Go Wizardry

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The Contemporary Game of Go


早乙女や朝澄む小田の水かゝみ 蕪村

Saotome ya sumu oda no mizu kagami Buson

Rice planting girl! The mirror of the water of the clear rice paddy

Artist: 深林人 Shinrinjin

Kido, July 1974

Yosa Buson (与謝蕪村 1719-1783) appeared on the cultural scene (as both a poet and artist) after the great Matsuo Basho (松尾芭蕉 1644-1694) had passed away and the haiku had suffered a decline. Buson’s haiku displayed a grace and elegance that breathed new life into the art. There is also a vivid artistically visual sense conveyed by the work. In the above haiku, one can almost hear the girl singing traditional rice-planting songs as she works. Buson’s published masterpiece is 「新花摘み」 ("Shin Hana-Tsumi" = "New Flower Plucking").

When I was first trying to get strong at go, there were very few books about the game available in order to study. Ishi Press had just been established a few years previously and had only published a handful of books. The Nihon Ki-in (Japanese Go Association) had published introductionary texts and "Go Proverbs Illustrated," but they were hardly useful in helping players to get strong. Besides that, the Nihon Ki-in also published "Go Review," a magazine of about 80 pages that contained advanced material (and was soon to be replaced by "Go Quarterly"), but the writing and editing left a lot to be desired. It was no wonder that I sought out original Japanese go books.

Just a few years before that, in 1968, the Nihon Ki-in had published the "Modern Masters" series of books (現代の名局 = "Gendai no Meikyoku"). This was comprised of ten volumes: 1 & 2: Hashimoto Utaro; 3 & 4: Kitani Minoru; 5 & 6: Go Seigen; 7 & 8: Takagawa Kaku; and 9 & 10: Sakata Eio. This was landmark event in the history of go publishing. For the first time a major set of go books was available for the general public at a moderate price. I was able to obtain a number of the volumes and was glad to have that opportunity. The text was in Japanese, but at least the games represented the highest degree of artistry in the go world.

However, after studying the games for some time, I realized that most of them proceeded at a slow pace. (The volumes of Go Seigen’s games were fast-paced due to his own style, but were not models for how to play since they were so complex.) That was because they were either played without a komi, or a small, 4 1/2 point komi as in the games from the Honinbo tournament. There was still a lot to learn from them, but the glacial pace of the games was disappointing.

Except for the two volumes of Sakata’s games. They moved at a rapid pace and resembled the ones that were being played in the tournaments held in Japan in those days which I knew from other sources.

It might be interesting for visitors to GoWizardry to go back in time to those old days of the transition from the old, slow-moving system to the contemporary style. The following article comes from Kido, June 1975.

Demonic Genius

Sakata Exquisite Move Record


Sakata Eio, Nihon Ki-in Champion

In Sakata’s games, the stones are regularly engaged in close combat involved activity throughout the board. We pursue here the essence of Sakata’s exquisite moves as evinced by the flash of genius of "the only move" produced by a professional player’s spirit.

Blazing Ideas


White to Play

Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click here to do so.

The spotlight is on the final game of the 2nd Annual Meijin Title Match held in 1964.

Playing Black is Fujisawa Shuko 9 dan, who won the 1st Annual Meijin Title (edging out Sakata and Go Seigen, who fought themselves to a jigo draw), and in this board position the focus is on the battle for control of the unsecured territory extending from the upper side into the center. Speaking in concrete terms, the hane of Black would ensure an organic connection among Black’s stones to the left and right. Incurring this would simplify the board position, making it impossible for White to grab hold of winning chances.

"The Only Move Next" was forged out of strenuous thought occasioned by distaste for this possibility of Black and justly won lavish praise as "a brilliant move that will reverberate down the ages." Fortunately, it became the winning factor in this game.

Looking back on those days, 1964 was an unforgettable year for me, where, besides winning the Honinbo title, I added the Meijin title by winning this game, and had such an excess of energy that I was blessed with the luck of winning many other titles. [In fact, Sakata’s record in 1964 of 28 wins and 2 losses, .938 winning rate, is the best in go history. Of all the major titles in the go world, he only missed taking the 10 Dan title that year.] In this game I was blazing to find "the only move to play next," and that blazing thought was what stands out in my memory now.


Diagram 1 (1-119) White 92 connects (19)

Here are the moves through 119 leading to the test diagram above. [Notice that Black is allowed to play the consecutive moves of 69, 71, 73 and 75 to make a ponnuki one stone capture. A famous go proverb states that, "A ponnuki is worth 30 points," but Sakata judged that despite that he could still win the game. That takes extraordinary insight!]

Analysis of the fighting unrelated to the "only move next" will be omitted. When play gets to White’s surrounding territory with 90, the game can be judged to be quite close.

When faced with the probe of Black 97, I was perplexed as to how to respond, but for White 98…


Diagram 2 (Concentration on the Upper Side)

…in order to defend against a Black attachment at , answering with White 1 is thick and strong. But descending with Black 2 both threatens the upper left corner and to isolate White’s two stones on the left side.

The moves from the attachment of Black 113 through drawing back at 119 leads to the position in the test diagram.


Diagram 3 (No Winning Chances)

Taking territory by connecting underneath with White 1 would incur Black’s hane at 2 and I had no confidence in the outlook in the game after this.


Diagram 4 (Promising for Black)

White 1 would likewise be met by Black 2 and the same result.


Diagram 5 (Awful for White)

In that case, how about White 1 here? This hane would be answered by Black 2 and 4 (if White plays 3 at , Black replies at ) and there is nothing admirable about this.

So I took a long time thinking about my next move.


Diagram 6 (A Painstaking Move)

The hane of Black would make the center thick and strong, which would be no good, so the laser-like focus is on preventing this. That leads to the choice of the peep of White 1 as the only move to play.

In playing this peep, what White has to worry about is…


Diagram 7 (An Exquisite Empty Triangle Move)

…the counterattack of Black 1. However, following White 2 through 14, even if Black attempts to capture with 15, White has the exquisite move of the empty triangle of 16 available, so the stones cannot be captured.

In other words, although Black 17 cuts off the escape route below, the jumping attachment of White 18 not only prevents White’s stones from being taken, but rather results in Black’s destruction. Instead of Black 17…


Diagram 8 (The Stones Cannot be Taken)

…even if Black pushes through at 1, White runs away easily using the move order of 2 and 4.


Diagram 9 (The Continuation in the Actual Game)

By forcing Black to connect at 1, White can block at 2, which is a success, and the shining light ahead can be glimpsed.

It is natural for Black to play the move at 5, neutralizing control of the center, but what is to be made of the move-in-a-row of Black 11?


Diagram 10 (A Different Strategy for Black)

After exchanging Black for White 2, Black 3, or else returning to play at , if answered by White , would be met by Black advancing to , making things difficult for White.

In Diagram 9, after White 14, Black is harassed with the moves through White 30, which is big and makes the board position promising for White.

This is impressive and it makes one wonder if there could possibly be any player stronger than this. And yet, in just the next year’s Meijin title match, Sakata faced an opponent who took his measure.

Those who wish to comment on the opinions expressed here may send their thoughts to info@GoWizardry.com. The most interesting responses will be addressed in future postings.

Robert J. Terry

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