The Master of Nicknames (1920-)

When deciding on a heading for this description of my favorite professional Go player, it was hard to decide, since he has so many nicknames. One of those, though, is "The Master of Nicknames," for precisely that reason. Others include "Razor Sakata," "Greedy Sakata," "Master of Shinogi," "Attacking Sakata" and "Double Champion (of Attack and Defense)."

The reason for these nicknames is Sakata's inimitable style and unparallelled skill in chuban, the middle game of Go.

Shinogi is a Japanese term for which I'm unaware of the literal English translation (perhaps someone can supply me with one), but that, in the case of Go, means "the art of getting weak groups out of trouble." No other professional can rival Sakata in his ability to do this.

Sakata's style is incredibly fast. In Go, it is very important not to play any unneccessary moves that let your opponent take the initiative (sente). When it is not urgent to defend a given group, it is usually best to play elsewhere. Sakata does this to a fault, ignoring stabilizing moves that even other professionals would generally consider to be urgent, in order to squeeze the most possible profit out of every move. This is where the nickname "Greedy Sakata" comes from.

How does he get away with this, though? Well, the nicknames "Razor Sakata" and "Master of Shinogi" are assuredly deserved. Sakata has an amazing ability to stun his audience (and often his opponent) with amazing tesuji combinations that bring back to life groups that seem unsaveable to all but Sakata himself.

Says Sakata himself, "Perhaps because I am too greedy. I want everything. As a result, every move I make, if it does not reach its greatest efficiency, I won't be satisfied. To make every move be the most efficient is to say to run in front of your opponent on every move. Thus, one or two spots will naturally become thin. Under these circumstances, I am obliged to make a huge effort to make weak groups live. Some say that I am a 'Master of Shinogi'; they probably mean this situation that I have to face."

In addition to his remarkable defensive skills, Sakata is known for being equally formidable on the offensive; it is difficult to incorporate both aspects into one's style effectively. From this comes his nickname "Double Master."

If all of this isn't enough to create a reputation for Sakata that will last for centuries, his performance in the title tournaments will. Sakata, during his Go career from 1950-1975, won a stunning 64 major titles, more than any other player in the history of Go. Truly a formidable player, and deserving of both his record number of titles, and of nicknames.


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