional status when she was promoted to the rank of female professional 2-kyū.[36][37][38]


Other female professional players are members of the Ladies Professional Shogi-players' Association of Japan [ja] (LPSA), which is a professional guild of female players separate from the JSA. The LPSA was formed in 2007 due to disagreements between female players and the JSA over money and governance.


Professional players compete in a number of title tournaments as well as non-title tournaments. The two most prestigious are the tournaments for the Meijin title and the Ryūō title.


There are currently eight major title tournaments. The oldest is the Meijin, which is historically connected to the hereditary title system established in the 17th century during the time of the Tokugawa shogunate and later became a tournament title in 1937. The newest title tournament is the Eiō, which became a title tournament as recently as 2017.[39]

Below are the names of the title tournaments along with the current titleholders.

Title name Japanese name Titleholder
Meijin 名人 Masayuki Toyoshima
Ryūō 竜王 Akihito Hirose
Kisei 棋聖 Masayuki Toyoshima
Ōi 王位 Masayuki Toyoshima
Ōza 王座 Shintarō Saitō
Kiō 棋王 Akira Watanabe
Ōshō 王将 Akira Watanabe
Eiō 叡王 Takuya Nagase

Non-title tournaments[edit]

Women's tournaments[edit]

Most women's tournaments are open to both women's professional players as well as other women amateur players.

Below are the names of the title tournaments along with the current titleholders.

Title name Japanese name Titleholder
Meijin 女流名人 Kana Satomi
Ōshō 女流王将 Kana Satomi
Ōi 女流王位 Mana Watanabe
Kurashiki Tōka Cup 倉敷藤花 Kana Satomi
Queen 女王 Tomoka Nishiyama
Ōza 女流王座 Kana Satomi

Computer shogi[edit]

Human versus computer[edit]

In October 2005, professional players were instructed that they were banned from playing public games against computers without the permission of the JSA. The JSA said the reason for doing this was due to the increasing strength of shogi software programs and concerns that even a single professional player losing to a computer could give the public the impression that professionals "are weaker than the software". It was also believed that the JSA wanted to have more control over any future commercial opportunities associated with such games,[40] and was asking "organizers pay a sponsorship fee of at least ¥100 million per game".[41] Kunio Yonenaga, the JSA president who instituted the ban, later elaborated on the reasons for the ban in a 2011 interview by saying, "If a professional shogi player wins a match against a computer, it's no news. But when a pro loses, it turns into a big deal".[41]

A number of official games between professionals and computers have taken place since the ban went into effect. In March 2007, reigning Ryūō titleholder Akira Watanabe defeated the program "Bonanza" in the first official game since the ban was instituted,[42] but female professional Ichiyo Shimizu became the first professional, man or woman, to lose to a computer in an official game when she lost to "Akara 2010" in October 2010.[43] In January 2012, the program "Bonkras" defeated then JSA president and retired former Meijin Yonenaga.[40][44] Shin'ichi Satō became the first active male professional to lose to a computer when he lost to the program "Ponanza" in March 2013,[45] and Hiroyuki Miura became the first active "Class A" professional to lose to a computer when he lost to the program "GPS Shogi" in April 2013. Miura was participating in a match between five active male professionals and five computer programs held in March and April 2013. The match was won by the computers with a score of three wins, one draw and one loss.[46] A second team match was held in March and April 2014 with the computers winning four out of the five games played. A third team match was held in March and April 2015 with the professionals winning three games and losing two.

In June 2015, it was decided that the team match format was to be replaced by a two-game match (two days per game) between the winners of respective human and computer qualifying tournaments sponsored by the JSA and telecommunications company Dwango.[47] Takayuki Yamasaki and the program "Ponanza" started the best-of-two game 1st Denō Match in April 2016,[48] and Yamasaki lost the match 2–0.[49]

On February 22, 2017, the JSA announced that the "Denou Sen" matches between computers and professional players sponsored by Dwango would end in 2017. According to the chairman of Dwango, "These serious battles between humans and software have completed their historic role".[50] On April 1, 2017, Meijin Amahiko Satō became the first reigning major titleholder to lose an official game to a computer when he lost Game 1 of the 2nd Denō Match to the computer representative Ponanza.[51]

Human versus human[edit]

In October 2016, the JSA announced new rules which require players to keep their smartphones or other electronic devices in their lockers during official match games. Players will also be banned from leaving the JSA buildings in Tokyo and Osaka during official games. The JSA said the new rules were needed to prevent "high-tech cheating" by players using shogi apps installed on the devices themselves or from using the devices remotely access off-site personal computers for assistance during games. The move was made in response to the increasing strength of computer software in recent years, including a number of results where computers have beaten professional players in official games. As computer shogi programs have gotten stronger, the number of players using them for match preparation and post-game analysis has increased, giving rise to concerns about the possibility of cheating during games. The new rules took effect in December 2016.[52]

On February 10, 2017, the JSA announced that two professional players were the first to be fined for leaving the playing site during official games under the new rules. The two players were spotted by others leaving the playing site during their meal breaks for official games held on February 7 and February 8, 2016, respectively. The JSA fined each player 50% of the amount they were to receive as a game fee and strongly warned them to avoid making the same mistake again.[53][54]

List of professional players[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For instance: or
  2. ^ New criterion announced by JSA on May 22, 2018. Effective as of June 1, 2018.[8]
  3. ^ A player who wins three major titles while ranked lower that 8-dan, however, cannot be directly promoted to 9-dan; they must first satisfy the criteria for promotion to 8-dan.[9]


  1. ^ Hosking, Tony (1997). The Art of Shogi. Stratford-upon-Avon, England: The Shogi Foundation. p. 4. ISBN 978-0953108909.
  2. ^ Hosking 1997, p. 5.
  3. ^ "Sōritsu - Enkaku" 創立・沿革 [Establishment/History] (in Japanese). Japan Shogi Association. Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2015-05-24.
  4. ^ Hodges, George, ed. (1983). "Nihon Shogi Renmei". Shogi (41): 20.
  5. ^ a b "Shōreikai Gaiyō" 奨励会概要 [Outline of Apprentice School] (in Japanese). Japan Shogi Association. Archived from the original on 16 December 2008. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  6. ^ a b c "Dan to Kyū" 段と級 [Dan and Kyū] (in Japanese). Japan Shogi Association. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
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  9. ^ Satō, Tomoyasu (February 1, 2017). "Puro Kishi Shōdan ni wa Itsutsu no Hōhō ga Atta. Igai to Shirareteinai, Sono Shikumi to wa?" プロ棋士昇段には5つの方法があった. 意外と知られていない,その仕組みとは? [The five ways professionals are promoted. The process is unexpectedly not very well known.] (in Japanese). Japan Shogi Association. Archived from the original on April 10, 2017. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
  10. ^ "Yamane Konomi Kenshūkaiin ga Joryūkishi Sankyū no Shikaku wo Kakutoku" 山根ことみ研修会員が女流棋士3級の資格を取得 [Training group member Kotomi Yamane obtains rank of female professional 3-kyū] (in Japanese). Japan Shogi Association. September 10, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  11. ^ "Joryū Kishi Karikaiin (Joryū Sankyū) Shikaku Fuyo Kitei" 女流棋士(女流3級) 資格付与規程 [Provisions for obtaining provisional female professional status (female professional 3-kyū)] (in Japanese). Japan Shogi Association. October 2, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  12. ^ a b c Hosking 1997, p. 6.
  13. ^
  14. ^
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  18. ^ "'Yaru kara ni wa Kanarazu Yondan ni' Satomi Joryū Sankan Ichimon Ittō" 「やるからには必ず四段に」 里見女流三冠一問一答 [Q & A with Satomi Women's 3 Crown, "I will definitely make 4 dan"]. Asahi Shimbun (in Japanese). Tokyo, Japan. December 23, 2013. Retrieved November 1, 2014. プロと認められる四段まで、最終関門の「三段リーグ」を残すのみだ。約40人の三段が全員参加する三段リーグは半年間で18局指し、原則、上位1位と2位がプロ棋士になる「狭き門」だ。
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  20. ^ a b Nakamura, Akemi (December 29, 2005). "Newest 'shogi' pro followed unlikely path". The Japan Times. Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  21. ^ "Satomi Joryū Sankan, Shōreikai Sandan ni, Josei Hatsu no Kishi e Saishū Sekimon" 里見女流三冠、奨励会三段に 女性初の棋士へ最終関門 [Satomi Women's 3 Crown, Promoted to Apprentice Professional 3 Dan, Last Barrier Before Becoming First Woman "Regular" Shogi Professional]. Asashi Shimbun (in Japanese). Tokyo, Japan. December 23, 2013. Retrieved November 1, 2014. 棋士になるには奨励会を勝ち抜いて、原則として26歳までに四段に上がらなければならない。(...) 制限された年齢を超えた場合、退会となる。
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  27. ^ "Nishikawa Tomoka Shōreikain, Shōreikai Sandan ni" 西山朋佳奨励会員, 奨励会三段に [Apprentice professional Tomoka Nishikawa promoted to 3-dan] (in Japanese). Japan Shogi Association. December 7, 2015. Retrieved September 4, 2018.
  28. ^ Yamamura, Hideki (February 18, 2018). "Satomi Kana, Josei Hatsu no Kishi Toonoku, Shoreikai Taikai Kimaru" 里見香奈, 女性初の棋士遠のく 奨励会退会決まる [Kana Satomi's bid to become first female "kishi" unsuccessful. End of apprenticeship determined]. Mainichi shimbun (in Japanese). Retrieved February 27, 2018.
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