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Unsolved For Hundreds of Years

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Note: This game is not on the CD-ROM, but is downloadable for free from our site.

The following is a description of a project I undertook to try and harness the power of the Zillions engine to assist me with an area of board games research that had interested me for some time.

One of the first things I did after purchasing Zillions was to start writing a rules file for the ancient Japanese chess game of Chu (Middle) Shogi. Middle Shogi is a large chess variant that had been popular in Japan from perhaps as early as the late 13th century until quite recent times. The game is played on a 12x12 board and has 46 pieces on each side, some of the pieces being more powerful and totally unlike any in Western Chess.

I began writing a Middle Shogi rules file for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to see how Zillions would handle a large and very complex game, and secondly I wanted to see if I could adapt it to make a tool useful for dealing with Middle Shogi mating (end-game) problems.

The composition of mating problems (tsume) for Shogi (Japanese Chess) comprises as important a part of the literature and history of the game as it does for Western Chess. During the 17th and early 18th centuries arguably the greatest ever practitioners of this art were not only composing Shogi mating problems but also published sizable collections for the game of Middle Shogi. Two of these ancient Middle Shogi collections (one of 50 problems and one of 100) were published without solutions, and the thing that had intrigued me was that for most of the problems in these collections solutions had never been found.

As a novice at Middle Shogi I knew that I would have little chance of unraveling the long-held secrets of these Japanese chess masters unaided. Then along came Zillions.

When I had finished my Zillions-based Middle Shogi mating program I tested it on some of the problems for which solutions were known and was pleased to find that the program could quickly find the main line of the solution if it was within 6 or 7 moves. I then turned to the 100 problem collection. These problems were of such a high standard that until very recently not a single one had been solved!

Within a short time I had used Zillions to solve two of the shorter previously unsolved problems in this collection, and buoyed by this success I started using it to tackle problems that clearly had much deeper solutions. I have since used my Zillions based program as a tool to aid in solving another of the problems that has a 38 move (!!!) solution. While this solution was well beyond the effective depth of the Zillions engine I was still able to use it to quickly search positions through to a depth of 5 or 6 moves and in this way to gradually work through to the solution. I'm now looking forward to tackling some more of these great masterpieces from the past!!

The availability of a package like Zillions has given me the opportunity to make a contribution to board games research. It has also given me an insight into the genius of a master problem composer who lived over 250 years ago. Not bad for $29.95!

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Note: Steve Evans is a Zillions of Games customer and is not affiliated with Zillions Development.

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