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Examining Go Styles


寒月 “Wintery Moon” Cover of Kido, December 1981

This beautiful scene seems to be of the Five Story Pagoda at Kiyomizu-Dera in Kyoto. However, the notes given by the artist, Mikami Masatoshi, indicate that the city is Nara.

The professional go player profiled in the following article is Fujisawa Hosai, who is not well known today. However, in his prime, he was one of the strongest players in the world.

Although he was older than Fujisawa Shuko, he was the nephew of that player. And Hosai played three matches against Go Seigen which were sensations at the time. (Go Seigen won them all, and Hosai would not have desisted in his playing more, except he was shamed into doing so by elders in the go world.

Hosai was also the first player to rise to the rank of 9 dan under the Oteai Ranking Tournament. That says something about his strength. (Under the traditional system, the Meijin was considered to be the only 9 dan in the country. The 8 dan rank was considered Quasi-Meijin or Quasi-9 dan, and in history there were times when a couple of players shared that rank. Honinbo Shusai Meijin was the last player to hold the highest rank. When he retired, he bequeathed his titles to the Nihon Ki-in [Japanese Go Association]. The Honinbo title was launched quickly after the death of Shusai, but the Meijin title was not launched in its modern state until 1960.) Hosai competed for many titles, but the only one that he won was the 10 Dan title.

There was an amusing story published in the old Go Review magazine about Hosai. The great Sakata Eio was playing a game against him when the position became complex as they entered the middlegame. At that point Sakata mumbled, “Here comes his s**t power.” (That was how the translator put it. I imagine that the word Sakata used was “baka-jikara,” which actually means “stupid-power.” It would still have been a rude remark, but not as crude.) The reader can judge from the article how to characterize Hosai’s style.

The Power and Firmness of the Hosai Style


From Kido, March 1976

Writer: Akiyama Kenji

Professional are also Surprised

Please examine Reference Figure 1. If the reader was playing White, where would the focus be on to aim at?


Reference Figure 1 1st Annual Meijin Tournament, Fujisawa Hosai―Sakata Eio (Black)
Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click here to do so.

As a malicious trick, the names of the players were not disclosed, and several professional players were asked for their evaluation.

A 9 dan: “This is difficult, you know. Except for the neutralizing move of White , nothing comes to mind.”

B 8 dan: “In terms of development, how would it be to take profit with ? When Black plays one more move to surround the territory on the right, White plunks right down in. This is an irresponsible answer, but…” [Irresponsible in the sense that the answer was just an off-hand remark made without carefully studying the position.]

C 7 dan: “I’ve seen this game before, I must say. Oh, now I remember; a game between Hosai and Sakata. What was played in the actual game, I wonder. If it was me, I would make the capping move at . There’s no other place to play, besides.”

D 7 dan: “White is the only move. Black’s next move is difficult. Building a territorial framework [moyo] is no big deal. Also, even if Black makes the extension to , White blocks access to the center with. , which is precisely played.”

Even if more professional players were asked their opinion, it may be imagined that most would choose White . In his analysis of the game, Sakata also said, “White is usual.”

After the four players, A, B, C and D gave their answers, it was revealed that the player’s name was Fujisawa Hosai 9 dan, and he played White .

“I see. That is a move typical of Hosai Sensei, you know,” they all agreed.

As might be imagined, this form of admiration is due to the severity of the play, but it was half-grudgingly given praise, with the nuance of the move being an overplay, was it not? And, I could never make a move like that.


Diagram 1

This is the course of play in the actual game. Black met White’s invasion with 2, launching a skirmish where one will eat and the other be eaten during intense fighting. The thinking is that it is exactly in the move of White 1 that Fujisawa’s go style is expressed. The strongest of the strongest, which none but Fujisawa would think about, and even if the thought occurred to one, fear of the consequences would freeze the player, and the move could not be made. It beckons an unavoidable attack from the opponent upon oneself, and there is a good chance that the game will end at an early stage.

Fujisawa himself says, “It is an incredible place to go into, isn’t it?”

In so saying, why does he go so far, seeking out a painful and difficult road?

In Fujisawa’s lexicon, there is no such word as “compromise.” He frequently goes to places where he believes in himself, playing the most tenaciously way possible. The fighting is narrowed down to one point, so that reading and power will decide everything. At times, the fighting spreads across the whole board. The player profiled in this magazine last month, Takagawa Kaku 9 dan, from first to last is the antithesis of that. In the case of Takagawa, close fighting is distasteful. He always tries to preserve a moderate pace, while for Fujisawa close fighting is his forte. A moderate pace is far from his being.

In the fighting that followed the invasion of White 1, when play reached White 11, the group had practically survived [shinogi]. When Black reinforced with 12, Fujisawa ignored it to hang tough with White 13, another way of playing typical of his style. When Black went for an all-out attack with 16, White 17 and 19 are also incredible. The idea is to turn the tables on Black, who is attacking, and bring his stones under attack.

The rest of the moves after this are omitted, but it goes without saying that larges groups of stones ended up engaged in a large scale battle.

A Severe Attack and Survival [Shinogi]

If taking profit again and again, then plunking right down into the opponent’s territorial framework [moyo] and staking the outcome on the survival of his stones [shinogi] are the Fujisawa style, attacking severely is one other of the features of Fujisawa’s play.


Reference Figure 2 1st Annual Pro Best 10 Tournament, Fujisawa Hosai (Black)―Kitani Minoru
Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click here to do so.

In Reference Figure 2 there is a brilliant example of a severe attack deciding matters impressively. The invasion of Black 1 is shrewd and sharp. This invasion was not played to take territory here, but to separate White’s stones to the left and right. The aim is to fight all-out in a sudden attack. Should White obligingly make the attachment at , Black hanes over the stone with , which leads to great profits after White , Black , White 3, Black 2, White , Black , White and Black . Therefore, White dodges to avoid the point of the sword with 2, but despite that, Black fixes the shape with 3 and the following moves. The sequence ends with another invasion at Black 15, which is the height of severity. The two invasions at 1 and 15 let Black take the initiative in the fighting.


Diagram 2

This is the further progress of the game. White did not play any unreasonable moves. Regardless of that, Fujisawa tenaciously fought to the hilt. By the time play reached Black 22 through 26, the outcome was decided.

Whether attacking or engineering survival [shinogi], retreat is unknown to him, and he follows through completely.

It may be wondered what Fujisawa’s own assessment is of his go playing style.

Fujisawa says, “It’s considerably blunt, you know. My technique [suji] is not good, and my invasions are textbook examples of premature play.” [Note: Fujisawa uses an unusual idiom here ― “imo-hori” = “spud hollowing-out” = a “green (or young) excavation.”]

Not much of an explanation. The writer is unavoidably forced to play the role of exploring his go style.

Consequently, digging into the past, it seems that as a young man, Fujisawa fought all-out on every occasion. In the Oteai Ranking Tournament (where there is no komi) he was dubbed with the nickname, “Unrivalled with Black.” It was a go style that started in positions where he held few advantages, but would steadily attack. According to the late Maeda Nobuaki 9 dan,

“The feeling was that it was all to no purpose. Go is not this kind of narrow game where this trivial way gets things done.”

This is a critical viewpoint. Compared to the “Unrivalled with Black” period, at the present time it appears that he places more importance to survival [shinogi] skills.

Fujisawa states, “Indeed. Now I take profit, and the attitude is to avoid slack play. I suppose that I have been influenced by Go Seigen san, you know.”

As everyone knows, Fujisawa and Go 9 dan contested best of ten [jubango] matches three times. The first was in 1944, in the “Unrivalled with Black” period. However, although Fujisawa won the match with 6 wins to 4 losses, this was holding Black every game [teisen], so with this difference in the playing conditions, undoubtedly it was dissatisfying for him. And then there were the confrontations of destiny, the second and third best of ten matches. Regardless of the content of the games, he was beaten down a rank by Go. [If a player loses three games in a row in a best of ten match, the player is deemed to have lost a dan rank in strength, and has to play with an increased playing advantage, that is holding Black in more games than the winning player.] He could not employ his special attacking style to good effect, with Go’s quick-paced go style overwhelming him. It is not hard to imagine that fighting with Go so many times had an influence on him.

Fujisawa says, “However, during the period when I was attacking all-out every game, my percentage of wins was good. Now I have become slack and run away.”

It is hard to agree to the statement that Fujisawa runs away in his games, but…

―In regards to weak points?

Fujisawa: “My overall positional judgment is slack. When I have the advantage in a game, if I don’t press that advantage all-out to the end of the game, I am dissatisfied.”

Pressing things all-out also gives chances to the opponent. There are too many cases when at the end an upset occurs. Just a few days ago that kind of aspect of Fujisawa was seen. “I knew that if I play in this way, the game was won, but I just… It’s no good, you know.” During the analysis session after the game, he repeated this any number of times. It may be thought that he was trying to figure out how to eliminate this bad habit. But playing all-out with the strongest, most tenacious moves is Fujisawa’s go style. This fascinates the fans, so there is no way around it.

Regarding Mane-Go [Imitation-Go]

When speaking with Fujisawa, it makes no sense not to discuss mane-go [imitation-go]

Mane-go, even when it is played against me, seeing it is uninteresting. Only among professional players is there a depth to it, and I want to play games that I am proud of.”

In expressing this opinion, Fujisawa is strong, and his firmness is unchanged.

Fujisawa: “I think that in games played with komi, mane-go is a powerful playing method. Mane-go itself has not been played to the point that it is played out and there is nothing left to analyze. This research is what professionals’ job is to do, isn’t it? It is said that mane-go lacks originality, so it is no good, but it may be said that when one person comes up with a new joseki or opening move and it is imitated, that is one form of mane-go.

This writer is a not an advocate of mane-go, but when coming into contact with Fujisawa’s firmness, I come to want to defend it.

For those playing mane-go, in a battle for territory, when the center star point [tengen] is occupied, the success rate is considerably high. In any event, Fujisawa lets the opponent surround territory, then plunks right down with confidence in being able to survive [shinogi]. The reason is that in games with komi, the burden on Black is heavy. In regards to that, fighting starts in diagonally opposite corners and extends into the center. As counter-strategies to the close fighting that develops in mane-go, Yamabe 9 dan has researched this and put it into action in real games.


Reference Figure 3 13th Annual Meijin Tournament, Fujisawa Hosai―Yamabe Toshiro (Black)
Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click here to do so.

Starting with the attach and extend joseki of Black 9 and 13, the two-step hane of 21 and 25 is the fruit of Yamabe’s new research. As the result of White continuing the mane-go, with the moves through 61, White is unable to move out in the center, so Black scored a big success here.

“In this game, young Yamabe’s research paid off admirably, and I was taken but good. Playing this as far as possible would turn out how? I stubbornly played mane-go, but when this kind of thing happens, it’s no good. What a player has to pay attention with mane-go is when the stones approach closely. Therefore, at an earlier point, such as at 8 or 10, I should have broken off playing mane-go.”

Consequently, Yamabe’s counter-strategy to mane-go may be said to have been a complete success, may it not? That is because if the mane-go is discontinued at move 8, it is no longer mane-go. Is Yamabe’s research a revolutionary development in mane-go? One wants to watch Fujisawa’s next moves closely.

Fujisawa’s Firmness

It has been touched upon many times, but Fujisawa lets the opponent build a large territorial framework [omoyo], then plunks right down into it with an invasion. This special feature of Fujisawa’s is remarkable.


Reference Figure 4 4th Annual 10 Dan Tournament, Fujisawa Hosai―Takagawa Kaku (Black)
Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click here to do so.

During this title match, Fujisawa played this resolute strategy all-out, startling observers. More than anything, this is a curious opening. Whether White succeeded or not, the judgment was that it was not very good.

With both sides setting up territorial frameworks [moyo], it is clear that Black’s area is larger. And yet, White’s territorial framework is close to secure territory, while Black’s is not that securely defined. The point is that White depends on the secure territory, and plunks down an invasion, betting everything on survival [shinogi].

During an important match game, to play this kind of opening―it must be said that it gives a feeling of Fujisawa’s firmness and strength, mustn’t it?

Regarding Time on the Clock

Fujisawa’s firmness is also displayed in his consistent opposition to the shortening of time limits in tournament games. It is said that in regards to the shortening to one day play in the Meijin and Honinbo leagues and the 10 Dan tournament, Fujisawa is alone in his opposition.

Fujisawa: “For a long time I was not opposed. I understand the trend to shorten the time limits, but how is it if everything is shortened? It seems to me that spend a long time on a game in slowly played games leads to better play. In games with short time limits, it is impossible to read things out completely, and as a result bad possibilities [aji] multiply as thinness in games increases, you know. Recently, I have seen that kind of thing occur in several games. In contrast to that, the play in two day games has intrinsic value. It is funny for me to point this out, but…” [Fujisawa was famous for always getting into time trouble in his games. Even though he also played and won lightning go tournaments!]

It seems to me that many readers will endorse Fujisawa’s opinions.

The above does not have much to do with go style. The discussion got sidetracked. However, after getting to know about Fujisawa’s go style, there is absolutely no way that it is unrelated. Like his daring to continue playing mane-go despite numerous criticisms about it, his opinion about time limits emerges entirely from his strict firmness. That conviction is indicative of his severe go style, and I think that it is wonderfully reflective of it.

Fujisawa’s go is strong and firm go. No doubt the game records that have been shown up to here have given a good feeling of that firmness. The strength may be appreciated at a glance by playing out his games on a board. The feeling is that without a doubt this cannot be imitated by anyone else.

Not just playing out game records, but watching Fujisawa play live, seeing his figure at the board, gives an even more clear idea. [Lightning go games of Fujisawa’s were broadcast on numerous television channels, so it was not difficult to see him play.] His large form sways back and forth as the gray matter of his brain squeezes out move after move. In contemporary go, where unique personal characteristics are hard to find, he displays multi-colored hues.

Supplement taken from the 1972 Go Yearbook


Fujisawa Hosai Wins His First Crown

Tokyo Channel 12

4th Lightning Go Championship

The 4th Lightning Go Championship kicked off the first broadcast on September 5, 1971 and featured Takagawa Kaku 9 dan playing against Kitani Reiko 6 dan [daughter of Kitani Minoru and later wife of Kobayashi Koichi]. It is held over a period of more than seven months, and develops with intense play.

On March 12, 1972 the finale was played, with Fujisawa Hosai 9 dan facing Hashimoto Utaro 9 dan. [In the opening round, Fujisawa defeated Honda Kunihisa 8 dan, Round 2, Otake Hideo 9 dan, Round 3, Ishida Yoshio Honinbo; Hashimoto, Round 1, Kojima Takaho 7 dan, Round 2, Rin Kaiho Meijin, Round 3, Sugiuchi Masao 9 dan.] Looking back at the tournament, the performance of veterans attracted much attention.

Well then, we have at length come to the final. Fujisawa Hosai 9 dan was playing in the final for the third time. The past two times he had to choke back his tears, so he was hoping that the third time would be the charm [proverbial]. On the other hand, for Hashimoto Utaro 9 dan this was the second time in the final, so he was bristling with fighting spirit.

The result was that in the opening the vigorous moves of Black 35 and 37 misfired, which Hosai 9 dan took advantage of by playing skillfully. In the end he killed a big group of Black stones, gratefully earning his first title.

4th Lightning Go Championship, Final

White: Fujisawa Hosai 9 dan

Black: Hashimoto Utaro 9 dan

Played on March 12, 1972 at the studios of Tokyo Channel 12

Komi: 5½ points

Time limit: 10 minutes for each player; 30 second byo-yomi after the time limit reached

208 moves. White wins by resignation.


Figure 1 (1-100) – White 64 takes ko (52); Black 65, same; White 66 connects (65); White 70 takes ko (52); Black 75, same; White 78, same; Black 81, same; White 84, same; Black 87, same; White 90, same
Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click here to do so.

The knight’s move of White 24 is a new move. Black 25 is the only move, and the sequence through White 28 is unavoidable. Black 29 is a strong move, Utaro style. Pushing through and cutting with Black 35 and 37 affected the outcome of the game, with the result indicating that the moves were somewhat unreasonable. Striking through the knight’s move with White 52 plunged the game into an inevitable race to capture. The large scale swap [furi-kawari] of White 94, Black 95 was clearly favorable for White. When White attacked the corner with 96, the sails were full and the wind at White’s back [proverbial].


Figure 2 (101-208) – White 60 connects (55)

For Black 31, it is desirable to tenaciously make the hanging connection at “a,” but letting White take the vital point of 31 first would result in White’s territorial framework [moyo] on the upper side becoming huge. For White 62, connecting at 63 to capture four Black stones would have been sufficient. Black 71 was the last chance to play at 80 to counterattack. In the end, the large group of stones in the center have only one eye, so Black dies a valiant death.

208 moves. White wins by resignation.

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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