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Fifty Years of Popular Joseki

By Sakata Eio, Honorary Honinbo

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The Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival in Fukuoka is celebrated in early July. It is the main festival of the Kushida Shrine and registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. It is said to have originated 800 years ago when an epidemic was raging in Hakata. A monk prayed to end the epidemic while riding on a wooden float and spreading water around the area.

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Sakata Eio, Honorary Honinbo Looks Back

Fifty Years of Popular Joseki

From Kido, October 1995

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

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Special Report

It is fifty years since the end of the war. During each generation, there are joseki that are popular, and Sakata Eio, Honorary Honinbo, looks back on those developments here. Over this half century period, how has the thinking about go changed? Seeing the research is interesting.

The Showa 20 Decade: 1945 — 54

[Note: Showa is the formal name of Japanese Emperor Hirohito, who ascended to the throne in 1926. Since go is the traditional, national pastime of Japan, for many years popularly disseminated matter carried that date, 1926 being Showa 1.]

The Territorially Tight "Plum Bowl"

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Diagram 1 White 20 connects (13); White 30, same (23)

Jubango [Best of Ten Match] 1952

White: Go Seigen 9 dan Black: Fujisawa Kurannosuke [later Hosai] 9 dan

This real game figure shows the spark that popularized the Plum Bowl Model that was suddenly viewed as powerful.

In the upper left corner, Black attaches at 13 and then balloons out with 15. In response, what had formerly been considered natural, extending with White 17, was challenged by Go Seigen 9 dan counterattacking with White 16. When Black plays 19, White connects with 20, creating a shape for White that was popularly called the Plum Bowl. At first glance, White is wrapped up into the corner, and it may be thought that Black has superior outside influence, and to that extent White is blocked up, but the core of White’s position is strong, and since White not only is territorially tight, whatever happens White still harbors the intent of peeping at "a" on the outside, threatening an attack. Therefore, a reassessment is in order.

In terms of perception as well, the atari of White 16 is a sharp move, filled with fighting spirit. Therefore, it took its place in the games of contemporary go.

In the lower left corner also, Black 23 and 25 were met by the atari of White 26. In both cases, after the pincers of White 10 and 12 were played, there is no doubt that this course of play was planned.

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The Atomic Bomb Honinbo Title Match Game

On August 6, 1945, an Honinbo title match game was being played [on the outskirts of Hiroshima] when the atomic bomb was dropped, which should be specially noted. There had been much importance given to maintaining [the traditions of] go in the midst of the lost war. In 1948, the new facility of the Nihon Ki-in [Japanese Go Association] was opened, [representing] the rapid rebirth of the go world. During the Showa 20 period, Go Seigen 9 dan continued reigning supreme.

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Diagram 2

In Showa 25 [1950], Game 3 of the Go Seigen — Hashimoto Utaro Jubango [Ten Game Match] was held, where Go 9 dan played White 1, leading to the sequence through 7. This was a standard joseki up to then that was played, but in Game 4 White 1 was played as the two space pincer of "a," followed by White 5 as the atari at 6, initiating the Plum Bowl Model.

In the Showa 30 period [1955] and thereafter, the Plum Bowl Model was considered increasingly advantageous. Therefore, in response to the two space high pincer, the attachment at the 3-3 point was not played much.

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Diagram 3

Since the 3-3 point attachment would be answered by the atari sequence, first playing the diagonal move attachment of Black 1 became popular at one time. However, here, too, White will not obligingly extend at 3, but play White 2, Black 3 and White 4 to fight, which is dangerous for Black. Particularly in this shape, where the marked White stone is situated in a position to be severe on Black. In situations where the ladder is unfavorable, there are variations that lead to a great loss.

The atari sequence of the Plum Bowl Model was not only advantageous with the two space high pincer, but in the case of other pincers it was the same.

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Diagram 4

In contemporary go, limited to times when the 3 space pincer of the marked White stone is made, the diagonal attachment of Black 1 is played. With this, too, Black must be resigned to having White extend at 2. With this model, play proceeds with Black 3 through 9, and in general Black takes the corner while White gets outward influence in the division. If White’s outward influence does not work well due to the surrounding conditions, Black has nothing to be dissatisfied about. Therefore, under those circumstances, White uses 2 to extend at 3, followed by Black 2, White "a," Black 8 and White "b."

Furthermore, generally speaking the "Plum Bowl" is not a way to describe bad shape. Quite the contrary. "Playing the Plum Bowl never loses" is a go proverb, which shows what severe shape it is

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The Origin of the Small Avalanche Joseki

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White 2 and 4 begin the "Small Avalanche Joseki," which at the beginning of the Showa Era, attracted many letters to Kido magazine from readers wishing to know how Black should answer, and a variety of other questions. This was the start of its popularity.

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The Showa 30 Decade: 1955 — 64

The Large Avalanche Joseki and the Inward Turning Move

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Diagram 1 Japan’s Strongest Tournament 1957

White: Takagawa Kaku, Honinbo Black: Go Seigen 9 dan

According to Go Seigen, the Large Avalanche Joseki has a strange 20 year history. He is the one who invented the inward turning move. This is Black 37, and up to then only the "outward turning move" of Black 39 had been joseki.

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Diagram 2

Supposing that Black immediately starts the Large Avalanche Joseki with 1, up to that time Black would turn outward with 11, leading to the sequence through 29. Black takes profit, but White gets considerable outside influence, so this was taken to be and equal result. Compared to this, White’s outside influence in Diagram 1 is inferior to that, particularly since in this game Black had the move of 29 in place. If White comes under attack on the outside, it is striking how even more advantageous this is for Black.

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Diagram 3

In the case of the outward turning move of Black 1, following White 6, with the move order of Black 7 through 11, there is no move to capture White’s two stones in the corner. That is because White has the placement of 12. However, if first the exchange of Black "a" for White "b" is made, when White plays 14, Black can capture White with the hane at "c." Due to the exchange of Black "a" for White "b," please note that White has a shortage of liberties.

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The Age of Sakata

From 1952 to 1960, Takagawa 9 dan achieved the great record of winning the Honinbo title nine years in a row. Preventing Takagawa from winning the tenth straight title was Sakata 9 dan, and he set the record of winning the title seven years in a row, launching the Age of Sakata. In 1962, the Meijin tournament began, with Fujisawa Shuko 8 dan taking the first title.

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Setting up this shortage of liberties was the great benefit of the inward turning move, and one wonders if amateurs are unexpectedly unaware of this fact.

When Go Seigen came out with the inward turning move, the Large Avalanche Joseki could not be played anymore, and for a time it fell into disuse. A few years after this it was the same Go Seigen who defended against the inward turning move from the Avalanche side, demonstrating that it was sufficiently playable, and the appraisal was overturned.

At the present time, both the inward turning move and the outward turning move are played.

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In the rear, Go Seigen and Takagawa battle.

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Diagram 4

Here is a representative model of the outward turning move variation in recent play. After Black plays 5 and White 6, Black makes the two-step hane of 7, which is different from the old model. Compared to the old model, where Black takes profit in the corner, this way three stones are sacrificed in order to build influence in the contrary way. Please pay close attention to this. After this, Black "a" is sente, but there is also the choice of blocking at "b" as a forcing move, so it is usual to keep both moves in reserve [until it is clear which is best].

The basic version of the inside turning move remains the real game pattern shown in Diagram 1. From Black’s standpoint, the things to remember are that the inward turning move produces profit, while the outward turning move is a way of playing in order to take influence.

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The Sakata Joseki

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The high pincer of Black 1 is a move that I started playing in the Showa 30 Decade: 1955 — 64, and the moves through Black 7 came to be called the "Sakata Joseki." Prior to that, Black 1 was played low at "a."

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The Showa 40 Decade: 1965 — 74

The Slow and Solid Diagonal Move

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Diagram 1 Meijin Tournament 1966

White: Sakata Eio, Honinbo Black: Ohira Shuzo 9 dan

Black 7 through 11 make up a popular model of the two space high pincer joseki. It was in fashion during the Showa 40 decade, and even today it occupies the seat of the definitive version. Recently, White 8 is most often played as the jump to "a." However, it cannot be said that White 8 here has gone into decline.

Originally, the diagonal move of White 8 came to be seen as powerful in the latter half of the Showa 20 Decade: 1945 — 54. It was adopted as a counter strategy to the two space high pincer of Black 7. In particular, with respect to White’s standpoint, my supposition is that the consciousness of the diagonal move was of a leisurely way to play. At first glance, it may seem slow and lumbering, but it holds the promise of next playing at White 10. The beneficial point is that White’s group gets settled quickly.

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A 23 Year Old Meijin

In 1965, Rin Kaiho 8 dan startled the world by becoming Meijin at the age of 23. He also became Honinbo in 1968. In both cases, he took the title from Sakata. Next, Ishida Yoshio became Honinbo in 1971 and in 1974 he won the Meijin title from Rin. The Showa 40 Decade: 1965 — 74 was the Age of Sakata, while ten years later it shifted to the Age of Rin and Ishida.

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Returning to the joseki, instead of the slide to White 10, the first move was…

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Diagram 2

…the attachment with White 1, with the key being the sequence through 5. The premise for this was being able to play the original diagonal move.

White 10 in the previous diagram was played to begin with by Kitani Minoru. This way does not solidify Black, rather there are more nuances in the position. Today Diagram 1 is a representative model.

Please look once again at Diagram 1. Besides the knight’s move of Black 9, various moves have been used as ploys. There is the large knight’s move of "b," the play at the corner of White’s stone with "c," the diagonal attachment of "d," the knight’s move at the edge at "e," etc. All are fine, established playing methods and each of them was popular at certain periods.

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Sakata Honinbo (1965) relaxing at a party celebrating the publication of one of his books.

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Diagram 3

Among these, one that is desirable to focus on is the diagonal attachment of Black 1. This is played when an extension on the right side has little attractiveness. Through Black 7, profit is taken in the corner, while there is the diagonal move of Black "a" to play later that remains to attack White. On the other hand, recently Black 1 is not played very much. Instead of that…

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Diagram 4

…Black 1 is the way of playing that is most often used. Perhaps the judgment is that in the previous diagram White gets good shape with 2 through 6, and therefore is a little slack. However, I do not think that way at all. Each way has its strengths and weaknesses. I do not think that there is any reason to reject Diagram 3, either.

This is off the subject, but the late Maeda Sensei, the famous god of life and death problems, declared publicly that the diagonal move of White 8 in Diagram 1 is heavy, and so he did not want to play it. But for a long period of time it has been popular, so it is unusual to find those who do not want to play the diagonal move.

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The Kajiwara Joseki

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This "Kajiwara Joseki" attracted a lot of attention in the latter half of the Showa 30 Decade: 1955 — 64. Black 4 and the following moves are sacrifice stones that represent an idea that is quintessentially Kajiwara. Even today this is sometimes played.

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The Showa 50 Decade: 1975 — 84

The Transfiguration of the Attach and Draw Back Joseki

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Diagram 1 8th Annual Kisei Tournament 1984

White: Cho Chikun, Kisei Black: Rin Kaiho, Honinbo

When White makes the high attack on the corner with 6, Black 7 through 11 comprise the attach and draw back joseki. At that point, White makes the high four space extension at 12, not being bound by fixed preconceptions. This idea of using the go board in an expanded way is much like young Cho and his flexible mind, you know.

In reply to Black 13, White 14 gives cover to the wide extension while expanding White’s territorial framework [moyo].

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Diagram 2

Tracking back to olden times, for the attach and draw back joseki, the moves through this White 6 were standard. After that, using Black 5 to develop with the one space jump of "a" was due to the influence of Kitani Minoru. In the first days, Black "a" was considered Kitani’s unique way of defending, but this way of playing steadily came to be adopted generally. Compared to olden times, the contemporary way may be said to be tight territorially. In this joseki, afterwards Black makes the checking extension at "b," aiming at the invasion at "c." The severity of that invasion is not changed if Black 5 is at "a."

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The Birth of the Kisei Tournament

In 1977, Fujisawa Shuko 9 dan won the 1st Annual Kisei Tournament. From then on to 1982, he accomplished the feat of winning the title six consecutive times. In the Showa 50 Decade: 1975 — 84, this was a startling record. Cho Chikun took the Kisei title in 1983 after losing the first three games in a row, and then winning the last four games. Along with the Meijin, Honinbo and 10 Dan titles he became king of the four top titles in Japan.

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Diagram 3

Before the extensions of White "a" and "b," instead of White "c," the high extension of 1 being played may be said to be a big change. Once White 1 is in place, White makes the checking extension at "d," and in this case, rather than having White 1 at "c," the balance overall on the right side is better, which is its advantage. However, on the other hand, should Black make the checking extension at "e," voices may be heard to say that White 1 is open at the edge, a weakness that appears. Certainly, that is a fact, but if a player does not feel pained at the stones being open at the edge, then it is the same thing as if that weakness did not exist. Young Takemiya is one of those who feels that even if Black makes the checking extension at "e," rather than having a stone at White "c," the way with 1 is better. Naturally, from a whole board perspective, White 1 works more effectively, which is why it was played in the first place.

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Diagram 4

The joseki with the hanging connection of White 4 followed by the extension of 6 should also be touched upon. As is well known, still today this has not completely fallen into disuse. With this, too, in olden times Black 5 was played most often at "a," then White "b" and Black "c." But now the one space jump of Black 5 is the established move.

However, in regards to this attach and draw back joseki, the question is often asked whether one would rather play the Black side or the White side. I do not have a preference either way, you know. Either with White or Black I have played this joseki more times than I can count. That is because more than territory or thickness, the focus on the win is to be found in a different place.

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The Disposition to Counterattack

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In response to Black 1, instead of playing the diagonal move of White "a," the disposition to counterattack with 2 and 4 is most prevalent recently. When the sequence from White 6 through Black 9 is played, the attachment of White 10 is a move that I experimented with in the 10 Dan tournament of 1973.

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The Showa 60 Period: 1985 — 88

The Definitive Version of the Magic Sword Joseki

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Diagram 1 Jubango [Best of Ten Match] 1952

White: Go Seigen 9 dan Black: Fujisawa Kurannosuke [later Hosai] 9 dan

Black plays 7 as a one space high attack on the corner, and White answers with the two space high pincer of 8. At the time when these moves first became popular, they were given the name of the "Magic Sword."

Since Black 7 is positioned to run away quickly, the feeling is for White to make the pincer at 8. This move was never played in the olden days. Research was done about it, but in reality, it was not played until the beginning of the Showa 20 Decade: 1945 — 54.

The one who played the large knight’s move of Black 9 was Fujisawa Hosai in this game. Should Black play 9 as the jump to 12, it would be followed by White "a," Black "b" and White "c," both sides jumping repeatedly. This would leave Black with an uneasy feeling that would always remain, so Black 9 was invented to find good form to deal with the situation [sabaki].

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Kobayashi Emerges

In the Showa 60 Period: 1985 — 88, Kobayashi Koichi emerged from the pack of his rivals. In regards to the titleholders in 1985, Meijin, 10 Dan and Tengen was Kobayashi Koichi, Kisei was Cho Chikun, Honinbo was Takemiya Masaki and Oza was Kato Masao. After this, Kobayashi managed to hold the Kisei title for eight years in a row, the Meijin title for seven years in a row and the Gosei title for six years in a row.

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Diagram 2

The next thing that drew attention was the move that Takagawa Kaku played in the 1954 Honinbo title match, that is, in response to Black 6, dodging with White 7. For 7, filling a liberty with "a" or drawing back at 9 could also be considered, but now this White 7 has come to be best. When White plays 9, the attachment of Black 10 is a model that is still played from time to time today.

This two space high pincer joseki is an abstruse model with many variations, but the definitive version has been settled. Recently as well, unchanged from the past it is often played, so it can be taken as representative of the Showa 60 Period: 1985 — 88.

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Kobayashi — Kato often played the one space pincer joseki in their battles.

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Diagram 3

The definitive version is shown here.

When White plays 1, Black presses once at 2, and follows that up with Black 4 and 6. This shape puts up the best resistance against a White hane at "a," and makes the cut of White "b" nothing to fear. For White, Black 2 and the marked Black stone are separated with this shape, so in general this is satisfactory.

White is not limited to only playing at 7, but can play the more restrained move at one point to the left, or depending on the conditions of the game, ignoring the situation to play elsewhere can also be considered.

The next most often played move, instead of the hanging connection of Black 6 is descending at "a." However, this depends on the condition of a favorable ladder. That is, if White cuts at "b," the fight with the atari of Black "c" is subject to the ladder relationship.

In the case of Black "a," supposing that White makes the extension of 7, immediately defending with Black "d" means that Black has played one extra move here than in the previous diagram, but the shape is so good that Black can feel a sense of satisfaction.

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The Joseki Changes

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For the one space pincer joseki, when Black plays 5, the White block of 6 is a move that young Kato began playing at the start of 1985. Up to then, 6 had been played as the descending move at 7.

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The Heisei Period: 1988 — 95

[Note: When the Japanese Emperor Hirohito died in 1988, his son Akihito ascended the throne, taking the formal name of Heisei, so that the traditional dating system changed from then on to Heisei.]

A New Wind Changes Star Point Joseki

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Diagram 1 44th Annual Honinbo Title Match 1988

White: Cho Chikun, 10 Dan Black: Takemiya Masaki, Honinbo

In Response to a Slide, Play Elsewhere

A recent development in star point joseki is that after White attacks the corner with 6, then slides to 8, Black does not defend at "a," but turns elsewhere. This is a most striking trend.

Originally, playing elsewhere was young Takemiya’s unique brand of go, but for the past two or three years, it has completely changed to become the mainstream style.

The meaning behind refraining from playing Black "a" is that depending on the situation in the game, the checking move of Black "b," or else applying pressure with "c" or "d" remains available. This way turns the entire board into a tactical arena, without a doubt. The influence of young Takemiya has been impressive, you know.

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The Younger Generation Comes to the Fore

Starting with this year of 1995, the go world has entered a new era. Last year, Ryu Shikun 6 dan captured the Tengen title, which acted like a priming cap to spur on Kobayashi Satoru 9 dan to win the Kisei and Gosei titles, and Yoda Norimoto 9 dan to take the 10 Dan title, etc., indicating that at the top fighting front the wave of generational change was pressing in. As this continues, it will be interesting to watch how the new and the old compete together.

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Diagram 2

This was just played this past August in a game between Rin Kaiho and Kataoka Satoshi. In reply to the slide of Black 9, Rin ignored the move to make the extension of White 10, which would have been unthinkable in the past. To the extent that White 6 is a low extension, White would have no dissatisfaction in defending at "a" to perfect the battle formation here. The fact that a player who is as territorially focused as Rin would play elsewhere in such a position shows how this trend is growing stronger and stronger.

A Hard Fighting Model Arising from a Double Attack on a Corner

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Diagram 3

In answer to the two space high pincer of Black 9, White makes the double attack on the corner with 10, which has become popular in recent years. When Black attaches with 11 and extends at 13, White usually invades at the 3-3 point with White "a," discarding the two stones above. However, at this point White extends at 14, putting the stone here in motion. This is a move that starting being played at the beginning of the Heisei Era: 1988. It seems that young Kato started experimenting with this around three years ago, and it is called, "Kato’s Joseki."

Black 9 is situated at the vital point, so it feels like moving the stones out with White 8 and 12 is a little heavy. However, refusing to discard the stones in this head-strong way is typical of young Kato. That is how it appears to me.

Making the single attachment of Black 17 is the premise behind playing the strong move of the hane of Black 19 next. White 24 is often played as the hanging connection of "b," but the way with Black 27 and White 28 is now standard.

At one time, this model was played with intense focus, but recently not to that extent. This cannot be said to be much of an attractive division, and since after this continuous fighting will develop, there is an element here that besides those players who love to fight, it is not to others’ taste. Even though it is a viable model that is produced, during this sequence of moves there are many possible variations, so it is still at the stage where there is no definitive variation. I think that it will be interesting to see what kind of future this joseki will have.

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The One Space Pincer Answering an Attack on a Star Point in the Corner

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Playing a one space pincer in answer to an attack on a star point in the corner is also a recent trend. It is said that the spark that made this popular came from Korea. The figure here comes from a game between Cho Chikun and Suh Bongsu in the Ing Cup tournament.

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Popular Play in Korea

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The final game when Kobayashi Satoru captured the Gosei title.

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Diagram 4 20th Annual Gosei Title Match 1995

White: Rin Kaiho, Gosei Black: Kobayashi Satoru, Kisei

This game was just played very recently. It is the final game of the Gosei title match.

In reply to White 10, the same pincer in return of Black 11 is played, and when White plays 12, up to this time the exchange of Black "a" for White "b" would be followed by an invasion of the 3-3 point. Immediately playing Black 13 is a new move. I have heard that this has recently been popular in Korea. Let’s compare the division through Black 19 with the joseki played up to now.

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Diagram 5

Up to now, the model has been this one, or with White 6 played as the atari from below with White "a." Furthermore, when Black plays 3, White’s blocking at 5 is answered by Black crossing underneath at "b." Then, the exchange of Black 1 for White 2 works effectively for Black, while it is slack for White.

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Diagram 6

In the case where Black simply plays at 1, if White 2 and Black 3 follows, since Black "a," White "b" has not been played, Black is satisfied. That is because the Black "a," White "b" exchange makes White thick and strong. Comparing this to the model played up to now, Black is delighted, which is not pleasing to White. In terms of fighting spirit, White 14 in Diagram 4 is natural.

In the future, I imagine that this model will become more popular.

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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