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The Unique Talent of Killer Kato



Sakata and Kato discuss the game. Behind Kato is Abe Yoshiteru.

One of the professional go players who sparked the admiration of amateurs everywhere was Kato Masao (November 22, 1947~July 3, 2000). He was so admired because as a youngster in the Kitani Minoru Dojo he got the reputation for being able to kill large groups of his opponents’ stones. Among young, inexperienced opponents, that is not such an unusual occurrence, but when he managed to fight his way into major tournaments and defeat seasoned titleholders the same way, observers sat up and took notice.

The following article shows Kato at his best. He takes on the legendary Sakata Eio toe to toe and refuses to give an inch. Although he does not kill a major groups of stones (while still killing a key group of Sakata’s) his play is fundamentally sound, without avoiding complex variations. What is most enjoyable about this article is how well-rounded it is, exploring all sorts of perspectives. Any amateur intent on improving is advised to study this material.

Individuals in the Midst of the Tournament World

Kato Defeats Sakata 10 Dan

By Honma Yusaku

From Kido, March 1969

24th Annual Honinbo League

Komi = 4 1/2 points

252 moves. Black wins by 7 1/2 points.

White: Sakata Eio 10 dan

Black: Kato Masao 5 dan

An Inauspicious Sign — The First Day

"Wasn’t it young Ishigure, I wonder? My opponent?"

These were the first words that Sakata 10 dan said as he came into the room and saw the face of Kato 5 dan. Of course, this was a mistaken impression of Sakata san’s. However, it was clear that when he repeated the statement a number of times that he had been made uncomfortable about this unexpected situation. [Professionals regularly study recent game records of the opponents they have to face to get an idea of their play. The Nihon Ki-in — Japanese Go Association — makes these game records available to these professionals upon request.] Before a serious game, the spirit of a competitor is as transparent as a mirror, and unexpected things and shadows can cast a baleful influence that unsettle their composure. Naturally, this is unhelpful.

The actual player was one with an outstanding reputation facing the Great Sakata, or from another perspective, the veteran competitor, Sakata, and that was the draw here. It was in inauspicious sign.


Figure 1 (1-41)
Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click here to do so.

At precisely the scheduled time, the battle commenced, an explosive confrontation between the generations. Compared to Sakata san’s artistry and technique honed through the years, the great scale of his play and the sharp reading of the board that he has added to it has brought Kato 5 dan to a level that few young players reach. When you think about it, it is as if the difference in age is that between father and son.

However, for him there is absolutely no concern about whoever his adversary is. Among sumo wrestlers, the younger ones "borrow the chests" of their elders [proverbial] to train, and that is the feeling here. It must also not be overlooked that there is a sense of Kato being the representative of the new generation. The gathering crowd watches to see how the youngster will raise a ruckus, and how that can be halted is the object of attention in this game.


Figure 2 (42-77)

In the end, the question is whether Sakata san suffered an hallucination regarding his young opponent due to his own memories of his youth. Along with that, there was a slight stumbling in the execution of his play. As is his habit, Sakata san used his time on the clock without reservation.

After the Sealed Move

This game was played in a room beside the Rin Kaiho – Kubouchi Shuchi game being played in the Meijin league. This was in a special playing room [of the Nihon Ki-in, Ichigaya, Tokyo], where there were also two games played in the All Japan First Place Tournament between Fujisawa Shuko and Ishii Kunio and Kada Katsuji and Hashimoto Naoki. Today was Thursday, and usually this is when the second day of the two day Meijin league games are played, but as an accommodation to Sakata Eio, the days were changed to Thursday and Friday. So today was the first day of those league games. When sealed moves were being made (naturally, for the dinner meal break) it was 5:15 for the other games, but here it was delayed until 5:30. And, of course, no meals were ordered.

As can be seen by looking at Figure 2, the large group of stones in the center came under attack, instantly determining the character of the game. The brash young man acted violently, plunging the activity on the board into a maelstrom of a storm. He used 19 minutes considering the attachment of Black 67. One wonders how deeply he read out the situation. In response to Black 73, with just "What the hell?!" ["Nanikuso"] 74 and 76 were played quickly, but when Black played 77, the play came to a sudden halt.

The question was to what extent profit could be taken on the right side without the large group of stones in the center being slaughtered. He read things out assiduously. "A fantastic thing this has come to," ["Erai koto wo shichatta naa"] he mumbled.

At 5:25 he asked, "What time? The sealed move?" "5:30." "Sealed move? Thank you… I’m in trouble [Yowatta naa], a strange place to make the sealed move, I must say."

However, when the bell rang at 5:30, Sakata 10 Dan let out a deep breath, and without making the sealed move, he started discussing the game with the others, including people unconnected with the game. Most of his comments were criticisms of himself. In particular, White’s play on the lower side was, to anyone’s eyes, was conducted in a strange way.


Diagram 1

"At first I intended to play as in Diagram 1, but the pincer-attachment of Black 4 would lead to the sequence through 12, and since I had weak stones in the center, I wasn’t confident about this."


Diagram 2

"If White immediately blocks at 1 with the hane here, Black plays the sequence through 10, which looks a lot like that," said Kato 5 dan.


Diagram 3

"Older brother Otake [Otake ani, Kato’s older colleague in the Kitani Dojo] advocated Black 8 and 10, showing the sequence through 17 and 19, but I dismissed this out of hand.


Diagram 4

"What I read out was Black just cutting with 2 and the moves through 8," he confessed.


Diagram 5

White 2 was Otake 8 dan’s plan, but this time Sakata and Fujisawa Hosai had dissatisfied looks on their faces.


Diagram 6

The troubled Sakata said, "White 1 would be solid, but…"

To which young Kato immediately replied, "In that case, Black answers with 2 and the following moves, sacrificing stones."


Diagram 7

"After the knight’s move (the marked White stone), playing White 1 takes a big corner, but after Black plays at 2, it seems likely that Black will take the whole right side."

In actuality, White fell far behind due to the play on the lower side, so it is not unreasonable to feel that Sakata’s words grate on the senses. On the other hand, this kind of thing happens often during analysis so it is natural, and leeway is regularly given while attention turns to the next critical point in a game.


Diagram 8

"When White played the marked stone, I was faced by Black immediately making the probe with the marked stone. That was skillfully played, I must say. Really. I wonder how I should have played, you know."

"There was the fencing-in move (White 1), wasn’t there? That’s the first impression." Otake 8 dan interjected this reply in no time.

"Indeed [Naruhodo]," said Sakata. "If Black peeps, White answers with the wedging-in move and it’s no good. (Note: If Black A, White B, Black C, White D, Black E, White 6, Black 3 and White F.)

"It must be the attachment (Black 2). Play continues through Black 8…"

"Unpleasant, is it? This?"

"The wedging-in move (Black C) would take half the group, which would be no good, I must say."

The last discussion revolved around the upper left.


Diagram 9

"Usually (White 1 and the following) is played, isn’t it? You (this directed at the youthful Kato) would probably make the corner enclosure (with Black 6 in the lower left corner). At that point, I had no idea how to play on the upper side, I must say. If White A, Black B. [Note: Black welcomes a fight on the upper side. Or if White dives into the 3-3 point in the corner, Black makes thickness which is ideal on the upper side.], or if White 8, Black 7. Therefore, White would be standard, but when Black descends at 10, 11 and 12 are equivalent options. So I was stuck without an idea what to do.


Diagram 10 Black 31 connects

"For Black, it seems that 1 is possible."

Rin: "The technique of Black 5 is possible."

Otake: "That’s a skillful move, isn’t it? What happens if this is played out completely? If White 22, Black makes another fencing-in move at 23. Black is good here, you know."


Diagram 11

Sakata: "Moving out with White 1 is the only move. 3 and 5 are skillful technique [suji], I must say. After White 9, Black A does not have to be answered, so this is out of the question.


Diagram 12

"If Black makes the knight’s move at 2, I guess it would be the sequence through White 19. Even with Black 18 and 20 added, the unpleasant bad potential [aji] of White A remains, so White is well off, I must say."

Sakata seemed delighted that this might really have happened, but he came back to himself, saying, "I have to seal a move. And I was about to forget that I am in atari!" (Laughs)

Not Wanting to Get Older — The Second Day

With the atari still pending, something unprecedented did not occur, but it was something that had not occurred in but a handful of games. The move of White 78 was recorded as taking 47 minutes to be played. It is not to be expected that Sakata was perplexed as to whether extend or capture. What he had to do was to determine the steps to take to ensure survival of the group in the center at this critical point in the game. He had to read the variations out to his satisfaction.

Playing Black, at the point that Kato 5 dan made the move of the marked Black stone, how deeply did he read, and by the same token, when Sakata 10 Dan played 78, was his confidence in the move greater or not?


Figure 3 (78 – 92)

While White 86 was being contemplated, young Kato yawned repeatedly, drawing a baleful glare from Sakata 10 Dan. However, seeing the cut of White 92, he immediately became attentive. He sat up straight. He leaned forward so far that he was hovering over the board. Two or three times he let out deep breaths.

"Strange shape and it’s become complicated." "The logic of the stones has become strange, you know." "Move by move it becomes this complicated and I’m in trouble, you know." "I’m being tormented by a youngster. I don’t want to get old, that’s the thing." Around this time, Sakata’s tongue was never silent.


Figure 4 (93 – 134)

Sakata, Defeated by a Young Lion

When Sakata was playing at his best, he was incomparable at ensuring survival of stones [shinogi] magnificently, and while compared to his contemporaries he still has professional élan that is obvious to all, he is filled with even more drive to excel, so his sharpness has been reborn. What is even more surprising about that transformation is how fast it has happened, and that may be considered to be out of the ordinary.


Figure 5 (134 – 183)

He turned the tables in terms of attack and defense, bringing Black’s group in the lower right region suddenly under attack, but he was serene and composed. In comparison, the color drained from Kato’s face. He turned his head any number of times [in confused contemplation]. He covered his left eye with his hand. That eye had turned red with the rupture of a vessel.

It was clear that the youngster Kato had committed an overplay. However, rereading the position, he read out a way to retrench. On the other hand, Sakata has a frightening ability to create complications in the midst of which he can strike with deadly strength. He was not able to bring that power to bear this time.


Figure 6 (184 – 252)

251 moves. Black wins by 7 1/2 points.

Unsparing Spirit — After the Game

The end of the game was at 5:35 pm. 30 minutes before that, Sakata was down to his last 5 minutes, and the seconds were being counted off. [Byo-yomi; at the end of games players have to play within a given time, which at the very end goes down to a minute per move. The time recorder reads out the countdown with a stopwatch.]

"I played a terrible endgame, no question. It was too stupid, I must say." But there was absolutely no force in his utterances.

On the board it was a 12 point difference, so the players affirmed that it was a 7 1/2 point win for Black. Sakata was regretful that he was unable to deliver the full measure of his go strength. But he will come back at top form, there is no doubt.

"I really missed the capture of the three stones (the three White stones on the upper side) on the upper side… Could it have been best to go with the ko there, I wonder?"

"What about ko threats?" asked the youngster Kato with a firm look on his face. It showed his unsparing spirit. That is what is essential to make it through into the next level.

"It was terrible, you know. You have to do something and then have the opponent attack. Right then you can get the action started.


Diagram 13

"Black has to just capture at 1. If Black manages to play the atari at , effectively, the whole control of the game would be reversed."


Diagram 14

Sakata: "What if White cuts at 2?"

Kato: "Black plays at 3, you know."


Diagram 15

Sakata: "Instead of pushing through (at the point of 2), what would happen if White cuts at 1?

Kato: "Black replies with 2 and 4, you know. In the center (White’s stones there), capturing would be big. In the corner, (the lower right corner), there still remain moves possible…"

This was an entirely upstanding exchange of views.

Enjoyable Spirit

The feeling in regards to Sakata 10 Dan on this day was that he did not consistently follow through on the fighting spirit he had. It must be thought that the spirit and the flesh, both aspects, were not aligned. Whether that is true or not, it seems that he did not press himself severely enough. As always, he sought out variations with enthusiasm, but somehow he did not do so in an enjoyable spirit.

On the other hand, Kato 5 dan, this youngster, was surprising. The depth and accuracy of his reading…


Diagram 16

Kato: "Once the marked Black stone was played, Black 1 had to be played to help the stone. Play continues with Black 3, and then Black makes the capture at 5."

Sakata: "White 6 is possible, I must say."

Kato: "Black answers with 7, then extends at 9. In reply to White 10, can’t Black play 11 and 13?"

Sakata: "What the devil?! That is really strong, you know. But what is extraordinary is that the marked Black stone comes to be placed exactly in accordance with good technique [suji]. Indeed [Naruhodo], White seems to be badly off here, you know.


Diagram 17

"I suppose that White 6 and Black 7 is unavoidable. But then White plays at 8 for a swap. Wouldn’t this be playable?"

Kato: "I still think that capturing the center is bigger. Black can live in the lower right, no? The 3-3 point at A is open, so another move is required. The point of B is big, too."

Sakata: "Black won, so the play in the game was sufficient. I’m just trying to find something that White could have played to be better, I must say.


Original Diagram

"Here, you know. The problem is in the Original Diagram.


Diagram 18

"I should have cut with White 1, you know. How would you have answered? Would you have given up the two stones?"

Kato: "No, discarding the stones would be terrible. That’s because Black had just played the marked stone." (His tone was as if saying, "Don’t be absurd.")

Sakata: "Play straight out with White 3?"

Kato: "Black jumps to 4, then when White pushes through with 5 and 7, Black makes the moves through 10, discarding three stones…"


Diagram 19

Sakata: "When Black plays 4, I wonder if White should cut with 5 and 7."

Kato: "Here, too, Black plays atari at 8, then continues with the sequence through 14. Likewise, capturing the center would be sufficient."


Diagram 20

Sakata: "White can make the single exchange of 5 for Black 6, then push through with 7, I must say. If it goes the same way, through 13 Black is destroyed."

(Upon discovering this variation, Sakata was visibly shaken. This is the remarkable nature of the order of moves.)


Diagram 21

Sakata: "Therefore, after White 5, you would have had to connect at Black 6. Next, it would be no good to have Black capture with a move at A, so White plays the sequence through 11, then returns to play at 13. This would be good, you know. Simply cutting had to be played. Making the moves in the figure in the area above first ended up making them heavy."

An Enormous Wrestling Match of a Game

In addition, professional go players have their own secrets, and they will keep them hidden to the very end. In speaking of this game, a hidden variation…


Diagram 22

…was here. The sequence starting with White 1 was a method below the surface in this local area. When White plays 3, if Black uses 4 to defend at 5, White would have had the possibility of making an eye in gote with a move at the point of 4. This means that should White be able to make an eye in sente in the center, ensuring the survival of these stones would be simple through this procedure.

Consequently, Black 4 is essential. Then, with the moves through White 7, the five Black stones must be given up. For White, viewing the profit here, there would be less inclination to cling to the center in lieu of making this swap.

Besides that, with this possibility in mind, the forking variations and playing methods multiply and it becomes complex. Envisioning this, accurate reading is necessary.


Diagram 23

Sakata: "When Black played atari with the marked stone, of course it would have been dangerous for White to respond with 1 and 3, you know. But at the same time, I don’t know how this would turn out, I must say. This is interesting, so let’s play it out and see how it goes."

Kato: "In that case, I thought that I could capture everything completely. Black goes back with 4, then when White plays 5, the moves through Black 10 follow. Next, if White cuts at 11, the move of Black 12 is possible."

(Kato 5 dan showed the potency of his move by laying out the sequence to 22.)

Sakata: "It would be terrible to be confronted with that variation that conforms to proper technique [suji], you know. In that case…


Diagram 24 White 37 throws in (at the point of 25)

…could White have played the moves starting with 5, an unpleasant possibility, no? Wouldn’t White 9 create a problem? For Black? After connecting at 10, would White break through at 11?"

Kato: "Right. I expected White to burst right through. The stones cannot make eyes, so…"

He said this in an offhand way. He has incredible confidence, grounded in reading. With a disgusted look on his face, Sakata said…

Sakata: "Hmm. That might be true, I guess. It would be probably be impossible to make eyes, you know. Black plays 16 and 18, then takes the eyes with 20. Doesn’t Black have some kind of a move here, you know? Something?"

(For the conclusion, as made be seen in the diagram, there is a five point oversized eye. However, after the sequence through Black 38, Black has managed to increase the liberties available to the group is increased in a ridiculous way, but on the other hand, even if White does something like presses at A, the liberties of White’s group are hardly increased. It is clear that the race to capture is lost.)

Kato: 5 dan had not read this out to the very end before he intrepidly acted, but he declared that, "Had Black been able to get in the move of 2 in Diagram 24, the center stones would have been absolutely captured."

Well then [Sate], both the elements that decided the game and that analysis was winding up, so the competitors felt an obligation to state directly their thoughts.

Sakata admitted what he most regretted.


Diagram 25 White 7 captures; Black 10 recaptures; White 13 same; Black 16 same

The ko fight with White 1 and the following, as young Kato stated — and Sakata himself affirmed emphatically — White does not have ko threats to prevail.

"If there was some kind of chance to play White A, Black B and White C to exchange for the life of the White position to the right, there would be an abundance of ko threats, but when White plays C, Black will follow up with D, White E and Black F. making it difficult for White to pull this off." This was Sakata’s own assessment, which summarized the situation.

Besides that, using this same diagram, in Figure 5, White played at G to neutralize Black’s territory, but the do-or-die move of H could have played deeply as an invasion. That life or death situation is not easy to judge, but if the stones die it will no doubt be seen as launching a ship that was doomed from the start.

In terms from sumo wrestling, this was an enormous wrestling match game. [Tori-kuchi no dai naki go.] The impression that writers got from Kato 5 dan’s game was that it was bracing.

(The End)

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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One Response to “The Unique Talent of Killer Kato”

  1. Raian says:

    Great read! Thank you for continuing excellent go content.

Leave a Reply to Raian


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