Google celebrated the occasion, in their usual style, by changing their logo to a drawing of Shusaku with Go stones spelling out the word ‘Google’. Here’s what it looked like:
If you can’t see the Shusaku image at Google today, that’s probably because it doesn’t seem to be displayed in all countries.
Shusaku was among the greatest Go players of the 19th century (born June 6, 1829). He’s most famous for his record of 19 consecutive wins in the annual castle games.
In a time of no komi games, Shusaku was practically invincible when playing as Black. There’s an amusing and often repeated anecdote that once, when a friend asked him about the result of a game, he simply replied, “I had Black.”
Shusaku’s Go style was relatively calm, compared to other players of the time, and he was highly skilled in knowing how much he had to do to win. If he was winning, he wrapped up the game with simple and clear moves. It’s only in games where he was behind, or where his opponent overplayed, that he suddenly revealed his power.
Unfortunately, Shusaku died of cholera at the early age of 33, so his career was cut very short. After caring for the sick during an epidemic, he became sick himself. He was heir to the house of Honinbo - the strongest of the Go houses (academies) at the time - but never assumed its leadership.
Many Go players, including me, have replayed the collected games of Shusaku multiple times. More than 150 years later, there’s still a great deal for most players to learn from Shusaku’s games.
That’s one of the great things about Go – each game is a work of art, which distills the knowledge and experience of both players into something more or less permanent. Beautiful games can be passed from one generation to the next on a single piece of paper (or these days, in a file). See one example below.
Outside of Asia, commentaries of Shusaku’s games have mostly been available through John Power’s excellent compilation Invincible : The Games of Shusaku.
The ghost of Shusaku also made an appearance as the fictional charater ‘Sai’ in the popular anime and manga Hikaru no Go.
Happy birthday Shusaku!
After a write up like that, it wouldn’t do to forget to say happy birthday. So please join me in saying, happy birthday Shusaku!
If you’d like to do something to celebrate, perhaps you can replay the Ear-reddening Game by yourself or with your Go playing friends. I’ve posted it below.
The Ear-reddening Game
Shusaku was still known as Kuwahara Shusaku at the time (it was customary for Japanese people to change their names when they achieved certain titles or were recognized as masters of certain skills).
Gennan Inseki was one of the strongest players (probably one of the top two) of the previous generation and had a sharp, flexible Go style (just my opinion). I really enjoy his games and they’re a treasure trove of tesuji and subtle tactical details.
In this game, Shusaku was tricked when playing a new variation of the Taisha Joseki in the lower right corner.
Black 25 should have been at Black 29 – something that’s in many Go books these days but wasn’t yet well known at the time. Shusaku was behind up behind up to Black 61.
Black 127 in this game is a famous move which gives the game its name. It’s said that a doctor, who was watching the game at the time, said that he thought Gennan would lose after this move was played. Asked why he thought so, he said:
“I don’t know much about Go, but when Shusaku played 127, Gennan’s ears flushed red. This is a sign that he had been upset. This move must have taken him by surprise.” – Invincible, page 106.
Black 127 occupies a key point for influence, lightly assisting Black’s four weak stones at the bottom, erasing White’s right side influence to some extent, aiming to invade on the left side and developing Black’s moyo at the top.
It’s a move which has been discussed endlessly, will probably keep being discussed for a long time, and may be discussed more in the comments below. So let’s leave it at that for now and have a look at the game: