by John Power, EJ Japan Correspondent
Iyama Leads 3-0 In Kisei Title Match: The 38th Kisei title match feels as if it has barely started, but it might be almost over, as defending title holder, has raced to a 3-0 lead and just needs one more win to stay on top of the rankings for another year. The second game was played at a traditional inn called Yamaya in Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture, not far from Tokyo, on January 29 and 30. Yamashita Keigo, the challenger, made an uncharacteristic mistake in the opening, letting Iyama take an early lead. Iyama then gave him no chance to recover, playing solidly in the early middle game, then aggressively later on in order to wrap up the game. Yamashita, who had white, resigned after 167 moves. There was only a week for Yamashita to recover before the third game, and that doesn’t seem to have been enough. The match moved to the city of Kumamoto, about halfway down the western coast of the southern island of Kyushu. It was played at the Kumamoto Hotel Castle on February 6 & 7. Early in the middle game, Iyama (W) invaded Yamashita’s moyo and cleverly dodged when Yamashita attacked him. By the time he had settled his group (on move 60), the game had already tilted in his favour. As in the second game, Iyama played aggressively instead of coasting when he thought he had an opportunity to settle the game. Once again, Yamashita got no chances to pull off an upset and had to resign after 140 moves. Two convincing wins in a row by Iyama, following a close contest in the opening game, have now put the challenger under intense pressure. For the fourth game, the match goes north to Yamashita’s home ground of Hokkaido; it will be played on February 20 and 21.
Kisei Game One Trivia: As reported in the E-Journal, Iyama won the first game by half a point. Although that may seem like a close margin, it was what professionals call a ‘thick’ half-pointer, that is, Yamashita had no chance of winning, though he did catch up a few points in the endgame through slack play by Iyama. Game One was one of the events celebrating 400 years of relations between Japan and Spain. Last year was the 400th anniversary of the visit to Europe, including Spain, by a mission from the Japanese daimyo Date Masamune (whose headquarters was Sendai). It was led by Hasekura Tsunenaga (left) and traveled both ways via the Spanish colony that is now Mexico. The main aim was to visit the Pope, but the group spent seven years in Europe, including a visit to Spain. (It’s worth looking up Hasekura on Wikipedia for some nice illustrations.) Holding the first game of a best-of-seven title match (and occasionally games from best-of-fives) overseas has been popular, but this was actually the first Kisei game to leave Japan for four years (the overseas host in 2010 was Taipei). The Kisei/Yomiuri Newspaper group received a very warm welcome in Madrid. Just to give one example, the group was given a private after-hours tour of the Prado.
Yamashita and Cho U Share Lead in Meijin League: Three games were played in the 39th Meijin League on February 6. Cho U 9P (W) beat Ryu Shikun 9P by 7.5 points; Takao Shinji 9P (B) beat Kono Rin by resig; Hane Naoki 9P (W) beat Yuki Satoshi 9P by resig. The only undefeated players are Cho U and Yamashita Keigo, but they have only a provisional lead, as they have played only two games. Kono and Takao, both on 2-1, could join them at the top.
Shi Yue Wins New Year’s Tournament: The CCTV New Year’s Cup is a special tournament held to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Last year only Chinese players took part, but this year it has been upgraded into an international tournament, with a name change to the 2nd CCTV NY’s Cup Japan-China-Korea Tournament. It was won by Shi Yue 9P (right), who at present is rated number one in China. Second place was taken by Murakawa Daisuke 7P of Japan and third by Yi Se-tol 9P of Korea. Actually the sponsors wanted to invite Iyama Yuta from Japan, but it was impossible for him to find the time. Murakawa performed very creditably as substitute. In the first round, he lost to Shi Yue but put up a good fight. In the second round, he beat Yi Se-tol (who drew the bye in the first round); this probably ranks as Murakawa’s most prestigious win to date. In the final, however, he was outplayed by Shi. This may be an unofficial tournament, but first prize was an impressive 80,000 yuan (12 million yen or about $120,000), which would place it sixth among the Japanese titles. It was held from February 2 to 4, with live telecasts every day (apparently a first for a go tournament at this time of the year).
A Promotion and a Retirement: Son Makoto has earned promotion to 3-dan with 40 cumulative wins. Tokimoto Hajime 9P has retired as of January 31. Born in Okinawa, Tokimoto became 1-dan in 1968 and reached 9-dan in 2005. He won the top section of the rating tournament in 1977. Tokimoto’s forte was ultra-fast quick games; at ten seconds a move (in unofficial games), he was almost unbeatable.