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Sakata’s Exquisite Move Record


Japan Day in New York City, Sunday, May 12, 2019

Free admission. Taiko drums, Japanese dance performances, flutes and bands playing, origami and other Japanese cultural exhibitions, and food tents.


Recently, I explained here how I visited the late Sakata Eio 9 dan at his condominium in Yokohama in order to obtain the English language rights to Killer of Go. However, I forgot to say that there were other people there, not only Sakata Sensei and his nephew. There was also a former editor of Igo Club magazine and Sensei’s wife.

In fact, I had met Mrs. Sakata at the Eastern US Go Championship held in New York City in the early 1980s. We had chatted for a while and I left with a good impression of her. Evidentially, she had kind thoughts for me as well, because after Sensei and I had concluded our business, he suggested that we go to a nearby izakaya (sake bar) and enjoy ourselves.

I was sitting next to Sensei as we sipped our sake, and I asked him any number of questions. For the most part, he was open and obliging. But at a couple of points, I touched off a nerve.

"Many people consider Go Seigen the greatest player of all time. What does Sensei think?"

"Boy, this fellow asks difficult questions!" was Sensei’s reply as he grimaced in chagrin. "Well, he was the top players for a very few years." What Sensei meant to say was that Sensei had been the top player for many years over the course of his career and had reached the top repeatedly after others had come to the fore (such as Rin Kaiho) and defeated him.

After an hour or so, the nephew stood up and announced that Sensei had other obligations and would like to take his leave. I stood up as well and expressed my appreciation again for Sensei’s courtesy in meeting with me. We exchanged formal goodbyes, and then the two left.

After that, the former editor and I set off on a pub crawl across Tokyo.

"You really were blunt in asking about Go Seigen," he said at one point.

"Why? I think that everyone would like to know what Sensei thinks about that. If I truly wanted to make trouble, I could have asked about Shuko." Sensei and Fujisawa Shuko had a rivalry over many years that must have left Sensei with unpleasant memories. So I avoided mentioning that.

At two o’clock in the morning, the editor took me to a go club in Shinjuku. I was surprised that it was still open at that late hour. The owner of the club was a strong amateur player. He obligingly played me game after game, while the editor, who had become quite tipsy during our drinks at quite a few bars, laid down on the tatami mats of the club and fell asleep.

"This is what he does every night," said the club owner in an offhand manner. "He comes in the middle of the night and fall asleep on the floor."

We played go until 6:00 am, and then I excused myself to go back to my hotel. The editor was still fast asleep.

What I failed to realize is that Shinjuku at that time is jammed with a bustling mass of people heading off for work. In fact, a million people pass through the station every weekday morning. I squeezed into a train car and suffered a terrible time getting back to my hotel to finally go to sleep.

Sakata Sensei was given several nicknames over the years, such as "Razor Sakata." One thing that Sensei was renowned for was his ability to secure survival for his groups. The reason was simple:

"One thing that was extraordinary about his go style was his ability to create groups of stones that defied analysis as to whether they could be killed or not," opined another of his rivals, Takagawa Kaku.

Consequently, Sensei was dubbed "Shinogi Sakata." In the following article, his skill at shinogi is analyzed masterfully. In particular, the amazing move that Sensei came up with in a game against Shuko is one of the most famous of his career.

At times when one is in a pinch, chances arise, and this is characteristic of hard fought games. From a desperate situation, just a single move changes everything to create a winning game. This has happened often in Sakata’s games.

An Exquisite Move Revives Lost Stones

By Sakata Eio, Nihon Ki-in Champion

Those interested in viewing the original article in Japanese can click here to do so.

Kido, May 1975


Model Figure 1

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

The 6th Annual Top Position Title Match was held in 1960, and the figure is taken from Game 1. At the time, Fujisawa Shuko 8 dan was the titleholder. As the challenger for the title, I am playing White here. This is an unforgettable scene from that game for me.

As can be seen from the Progress of Play diagram, in this game both Fujisawa san and I fought to the limits of our strength. White matches Black’s fierce attack in intensity of play, but is left with a group in the center that has unclear prospects. Moreover, the status of the survival [shinogi] of White’s group on the lower side is the focus of this board position.

And yet, fortunately the "Only Move to Play Next" [a phrase commonly used for life and death problems — thus the quotation marks] saves White from critical danger. What is more, White is actually given the chance to turn the table in the game.


Diagram 1 (Progress of Play in Model Figure 1)

Black 25 is an interesting move [to start skirmishing]. White’s defending with a one point jump to A would be safe and sound, but immediately counterattacking with White 26 is typical of my playing style. Instead of pressing with Black 27…


Diagram 2 (An Advantageous Swap for White)

…if Black obligingly thrusts through with 1, White 2 through 12 take profit in the corner, and can be satisfied with that.

In Diagram 1, after play reaches White 32, the hane of White 34 and the cut of White 38 are equivalent options. Black 33 is a good move played to obstruct those equivalent options. However, the cut of White 34 followed by the connection of White 36 conform to the proper order of moves. Simply connecting at White 36 allows Black to defend the corner with a move at B.

In response to Black 53 and 55, White ignores the moves to switch to play [tenuki] on the upper side.

Instead of Black 63, should Black play at C, White would block at D, adopting a strategy of discarding the stone in the center.

Black 67 and the following moves make up the second wave of Black’s fierce attack. White 68 and 70 dodge in order to run away, but for White 72…


Diagram 3 (White is Destroyed)

…White has to prevent Black from slicing through the knight’s move with 2. In addition, following Black 73 in the figure…


Diagram 4 (White is in Danger)

…White 1, extending out, would be met by Black 2 through 12. In the corner, Black does not have dead shape since A can be played as a forcing move. Therefore, White is in danger.

Instead of White 1…


Diagram 5 (White has the Disadvantage)

…the block of White 1 is countered by the block of Black 2. Then, Black can make the shoulder hit of 4 in good form. That is why finding the best move to play here required deep probing into the nature of the position.


Diagram 6 (A Move that Fills Me with Pride)

The attachment of White 1 is in keeping with the line [suji] of play that I had read out some time earlier. It is a move that I am still proud of.

It may be imagined that Black overlooked this attachment, but the following diagrams explain how effective it is.


Diagram 7 (Easily Escaping Alive)

Should Black answer with the commonplace block of 1, it is fine for White to cut through Black’s surrounding net with 2 and 4, seeking to gain access to the lower left corner. When Black pushes through at 5, White gives way with 6, ensuring survival [shinogi].

This is distasteful, so…


Diagram 8 (Exquisite Use of Sacrifice Stones)

…Black might counterattack with 1. However, pushing through with White 1 and cutting with 4 is possible, leaving Black with no alternative but to connect at 5. Then, White plays at 6, adding a third sacrifice stone here. This enables White to play 8, 10 and 12 as forcing moves, all in sente. Consequently, the threat of Black playing at A to capture the tail of White’s group is eliminated. All of White’s stones are safe.


Diagram 9 (Progress of the Actual Game)

When White thrusts through at 2, the circumstances that prevent Black from blocking at 4 are made clear in the previous diagram.

The turning move of Black 3 impels White to plunge through at 4. This is in the nature of the impetus of the position. In the end, White captures Black’s group in the corner, a division that is advantageous for White. However, should White use the move at 4 to connect at 7, letting Black connect underneath at 4, White can hane at A, and this may be considered as not bad for White, either.

Furthermore, within this sequence of moves, instead of Black 7, cutting off White’s stones…


Diagram 10 (A Division Advantageous for White)

If Black cuts at 1, White turns at 2 and captures with 4, a simple and easy way of playing. After Black 5, White moves out with 6, rescuing half the group, which is not bad, either.

Besides this, in Diagram 9, rather than the connection of White 8, the turning move of White B is simple and clear. Following the moves in the diagram, when Black blocks at B, White will have to add moves to take Black’s group off the board [seme-dori], which is painful.


The Crystallization of Three Long Hours of Thinking


Model Figure 2

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

From the previous game, traveling back a further five years, this shows a position from a game in the 1st Annual Top Position League in 1955. Facing Kajiwara Takeo 7 dan (at the time), who played Black, a fierce battle developed.

As all go players know, Kajiwara san has an indomitable and sharp perception that does not give an inch. My go style is to always play all-out, so it is not to be expected that things would be settled in a sedate manner.

From the opening of this game, a fight arose that gave the players not a moment’s respite to catch their breath. I remember spending more than three hours in long thought figuring out how to handle the two marked White stones, which may be regarded as key stones in this position.

In those days, I was playing at the height of my powers. Seeing this old game record, I am filled with emotion, thinking, "Compared to now, I was clear-headed and sharp, wasn’t I?" [This year, 1975, Sakata had defeated Cho Chikun in the Nihon Ki-in Championship match, and the year before he had defeated Kato Masao, who was the challenger in 1974. And he also challenged Ishida Yoshio for the Honinbo title in 1975. So he was still quite formidable, despite his protestations.]


Diagram 1 (Progress of Play in Model Figure 2)

An analysis of Kajiwara san’s elaborate ploys in the opening fighting is omitted here. However, Black 63, filling White’s liberties, is an exquisite move of bad shape [since it makes empty triangles above the Black stones at 41 and 51]. Should White omit playing at 64, Black’s descending at A kills the group.

In response to Black 65…


Diagram 2 (Dithering Play)

…just running away with White 1 and 3 has no purpose.


Diagram 3 (Running Out of Steam)

Should White play 1 through 5 to prepare for action, it would incur Black’s netting White in with 6, which leaves White without a follow-up move.


Diagram 4 (The Move I Read Out Completely)

White 1 is the move that I came up with as the crystallization of more than three hours of long thought. In answer to White 1, if play proceeds in the same way as in the previous diagram…


Diagram 5 (Devastating the Corner)

…even if Black puts the lid on White with 1, White takes compensation by barging into the corner with 2.

Black 3 and the following moves represent just one possible variation, but with the moves through White 18, the corner is devastated while White lives there. Even though White’s two key stones were captured, White is not dissatisfied with this result.


Diagram 6 (Playable for White)

Rather than Black 3 in the previous diagram, Black would probably make the diagonal attachment of 1 here, but White descends at 2, and with the moves through 8, stakes out a claim for the territory on the upper side. Black only really has this one big piece of territory, so White has sufficient scope for fighting.


Diagram 7 (Progress of the Actual Game)

It is natural for Black to defend the territory in the corner with 1, and although White moves out with the diagonal move of 2, taking profit while attacking White’s group is a wise policy. But Black dawdles by blocking at 3. This gives White some breathing room.

Compared to the block of White 9, which would secure life for this group, the hane of White 4 and connection of 6 is 7 points more profitable. The hane of White 4 and connection of 6 also fills Black’s liberties, which helps White’s group of stones comprised of 2 and the rest to survive [shinogi]. I believe this is advantageous for White.

Having to defend with the submissive move of Black is the manifestation of disadvantage incurred by Black’s shortage of liberties. In terms of shape…


Diagram 8 (The Damage of the Shortage of Liberties)

…Black would like to jump to 1 here, but it is possible for White to push through at 2 and cut at 4. And this not only lets White make shape to survive [shinogi] with the moves through 12, but leaves White with the potential to cause problems [bad aji] with the attachment at A.

If the exchange of Black 3 through White 6 in the previous diagram had not been made, when Black attacks with 1 in this diagram, White has no alternative but to press at 9. White’s painful and difficult situation continues unabated. (Reference Diagram 10)

Returning to Diagram 7, the peep of White 12 is played in the proper order of moves to ensure the survival [shinogi] of the large group of stones, while the block of Black 15, as part of that order of moves shows its effectiveness. Instead of Black 15…


Diagram 9 (The Effectiveness of the Peep)

Pressing in with Black 1 is the vital point of the attacking line [suji], but starting with the diagonal attachment of White 2, the hane between Black’s stones with White 4 is a good move because Black cannot cut at 6 since White A is a forcing move that Black must answer. Black 5 is unavoidable, and when White turns to hane at 10, surviving [shinogi] is easy.


Diagram 10 (This is Good)

For Black 1, simply jumping and then extending at 3 sets up the attack of Black 5. This is best. For White’s part…


Diagram 11 (The Aim) Black 10 connects

White’s aim is to play 1 through 11, but the timing is difficult.

When White gets the respite after playing at 24, the game is promising for White.

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.

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