Interview with Hiroshi Okabe – the most experienced Japanese Renju AT final player

Hiroshi Okabe

1. Tell a bit about yourself, when did you start to play, what job do you do, what hobbies do you have?

I started to play renju in 1993, when I was 7 years old.  My mother and I went to the library near by our home, we should turn left in entrance of the building.  But my mother found renju VCT puzzle in the entrance, then she turned right and took me to visit renju club and ask answer of VCT.  As a result, I became a member of the club, I don’t know why…   It was Nerima renju club, now I am chairman of it.

Now I work as personnel affairs in law firm. (I am not attorney, just support them.)

My hobby is other board games and traveling.  I have been to all 47 prefectures in Japan, I have been to Estonia 7 times!

2. You have become the most experienced World Championship AT final player from Japan. How many times have you competed in WC-s? What does it mean to you? What do you consider your best achievements?

It was 10th time to join WC, 8th time to join AT.  I joined all ATs after 2003, except last time; 2017.  I couldn’t pass QT 2017, but luckily I got AT place by 3rd place of All Japan championship this time.  I joined Youth WC 6 times and Team WC 4 times, so it was 20th time to join RIF title tournaments.  Of course these are special events in my life, especially AT.  My best results in AT were 5th place in 2003, 2015 and 2019, these are not special achievements I think.  My first participation to AT was 2003, at that time I fought against fear; Japan – origin country of renju – would lose AT place.  In 2005, I was only one player in AT.  But this time 5 Japanese joined AT and I was oldest of them!  Maybe my struggle in AT for a long time itself can be said my best achievement.

3. Which game(s) were the most difficult ones in this tournament?

All games are difficult of course, if I must choose one, 1st round against AivoOll was difficult and dangerous all the time.

4. What did you expect before the tournament? Are you satisfied?

For my personal result, my 8 games after 4th round are poor, my opponent had VCT all the games.  But I earned 3.5 points in the 8 games, it means I must be satisfied.  Probably I am recognized as stable player, but I made many of easy mistakes in this 2 years, maybe I am too old to play renju? (although I am younger than 1st and 2nd place players this time…)  SoI was really afraid that I would be candidate of last place.  However, I couldn’t join AT last time as I wrote above, other promising Japanese players would keep AT places, so I had nothing to fear.  Then I could try gambling style.  Of course 5th place was not my goal, but as I see my situation calmly, it should be said lucky result.

As a captain of Japanese delegation, I think it was valuable and fruitful WC.  Actually this time Japan lost big chance to get individual World Champion again, but many Japanese started to believe it will come near future, thanks to this WC.

5. You are active as a renju organiser. Tell us more about Japanese Renju now. Do you write renju books and articles to Japanese renju magazine?

In Japan, “shogi (Japanese chess)” became popular again thanks to some big stars and unique players.  Many of fans are interested in not only shogi game itself, also players’ character, clothes, foods and so on.  Then, status of other board games and their players became higher too, luckily.  So situation of spreading renju became better than 5 years ago.  In 2015, Shigeru Nakamura and Tomoharu Nakayama made VCT books.  After that, I made 4 of VCT books.  We sold more than 3000 total, it can be said successful for us.  As a chairman of Advertisement committee in Japan Renju Federation, I am trying to have contacts to other board games, now it is also on the good way I think.

6. Would it be possible in your opinion to open up a club for children in future (by government or sponsors)? Could RIF approach be helpful in achieving this or does it seem impossible?

Trying to contact with many children, many kinds of mind sports are important of course. But we have more ways to spread renju.  For example, importance of AI in our current society makes good chance to us, top players of traditional board games are regarded as symbol of humans’ intelligence.  We can contact such kind of ways too.  Also, my current biggest task in renju is making achievement as PLAYER, I must be more famous as player, I believe it helps achievement of spreading renju.

Hiroshi Okabe and Maiko Fujita

7. What does Shigeru Nakamura mean to you and what has made him such an extraordinary player for decades to Japanese renju and how would you describe his talent, style and work ethics?

Nakamura shows Darwin’s theory of evolution is true… we must change our style to survive.  Now he is one of the best users of renju AI in Japan, although he has enough experience and skill to beat us.  It means he also shows Edison’s proverb is true… 1% talent 99% effort.  His biggest talent is, he truly loves renju, if some players discuss and analyze about their game, he certainly joins it, he certainly becomes main analyzer and talk everything after some minutes, he never stop analyzing before he finds the answer.  I think genius has 2 types.  1. He/she can see something that normal people cannot see.  2. He/she cannot see something that normal people can see.  Nakamura is type 2!!  He only can see truth of renju.  Many important things for us; playing style of his opponent, time of lunch and next rounds… he cannot see these things because he is not interested in it.  So I don’t think everyone can be Nakamura, but we must study more from him.  I am a player who played against him the most, so one of my big job in renju is analyzing him and tell it to the world.

8. What do you most enjoy about renju?

If I do my best and enjoy in renju, it reduces stress of working.  If I do my best and enjoy in working, it reduces stress of renju.  I found this way of thinking is so healthy!

9. If you could play another sport what would it be?

Hm, maybe soccer.  Because I have same illness as Pele, Maradona and Messi; urinary stones…  Renju use stones, and I have urinary stones, stones seems to love me so much.

10. If you had to be shipwrecked on a deserted island, but all your human needs—such as food and water—were taken care of, what two items would you want to have with you?

Oh, I need only one item, jet ski to escape from the island!  So I recommend my renju VCT book as second item to enjoy the adventure, everyone must buy =)

Okabe handing his book to students

Thank you very much for the interview and we wish you the best of luck! 🙂