Go Wizardry

All About the Many Aspects of Go
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Championship Level Play


As usual on Sunday I watched the NHK Cup Tournament game being played in its lightning go format. That means that both players start with 10 minutes on the clock. If they make their moves within a minute, no time is lost. But if they need time to think, they could go through the minute, which would be eliminated, and continue to ponder. The timekeeper keeps the player whose move it is informed by reading off the seconds, starting when there are thirty seconds left.

This past Sunday, the players were Kono Rin 9 dan (Black) and Cho U 9 dan. So what happened when Kono paused to think for the first time (after about thirty moves had been played) is that the timekeeper spoke quietly in the following way when Kono stopped to think deeply for the first time:

"Kono 9 dan, there are 30 seconds left…25 seconds…20 seconds…15 seconds…10 seconds…9 …8 …7 …6 …5 …4 …3 …2 …1 …Kono 9 dan, you have expended your time. You now have 9 minutes remaining."

Both players went through most of their time, but did not overstep the limit, thereby forfeiting the game. It is remarkable how the play in these games is almost always at a high level. Of course, that is to be expected from someone like Kono, who won the Tengen title three times in a row, starting in 2005, has participated in the Kisei tournament leagues ten times, the Meijin leagues seven times, the Honinbo leagues four times, and won a number of lightning go titles, including the NEC Cup (twice). Kono was born in Tokyo and apprenticed under Kobayashi Koichi, Honorary Kisei, Meijin.

Cho U, who was born in Taipei, Taiwan and apprenticed under Rin Kaiho, Honorary Tengen, won the Honinbo title, his first major success, in 2003 and defended it the next year, when he also won the Meijin title (which he has held a total of five times, the latest being last year). In 2009 he became the first player to hold five titles simultaneously (Meijin, Tengen, Oza, Gosei and 10 Dan). The next year he also won the Kisei title (holding it for three years in a row), thereby becoming only the second player in history to hold every major title. He has won a total of 40 titles, putting him seventh on the list of all-time titleholders.

The above statistics indicate the level of play to be expected when watching the NHK Cup Go Tournament. And yet, only when matched against a player of Cho’s caliber could Kono be considered the underdog! I was looking forward to a good contest, and that is exactly what transpired.

Both players started off using their favorite openings, Kono making a two point high corner enclosure in the upper left corner in connection with a star point stone in the lower left corner, while Cho took the two star points on the right side. (It should be noted that this is how it was shown on the television screen, but that was for the convenience of the cameras and the analyst for the program, who was Yamashita Keigo 9 dan. In reality, Kono played the first Black stone in what was for him the upper right corner, a conventional move.)

Each player then proceeded to make attacks against the corners followed by extensions along the sides. It was a sedate kind of opening that left Yamashita with nothing to analyze! Consequently, in the beginning of the game there were lengthy periods of silence, only broken by the quiet voice of the timekeeper counting down the clock: "4 …3 …2 …" then the ‘click’ of a stone on the board. Both players carefully conserved their time, trying to use the extra seconds to study the board overall and determine the strategy to adopt.

Kono finally invaded Cho’s extension on the lower side, starting a fight. Cho resisted, attacking the Black stone, which led to a race to capture [semeai] where both sides’ stones were cut off, and only Black’s stones had eye shape. However, that eye shape was good only to create a ko. In the end, White sacrificed eight stones there, but Black was forced to play at empty points [dame] in order to take the stones off the board, making the capture less than satisfactory. White got to play effective moves elsewhere, principally in the center of the board, which exerted power everywhere. That gave White control there, and as a result several Black stones ended up being captured.

With no time left on the clock and little chance to win, Kono resigned. I had been counting the board and it seemed that White was only slightly ahead, but again, players as strong as these not only count more precisely, but know from experience how an endgame will turn out. Kono wanted to be as gracious in defeat as he could be with his renowned opponent.

The program ended as it always does with the winner addressing the camera directly with a demonstration board behind him and explaining which move was the decisive one.

"It was here, with the eight stones on the lower side subject to capture, that I made this forcing move, followed by this one and this one, that sealed the win," said Cho. "This made White strong in the center, while limiting the size of the loss. After this, Black did not have a chance to win."

I wish that I could show the actual game itself and not just give this description of it. But despite my best efforts, I have not been able to establish a relationship with the Nihon Ki-in (Japanese Go Association). I have gone there in person and sent two email messages, but not received any response. I have also sent two messages to NHK, in Japanese, and not gotten any sort of answer there whatsoever, either. This is frustrating, but what can I do about it? Perhaps the reader can try to reach those organizations and indicate that being able to see such games with subtitles in English (which I proposed to add) would do much to promote go around the world.

As for the Nihon Ki-in, I am not the only one angered by the situation. The Ki-in is supposedly committed to promoting the game, but does little to do so. This is not just my opinion. Several professional players have recently said the same thing.

The latest is Yoda Norimoto 9 dan. The former Meijin, 10 Dan, Gosei and five time winner of the NHK Cup Tournament announced on Twitter this past week that the behavior of the Ki-in is intolerable, and that he is boycotting it for six months, refusing to appear in any activities associated with it.

Will this have any effect? Who knows? In the past, words, not to mention actions, of a player of Yoda’s stature would spur others to address a problem. However, times are different. Today it seems like bureaucracies in all sectors of Japanese society dictate what does or does not get done. And as a result, nothing actually does get done!

I went to the offices of the chamber of commerce in the city of Hachioji, where I live, to offer my services this past week. The receptionist asked for my business card and then refused it when I presented it to her. I asked for her own company’s business card, and she did not have one. I asked who was in charge of producing the chamber’s videos that I see on the Hachioji television channel. She wrote down a number on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to me. No name, just a number. What does the reader think about the way the operation is run there?

When I left, I noticed that there were packing tape patches covering cracks in the plate glass window in the front of the building. That place is a joke.

Had I met someone who made a presentable, well-spoken appearance, I would have explained that I want to make television videos and have funding available for the project. (I have related here that the American Go Association received $1 million from the Ing Foundation which disappeared without a trace. There is still money available from that source, as well as multiple other sources.) As it was, I never had a chance to explain why I was there. It seems that no one in the chamber cares.

By the way, I am not interested in producing videos for the Hachioji City Chamber of Commerce, although I would be willing act as a consultant, and perhaps do light interpretation work if there were no conflicts with my schedule. Consequently, I am not disappointed by the reception I received. But there are interlocking relationships throughout Japan, and it is possible that I will meet these people again. I relish that thought.

What these people fail to understand is that the 4G universe in which we are living has made what they are doing irrelevant at best, and the coming 5G universe will make them completely obsolete. If they think that they can hold everything together with packing tape, they are in for an unpleasant surprise.

I have been doing 4G work for years and I am ready to move up to 5G work as soon as the implementation is in place. It is an exciting prospect. Imagine the promotional opportunities for go!

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