John Power, Japan Correspondent for the E-Journal
Editor’s note: our apologies for falling behind with Japanese news this year; here’s the first in a series of reports covering January 1 to June 30.
Kim wins Japan-Korea match
The first international event of the year was a special match, the Japan-Korea Girl Geniuses Best-of-Three Match, which was held in Seoul on January 3 and 4. It was the first face-to-face international encounter in Korea for three years. It pitted Nakamura Sumire 3-dan, aged 13 years nine months, against Kim Eunji 5-dan, who was 15. The latter has redeemed herself since serving a year’s suspension (for using AI in an online game) and is now one of the top female players in Korea. She won two women’s titles at the end of last year and also won the prize for most games won—her record was 94 wins 45 losses. It seems that Korean players play a lot more games than Japanese do.
The time allowance was 30 minutes each, followed by byo-yomi of one-minute x one. Korean rules are the same as Japanese rules. There was a game fee of 1,000,000 won (about $791 at $1 = 1,264 won) per player and the winner’s prize was 3,000,000 won.
In the first game, Kim, taking black, won by resignation. In the second, she also won by resignation, so the third game was not played. With the results presented baldly like this, it may look as if Kim dominated the match, but both wins were upsets for her. In the first game, in particular, Sumire played a masterly game with black, attacking strongly and taking control of the game. At move 124, AI rated her winning chances at 99%. To give Kim credit, she responded to one slack move by Sumire with a very sharp and aggressive attack and was able to pull off an upset. Playing with white in the second game, Sumire again took the honors in the opening fight, but once again Kim displayed superb powers of concentration and tactical cleverness in the critical fight and wrapped up the series with another upset.
During her stay in Seoul, Sumire paid a visit (her first in three years) to the school she studied in when younger and was also invited to train with the Korean national team.
Sumire wins first title: Women’s Kisei
The 26th Docomo Cup Women’s Kisei Tournament Best-of-Three saw Nakamura Sumire 3-dan challenge Ueno Asami, who has dominated this title in the last half-decade and was bidding to win it for the fifth time. In 2018, she set a new youth record in this tournament when she won the 21st title at the age of 16 years three months. She defended the title the following year, lost it to Suzuki Ayumi in 2020, then made a comeback to win the 24th and 25th titles.
Sumire was making her second challenge for a women’s title: she was rebuffed 0-2 by Fujisawa Rina in the 33rd Women’s Meijin title match in April last year; she also made the final of the 7th Senko Cup, but lost to Nyu Eiko (the final was played on July 17 last year) . Ueno has already been a top player for five years, but she is still only 21. Who could have predicted that such a young player would be facing a challenger eight years her junior?
Both players are known for their aggressive fighting style, so an exciting title match was expected.
The first game was held at the Hotel Sunlife Garden in Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture, on January 19. In a battle of moyos, Sumire got off to the better start, but Ueno (W) made a comeback in the decisive middle-game fighting and took the lead. Black resigned after White 162. Incidentally, this loss put an end to a winning streak by Sumire of seven games that had started last year. (The Seoul games reported on above were not official games.)
The second game was played at the headquarters of the Nihon Ki-in in Tokyo on January 26. Playing black, Ueno took the lead, but Sumire pulled off a major upset, securing a half-point win. In contrast to the first game, in which Sumire took the lead in the opening, she played a little slackly in this game. Not only did Black invade an area where she was bidding to set up a moyo, she also successfully invaded another area where White had been hoping to make territory, so Ueno took a clear lead. In the latter part of the middle game, Ueno played some slack moves, perhaps because she was overconfident. Sumire was able to catch up by building a large center territory. In the end, Ueno slipped up by starting a ko she couldn’t win, so Sumire won by half a point. Ueno commented that moves that she thought were safety-first were actually slack.
The third game was played at the same venue on February 6. In the nigiri, Ueno drew black. After a game full of fierce fighting, Sumire forced a resignation after 250 moves.
Sumire set a new record by winning a title at the age of 14 years 11 months and achieved her goal of doing so while still in junior high. (The previous record was set by Fujisawa Rina, who won the 1st Aizu Central Hospital Cup at the age of 15 years nine months.) First prize is worth ¥5,000,000 (about $36,364 at $1 = ¥137.5).
Tomorrow: Ichiriki defends Kisei title; Suzuki/Yamashita win Pair Go; Korea wins 24th Nongshim Cup; Choi wins Senko Cup