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I'm reading the book Sabaki at a glance by Madoka Kitao. It's a very nice book with many good examples one can learn from.

The problem I have is that I am left with only an intuitive understanding of the word itself. There is a note by the translator:

"Sabaku" or "sabaki" as an act in shogi has a nuance with the mixture of the following points.

  • To resolve an awkward or problematic position of the own pieces into an acceptable outcome.

  • To give the piece an opportunity to efficiently participate in the game or fulfill its task in a way even by sacrificing it.

  • It usually involves light footwork, or a skillful and dynamic piece maneuver.

  • It usually happens in the middlegame.

I find this a bit too general to make immediate sense. What is "sabaki", and what would be the corresponding concept in western chess?

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    funny that you have a book which "sabaki" is the topic but still the book fails to define it. Mar 31 '15 at 14:28
  • The book refers to the dictionary definition, "to skillfully use something that is difficult to handle; to use tools efficiently". There is also a note from the translator which I can add to the question. Mar 31 '15 at 14:53
  • I'm beginning to think it is somewhat similar to activate your pieces or techniques for activating your pieces. Sacrifice a pawn to open a diagonal, things like that. Apr 1 '15 at 0:02
  • A Zwischenzug could be an example.
    – Tony Ennis
    Dec 14 '15 at 19:02
  • Perhaps also related to the martial arts term tai sabaki, which I believe roughly translates as body movement.
    – hkBst
    Feb 11 '16 at 12:38
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I'm a Japanese native and have been a chess and Shogi player for a long time.

The Japanese word sabaki basically means proper handling of some complicated task, thus can have different meanings in different fields. In my opinion, the closest chess term is a "freeing move/maneuver". For example, after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 o-o 6.Nf3 Nbd7 7.Rc1 c6 8.Bd3, Black may play dxc4 9.Bxc4 Nd5 (Capablanca freeing maneuver). This looks similar to middlegame sabaki in Shogi to my eyes.

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I am not a Shogi- or Go player (only briefly looked at the games in the distant past), but I am an Aikido instructor. In this martial art the term 'tai sabaki' is one of the fundamental notions. While a literal translation is difficult, in Aikido (and other martial arts) it is described as 'changing the position of the body so as to cause an attack to fail'. It requires body movement out of the line of attack while at the same time gaining an advantageous position, enabling you to connect to the attacker, undermine his balance, and take him into a throw or an arm lock. I have also heard it explained as 'no longer being available to the attacker'.

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In Jiu Jitsu, we practice Tai Sabaki which we are told means "foot placement" or "foot movement". Additionally, in the videogame Persona 5, you befriend a shogi player who teaches you a move called "Koma Sabaki" which allows you to change your party mid-battle. With that information, and being a Japanese speaker, I conclude it most likely means "piece placement" or "piece movement" like a formula or plan.

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  • To resolve an awkward or problematic position of the own pieces into an acceptable outcome.

This one is bit abstract, so let me try to explain it. The philosophy behind “Sabaki” should mean “please try to utilize all your pieces.”

And Official Guidebook says

捌く【さばく】 働きのにぶい駒を好所に移動させたり、相手の駒と交換して効率化を図ること。

"Move your piece which does not work well into good position or exchange a piece with the opponent piece so that your plan goes efficiently."

The concept reminds me of "Kaizen" movement in a manufacturing industry or "Food Rescue" .

All in all, they say “please try to glean your malfunctioning pieces which may lead to the game plan goes efficiently”.


By the way, I am an amateur Japanese shoji player. Recently Shogi has been very popular in Japan because of rising up of the youngest titles holder Sota Fuji and the comparison of AI's several billion's position searching and his choice has been paid attention.

I hope chess also has been developing too.

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I know the term Sabaki from the game of Go where it means to make life in an endangered position or to repair a thin position. Maybe this helps to understand the concept in Shogi, too.

In an English language Go book I found the the term resilience as a circumscription of sabaki, and I find it perfectly cromulent.

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    Isn't it tesuji?
    – user58697
    Mar 31 '15 at 16:54
  • No, tesuji is a different term. It is a single very good move (comparable to ! or !! in Chess). Sabaki is more strategical. Making Sabaki involves usually more than only one good move. Apr 2 '15 at 9:19
  • tesuji also means "a standard clever move" generally relating to pawns.
    – Tony Ennis
    Dec 14 '15 at 19:01
  • @jknappen I don't think tesuji should be seen as comparable to ! or !! in chess. If I was to translate it into terms used in to describe chess positions I would use "idea".
    – Taemyr
    May 14 '19 at 13:46
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The chess-language equivalent of "sabaki" is something in between "tactics" and "maneuver".

Madoka Kitao's books are great !

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