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Sakata Eio

The Greedy

As many nicknames as Sakata Eio has, he’s probably the champion of nicknames in the Go world — “Master to Make Alive”, “Razor Sakata”, “Attacking Sakata”, and “Double Champion” (on attack and defense), etc.
Interestingly, his style combines good skills in both attacking and defense, which is not easy.
Sakata’s style, as just said, is multidimentional. His extraordinary strength is unmatchable, but his greatest characteristic probably lies in his defense instead of his offense.

“Perhaps because I am too greedy,” said Sakata, “I want everything. As a result, every move I made, if it did not reach its greatest efficiency, I wouldn’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 would naturally become thin. Under these circumstances, I would have to make alive with my upmost effort. Some say that I am a ‘Master to Make Alive’; they probably mean this situation that I have to face.”

Just like Sakata said, the most efficient moves might not be the best moves. There are often times that some moves with certain vagueness in them are the best moves.

Sakata gave an example, “With the personality I have, it’s almost improbable to make any move that’s has no clear meaning. Takagawa Saku 9-dan, however, can often make such moves.”
Is one’s personality related to his Go style?



Sakata answered, “I think more or less it’s related. Rin Kaiho and Ishida Yoshio, for example, are soft and warm people, and their games are never played in a harsh manner. There are exception, though: Kato Masao is another nice and warm young man, but when he plays, he always chooses the strongest moves and shows no mercy…”
…Sakata seems to look for trouble for himself, picking the rather difficult routes [in his games]. As for this point, he said, “I have three shortcomings:
“One, I am not good at situational judgements.
“Two, I don’t know how to take advantage the komi [playing white].
“Three, I am lack of ‘long-distance’ strength, so I try to knock down the opponents before going into the endgames.”

However, he didn’t mention his strength, and Sakata’s most remarkable strength is that when his group is surrounded, he is confident to make a second eye.

Inventor of Myoshu

[“Myoshu”, or spelled with the long vowels, “Myooshuu”, means an “extraordinary”, “excellent”, “magnificant” move, and such a move is unexpected by most people when it’s delivered. The Chinese pinyin for the same word is “Miao4 Shou3”.]



Trying to make every stone a most efficient move would naturally leave some thinness in one’s own shapes. When shapes become thin, one has to struggle to save these weak stones. When Sataka is attacked and surrounded by his opponents, he can mostly make alive and escape from the danger. When making alive, ordinary moves do not work easily; one has to deliver severe tesuji or even myoshu. Sakate has made many such moves to save unsavable big teams, and when many people say he’s an inventor of myoshu, they are not exaggerating.

Professional high-dan players’ reading skills are about the same among each other, but the sharpness and accuracy in Sakata’s reading makes him the best on this aspect. When people nickname him “Razor Sakata”, they are not being unreasonable.

He is able to create so many myoshu, is it because the structure of his brain different from others? What exactly is his brain made of?

Satata said, “Among the moves that I’ve made, there have been very very rare ones that I would consider as myoshu. If everyone regard it as a myoshu, it’s then certainly not prepared long ago, but rather, it’s discovered during a game. When one gets in trouble or danger, he naturally works harder and ideas come out. I often have such ideas come out when they’re needed. This is my strength, and probably my greatest strength. But on the other hand, it’s more important to win the game in a simple and easy manner. If one gets in trouble, he would have to work very hard to solve the problems, and to win it this way is tiresome.”

Beautiful Imagination

See the goban on the right for a game (partly) between Sakata, white, and Kitani Minoru, black. In the game, Sakata showed that aside the superb close-fight skills he has, he also possesses the imagination one needs to fight on the open field.



Sakata later said, “This was a game I won happily playing white, and I still have a good impression of it.”

Sakata’s imagaination and skills to operate the stones are not imitatable. The above game is an example that he is proud of.

Sakata then added, “But now I am not that good anymore. Often at key moments, I make mistakes. I become physically weaker and weaker, and one game a week is a heavy work to me.”

“By far you’ve won 58 titles; how many do you want to reach?”

“At least 60.” Sakata answered, “But whether or not I will reach this goal, only God knows.” [This number now stands at 64, far more than any other Japan’s professional player has reached.]

A Memorable Game

“You have played many famous games, which one has printed deeply in your mind?”

Sakata, “Oh, I can’t quite remember… You want me to say which game?
Hmmm, it’s somewhat difficult… Among the recent games, the Honinbo match with Ishida Yoshio [was quite memorable].”

“Was it the 1975 Honinbo Title final, the game in which you were upset by Ishida [at the end]?”

[In that game,] I forced him into a complicated fighting game, a game that I liked. I was holding the upper hand most of the game. [However he lost the game, and thus his chanllenge to Honinbo title then-holder Ishida failed by a score of 4-3.] Also, finals against Rin Kaiho in the Meijin and Honinbo matches [late 60’s] were also clearly remembered. At that time, my fighting spirit never lost to those young people.

What Sakata would never forget was his Meijin Sen final matches against Fujisawa Shuko. After winning the first two matches, Sakata lost the next three.

In Game 6, Sakata had had his back on the wall. In the week long break, he studies many ancient Go records, trying to establish a new mentality and spirit. This has become a famous story. [See the goban on the right for this game.]

Lo and behold, Sakata’s effort won him Game 6, then he went on to defeat Shuko in the deciding Game 7, thus became the 2nd Meijin Sen winner. In Game 7, white #120 (by Sakata) was a famous myoshu, but —

Sakata said, “I myself think that my Game 6 was played better than Game 7. After I won Game 6, I gained the confidence to win Game 7.”

“At that time, it was not so friendly between us [Sakata and Shuko] — Now we’re very good to each other (*laugh*) —” Sakata recalled, “So we often had bloody games on the board, and neither wanted to give in.”

“Nowadays, the young players are good friends of each other, but since the wins and losses on the board are directly related to one’s reputation, it’s better not to be so friendly on the board.”

“To be friendly privately is all right; in fact, it should be so.” Sakata continued, “But on the board, I hope [the young players] to be not so kind to each other (*laugh*).”

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