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Classical Go Analysis


The famous stone garden of Ryo An Ji in Kyoto

Despite the title, I hate classical go analysis! This is regardless of the fact that I have studied a great amount of it. In the old monthly magazine Go Review published by the Nihon Ki-in there was a section devoted to classical games in every issue. Castle Games, hereditary rivalries in olden times, everything. I read those copies of the magazines cover to cover and did not stint on the classical games featured.

Besides that, Kido magazine also published classical game analysis every month, and I never failed to concentrate as best I could on those articles. One series that ran for a year was written by Takagi Shoichi showcasing the career of Honinbo Jowa. He was characterized as the "strongest go player of all time." That grabbed me, and I had to read the articles, start to finish, even though I knew that it was all hype to promote the feature in the magazine.

In the end, I was disappointed, as usual. I could appreciate Jowa’s stature in the history of go in Japan, but the games did not strike me as being remarkable in any way.

The problem is that during the evolution of the game of go, it took a long time for even the best players to understand the significance of what a great advantage playing first is. It took centuries for players to realize that "survival of the fittest" was not the nature of the game, but intellectual awareness of the point value of moves was. When that happened, the komi system was adopted, but it was only over the course of decades. Part of the reason is because Japan is a very traditional (not to say "hidebound") society that is reluctant to embrace change. It was just in the decade of the 1950s that a 4 1/2 point komi was assigned to White as compensation for playing second. It was then that Takagawa Kaku crafted his career of nine straight years of Honinbo titles on the ability to count the board more accurately than his opponents with the komi in mind.

However, to my perception even with a 4 1/2 point komi the flow of the game is unbearably slow. It moves at a snail’s pace. My friend, Professor Richard Dolen, used to tell me that, "Regardless of that, the games are filled with intense fighting. Those classical games are great!" Believe me, that’s a joke! What I always want to see in the games I play through are rapid development in the opening (where Go Seigen excelled and left us superb games to study and try to emulate), strategic ideas employed cleverly, and the groundwork laid for the striking with tesuji later. I can tuck these maneuvers in the back of my mind to stun my adversaries with in my tournament games.

Speaking of which, the reader may be interested in how my study methods are working out. With my partner, Mark Lass, I have posted a great deal of new go material that I have translated from Kido. This has taken a lot of time and effort, but it has paid off. In my Japanese go club, the South Bay Ki-in, located in the New Gardena Hotel, 1641 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, CA 90247; (310-327-5757), go tournaments are held every season. I barely maintained an even score in this past winter tournament, but in the spring tournament I am now 17-3! It seems that the serious concentration on professional game analysis I have made has paid off for me. Readers are urged to go back over the material that has been posted on GoWizardry over the past few weeks and see if studying it helps them win as well.

For my own part, I am continuing to work on new translations. In terms of articles, I have several choices lined up. My criteria for selecting them is the unique perspectives they provide and the quality of instruction. The one offered below is an outstanding example of what I am talking about. I don’t like studying classical games, but this one has the analysis given by Honinbo Shusai Meijin and Karigane Junichi, two of the greatest players in the history of the game of go, so I imagine that readers will welcome seeing what they have to say. (Please understand that I am limited in conveying the archaic wording and technical terms used in the original article. It is simply not possible to render in English Japanese that is close to a hundred years old. Clarity in meaning has been selected over picturesque language.)

Honinbo Shusai Meijin and Karigane Junichi 6 dan analyzed the game for a publisher active at that time. I have tried to format the material exactly as it appeared in those days. That will give the reader some insight into the way go was presented to the public in that era. Remember that Japan had been engaged in a hectic modernizing movement in the early years of the twentieth century and go was caught up in the winds of change. That affected the mindset of both the publishers and the players.

A Great Battle Between the Honinbo and Karigane

The players:

Honinbo Shusai Meijin (June 24, 1874~January 18, 1940)

An amazing rags-to-riches story. Became a student as shodan at the Hoensha at the age of ten and five years later was promoted to 2 dan. Left to try his luck at business but ended up penniless. Sought refuge in a Buddhist temple where he taught the monks go in return for food and shelter. That led him to become a part of Honinbo Shuei’s study group. He competed in a series of 10 game matches (1895~1907) that both brought him success and revived the fortunes of the House of Honinbo. Became Meijin in 1914. Instrumental in the establishment of the Nihon Ki-in (Japanese Go Association). Played his retirement game with Kitani Minoru in 1938, which is the subject of "Meijin," by Kawabata Yasunari, published in English as "The Master of Go."

Karigane Junichi 6 dan (July 30, 1879~February 21, 1959)

Student at the Hoensha as shodan in 1894 where he was patronized by Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi (the first prime minister of Japan). He lived at the prime minister’s residence for three years. Became student of Honinbo Shuei in 1905 at the rank of 5 dan. Shuei famously commented that Karigane "saw too many moves." Drew a two game match with Honinbo Shusai in 1922.

Date: Taisho 9 = 1920, May 21st; June 7th, 14th, 30th; July 1st, 9th, 19th, 25th; August 6th, 16th, 25th; September 6th, 13th, 30th; October 7th, 11th, 29th; November 12th, 22nd and 28th

[This no doubt seems like an enormous amount of time taken to play a game. However, although this game was played over the course of several months, the object was to create a game that was the absolutely best played possible, in keeping with the aesthetics of the era. Players not only researched the various moves available, but also employed assistants who aided them. In one famous example that occurred in another game between Go Seigen and Honinbo Shusai, an assistant of Shusai’s, Maeda Nobuyuki, came up with a great endgame move that won the game during one of these intervals.]

Place: Fukuzawa Shajiro residence and Kojunsha Company

Analysis recorded at the offices of the Jiji Shimpo Newspaper on Taisho 10, January 1~21.

Honinbo Shusai Meijin & Karigane Junichi 6 dan


Figure 1 (1-100)

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

(Honinbo) At the point of White 14, supposing that the extension at 68 had been made, Black would have probably made the low pincer at 86.

(Karigane) For Black 17, my first thought was of course to thrust out at A, but on second thought I was suddenly struck with disgust at the idea, so I made a complete about-face by pushing in at 17. then making the diagonal attachment at 19. However, thinking about this later, as I thought to begin with, thrusting out with the move of 17 at A would have been more effective. It was painful to have White press at 20. As might be expected, by thrusting out with 17 at , Black would be in the position to actively consider making the invasion immediately at 21.

(Honinbo) Instead of Black 29, prematurely pressing up at 33 would have let White make a strategic dodge with the fencing-in move at 31, changing the course of the game.

(Karigane) I was thinking the same thing. Had White made the fencing-in move at 33, Black would have to push in at 29.

(Honinbo) For White 64, turning at the point of 67 would have secured life, but after doing so White would be fenced in with Black 64, which would make things painful and difficult. Therefore, White played as in the game. Wasn’t Black 65 played from a misguided notion?

(Karigane) No, I don’t think so.

(Honinbo) For Black 65, wouldn’t it have been better to play a diagonal move at 70? That’s what I thought would be played.

(Karigane) I thought about that, too, but I didn’t want to leave White 56 and the three stones that would eventually be there free to run away. By making the hane in at Black 65, I rejected running into White’s territorial framework [moyo], and instead looked forward to taking control of the right side. Instead of playing at Black 71, immediately making the diagonal attachment at 73 was the priority.

(Karigane) Black 95 was a bad move. In this case, jumping at B was better.

(Honinbo) White cannot capture Black with the move at 98. Should Black use the move at 99 to hane over White’s with a move at C, White would tenaciously play D, Black E, upon which White would resort to the move at F, a ploy that was prepared. Faced with Black 99, I was really confounded. Whether White should extend at G or block at 100, the two options available, cannot possibly be read out, so I was hopelessly confused.


Figure 2 (101-234) White 24 ko; Black 29 same; White 30 connects ko; Black 55 connects three stones

(Karigane) When I was presented with White’s ko threat of 22 I was absolutely terrified. After Black responded at 23, had White disregarded the ko and continued by immediately drawing back at 84, or else pressing at 95, two options that I thought that White might use, I intended to disregard the ko and extend straight out at 25.

(Honinbo) For the move of White 110, there were various other ways of playing. Besides that, Black had many moves to play on the outside, making it hard to wrap things up. But by doing so, Black was prevented from using effective playing methods as quickly as possible.

234 moves. White wins by resignation.

(Note) This article was included in the six volume edition of "The Complete Works of Honinbo Shusai." This was also first published in the Jiji Shimpo Newspaper as "Honinbo Shusai’s Analysis" as well as the "Igo Tora no Maki" feature in the January 1, 1921 issue of that publication with additional material. Technical mistakes have been corrected here.

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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