4. The Meijn Title Match and
the Future of Japanese Go

A Conversation Between
Cho Chikun and Kobayashi Koichi

translated by John Power
from an article published in Go Weekly

For the last article in its final issue, the Nihon Ki-in's journal Go Weekly organized a wide-ranging talk between two players who have probably featured more on its front page than almost anyone else over the four and a half decades of its history. They were Cho Chikun, who leads the title-winners list with 76 titles (including 29 big-three titles) and Kobayashi Koichi, who was one of Chofs main rivals and has won 60 titles (in-between them are Iyama Yuta, with with 72, and Sakata Eio, with 64, though nearly all the titles of the latter were won before the weekly began publication).

The talk started out by focusing on the 48th Meijin title match, then moved on to a discussion of the Japanese go scene. Note that this talk was held before the title match began.(JP)

Kiseido would like to express its gratitude to the Nihon Ki-in for permission to publish this translation.

A Conversation Between
Cho Chikun and Kobayashi Koichi

In order to end our weekly newspaper on a high note, we have invited two legendary players to discuss the prospects for the Meijin title match, in which Iyama Yuta is challenging Shibano Toramaru, noteworthy players from the next generation and the future of the Japanese go world. We hope you enjoy their dialogue, which is overflowing with their passion for and deep love of go. (Horii Daiki, reporter)

Beginning of the Meijin title match
Big expectations for Shibano Toramaru's potential

HD: First, I would like you to discuss the 48th Meijin title match that has just started. It features the same two players as in last yearfs title match.

Kobayashi Koichi: I see the stats for past encounters before the match are 22 wins to Iyama Yuta and 18 to Shibano Toramaru. That's close to even.

Cho Chikun: When you play a senior player, the usual pattern is that you lose a lot of games at first, then you gradually catch up, but in Tora's case the opposite is true: he won at first.

HD: He won the Oza title immediately from Iyama on his first challenge [2019].

CC: That's quite something against an opponent like Iyama. In games with short time limits, the relative importance of a momentary flash of insight or of talent becomes greater. In terms of the degree of genius, Tora is the only player who doesn't lose to Iyama. So when he followed up the Oza win by challenging for the Honinbo title [in 2020], I really had great expectations of him.

HD: But he lost 1-4.

KK: There was also a series in which he took a three-game lead, forcing Iyama to a kadoban, then lost three in a row [76th Honinbo in 2021]. Ah, this was also the Honinbo tournament. It looks as if he had a tough time in two-day games.

CCK: Because these were Iyama's main battlefield. Moreover, when you play two-day games, your way of thinking about go changes in various ways, and you experience some confusion.

KK: Also, the fatigue from two-day games is not normal. But he did win in last year's Meijin title match [4-3, 47th Meijin]. Don't you think he evolved further? Among the younger players, he and Ichiriki Ryo are the top two.

CCK: Just now Ichiriki would be the number one. He makes fantastic efforts. If we assume that in talent, effort, and all other aspects Iyama has around 99 points, Ichiriki's talent might be around 80. His innate talent is by no means out of the ordinary. Perhaps you could say that go is just one of the fantastic things he can do. But he has achieved results by making 120% efforts.

KK: I've also heard other people than you put it like that.

CCK: In contrast, Tora is a person who was born to play go. I thought that Tora would definitely win this year's Kisei title match. But Ichiriki overwhelmed him, including content-wise [he won 4-2]. I realized anew how fantastic Ichiriki is, but I would like to tell Tora to try harder. A person devoted solely to go can't afford to lose.

KK: You are offering him encouragement.

CCK: Because I too am the Tora type. If anything, I would say that Koichi Sensei is the Ichiriki type. You have splendid talents outside go. [laughter]

KK: No, no. I too have only go. [laughter] You are severe, Chikun, but Shibano naturally also plays good go. Look at Game Seven in last year's Meijin title match — he stored up strength, stored it up, then slashed his way through. His go is rigorous.

HD: How do you think the fighting will go this time?

KK: Iyamafs lost all his big-three titles. He's got his back to the wall, so he will go all out. I don't know who will win, but it will be a fight to the death.

CCK: In strength they are closely matched. Thatfs exactly why I want Tora to win, and I believe that he must win. Iyama's about ten years older, right? The goddess of victory likes young people. When the strength is the same, the natural flow is for the younger player to win. If he loses here, we will have to revise our opinion that they are even. 'From now, I'm going to carry Japan on my shoulders! I can't afford to lose!' He has to have a strong resolution.

KK: Don't worry. I think that that's how he feels about it. He looks cute to the eye, but he's a man with a strong heart.

Other challengers

HD: Are there other young players apart from Shibano and Ichiriki whom you expect to see appear in title matches?

KK: Probably the closest is Kyo Kagen, but he hasn't been able to challenge for a big-three yet. That might be a big gap.

CCK: He's really strong, though. So is Yo Seiki. But a bit of a gap has opened up between them and Iyama, Ichiriki, and Tora. My feeling is that you can't win with just the support of the goddess of victory.

HD: How about from the generation below them?

CCK: The names of several players float up in my mind whose games Ifve watched and who have impressed me with their strength. But itfs a strength polished by AI. I'm not saying that's bad, but I don't really know if they have something like a talent that stands out from the crowd. One player whose game makes a big impression on me is Sumire-chan [Nakamura Sumire, Women's Kisei].

KK: I also expect big things from her. The only thing is that recently she's been treading water a little.

CCK: Her style is thick and centre-oriented. Her game is really good, but resorting exclusively to thickness doesn't work against first-class players. That's a serious worry for her.

KK: She's trying to overcome that. It's that point in her career. She's still 14. I would like to see her enter a league in her teens.

The future of go

CCK: Go Weekly is going to close down. Even if Sumire-chan does enter a league, how will that kind of big news be passed on?

HD: We plan to provide a new service using the Internet.

KK: It makes you sad, but that's how the times are developing.

CCK: Even for a pro, playing through a printed figure [with all the moves] is tough. But there is something like a spiritual nutrition that only be supplied this way and that I believe was provided by Go Weekly.

KK: My wife reads Chikun's column and without fail comes to report on it to me. How will we get enough nutrition in the future? [laughter]

CCK: Youfll get enough. [laughter] In any case, even if go itself disappeared, we can keep on living. Even so, if [my article] disappears, a hole will open up in my heart. It's the same for Go Weekly. . . . But grumbling about it now doesn't help. It was something we should have protected. I'm angry about this.

HD: There's been a run of bad news, what with the Honinbo best-of-seven being reduced to a best-of-five.

KK: Precisely because this is a painful period for go, we have to do more to convey the fascination of the game. Therefs nothing else that trains you mentally like go. Children who have played go often get into good universities later on.

Be proud of having go as a hobby

CCK: The game may contract in Japan, but there's a possibility it will expand globally. In may become very popular, like judo, a sport that originated in Japan. By eliminating the barriers between amateurs and professionals in world championships; by making it possible for anyone to take part. Using games played on the net. If people talk about cheating with AI, then you make everyone sign a pledge to commit seppuku if caught. Of course, you'd need referees, too.

KK: These days, you can be taught by AI, so big stars may be born in out-of-the-way places. I think there's still a possibility of go's becoming popular on a global scale. There's no other game as interesting. After becoming a professional player, I've continued playing go for over 50 years, and am still not sick of it.

CCK: Eh? Isn't it occasionally painful?

KK: That depends on how you look at it. For me, it's fun. Because no matter how much you study, you don't get an answer.

CCK: It's OK for happy people like you. [laughter] Go is a game that, depending on the person, may take time, in units of years, until it becomes interesting. This is an age which is overflowing with amusements, so itfs very hard to have the patience [needed for go]. But we shouldn't be too pessimistic. A splendid thing is a splendid thing. That's something that won't change even if there's only one person who knows go left in the world. I hope my beloved readers will take pride in having go as a hobby.

Latest news
The first three games of the 48th Meijin title match were all won by Shibano by resignation. With four games to go, he needs only one more win to defend the title. The fourth game of the match will be played on October 12–13, 2023.

Recommended Reading
The English translation of two of Shibano's books, Fuseki Revolution and Joseki Revolution, have been translated into English and published by Kiseido. In these two books, Shibano gives us his unique take on how go-playing AI progams have changed the contemporary way of thinking about go strategy. These are probably the most important books on this subject since Go Seigen and Kitani Minoru introduced their 'New Fuseki' in the early 1930s.