Google celebrates Honinbo Shusaku’s 185th birthday

It’s not every day that our favorite game appears on the homepage of the world’s most popular search engine, but today is Honinbo Shusaku’s 185th birthday!

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:

honinbo shusaku 550x212 picture

A ‘Google Doodle‘ celebrating Honinbo Shusaku’s 185th Birthday.

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.

Honinbo Shusaku

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

The game below is called the Ear-reddening Game and is probably the most famous of Shusaku’s games. Shusaku played it when he was 17 years old, against (quasi-Meijin) Inoue Gennan Inseki.

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:

Shusaku vs Gennan Inseki – 1846

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. Happy Birthday Shusaku!

    I know it’s a famous move but I’m just curious, what do pros today think? Is it the move any pro would play today too in this position?

    • Younggil An says:

      Thanks for the question. They both are two of greatest players in the history of Go, and I don’t think just any pro could play like that today. It’s a very special move, and top players today would play like that I think. It depends on their styles of play though. :)

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi younggil. Your answer is ambiguous. Do you mean the move would still be evaluated as good but such a game situation would never occur today?

        • Anonymous, I could be wrong but I think Youngil is saying that this is a move that not just any pro would play today. But the top pros would see this move and consider it – but other moves are also possible depending on the player’s style.

  2. Happy birthday Honinbo Shuusaku, the ultimate player.
    Sorry I’m almost new to Go but the thing of playing black really that big of an advantage? I mean, black is just one moku ahead but white gets 6,5 or 7,5 moku after the match. Perhaps someone will be kind enough to clarify this for me?

    • Enumaris says:

      Back when Shusaku was playing Go there was no komi. Meaning white was not compensated the standard 6.5 or 7.5 points. The Go players back then usually played many games together (with a complicated system of handicaps) to decide who was better since using black was such an advantage.

    • Todd Bowlby says:

      In Honinbo Shusaku’s day, there was no komi, so black’s first move was worth something: today we estimate black’s first move at around 7 points, so 6.5 or 7.5 depending on the scoring system to prevent ties.

      I don’t think there’s a purely mathematical formula to figure out komi: I have been told that we know it’s worth around 7 points from watching top pros play against each other and comparing results depending on who gets black.

  3. Damn, just saw the doodle and thought I’d come here and show off. Too late…

    Did you know ahead David?

    • David Ormerod says:

      Haha, no I didn’t know if they’d do it. I was just lucky with the timing.

      Also, we live in the right timezone for most Go stuff. Compared to you, Murius, we live in ‘the future’ (by about half a day) ;)

  4. Write “google.jp” anywhere in the world and you’ll see the Doodle.

  5. It was on google.co.uk earlier, until they got complaints about not having a d-day doodle.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-27732237

    • David Ormerod says:

      That’s unfortunate.

      Learning about and remembering military history (and in fact all history) is important. Glorifying it, not so much.

      It’s hard for me to imagine how a Google Doodle about D-Day could ever be done tastefully. It’s not the right platform for that sort of message and D-Day was already all over the front page of practically every major newspaper in the Western world.

      My impression of the Google Doodle is that it’s always been focused on celebrating human knowledge and intellectual achievements, which, if you think about it, fits quite well with what Google’s all about.

      Oh well. If there’s one thing the internet specializes in, it’s whipping up faux outrage, so let’s not worry about it. I was grateful to Google for celebrating Shusaku’s birthday and I’m sure other people were too.

  6. I’m so angry. In Italy it does not show. It tells a lot about how our culture is perceived abroad :(

    • David Ormerod says:

      As you can see from the BBC article Tomer linked to above, Google is in the thankless position of having to juggle the expectations of millions, with something that probably just started out as a bit of fun.

      Even for a small site like ours, it’s impossible to do something that pleases everyone. I can’t imagine what the pressure must be like for Google and I think they’re doing their best. Let’s be happy about what they did do rather than unhappy about what they didn’t do :)

  7. I never thought I could be grumpy about a great doodle like this.
    But coming just six days before Go Seigens 100th birthday, it feels more like an apology that Google will never doodle a living person, rather than a celebration of Shusaku.

    • David Ormerod says:

      That may be true. I certainly don’t think they’re going to celebrate Go Seigen’s birthday, but we still can.

      Let us, as a community, be grateful to Google for exposing millions of people to Go for the first time.

  8. lostbeef says:

    Too bad I wasn’t able to see that homepage of Google that day. Thanks GGG for posting this article.

  9. I am interested in evaluating the relative strength of old and new greats. Are there areas of Shusaku’s game that would be judged as slack by contemporary standards?

    Of course his openings tend to look different, but I’m not sure that’s a weakness (and he needed to meet the opening strategies of his contemporary opponents). Could he compete at a top-pro level today?

    • Younggil An says:

      I don’t think Shusaku’s games would be judged by today’s standard.
      The style of play in the opening at the time was very different, and one of the main reasons is the komi.
      There was no komi system when Shusaku was great, and the opening strategies couldn’t be the same as today.

      I’m sure he could still compete at a top level today if he learns evolved skills such as openings, josekis and endgame techniques. :)

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