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JUN 7, 2005

My Game against a Professional Go Player Covered by Magazine

By Yoshito Hori

A game was quietly underway one afternoon in April in the Diamond Igo Salon (DIS).

I usually go to this salon every Wednesday evening, but today I was scheduled to play against a pro, and so I headed over there just after noon. (Refer to column; The Go Circle that I Enjoy) (Japanese)

When I arrived, I saw strobe lights were already set up, and cameramen, writers and staff of a magazine publisher all standing by. The match area was just inside on the left, and a professional female Go player was sitting there. Yes, that’s right. I had, for the first time, agreed to play against a professional, which would be covered by the media.

Until now, I had politely refused matches covered by the media, insisting that I wasn’t skilled enough or that I didn’t want to appear in the media. However, I changed my mind since Mr. Masao Kato, director of the Nihon Ki-in, had passed away at the end of last year. I decided I would do my part to boost the popularity of Go.

In fact, since the beginning of the year I had re-started the “Go and Management Discussion Group” that I had held a couple of times in the past. I ran a condensed version of it in February, and on Friday, June 24 of this year I plan to start it up in a big way.

Also, more and more of my Go friends have started writing blogs about the game. I imagine they will probably be good enough to track back to this column. It would be fantastic to get a lot more people interested in Go, all of my friends feel the same way. To be honest, I think this game is just too fascinating to remain limited to an older generation. I’ll come back later to why I find it so interesting.

OK, back to the topic at hand. Today’s match would be covered as a two-part feature by Keizaikai magazine. I had really wanted to avoid embarrassing myself and had planned to train hard, but I just couldn’t find much time. Ultimately, the day arrived and I had hardly done any preparation at all.

The pro in question was Tomoko Ogawa, a very beautiful lady. She is also a very graceful and formidable opponent. She plays some 40–50 matches a year with amateurs through magazine shoots such as this and has only been defeated a couple of times. Eiji Harada of Eiji Press, a friend from DIS and a fifth-grade amateur Go player has taken on Ms. Ogawa twice and been defeated both times. Mr. Yoshihiko Noro of the Ginza Yanagi Gallery also lost by a narrow margin of two stones. My friends and I who play the game rationalize these results, saying, “Of course no one can beat a pro when they get really serious.”

Then again, more than simply winning or losing, the important thing is whether you play up to your full capabilities. Well, maybe it’s even more important to make sure that Keizaikai readers don’t begin to think, “that GLOBIS CEO’s a terrible Go player. How on earth can he be a competent manager when he plays like that?” When the media covers a Go match, there will always be a result, and it is always a big deal.

(Incidentally 40 years ago my grandfather played in a Go game covered by magazine, too. However, as both competitors were amateurs, the magazine may have given them some consideration, and the match was not reported to the very end, making the result of the game unknown. The game log was left in my grandfather’s memoirs, and once, I laid out all the pieces just as they had been played. This gave me a strong glimpse into his style of play. All those years later, it was fresh surprise to discover how my grandfather had played Go. When the game is covered by a magazine like this, the game log will remain decades after the event. This is why I don’t want to make any bad mistakes.)

Feeling deadly nervous, I laid out my six black stones as an advantage, and the match began. I felt black was looking good in the opening stage. In the middle stage things managed to shape up nicely. In the final, make-or-break stage I made some errors and she began to narrow the gap considerably. It became a match to hunt down each other’s stones. When Ms. Ogawa got up from her seat, I muttered to myself “maybe it is all over”, but a writer nearby encouraged me by saying it wasn’t over yet at all. So I spurred myself to keep going.

Trying to read difficult final moves, and completely absorbed in the game, one move followed another. The time quietly slipped by. After a while, Ms. Ogawa unbelievably declared that she had lost. In other words, she had resigned. In Go language this kind of victory is called “Chu oshi gachi” (win by resign). It means your opponent is four or five stones short of being able to win. Of course, this sort of advanced calculation is beyond me. 

To be completely honest, I was at a stage in which I didn’t really know what was going on anymore. Those of you who have played Go will understand, but after a game your head feels all hazy from over-concentration. Sometimes you can hardly talk. Overcome with surprise and dumbfounded, we reviewed the match from the very first move at the encouragement of Ms. Ogawa. You need this post-game recap to get good at Go.

She very politely explained everything. I was finally coming back to my senses when I noticed the grins on the faces of all the Go journalists around me. I could see that DIS manager Tetsuichi Shirae (Tecchan) and famous Go analyst Yoshiko Inaba (Yocchan) were looking rather pleased.

My happiness gradually sank in. While I was scrutinizing my game, however, it suddenly crossed my mind that maybe Ms. Ogawa had let me win. When I was asked, “What would you have done if I have made this move?” I could not think of any good responses for black. However you look it, you can’t beat a pro. Though I felt a little unsatisfied, I was relieved that it was over, and felt a little refreshed by that time.

Ms. Ogawa left quickly after promising to participate in the “Go and Management Discussion Group” on June 24. Tecchan and Yocchan of DIS and the writers raised a toast with some champagne. I had originally planned to go back to work for a meeting that day, but thankfully (?) it had been cancelled. Everyone drank some champagne and had a good time. There was an appointment to meet somebody over a dinner that evening, so I headed for it in a great mood.

On the way, I really felt glad I had began playing Go. I feel there is no question that Go has improved my abilities as both a manager and a venture capitalist. It has also widened my social circle as well. Beyond increasing brainpower, it has also trained me in a spiritual sense. When playing Go you have to remain calm while at the same time using the bitterness of potentially losing to keep playing. These days I publicly express my gratitude for the game of Go, as I really feel from the bottom of my heart that starting to play the game was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I intend to write about why Go is so great in the next column, “Discussing Go and Management.” The match I described will be featured in the June 21 edition of the magazine Keizaikai.

I would be delighted to see even a slight boost in the Go-playing population.

June 7, 2005
At home
Yoshito Hori

P.S. The 7th “Go and Management Discussion” will be held June 24 this year. Please join in 🙂