Iyama Yuta's May 2011 welcome success in the 1st Bosai Cup makes lack of info in places like SL about him all the more glaring. I thought it would be good to remedy that here "from the GoGoD archives". It's also his birthday next week, so the timing is nice.
He was born in Higashi-Osaka on 24 May 1989, which is of some significance to Japanese people. He was born early in the new Heisei era after the death of Hirohito, and the "first Heisei X to achieve Y" is a common meme among journalists. Iyama was to give the record-keepers lots to write about. Ironically, the term Heisei comes from the Chinese "Records of the Historian"!
He was a very late child for mother Hiromi and father Yutaka. It was his father who taught him go indirectly by buying himself a go program, which intrigued Yuta at the age of five. Within a year, thanks to tuition from dan-level grandfather Tetsubun he was around 3-dan.
At the age of six he appeared in the mini-go [i.e. 9x9] event that was run by Yomiuri TV and caught the attention of commentator Ishii Kunio 9-dan after winning five games in a row. All participants in this show were given a 19x19 GO BOARD and prizewinners also received a personal computer. Iyama has remained a devotee of studying on the computer, though he was already used to playing on a 19x19 BOARD at home, thanks to Gramps. The similarity with Hikaru no Go might not go unobserved, but Yuta's BOARD was not a traditional one like Hikaru's, but a flat one, on the floor of his bedroom.
More important than the prizes was becoming a pupil of Ishii. Since Ishii lived rather far away for regular commuting, they hooked up via modems and played each other remotely. Ishii said they played over 1,000 games that way.
Under Ishii's guidance he won the Boys and Girls Go Championship two years in a row in 1997 when in Grade 2 of primary school and in 1998 (Grade 3). This is a major event in Japanese go, sponsored nowadays by the Ministry of Education, and more than a dozen winners or finalists have become pros - the likes of Yamashita Keigo, Takao Shinji and Sakai Hideyuki. But winning twice is special. Iyama also won the inaugural national Children's Tournament in 1998.
In October of that year he became an insei in the Kansai (i.e. Osaka) branch of the Nihon Ki-in. In 2001 he reached the final of the event held between the Kansai and Central (i.e. Nagoya) branches for the sole pro qualification spot that year, but lost to Nagoya-based Kawada Kohei (nine years older; he has only just made it to 5-dan this year). This meant Iyama failed to break the record for the youngest pro in Japan (Cho Chikun held the record). But he made pro in 2002 while in Grade 1 of middle school (he actually qualified in November 2001, but indenture periods end the following April). He was only the third native-born player in Japan to have made pro at that age. The others were Hashimoto Utaro and Yuki Satoshi, both, like Iyama, Kansai boys.
His first notable success was in October 2005 when he won the 12th Agon-Kiriyama Cup as a 4-dan, beating not only Kobayashi Satoru in the final but also other 9-dans on the way: Cho Chikun, O Rissei and Cho U. He was aged 16 years and 4 months, and so broke a 32-year-old record to become the youngest title holder in Japanese history. The previous record (17 years 0 months) had been held by Cho Chikun, but that was in the far lesser 1973 Shinei, not open to the big beasts. Winning this title automatically made him 7-dan (the youngest ever in Japan) under the new promotion rules. At the time he said, "Of course I was happy about the record but being able to win in the final was better. Before this I lost in the Shinjin-O and so I was in poor form, but It seems as if I was able to fight back and give myself a chance. It hardly seems as if I'm making my usual desparate moves." What struck observers then was how calm and collected he sounded.
His maturity, and Kansai origins, can perhaps be detected in another of his utterances. Having sacrificed much of his education to become a pro, he revealed his alarm when he got his first game fee. He couldn't believe it was so low. It was 50,000 yen!
For good measure, and as a reminder of how young he was, he won the Nakano Cup for Under-20s that year, and was to win it three years in row.
He entered the Kisei leagues in 2007, the youngest ever entrant to one of the three major leagues, at age 17 years 10 months. He followed up by entering the Meijin League in Term 33, beating Ko Iso's record (18 years 6 months in 2005, Term 32) for that event. Not only that, he went on to qualify as the Meijin challnger with a 6-2 score. This made him the youngest ever challenger in one of the seven major titles in Japan (age 19 years 3 months), again beating a Cho Chikun record (20 years 4 months in the lower-ranked Oza). He also beat Rin Kaiho's record of 23 years 2 months for Meijin challenger, of course. Becoming challenger automatically made him 8-dan.
Iyama lost in his first Meijin titlematch, against Cho U, but only by 3-4, and he won a re-match the term immediately after. That time (2009) he bested Cho U 4-1 and so took the Meijin title at age 20 years 4 months, setting yet other new records, both for youngest Meijin and youngest to win any major title (the previous best were, respectively, Rin at 23 years 4 months in the Meijin and Cho Chikun at 20 years 5 months in the Oza). Winning the Meijin also earned him 9-dan, and so he became the youngest 9-dan and also the fastest to get there from 1-dan (8 years 10 months). Being the youngest Judan winner earlier this year hardly rates a mention with that background, does it?
The price of fame is such that he is also the youngest titleholder to be turned into a bobble-head. It also means he has to start signing lots of fans. So far, I have seen mottoes 心, 自然, 清心, 無心 and 克己 by him. Nothing special there: standard fare from the "Book of Mottoes for Go Players" kept by a lady at the Nihon Ki-in (although maybe the last one, kokki = conquering oneself, is a little out of the ordinary). What is special, to my inexpert eye, is the gaucheness of his writing. Literally - he is a lefty. Many of the older generation bewail the poor calligraphy of young go pros, but being left handed is, I think, ample excuse.
But who needs excuses when you're Meijin and you've just beaten Yi Se-tol and Gu Li!?
If you want to see what a Meijin looks like in the making, Iyama was just eight when he won his first title in the following game (courtesy of T Mark). Note that his opponent, Mannami Nao, was also a future pro.
EV[18th Youth Championships]
RO[Primary School Section, Final]
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