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?

  • 1
    funny that you have a book which "sabaki" is the topic but still the book fails to define it. – CognisMantis 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. – Dag Oskar Madsen 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. – Dag Oskar Madsen 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

I'm a Japanese native and 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 diffrent 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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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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  • 1
    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. – jk - Reinstate Monica 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

The chess-language equivalent of "sabaki" is something in between "tactics" and "maneuver".

Madoka Kitao's books are great !

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