Go Seigen: The Go Master

June 12 is Go Seigen’s birthday. In 2013 he turns 99.

Go Seigen 6th Ing Cup picture

Go Seigen at the 6th Ing Cup in 2009 – Photo by Ho at Falling Stones

Go Seigen was born in Fujian, China on June 12, 1914 – so imagine everything he’s seen throughout his life…

Not just in Go, but the world in general.

He has lived to see, wars, revolutions (in his homeland) and great change in the world.

In comparison to all of this, the board game Go can seem trivial. And yet, it has been the major focus of his life.

[This article has been updated. It was first published on June 12, 2011.]

A Google Doodle for Go Seigen’s 100th birthday?

As many readers will know, Google regularly changes the logo on their homepage to mark the anniversary of important events and celebrate the achievements of great scientists and artists. These are called Google Doodles.

Since Go Seigen will turn 100 in 2014, we thought it would be great if we, as a community of Go players, could convince Google to celebrate Go Seigen’s 100th birthday with us.

Not only would this be a great way to mark the world’s greatest Go player becoming a centenarian, it would also introduce many new people to this fascinating game.

Email [email protected] and ask them to celebrate Go Seigen’s 100th birthday with us on June 12, 2014.

Who is Go Seigen?

For those who are new to Go, you may not have heard of Go Seigen yet. However, you don’t need to play for very long before hearing about this great master.

Go Seigen is a living legend in the Go world. In fact, he’s one of the first professional Go players many people learn about, along with Lee Changho.

He’s also well known by the Chinese reading of his name, Wu Qingyuan (吴清源). In 1928, at the age of 14 he emigrated to Japan to become a professional Go player.

He studied under another legendary player, Segoe Kensaku – who also taught Cho Hunhyun and Hashimoto Utaro.

Go Seigen Segoe Kensaku picture

A young Go Seigen (left) playing his teacher Segoe Kensaku

The strongest Go player

Go Seigen is recognized as the strongest, and also one of the most innovative Go players, of his era.

Many Go players regard him as the greatest player of all time.

He was in his prime from the 1930s through to the 1950s and, during that period, he played many of his famous ten game matches (jubango) with other top Go players of the day.

Go Seigen picture

Go Seigen

The famous ten game matches

The tournament scene that exists today for professional Go players didn’t exist back then, so these matches were sponsored by newspapers and were followed by a great many Go players in Japan.

Go established his dominance by successfully beating down most of the top players of the day, often forcing them to take a sort of handicap.

Remember there was no komi (extra points that white gets because black moves first) at this time, so the handicap essentially consisted of playing the first move (black) in more of the games, while Go Seigen took white and often still won.

The Shin Fuseki era

It’s rare to see an article about Go Seigen that doesn’t also mention the Shin Fuseki era in Japan.

The Shin Fuseki (new opening) movement started in the early 1930s.

At the time, opening strategies in Go had been extensively systematized and many established players were dogmatic about the ‘correct’ way to play.

At its core, the Shin Fuseki movement was essentially a rejection of dogma, acknowledging that there are many different styles and ways to play Go. It placed more emphasis on influence over the center of the board and speed in the opening.

These ideas are still apparent in modern play today, and it never hurts to be reminded of them.

Go Seigen, and his friend Kitani Minoru, are often portrayed historically as the main proponents of Shin Fuseki. Perhaps this is because they were both very strong players and were successful in playing this way.

By raising the profile of these ideas (in newspaper games) they contributed significantly to the movement.

However, in truth, a movement requires more than two people to participate and many professional and amateur Go players were trying creative new ideas at the time.

A collection of articles about Go Seigen

There’s so much that could be written here about Go Seigen, but many people have already written fantastic articles about him. Instead of repeating those things here, we started curating a topic about Go Seigen on Scoop.it some time ago, which collects links to the best articles about him from all over the internet.

You can visit that topic to see all the articles. If you have a link you’d like to add, please click the “Suggest” button, just under the heading. Or you can send us a link using our contact page.

Studying Go Seigen’s games

Many Go players I know have improved a lot by studying Go Seigen’s games. However, his play is unique and can be difficult to understand.

Sometimes, if you try to play like Go Seigen, you might lose lots of games. Because you’re not Go Seigen.

In my experience, the best approach is to learn from his moves, but avoid trying to imitate him.

Rather than copying, you should develop your own way of playing Go, based on studying the games of great players. I think doing this would make Go Seigen sensei happy.

I’ve lightly commented a Go Seigen game below, so you can appreciate his play. I’ve added a some comments from a book I have in Chinese and some minor comments of my own to help you understand what’s going on.

This is one of my favorite games, and I hope you enjoy reviewing it. You can also review one of Go Seigen’s games with Fujisawa Hosai, which Younggil commented in detail.

Go Seigen’s birthday

As I said above, Go Seigen was born on June 12, 1914.

Despite that, when this article was first published, this is what you’d see if you Googled Go Seigen’s birthday:

Go Seigen Birthday picture

Google’s best guess at Go Seigen’s birthday – note there is a feedback link too

[Update: As of June 12, 2013, Google has the correct date for Go Seigen's birthday, but Wikipedia still lists the incorrect birthdate. Every time someone corrects it on Wikipedia, someone else changes it back...]

How could both Google and Wikipedia be wrong? The confusion stems from the differences between the Gregorian (Western) Calendar and the Chinese (Lunar) Calendar.

This has been explained previously by Asian linguist and Go researcher John Fairbairn, who is also the author of several Go books and one of the people behind GoGoD (Go Games on Disk) – the other is T Mark Hall.

Here’s what John said about Go Seigen’s birthday:

“Go Seigen was born on 12 June under our system. He was born on 19th of the fifth month (not really May) only under the lunar system.” – John Fairbairn

John’s an expert in Go history and his views on this are more authoritative than Wikipedia’s.

However, for as long as Wikipedia is wrong, people will keep copying the incorrect birthdate onto other sites. And that’s what confuses Google and other search engines.

More pictures of Go Seigen

Go Seigen and wife Nakahara Kazuko picture

Go Seigen and his wife, Nakahara Kazuko, at the 6th Ing Cup, 2009 – Photo by Zhang Jingna

The beautiful photo above is by professional photographer, and Go player, Zhang Jingna. See more photography by Zhang Jingna here.

Go Seigen Shigeno Yuki Ogawa Tomoko picture

Go Seigen at the 28th World Amateur Go Championship in 2007, with Shigeno Yuki (left) and Ogawa Tomoko

Photo source: International Go Federation (IGF) – The calligraphy in the picture is by Go Seigen and was a gift to the IGF. Shigeno Yuki is the Secretary of the (IGF) and Ogawa Tomoko is a Go reporter in Japan who co-authored The Endgame, with James Davies. All three are professional Go players.

Go Seigen film The Go Master picture

Go Seigen, played by Chang Chen, in the 2006 film about Go’s life – The Go Master

Go Seigen vs Karigane Junichi – 1941

Download SGF File (Go Game Record)

About David Ormerod

David likes teaching, learning, playing and writing about the game Go. He's taught hundreds of people to play Go, including many children at schools in Australia. In 2010 David was the Australian representative at the 31st World Amateur Go Championships. He's a 5 dan amateur Go player and is the editor of Go Game Guru. You can find David on Google+ and follow Go Game Guru on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter.

Comments

  1. Flandre says:

    Oh, more articles for beginners. Nice, previous one taught me how to kill single stones and groups… ;-)
    I wasn’t big fan of Go Seigen when I was kyu. Whenever I tried to replay some of his games, it was just “WTF is happening on the board?!” It got better when I became stonger, and also got several games with good comments. Maybe you will enjoy them too:
    http://www.gocommentary.com/free-videos/the-greatest-games-ever-played-01-fujisawa-kuranosuke-vs-go-seigen.html
    http://eidogo.com/#1i93kh4v (This and few more games were downloaded somewhere in the Net. I don’t know the source, maybe you know? It says Go Seigen commented games by himself)
    The game (and commentary) you attached is very nice too, by the way.
    I bought his book “A Way of Play for the 21st Century” recently, and it was pretty interesting, but strange. His ideas really are special. Luckily, I’m the one who enjoys trying strange things in game =)

  2. Uberdude says:

    I highly recommend Kamakura and the other books by John Fairbairn. As well as great commentaries and histrorical background and biogrpahies, it also includes some of the banter between Go and Kitani as they play which adds a nice human touch.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Yes, it makes the whole experience of playing through their games that much more fun and engaging. Invincible is like that too.

  3. beautiful game. Id love if gogameguru could provide us with more beautiful games like this (with some commentaries perhaps) :D

    • David Ormerod says:

      Thanks Biondy, I’m glad you liked it. I don’t feel qualified to comment pro games properly myself, so this time I just mixed some comments from a book with my own observations. I’ve studied this particular game quite a bit because I really like it. Maybe Younggil would be interested though. It would depend on how many people want to see recent games vs classic games with comments.

  4. Thanks for the article and the game! I used to study Go Seigen when I was a lot weaker and I couldn’t understand his games so I stopped, in the game you put up I realized how much of a genius he is, and I will definitely be studying him in the future! (:

    • David Ormerod says:

      Nick, glad you liked it. Some games are easier to understand than others, and of course some commentary helps too. If you work on improving your reading skills, pro games will become a bit easier to follow. Solving Go problems can help with that.

  5. This is just great!
    Today i was travelling several hours by train … and besides other things, i was again looking at that one Kifu , Go Seigen vs. Sakata Eio (1957-07-02) which , i was starting to memorise, about 2 years ago … i can now replay the opening quite well :-D and every time i look at this game again, after some time was passing, … i totally understand it in a new, fresh way … showing me how my understanding for the game changed …
    and yes , especially when i replay Go Seigens Kifu i`m wondering all the time , why he played on a particular point, which i never would have considered … but that is what i love about Go Seigens style … his games are a big inspiration: find your own style, don`t just replay joseki or standard moves on the board … always focus on the whole board … and never forget about the vast amount of possibilities / variations . Thank`s for this great article!

  6. What a great game. Not only do I like Go’s games, but Karigane’s games as well. He lost the most important ones, but his skil and fighting spirit make replaying his games quite worth while. And this game: if komi would have been 6,5 or 7,5 points…

    Kind regards,
    Paul

  7. What I think needs to happen (and soon) is someone writing a book that’s practically “Invincible”, only about Go Seigen’s games. Given how hard they are to follow, yet how interesting and educational they are at the same time, I think it would be great if someone did write a book like that.

  8. The “google doodle” is a brilliant idea David… Thanks for having shared that news. I didn’t think Go Seigen was still alive (how stupid I am :) ).

    I have suggested the idea on our website too (in French). I hope it will work…

    Keep up your great job. Best.

  9. I started learning with Go’s kifu with commentaries and slowly move on to other NET based go resources, follow by Go books and other modern games. Of course I did play on Internet Go servers for a while. And eventually gotten my first go set with complimentary from my go friend in China.

    Thus, no doubt Go is my idol and learning target since the very beginning. However this special Go friend warned me against mimicking his games or playing his style as not many players (even pro players) can master Go’s playing style and mind when applying in their games. Unless you’re the talented one or you are gifted haha…but while I learnt from other kifu, I still enjoy Go’s style a lot.

    I also pretty much enjoy his games with his own comments for almost each move he and the opponents played, with lots of variations too!

    Nowadays I hardly have time to play real time and more on turn based games.

    I was searching high and low for a great app to be used on iOS for creating/viewing/editing SGF. And I found out GoEye is the best candidate to me (paid app).

    I started to enjoy all commented games again, on the move this time :-)

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