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 Post subject: Thoughts on Honinbo Shusaku
Post #1 Posted: Sun Feb 10, 2019 12:16 am 
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I'm not sure this is the optimal forum for this. If it isn't, I hope an administrator will move it to where it belongs.
Honinbo Shusaku
I'm reading and playing through 'Invincible: The Games of Honinbo Shusaku' right now, and it's probably the most enjoyable Go book I've ever laid hands on. Of course, that's a personal opinion. For me it's so because it's a mixture of Go history and amazing game records.

Going through Invincible (I'm about 35 games in, now), I've had some thoughts on the man (, the legend) that I've wanted to share. Feel free to disagree and bring additional information into the mix.

Need to know, in case you didn't: in Shusaku's time there was no komi. Difference in ranking determined the handicap. Weaker players took black. There's more to it, if you're interested, look it up on Sensei. It's an elegant handicap system.

After 35 games, I've a few thoughts:

- Part of his legacy, his fame, of being 'invincible' probably stems from his slow promotion. While it was definitely fast for the time, you still feel his promotion to 7-dan should've been quicker and he spend a while on the wrong handicap, taking black against inferior opponents.
Take his first two Castle Games as an example. He really coasted through these with black. I think he could've won both with white, but he was still a 6-dan, so he was to take black.
Of course Shusaku was amazingly strong, but at the time he was probably (one of) the strongest players alive, his rank didn't reflect that.

- Shusaku feels very modern at times. He was already amazing at 12-13 years old and arguably at the top of his game in his early 20s. This resembles modern players and was not very common in the old days, where Go players of stature were often way older.

- As playing goes, he also feels modern, some times. Of course he plays Go from that time. But at times, he has a modern feel to it, sometimes even an AlphaGo feel. But perhaps I'm not strong enough to comment on that.
I am strong enough to recognize a 3-4 high enclosure with a low extension just below the star point and that was hardly ever seen in those days, has a very modern feel to it of fast development.

- Sekiyama Sendayu should've been a professional player and played a very aggressive and interesting style. He was dubbed as the strongest amateur, but seeing him play a nijubango against Shusaku, he feels stronger than many other professionals.

- Shusaku mastered the concept of non-attachment in Go. His positional judgement is so sharp, especially seen in long ko's, that he sacrifices stones so easily when he's calculated he doesn't gain by saving them. For an amateur player such as myself, it is often surprising to see him so eager to give up stones he feels will be a burden and cost him points. Controlled sacrifice is seen in many of his games.
He often plays tenuki when you think: what? are you kidding me?
Funny thing is: often his opponent will not take the stones (immediately) probably because it's gote and not worth enough, and sometimes the stones do end up living. Lots to learn from that kind of playing.

I'll do an update if I have any future ideas on the master :)

 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on Honinbo Shusaku
Post #2 Posted: Sun Feb 10, 2019 9:04 pm 
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Also from John Fairbairn's excellent book The Life of Honinbo Shuei:
In the 1862 event, Shuwa had slated Sanei 3-dan to play Shusaku 7-dan, who up till then had won all nineteen of his Castle Games. But Shusaku opted out. He is supposed to have said, “Up to now I have not lost a single game in the Castle Games. I would like in future to remain undefeated. I will have to give Sanei two stones, but a two-stone game will be very close and if Black makes no bad moves, there is no way White can win. If Sanei were to be made 5-dan then I would happily play him.” If true, this story brings suspicions that Shusaku wasn’t so invincible after all and had maybe carefully arranged his opponents even in earlier years, and that Shuwa, who would naturally want to boost Honinbo prestige, was complicit in it. There is at least confirmation of the 1862 episode in that Sanei himself smugly referred to it later: “I know that Shusaku, who was certainly of Meijin class, absolutely refused to play me on two stones. His withdrawal was consistent with that.”

It seems that there is quite some substance behind the Shusaku 'hype', but 'hype' it was nonetheless. Or am I being too harsh? Before the title of 'latter Go saint' was transferred to Shusaku, it was bestowed upon the scheming Jowa who, to this day, is regarded as the stronger of the two by many Japanese professionals, and that Shuei surpassed both of them in strength.

 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on Honinbo Shusaku
Post #3 Posted: Sun Feb 10, 2019 11:53 pm 
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Since none of us were there, it's hard to say. Probably the truth is somewhere in between.

A cynic might take Shusaku's wish to never take white against his sensei as being afraid to lose. Another sees it as a sign of great respect.
From what I've read so far, Shusaku seems to have been a very respectable man, muuuuch more so than scheming Jowa.
His title of Kisei is probably deserved, but perhaps more players have deserved it.

I'm not strong enough myself to judge his comperative strength. Was he a strong player. Absolutely. Was he the strongest at his time? Highly likely. Was he the strongest player ever? Unlikely, but he won't be too far off.
He certainly was a prodigy, a player of immense strength and a real Go Saint.

However, he himself has had much experience with "wrong" handicap games. Is it so wrong of him to want to keep his perfect record and not see it ruined by a wrongful handicap?
Sure, some of his castle games were easy because he was black and was definitely the better player, but he never took 2 stones in a handicap game, either. So it was never unfair. Neither did he achieve his 19 wins easily. He had to beat some damn fine opponents to get it.

All that to say: we don't know. I'd like to believe he was a stand-up guy. Sure he cared about winning and losing. But I think he was respectable nonetheless.
His name is most likely a bit overhyped, but sometimes that happens. While others wallow in obscurity, equally unjustified. Is it right that someone like Shuei is a lot less famous? Probably not.

But that doesn't mean Shusaku doesn't deserve the fame neither. He was one fine player, someone with an impressive record and with amazing skills, already at a young age. His (once again honorable and respectable) death probably have a hand in his fame, too.

 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on Honinbo Shusaku
Post #4 Posted: Mon Feb 11, 2019 4:49 am 
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There have been many discussions here over the years about measuring/comparing historical figures. I was playing with GoGoD (my slightly out of date version) and produced the following table. This is based on the listed players taking White in no-komi games. The players are ranked by their winning percentage
No-Komi Games         Total  Games    Winning
as White              Games    Won Percentage
Honinbo Shuho           254    144      56.7%
Honinbo Shuei           115     65      56.5%
Honinbo Shusai          266    150      56.4%
Go Seigen               288    155      53.8%
Sakata Eio               85     45      52.9%
Suzuki Tamejiro          60     31      51.7%
Karigane Junichi         38     19      50.0%
Kitani Minoru           330    153      46.4%
Kubomatsu Katsukiyo     150     69      46.0%
Honinbo Shusaku          72     33      45.8%
Honinbo Shuwa           124     56      45.2%
Hashimoto Utaro         364    153      42.0%
Segoe Kensaku           164     68      41.5%
Takagawa Shukaku        206     85      41.3%
Iwamoto Kaoru           179     69      38.5%
Honinbo Jowa            122     47      38.5%

Dave Sigaty
"Short-lived are both the praiser and the praised, and rememberer and the remembered..."
- Marcus Aurelius; Meditations, VIII 21

This post by ez4u was liked by 4 people: Bill Spight, Elom, TheCannyOnion, Waylon
 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on Honinbo Shusaku
Post #5 Posted: Mon Feb 11, 2019 9:43 am 
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Interesting figures, ez4u, thanks!
Of course the numbers only tell a small part of the story, but they're nice to have and it's a piece of the puzzle.
Someone like Doteki never had a lot of chance to make the statistics and loses out completely here :)

Shusaku doesn't have the greatest record with white. That could have multiple reasons. But part of it is probably that - no - Shusaku was not the best player to ever live. He is most likely the most celebrated, but that has much to do with his integrity as a person (especially compared to Jowa at that time) and his 19-0-0 in the Castle Games.

Nor is it possible to have a 'best player' of all time, I think. (considering humans). Each of the greatest had incredible strength but different styles, different opponents, different struggles and also sometimes different circumstances of playing.
Huang Longshi never started with an empty board. Who knows how much 'worse' he could've turned out if his fuseki was a disaster, for example? Though I'm not saying he'd have been bad at it, just a manner of speaking :)

Probably pros today would beat guys like Shusaku (the top pros) in a modern game, especially since they've been trained with tigher time limits. I don't know if they'd necessarily do better in a game with limited or no time limits. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't.

However, I do think the games of the modern pros are not necessarily of a higher quality than those of, say, Shusaku. On the contrary. Because of the time limits (and sometimes overfull schedules), I think game records of Shusaku, Shuei... are more likely of higher quality (on general), because it's way harder to actually blunder with so lenient time limits. Today, even Ke Jie can make a big blunder like that :lol:

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