On June 12, it will be Go Seigen’s birthday.
Go Seigen was born in Fujian, China on June 12, 1914 – so imagine everything he has 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 seems so trivial. And yet, it has been the major focus of his life.
(Photo by Ho at Falling Stones)
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 legend in the Go world. In fact, he is one of the first professional Go players many people learn about, along with Lee Changho.
He is 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 one of the most innovative Go players of his era. He was in his prime from the 1930s through to the 1950s and during that time he played many of his famous ten game matches (jubango) with other top Go players of the day.
The famous ten game matches
These matches were sponsored by newspapers and 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 difficult to write about Go Seigen without mentioning 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 the dogma, acknowledging that there are many different styles and ways to play Go. It also 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 the Shin Fuseki. Perhaps this is because they were both very strong players and were successful in playing this way. Certainly 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 I could write here about Go Seigen, but many people have already written fantastic articles about him. Instead of repeating those things here, we have started curating a topic about Go Seigen on Scoop.it, 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. I hope all our readers will help us make this page a great collection of articles about Go Seigen.
Studying Go Seigen’s games
Many Go players I know have improved a lot by studying Go Seigen’s games. However, his play is also unique and difficult to understand. Sometimes if you try to play like Go Seigen, you may lose lots of games, because you are not Go Seigen. The best approach seems to be to learn from his moves, but not to try 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.
If you want to study the games of Go Seigen, there’s a list of English language books about Go Seigen’s games at the end of this article.
There’s also 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.
Apart from that, the only new thing that I have to add is this…
Go Seigen’s real birthday
As I’ve said, Go Seigen was born on June 12, 1914. Despite this fact, at the time I’m writing this, if you Google Go Seigen’s birthday, you may well see the following:
The same goes for Wikipedia at this time.
How did this happen, are you sure?
How could both Google and Wikipedia be wrong about this? 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.”
I don’t know about you, but in this case I’m comfortable putting my money behind Mr Fairbairn, because I respect him as a Go researcher. I consider him to be more authoritative than both Wikipedia and Google on this particular topic.
In fairness, Google got confused, because once the incorrect date was in Wikipedia, it most likely got copied to many other sites.
Shouldn’t we update Wikipedia then?
Yes! But first we need some articles we can cite as sources, which is one reason for writing this here. The original quote I’ve linked to at GoDiscussions.com may not continue to work because Go Discussions is closing down.
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.
Go Seigen vs Karigane Junichi – 1941
Have your say?
Are you a fan of Go Seigen? Did you enjoy the game with Karigane? Have you played through Go Seigen’s games? If not, do you think you will now? Tell me what you think by leaving a comment below.