John Power, Japan Correspondent for the E-Journal
Ichiriki defends Kisei title
The peak of the Japanese tournament year always comes at the beginning of the year, with the holding of the top-ranked title match, the Kisei best-of-seven. Fittingly, the challenger to Ichiriki Ryo Kisei was the Meijin, Shibano Toramaru, so the top two players were competing for the top place. Just for the record, Ichiriki is 25 and Shibano 23. This was the first Kisei title match in ten years without Iyama Yuta.
The first game was played at its regular venue, the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo in Bunkyo Ward, on January 12 and 13. Shibano drew black in the nigiri. Both players are known as zealous students, so it was not surprising that the opening was an original one. Neither side seems to have made any major errors, but Ichiriki played more sharply than the challenger in the middle-game fighting. Shibano resigned after 220 moves.
The second game was played at the Hotel Kagetsuen in Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, on January 20 and 21. A difficult, large-scale fight became even more difficult when White played aggressively with his sealed move, White 84. The ensuing fighting spread over three quarters of the board. Ichiriki suffered a lapse in judgment, letting Shibano take the lead. Black resigned after 210 moves. This evened the series.
The third game was played at the Olive Bay Hotel in Saikai City, Nagasaki Prefecture, on February 3 and 4. Ichiriki outplayed Shibano in the middle-game fighting and fended off the latter’s desperate attempts to get back into the game. This was the most one-sided game of the series. Ichiriki could have answered Shibano’s do-or-die attacks with safety-first moves, but instead he counterattacked strongly, crushing the opponent. Black resigned after move 134.
This was the sixth year in a row that the Olive Bay Hotel had served as the venue for a Kisei title game. The hotel is small—just 32 rooms—but luxurious; it was designed by the famous architect Kuma Kengo and is worth a look on the net. Go Weekly reported that the go board and stones were provided by the hotel. The magazine mentioned that the white stones came from highly prized suwabute clams from Hyuga, the supply of which was depleted decades ago. Each stone in the hotel’s set was said to be worth ¥20,000 (about $145). A net search for “suwabute clams” will turn up some photos.
The fourth game was held at the Miyagi Prefectural Governor’s Office in Sendai City on February 16 and 17. Sendai is Ichiriki’s home town, so the local notables who attended the welcome party held the night before the game were undoubtedly all Ichiriki supporters. The VIPs included Ichiriki’s father, who is president of the Kahoku Newspaper that Ichiriki also works for.
In the fourth game, Shibano (white) made two sacrifices early in the middle game in favor of setting up a large moyo. Ichiriki invaded and built a living group in one part of the moyo, then staked the game on being able to reduce the rest of the moyo. As it happened, Shibano got a large group on the run, but he went wrong with the key move and missed his chance to kill the black group. This fight turned into a large ko, but White did not have enough ko threats. He resigned after Black 199. From the first day, Shibano had a slight edge and he had kept the lead for much of the second day, so this was a painful loss for him: the difference between 1-3 and 2-2 is enormous.
The go press credits Shibano with the ability to recover quickly from a setback. At the least, he has a good poker face, as he seemed quite unworried when he turned up for the fifth game. This was played on March 2 and 3 at the Mikazuki Sea-Park Hotel, a luxury traditional-style inn in Katsuura City, Chiba Prefecture. (“Mikazuki” means “crescent moon,” but the HP doesn’t explain it.)
This was a good game for Shibano (black): good overall positional judgment was backed up by precise local play. The game was decided when Shibano seized an opportunity Ichiriki unintentionally gave him to change the timing while settling a black invading group. This simplified the game to Shibano’s advantage. After the game, Ichiriki commented: “I showed poor judgment. I’ll have to switch my thinking by the next game.”
The sixth game was played at the Atami Korakuen Hotel, Shizuoka Prefecture, on March 9 and 10. Playing black, Ichiriki took an early lead and forced a resignation after 167 moves. After his good win in the 5th game, Shibano seemed to have made the series competitive again, but actually this was his worst game of the match. He made a bad error in strategy, so by lunchtime on the first day the game was already bad for him. Around move 75, AI assessed the position as 90% favorable for Black. It’s unusual for a top title game to tilt so much so early. Shibano played on, attempting to complicate the game, but Ichiriki is very good at controlling the flow of a game after he takes the lead. In Shibano’s defence, it should be noted that he had come to this game with only one rest day after the first game in the Judan title match.
This was Ichiriki’s first successful defence of a top-seven title—he had previously won the Tengen and Gosei titles, but surrendered both after one term. At this point, he had won 17 titles.
First prize is ¥43,000,000 (down ¥2,000,000 from the previous year), worth $312,727.
Suzuki/Yamashita win Pair Go
Thirty-two top professionals in Japan took part in the Professional Pair Go Championship 2023, held at The Garden Room, The Garden Hall Ebisu on February 11 and 12. This was the 29th championship. In the final, the Suzuki Ayumi 7-dan/Yamashita Keigo 9-dan pair (B) beat the pair of Tsuji Hana 2-dan/Kono Rin 9-dan by resig. First prize is ¥3,000,000 ($21,818).
Korea wins 24th Nongshim Cup
The final round of the 24th Nongshim Spicy Noodles Cup, a Korean-sponsored tournament for five-player teams from Japan, China, and Korea, was held on the net, starting on February 20. Iyama Yuta had kept Japan’s hopes alive by winning the final game of the second round (reported in the ejournal on January 29), but he was eliminated by Park Junghwan of Korea in the first game of the third round. Park then beat China’s top player Ke Jie, after which Gu Zihao of China won two games in a row. However, Gu was then faced with the the world’s number one, Shin Jin-seo, who extended his undefeated record in this tournament. Details follow.
Game 10 (Feb. 20). Park Junghwan 9-dan (Korea) (B) beat Iyama Yuta 9-dan (Japan) by 2.5 points.
Game 11 (Feb. 21). Park (W) beat Ke Jie 9-dan (China) by half a point.
Game 12 (Feb. 22). Mi Yuting 9-dan (China) (B) beat Park by resig.
Game 13 (Feb. 23). Mi (W) beat Byun Sangil 9-dan (Korea) by resig.
Game 14 (Feb. 24). Shin Jinseo 9-dan (W) (Korea) beat Mi by resig.
This was the Korean team’s third successive victory and its 15th overall. First prize is worth 500,000,000 won ($39,557). China came 2nd and Japan 3rd.
Choi wins Senko Cup
The 5th SENKO CUP World Go Women’s Championship was held on March 3 to 5, with the competitors playing in person after two years of play on the net. The venue was the Tokyo East Side Hotel Kaie in Shiomi, Koto Ward. This is the only international title that Choi Jeong of Korea, established for some years now as the world’s strongest woman, has not won. She dominated the tournament and plugged the gap in her portfolio. Incidentally, she astonished everyone by speaking in fluent Japanese — she has not wasted her time during the corona shut-down. First prize is ¥10,000,000 (double that of the 4th Cup). The time allowance is two hours per player, followed by 60 seconds x 5. Results follow.
Round 1 (March 3). Choi Jeong 9-dan (Korea) (W) beat Fujisawa Rina 6-dan (Japan) by resig.; Nakamura Sumire 3-dan (Japan) (W) beat Kuanan Ha 6-dan amateur (Korea) (sponsors’ pick) by resig.; Ueno Asami 4-dan (Japan) (B) beat Lu Yuhua 4-dan (Ch. Taipei) by resig.; Zhou Hong 6-dan (China) (B) beat Nyu Eiko 4-dan (Japan) by resig.
Semifinals (March 4). Choi (B) beat Nakamura by 7.5 points; Zhou (B) beat Ueno by resig.
Final (March 5). Choi (W) beat Zhou by resig.
Play-off for 3rd (March 5). Ueno (W) beat Nakamura by resig.
Tomorrow: Ueno first woman to win Shusai Prize; Easing of mask policy; Ueno wins Women’s Meijin League; Sugiuchi Kazuko sets new record