Go Personalities:
Revolutionizing Go

"Don't play go all the time! Playing go is useless! Will you be able to make a life with Go?!"
"Yes, I can!"

Go Seigen, 11, in response to his uncle.

There was a Chinese father who once said many years ago, "I will pass my calligraphic skills to my oldest son; my writing skills to my second oldest son; my go skills to my youngest son." His youngest son was called Wu Qing Yuan, but became known as Go Seigen, one of the most influential players of Go of the 20th century.

Qing Yuan seldom talked much and he was not inclined to play around. His life was simple, quiet, and he did not care about money. He simply concentrated on go. He sat in meditation every day, and I asked him, "What good is meditation?" He answered, "The top Japanese players are as strong as I am. To beat them, I have to be able to have a clear mind at the key moments. Meditation is such an exercise to train a clear mind."
Go Seigen's middle brother, Wu Yan.

Born 19 May 1914 in Fuzhou, a city in southestern China, he was discovered when a japanese professional go player, Kaoru Iwamoto, made a goodwill visit to China in 1926. He played two games with the 12-year-old boy, giving the boy a handicap of three stones. The boy won both games, so the handicap was reduced to two stones and Iwamoto won by only two points. This was a stunning result as the strongest Chinese players at that time were about three stones weaker than the Japanese professionals. The next year, another professional from Japan, Kohei Inoue, visited China. He played black without a handicap, the boy won one game and lost another.

So it was decided to bring this wonder-boy to Japan. He arrived in 1928 and was immediately awarded the rank of 3-dan. From then on he was known by the Japanese reading of his name, Go Seigen. By the time he was 18, Go was one of a small select group of the top players, among whom was his friend and rival Minoru Kitani.

In the 1933, Go and Kitani took a holiday and spent the time developing a new opening theory. They returned to Tokyo and tried out their new strategy with phenomenal results. Go took first place in the autumn ranking tournament and Kitani second.

This new opening strategy, called "Shin Fuseki" in Japanese, took the go world by storm. It set off a craze of experimentation, producing original and even bizarre opening patterns among both professionals and amateurs. Suddenly, the old, established patterns and strategies were uprooted, and a fresh wind entered the world of Go.

In 1933, The Yomiuri Shimbun sponsored a go championship. The winner of this tournament was to play Honinbo Shusai, the last hereditary head of the Honinbo house. Go, who was then only 19, won the tournament and the Yomiuri promoted the upcoming game much as a heavyweight boxing match is promoted today, calling it "the clash of the century." Since Go was Chinese, it was in a sense the first international go match, with the Chinese champion facing the Japanese. With growing anti-Chinese sentiment in some quarters at the time, the excitement over the match was very high, and there was a lot of pressure on Shusai to win. It was a hard-fought game in which Go was leading most of the way, but Shusai came up with a tesuji (brilliant move) and managed to win by two points (There is good evidence that the move may in fact have been discoved by a student of Shusai, as the game was stopped for the day just before the move was made, with both players going home for the night, and Shusai may have discussed the position with his students then, trying to find a game-winning move). Go' first move, inline with Shin Fuseki, were shocking at the time, and supporters of Shusai felt that they were insulting to this great player.

In 1939, Go played a 10-game match with Kitani. He won the match 6-4, and it is considered one of the great matches of the century. Every game was a masterpiece. It was such a success that the sponsor, The Yomiuri Shimbun, arranged a series of 10-game matches with the top players of the day. Go convincingly defeated them all, proving he was at least one rank stronger than any of them.

In the following years, he proceeded to winning all the major titles, discovering new talent such as Rin Kaiho, and generally pressed his stamp on Go. This time is generally known as Go Seigen's Era. He reached 9-dan in 1950.

In 1961, Go Seigen, who was 47 years old by now, was hit by a motorcycle when he was walking across a street. Several bones were broken, and his brain damaged. He survived after emergency rescue and had to stay in hospital for over a year. After that, he no longer had the energy to recover to his top form. He suffered from a nervous disorder caused by the brain concussion, which made him unable to concentrate in longer games. Even so, he managed to win 2nd place in the Meijin matches in 1963 and again in 1964. In the Meijin tournament of 1965, he finally showed sign of falling, and he could no longer compete with the newcomers. His era was over.

Go retired as an active player in 1983, but gave a series of highly popular lectures on NHK titled "Go in the 21st Century" in which he speculated on possible opening strategies that might be played during the next century.

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