June 12 is Go Seigen’s birthday. In 2013 he turns 99.
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.
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.
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.
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:
[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.
“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
The beautiful photo above is by professional photographer, and Go player, Zhang Jingna. See more photography by Zhang Jingna here.
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.