Yamashita Keigo 9p successfully defended the Japanese Honinbo title today, cutting short Hane Naoki’s recent winning streak. Going into this match Hane Naoki 9p was the favorite to win the title, and for much of the final game it seemed that he would.
Yamashita Keigo defies the trend
Hane Naoki had won three games in a row (after losing the first three) and appeared to be set to stage a dramatic reversal in the best-of-seven Honinbo final. Typically when a player has come back from a disadvantage like that, their momentum propels them on to win the title.
However, Honinbo Dowa (Yamashita Keigo) is nothing if not tenacious. Even though the final game looked difficult for him, he waited for his opportunity to strike back.
His patience was rewarded and he managed to reverse the situation and eventually win in the endgame. With this he successfully defends the Honinbo title, which he took from Hane last year (2010).
The final game
The final game started on July 20, 2011 and was completed on July 21. Hane (black) played a solid and territorial style opening against Yamashita’s center oriented strategy with white.
The game proceeded relatively smoothly until black played a clamping tesuji at move 31, which resulted in white’s group being cut in two. This started a running battle in the center and set the tone of the game.
Hane dodges Yamashita’s attacks
Black’s attachment at 43 and subsequent light play surprised many observers. Black decided not to press the attack on white’s center group and focused on maintaining a territorial advantage instead. This put the pressure on white to come up with an effective attack against black in the center.
Continuing this strategy with black 75 and 85, black made it look easy to take territory while looking after all his groups. From moves 89 through to 97, black dodged white’s attack deftly and regained the possibility of attacking white later.
Yamashita finds a way to complicate the game
It looked like black had a firm advantage as he began to harass white’s eyeless dragon in the center. Just at this moment, Yamashita began an aggressive counter-attack with moves 116-128.
The game was thrown into uncertainty and Hane paused to think for some time before coming up with an interesting counter at 129.
Move 129 was offered as a sacrifice that would allow black to fix his weaknesses in sente. Since white couldn’t accept that trade and still win the game, it was Yamashita’s turn to think.
A ko and a capturing race
The sequence that followed seemed decisive, as both players put up a strong resistance. Both black and white groups got cut off in the top left corner and the struggle turned into a capturing race involving a ko.
However, black gave up on the ko and started surrounding white’s center group instead. During the capturing race, he managed to find life for his big group, but had to sacrifice a smaller group in the lower left corner to do so.
An endgame contest after all
After all the fireworks died down the game was surprisingly close. The result was decided in the endgame after all and Yamashita won by 4.5 points. Congratulations Honinbo Dowa.
Game record: Hane Naoki vs Yamashita Keigo
[Update: You might also be interested in Younggil's 66th Honinbo final game commentary]
What do you think?
Did you follow the 66th Honinbo? Who were you supporting and why? What do you think about the result of the final game? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.