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Cool Japan / Honinbo Shusaku (本因坊秀策)


Honinbo Shusaku (本因坊秀策, born as Kuwabara Torajiro (桑原虎次郎), June 6, 1829 – August 10, 1862) was a professional Go player and is considered by many to be the greatest player of the golden age of Go in the mid-19th century.
(Honinbo Shusaku Monument, Innoshima, Hiroshima, Japan)

He was nicknamed "Invincible" after he earned a perfect score for 19 straight wins in the annual castle games. Some say that he was not stronger than his teacher, Honinbo Shuwa, who by convention did not play in the castle games. In addition out of respect for the elderly teacher, Shusaku refused to play with white against his teacher thus there is no clear gauge of the difference in strength between them. Shusaku, for example, had a plus score against Ota Yuzo but still found him a tough opponent, while Shuwa beat him easily.
Only two people have the title "Go-Saint" (Kisei), and Shusaku is one, the other being Honinbō Dosaku (1645–1702). While this title initially might have been given to Honinbo Jowa, it was revoked due to his political maneuvering. Even today he is considered one of the best go players ever to have lived.
(Igo Game in Shusaku Way)

In 1840 Shusaku left Edo and returned to his home for a period of over a year. In the following years, he made steady progress up the ranks, reaching 4 dan in 1844, after which he again returned home for a prolonged period. In April–May 1846, returning to Edo, he played against Gennan Inseki, arguably the strongest player of that time. Shusaku played with a handicap of two stones, but Gennan found that Shusaku was too strong, so he called off the game. A new game was started with Shusaku just playing black, the ear reddening game. Gennan played a new joseki (opening variation in a corner), and Shusaku erred in responding. He fought back hard, but still by the time of the middlegame, all the people watching the game thought Gennan was winning, except for one, a doctor. He admitted that he was not skilled in go, but noticed that Gennan's ears became red after a certain move by Shusaku, a sign that Gennan was surprised. In the end, Shusaku won the game by two points.
(The "ear reddening" game)

Returning to Edo, Shusaku not only got promoted to 5 dan, but he was also made the official heir of Honinbo Shuwa, who was to become the head of the Honinbo house. Shusaku declined at first, citing his obligations towards Lord Asano as the reason. After that issue was settled, Shusaku accepted.
(Honinbo Shusaku tombstone, Innoshima, Hiroshima, Japan)

As the official heir to the head of the Honinbo house, Shusaku had an eminent position. His grade also increased, he finally reached 7 dan, although it is not known exactly when—some think in 1849 while others say in 1853. After forcing his main rival and friend Ota Yuzo to take a handicap, he was generally accepted to be the strongest player with the exception of Shuwa.

By TS on Jan 15, 2012
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Author:T. SATOH