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Kitani Minoru

Go Seigen was surely one of the greatest, but a giant seldom stood all by himself. Indeed, there was at least one other giant of Showa (see note 1 below) who could easily stand shoulder by shoulder with Go Seigen. His name was Kitani Minoru.

He might not win as many games as Go Seigen, but greatness is not determined by winning alone either. Youyi Chen, a friend of mine, wrote to me —

“When Greatness is measured by the influence ON and OFF the board, I am afraid that Kitani Minoru was as great as Go Seigen if not greater.”

The “influence” Youyi mentioned here did not just mean the “New Openings” discovered by Kitani Minoru and Go Seigen, and it did not justmean the gut performance the stubborn Kitani put on when he faced Meijin Shusai in Meijin’s retirement match (see note 2 below), it also meant Kitani’s influence to the future — do names like Otake, Ishida, Takemiya, Kato, Cho, and Kobayashi all sound familiar? They were all Kitani’s pupils.

That’s why, when I saw the book “Detailed Analysis on Wu’s Famous Games” (Chinese) contained one game between Go Seigen (Wu) and Kitani, I decided to post it as Game 1 of this “Go Seigen Series.”

The game was the first between these two giants after World War II.
At the time, Go Seigen was unanimously No.1 after beating one opponent after another in 10-game series. Meanwhile, Kitani, who was promoted to 9-dan just a year before, was winning games too. Thus this first meet between the two greats in 13 years became a big show. And it was a game in “Japan’s Strongest Deciding Matches.” At the end, Go Seigen once again came out as the winner, but no one would say Kitani was a loser — he had established himself forever as a winner.

Notes:

1. Showa was Japan’s last Emperor’s title, and Showa Years spanned from 1925 to 1989. Currently, 1992 is Heisei (new Emperor’s title) Year 4.

2. The last Meijin, Shusai, played only two official games in his last ten years. The first was in 1933-34 against Go Seigen, who shocked the Go world with a “3-3, star, tengen” opening. In the game, each side was given 24 hours, and one of the traditional rules was that each session would end around 4 o’clock in the afternoon when it was *white’s* turn (Meijin, of course, played white). This is of course unfair by today’s standard, since it would mean that white can spend whole night (actually, maybe the next few entire days) to consider his next move. But at that time, the rule was to “show respect to white.” Go Seigen went on to lose the game by 2 points, and people started to talk about the unfairness of this traditional rule.

Five years later, in 1938, Kitani Minoru was awarded the chance to play Meijin’s last game, his retirement match. Kitani strongly requested to apply “sealed play” rule; that is, by the end of a session, no matter whose turn it is, he shall deliberate this move out, put it under seal, and this move cannot be opened until the next session. At first, conservative officials was so shocked by Kitani’s decision that they refused to accept it, but stubborn Kitani was not going to give in — he threatened to give up the right to play! Finally, Kitani won the battle, and “sealed play” rule was applied officially the first time in history. This victory of Kitani was probably bigger than the one he won on the board — after 34 hours spent by Kitani and nearly 20 hours spent by Meijin (each was given 40 hours), Kitani won the game by 5 points.

On Meijin’s side, however, this was truly a sad ending to his long career. Once being called “Invincible Meijin”, he found, at the end, that the traditional force he represented was no longer “invincible” under the attack by the new generation of Kitani Minoru and Go Seigen. Meijin died in 1940. This sadness was beautifully shown in Kawabata Yasunai’s classic novel “Meijin” (or “Master of Go”). This book is highly recommended to everyone who plays go.

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