Yamashita Keigo defends his title in 66th Honinbo

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 (9 dan, left) and Yamashita Keigo (9 dan) nigiri to decide who will play first in the 66th Honinbo.

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.

Hane Naoki (9 dan) passes the sealed move to referee Rin Kaiho (9 dan) at the end of the first day.

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.

Hane Naoki plays the sealed move on day two of the deciding match. Yamashita Keigo watches.


Yamashita finds a way to complicate the game

Hane Naoki and Yamashita Keigo count points.

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

Hane Naoki (left) and Yamashita Keigo in the final stages of counting.

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.

Yamashita Keigo gives a post-game interview.


Game record: Hane Naoki vs Yamashita Keigo

[Update: You might also be interested in Younggil’s 66th Honinbo final game commentary]


Download SGF File (Go Game Record)


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.

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About David Ormerod

David is a Go enthusiast who’s played the game for more than a decade. He likes learning, teaching, playing and writing about the game Go. He's taught thousands of people to play Go, both online and in person at schools, public Go demonstrations and Go clubs. David is a 5 dan amateur Go player who competed in the World Amateur Go Championships prior to starting Go Game Guru. He's also the editor of Go Game Guru.

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  1. Hi, do you know where to find game record of last Honinbo66 game? Thanks

    • David Ormerod says:

      Sure, you can download it from this page here. Can you see the game board above where it says “Game record: Hane Naoki vs Yamashita Keigo”? If not, you might have disabled scripts, but you can still download it using the hyperlink that says “link”.

  2. Ouch! Black had such a huge territorial lead and probably would have done best to just begin simplifying the game earlier. I wonder what Hane will take away from this game? ‘Some lessons learned hard.’

    • David Ormerod says:

      Exactly… It’s interesting because in his book “The Way of Creating a Thick and Strong Game”, Hane talks about consistently playing the 80% move instead of going all out and taking risks. I wonder if that still applies in the Honinbo final?

      I’m also having trouble understanding why black 119 wasn’t at B13. It seems to me that at least black’s big group would be alive on the left edge. I think that’s a lighter way to play for black? Also E17 at F17 looks simpler. What do you think Logan?

      • If Black B13, then White can make a ko for life on the bottom/left corner after placing A9.

        • David Ormerod says:

          Yes, I thought about that and I still think it’s better than the result in the game (of course it’s easy to say that after seeing the result). It’s still a slightly heavy ko for white, because if he loses the center group isn’t alive. Black can play ko threats against the top left group. White will win the ko and black will likely get to cut at M14.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Moves 5 and especially 7 are particularly interesting in this position. I haven’t seen them played before. I’d be curious about An’s thoughts on 7.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Oops don’t know where my head was at, I meant 8 and 10! Of course 5-7 is ridiculously common.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Oh, I see. It seems like Yamashita is experimenting with a way to play lightly on the right side. In game three he played a similar opening, but judging by the change he possibly didn’t like the result.

      I’ll mention it to Younggil, but he’s been renovating his Go school and just reopened it, so he might not have much time this week.