by John Power, Japan correspondent for the E-Journal
Iyama wins Judan, scores grand slam: The third game of the 54th Judan title match was played at the Kuroyon Royal Hotel in the town of Omachi in Nagano Prefecture on April 14. The title holder, Ida Atsushi, was facing a kadoban, as he had lost the first two games. There were about 60 reporters and photographers from 22 media organizations in attendance hoping to witness the first simultaneous grand slam in go; this was too many to fit in the playing room at the start of the game, so they had to draw lots. The game was fairly even for the first 100 moves, but Ida thought he was a little behind. The decisive fight came when Ida, playing black, invaded a corner position and, instead of trying to live small, set up a ko that gave him a chance of capturing some of the enclosing stones. The ko was an approach-move ko for Black, but Ida fought tenaciously and won it, securing the lead. Iyama was two and a half points behind when he resigned after move 269. Ida picked up his first win and stopped Iyama’s winning streak in title matches at 18.
The fourth game was played at the Nihon Ki-in in Ichigaya, Tokyo on April 20. The game started at 9:30 and finished at 5:21 pm. Playing black, Iyama forced Ida to resign after 163 moves. That gave Iyama the title 3-1 and secured him the first-ever grand slam in Japanese go. Iyama has held six of the top seven titles twice, but this is the first time he has held all seven at the same time. It is his first Judan title for four years and his 37th title overall. That puts him in seventh place, just two titles behind Cho U. It is not an exaggeration to say that the possibility of this achievement has been the centre of attention in the go media for the last couple of years. Iyama has been the first player for whom this feat has appeared possible; more than “possible” perhaps, it has sometimes seemed just a matter of time. Apparently the Nihon Ki-in’s magazine Go Weekly put out an extra in the evening of the 20th. The regular newspapers sometimes put out extras concerning the tournament they sponsor, but this is the first time I can recall Go Weekly doing it.
There will be a lot of celebrating going on, but soon another title match will start, so the pressure will be on Iyama to maintain this unique distinction as long as he can.
Tomorrow: Cho U beats the odds; Korea starts well in Huang Longzi Shuangdeng; Meijin League: Murakawa drops back; 280 million watched AlphaGo match