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Aoshima Mirai wins Japan Chess Classic 2023

by Sheldon Donaldson - 07/08/2023

Mayur Gondhalekar and his good friend, Sheldon Donaldson regularly keeps us updated about the Japan chess scene. Sheldon writes a blog about his experience playing at the Japan Chess Classic 2023. It was a FIDE rated event. The Canadian origin, currently residing in Japan, Sheldon's article is full of high quality photos and some interesting moments from his games. He takes a look at his losses too, while making us enjoy various moments from his games. Check out his experience taking part in the tournament which took place in Kobe, Japan. All photos in this article are by the author, Sheldon Donaldson.

Missing wins in Kobe

“There is no remorse like the remorse of chess.”

– H G Wells

Open Top five (L to R): 3rd CM Thanh Tu Tran 5.5/7, 2nd IM Ryosuke Nanjo 6/7, 1st FM Mirai Aoshima 6/7, 4th Koya Matsuyama 5.5/7 and 5th IM Shinya Kojima 5.5/7

The Champions (L to R): Muxi Chen 4.5/7, FM Mirai Aoshima 6/7 and Yuya Yanai 4/7

Hello, my fellow OTB fanatics, and welcome to another edition of the Osaka Papers. Chess is fun no matter where or how you play it, but for me nothing beats over-the-board competition. The feel of the pieces, the sounds of the clocks, the stillness and intensity of the playing hall, all combine to give the ideal atmosphere for the great game.


The Japan Chess Classic 2023 in Kobe took place Friday July 14th through Monday July 17th. It is one of the only three FIDE rated tournaments held in the country. Players representing the federations of Canada, China, India, Australia, Philippines, Panama, and Brazil also took part; giving the affair somewhat of an international aura. The tournament consisted of seven rounds, with a time control of 90 minutes + 30 second bonus.


With so many talented players taking part I didn't set my goals very high; I simply wanted to win four games out of seven, something I have consistently failed to do. My preparation consisted almost entirely of marathon sessions of tactic trainer, but as we will see, spotting tactics in a training session is not the same as finding them over the board...


Well, before we get into the games, how about a few pictures to prove that any of this actually happened.

Every tourney needs a good poster

Kiito Design and Creative Center: Cafe, Musuem, Technical Institue and Chess Hall

Can anyone guess what this is? Wrong answers only

Playing Hall 1 and Taro...

Playing Hall 2

The Postmortem Room

Kobe Harbor

Fighting a FIDE Master

“One bad move nullifies forty good ones.”

– Israel Albert Horowitz

In round 1, I was paired with former Japan chess champion, theoretician, professor, Chess Olympiad member, and all around great guy FM Simon Bibby. In such encounters, my goal is to not so much win, but survive the game. Of course chess is unpredictable and anything can happen, but I felt that if I could simply hold the position and not demonstrate any obvious weaknesses, perhaps I could get away with a draw.

Birthday Boy

“I used to attack because it was the only thing I knew. Now I attack because I know it works best.”

– Garry Kasparov

In the second round I lost to an unrated player, while the third and forth rounds saw me overcome lower rated players, finally in the fifth round I was quickly beaten by a very strong opponent. Although these games were interesting, I've decided to skip past them and focus on my birthday games.


July 17th was the final day of the tournament and it also happens to be my birthday. Playing chess on your birthday is usually either brilliant or a tragedy, for me it was a little of both.


I went into the sixth round with two points, so this would be my final opportunity to attain my goal of finally scoring 4 points in a major tournament. As the game proceeded I was genuinely confident, the opening had gone poorly for White and I had a major positional advantage.


On the 18th move I was faced with a dilemma: Black has a dangerous attack building on the kingside, should I defend against it or totally ignore it and continue my own assault?

Jesrel - Sheldon, Round 6

Position after 18.Ng5

I would go on to lose this game in 58 moves; I had a least two other chances to win the game, but squandered both of them. Suffice to say this was one of the worst defeats of my life and my pain is immeasurable... anyhow, one more game to go.


“No one ever won a game by resigning.” – Savielly Tartakower


In the final round, I was paired with a lower rated opponent. I knew that my greatest challenge would not be him, but overcoming the extreme emotional damage that last round`s loss had left me with.


Less than 20 moves into the game, I had Black under immense pressure, but I could not quite find a break through. The game continued with me losing my advantage before reaching an even endgame.


But what did I miss? Only one of the best tactical sequences imaginable. A combination that chess players dream of...and I missed it...O_o...


Dear Reader, please find this brilliant combination that went Missing...

Sheldon - Maeda, Round 7

Position after 19...Nd5

Despite missing that brilliant combination, I was able to reach a very close endgame. And finally after than three hours we arrived at the special moment when you know without any doubt that the endgame is winning. I knew it, my opponent knew it, the small crowd of spectators knew it, the arbitrator knew it, parents and younger siblings who knew nothing about the game even knew it, and so my opponent resigned.


There was only one was a dead draw...O_o...

If you should ever find yourself in a lost endgame, don't resign, make your opponent prove it beyond any doubt.

The Results

Under 1500 Top five (L to R): Kazuki Minami (JPN) 4/7, Yuya Yanai (JPN) 4/7, Qingyi You (CHN) 3.5/7, Dai Araki (JPN) 3.5/7 and Rikka Mitsuyama (JPN) 3.5/7

Under 1800 Top five (L to R): Shuma Endo (JPN) 4.5/7, Muxi Chen (JPN) 4.5/7, Yuhiro Muto (JPN) 4/7, Toma Matsunaga (JPN) 4/7 and Soichiro Yamamoto (JPN) 4/7

Final standings

Rk.SNoNamesexGrFEDRtgIRtgNClub/CityPts. TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4 
13FMAoshima MiraiJPN234424576303327,7512290
22IMNanjo RyosukeJPN23512474629,531,525,5012301
31CMTran Thanh TuJPN242025755,529,533,525,7512093
425Matsuyama KoyaJPN185019565,5293223,5012340
54IMKojima ShinyaJPN233524835,528,531,523,5012458
68Song SamuelCAN213821385R bye5,5252820,259949
79FMBibby SimonJPN213722695293220,7512480
85Otawa YutoJPN218821785262818,5011062
922Okuno RionPAN18891576525,528,519,0010284
1010CMNakahara KanJPN207521541R bye52528,519,008953



And that was it, that was the Japan Chess Classic 2023 in Kobe. Although, I didn't achieve my goal of scoring 4 points, I still had a really positive experience. As the old saying goes, losing with friends is better than winning alone.


Nonetheless, I still have to hone my calculation and endgame skills, my biggest takeaway from all of this is to trust hard calculation rather than intuition.


I'd like to say thanks to the Abeno Chess Club and Kiyotaka Akai for organizing this event, and give special congratulations to all the youngsters I saw dominating the top boards. There were more than a few adults who got to experience that peculiar sensation of realizing that a child is better than you at chess.


As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to share these games with your friends down at the Library or Cafe.


Cheers, SheldonOfOsaka

About the Author

SheldonOfOsaka is a 41-year-old chess player originally from Canada, who has lived in Japan for the past 13 years; he took up chess 10 years ago, but only began to play over-the-board tournaments last year.

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