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Introduction

Interview from November 2000 with Hane Yasumasa, 9 dan pro at the Central Japan branch of the Nihon Ki-In by Pieter Mioch. English translation by Dieter Verhofstad.

Hane Yasumasa is a professional 9 dan in the Nagoya branch of the Nihon Ki-in. He is most known for his contributions to the Chinese fuseki and for the interest he takes in computers. He was one of the first Japanese pros to use computers as a resource for studying Go. Hane's son, Naoki, who is ranked 8p, counts as one of the major talents in Japan. The professionals of central Japan have paid a visit to their Korean neighbours at the occasion of their annual excursion. In this interview, Hane gives quite a clear picture of the current state of affairs.

The interview

Pieter
Do you have ten minutes for me? I'd like to ask you a couple of questions about your trip to Korea.
Hane
All right. I'm not busy for the moment. (when seeing the MD recorder) Oh, you're recording it? If I say something bad about the Ki-in, just cut it out, will you?
Pieter
Sure. I was mostly interested in the Korea trip anyway, so don't worry. When exactly have you been there?
Hane
We left on the 30th of October and came back the first of November (2000).
Pieter
It was purely for leisure purposes, wasn't it?
Hane
Mmm, leisurely yes, but the journey was organised by the "kishikai", the association of pros in central Japan and not on our own account. The whole association makes one trip each year. This year we went to Korea with the twenty of us.
Pieter
Only twenty? There must be more pros around here?
Hane
Of course, sure, there are 49 active professionals in Nagoya, but not all of them could take two days off.
Pieter
So, you went there mainly to enjoy yourself and not as much to tighten the bonds between professionals here and over there?
Hane
Exactly, it was a pleasure trip. That does not alter the fact that we combined it this time with a visit to the Ki-in in Seoul.
Pieter
You played some games, I assume?
Hane
Not at all, after all we were there for fun. We got a guided tour and spoke to some officials. It was all very friendly and relaxed. It is really very impressive to see with our very eyes the vast number of youngsters, secondary school age, in Korea that have so much talent. The kishikai president, Iwata 9 dan

(Iwata Tatsuaki is the player in Nagoya who is the highest in esteem. Notwithstanding his age of 75 years, he is still very strong. Last year he scored 18 wins for 13 losses, which is only slightly worse than the considerably younger Takemyia who won 20 and lost 14 games in 1999. Furthermore, Iwata is one of the few active pros that witnessed Go Seigen's glorious era of before World War II. Like 9 dan pro Tsuchida, he is a pupil of the late Kitani Minoru.)

observed that it was a joy for the eye to see so many young enthusiasts together. The reply of the representatives of the Hangkuk Kiwon was most intriguing: precisely due to the fact that there are so many strong youngsters, the high Dans can no longer win.
Pieter
Pardon?! You mean that in Korea the higher Dans can no longer prove to the positive scores they ought to have considering their rank?
Hane
Quite so. It is not that the high Dans have received their rank unjustly or that they suddenly started to play worse, no, the young guard is simply out of the ordinary! A few moments of conversation with the officials showed this to be a major concern in Korea. One can hardly expect them to degrade the higher Dans a grade or two. It turns out that the top representatives of the Korean Go world aren't even twenty years old, which seems to bring inevitable trouble.
Pieter
Unbelievable ! I had no idea things were standing like this. What a difference with Japan, isn't it? I can hardly imagine a comparable situation would be viewed upon as problematic around here?
Hane
It is a problem we would welcome with arms wide open. After all, we can use an injection of young blood. It speaks volumes about Go in Korea that so many are so strong at a young age. Only in Seoul they have more than hundred insei and to that you can add the first division of another 100-150 players who ruthlessly try to conquer their place among the insei.
Pieter
Wow! What a difference with this place!
Hane
Say that again. There is a continuous struggle between the lowest ranked insei and the top players of the first division. When the going gets tough... You can tell that the level is very high only from the fact that players of professional strength sometimes tumble back into the first division. The Korean Ki-in moreover suffers from a lack of space to have all those people hosted conveniently. The top floor, which used to serve as a storage room is now also used as a playing venue. Fifty (!) Goban are neatly lined up in this room. When seeing this, one gets really, really impressed.
Pieter
Do the insei also spend the night there?
Hane
No no, all commute between their homes and the Ki-in.
Pieter
Did you have the impression that the Koreans were very proud of their surplus in talent and that they look down upon the Japanese Ki-in?
Hane
You'd probably expect such a thing, but nothing could be further from the truth. None of the Korean officials we got in touch with showed the slightest sign of triumph while explaining their problem of too many strong youngsters. One showed more care about the Japanese pro world than anything else. Furthermore, their worries are not without reason or exaggerated: imagine that their 9 Dans, titleholders included, suddenly can't win anymore of a "toddler" who hasn't got round yet to climb beyond 2 or 3 dan
Pieter
So, what's the relationship between the ki-in in Seoul and the one in Nagoya?
Hane
None whatsoever. The main reason why we made this year's trip one to Koreas is Mrs. Kim's presence in Nagoya. She is of Korean origin and came to Nagoya a few years ago to study as an insei in Japan. She succeeded and now plays as a professional for the Nihon Ki-in. Armed with her as our guide and interpreter we confidently went to our neighbours in Seoul
Pieter
Aren't there any "serious" exchanges, say every month, to have our insei play the ones in Seoul or to organise some professional congress or so? I mean, it's two hours travelling from door to door, so it is conceivable, isn't it?
Hane
Other than once in a while on a private basis we don't really visit each other, no.
Pieter
Don't you think you should?
Hane
Mmmm (noise of thinking brains) From the standpoint of organising study exchanges, nothing seems wrong with the idea of intensifying the contact between Japan and Korea. I think however that the ki-in must not start organising it compulsively. As it happens now, on a private basis, it is OK for me. You know, it could turn out to be a very painful event for our insei if regular exchanges were held. As I said, there are *many* young strong players. Only by sheer number we would have to succumb and by strength I'm not too confident either. After our Korean trip there is no room left for doubt. In ten years and odd, no country in the world can match Korea: they have the gifted youth. The future is theirs.
Pieter
Ten more years and Korea rules, you say. But in Japan there are also very talented players, albeit not as many. Take your own son for example: wouldn't his skill and level compare to theirs?
Hane
Naoki is indeed highly established in the Japanese Go world, only, in Korea his level is not all that rare as it is here. There are dozens of players, if not more, of equal strength. We can't put much against that in Japan. And you can well talk about Naoki as the coming man, but he's already 24 years old. Players of comparable calibre in Korea have hardly left school!
Pieter
A while ago I discussed with BaBa 9p the question where exactly players like Kobayashi Koichi and Cho Chikun would rank in the international Go world. Baba's opinion was that the Japanese top are undoubtedly also world top, but that their homeland schedule is too busy and that they are used to longer thinking time (about 5 hours per player per game) than the rest of the world (Korea typically features 3 hours pppg) which would justify their low performance in international tournaments. What is your opinion on this?
Hane
What Baba is saying is true to some extent, but a heavy schedule is a strange reason for losses abroad. It is, however, absolutely true that the ki-in here doesn't take the international events into account at all, when planning (title) games. Thus it can happen that a player from Japan in the middle of a Kisei match "quickly" goes to China or Korea and back to play a game. It goes without saying that with such a clumsy timetable it is hard for a player to concentrate on the international scene. The difference in thinking time seems no big deal to me. It is a bigger problem that the Ki-in still sees the international matches as "goodwill-games". The way those games are looked upon in China and Korea is much better I think. Their organisation takes it dead serious and adapts their representative's timetable.
Pieter
Which country holds the best player?
Hane
That's impossible to say. You can hardly deny that who wins the "world's strongest player" tournament is also the number one. I think that the question doesn't really matter and will never be answered satisfactorily. I can imagine that it is important for a tournament to launch the cry of "best player in the world" in order to sell it to the public. For a player though, the true purpose is the quest for perfect play, the perfect game. From the crowd's standpoint obviously the country obtaining the most wins in international tournaments counts as the strongest country and accordingly its best player will be seen as the world's best player. There is no argument against that. The reasons you just mentioned are merely excuses and can't count for good reasons. Currently matters are still fairly balanced. Japan doesn't make for many victories but still can hold its own and hangs on to the top. Only, in ten years it will definitely be over: I don't think Japan will then still be able to compete with the Korean talent.
Pieter
So it is a question of focusing on spreading Go in Japan among the youth.
Hane
No doubt about it. Baba is very busy doing so, isn't he? But it is really a tough job to find people who want to spread the game.
Pieter
I'm volunteering in three basic schools.
Hane
Well, that's wonderful, but still you won't find such people easily.
Pieter
And then again, I teach to children: most of those who show up kind of like it, but their parents don't give it much consideration. Mostly they think English is more important.
Hane
Right, that's a big problem. The status of Go, the value it is attributed and the popularity it enjoys are all decisive factors. Go needs a big "boom", a tidal wave of popularity with which we can cross these difficult times. In Korea this is currently more than the case. Everything seems to run in favour of the game. Its status and recognition are tremendous. Lee ChangHo has everything to do with that. As a twenty year old, he conquered the title of World Champion and doing so he brought Korean Go to the status of national top sports. His young age adds to the extraordinary popularity it enjoys with Korean youngsters. Every child now dreams about becoming world number one. Korean parents are only too happy to support their children's wish to become strong at Go.
Pieter
Do you have a message for the Go players of the world?
Hane
My, that's a tough question. All right, I think Go is pre-eminently suitable to be spread around the world. It looks deceivingly simple but it is deeper than any other game. Shogi is also a good game, but it is way more difficult for a beginner to learn. I'm confidant that Go will also gain popularity outside Asia and that its becoming world game number one is only a matter of time.
Pieter
That reminds me of something I read on the Internet lately. Someone on the newsgroup observed that one often hears sing the praise of Go because of the beneficial influence it would have on children. Given the fact that I'm teaching children too I'm often asked this question and I'd like to give an unequivocal answer.
Hane
Hm, hm, (hums with agreement) The contemporary education of children focuses on transfer of knowledge whether in a pleasing or a boring way. Teachers try to make their pupils to remember as much as possible. Go is THE perfect game to counter this single-mindedness. Think for yourself, make decisions for yourself and experience the consequences of your decisions yourself: that is very important in my opinion. The nice thing about it is that everyone can perform on his own level. The effort remains the same. Weak or strong, gifted or not, Go is a continuous training for everyone in taking decisions independently, which is indispensable to make a child grow to dignified adulthood. It is not about stuffing with knowledge, but about stimulating and exercising thinking for oneself. To this amounts the fact that Go is played by two, which learns you that things do not always happen nicely according to plan. Learning how to deal with misfortune is also an important point. No game qualifies as well as Go to be taught to children. Trying to make children play as well as possible is not what counts: Go has a beneficial effect, whatever the level. Go players mainly use the right half of the brain. This seems to be quite rare in our contemporary society.

While the MD recorder was switched off, Hane steadily kept talking a.o. about his interest in computer GO. "You want to know where my interest in computers comes from? I remember very well, about twenty years ago when I went to the US I was asked to introduce an arbitrary Tsumego. They said the computer would solve it in a minute: I was rather skeptical about that, but who depicts my amazement when after only a few moments the computer came up with the right answer. Since that day I have been doing more with computers myself."

We will conclude with a look at a historic feat. Hane's very first game on the internet go server, played on December 11, 1993 while visiting Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
His opponent is one of the internet go pioneers, the very strong Chinese player Jialin Zhong. This Zhong has played in the university team of Beijing, together with Shutai Zhang. I'll keep the commentary short. Hane eventually won with white, with 3.5 points because he used a surprisingly simple strategy, yet generally not popular with amateurs: he granted his opponent some territory!

Game 1
Black Zhong Jialin, 5d*
White Hane Yasumasa, 9p
Handicap2
Komi 0.5
Event Training game
Date November 12, 1993
Place Internet Go Server
Result White wins by 3.5 point
Game record  [download]

Opening

Figure 1

Figure 1 (1-21)

Middle game

Figure 2

Figure 2 (22-55)

Endgame starts

Figure 3

Figure 3 (56-101)

Some remarks one year later (December 2001):
Hane's son Naoki managed to put Nagoya (central Japan) back on the map again by taking the Tengen title from Ryu Shikun. The last three title winners from Nagoya were Hane Yasumasa 9p who took the 38th Oza title in 1990 (at that time age 46), Hikosaka Naoto 9p taking the 36th Judan in 1998 (at that time 36) and Hane Naoki 8p for the 27th Tengen title (at that time -now- 25)

The last decade the popularity of the game of Go was at an all time low in Japan, everybody knows it but except for senior citizens is not played that much. Because of the succesfull comic/cartoon "Hikaru no Go" children are beginning to show interest again and sales of go equipment as well as the number of children signing up for go classes at the Ki-In is booming. Last month (November 2001) there was such a crowd of parents with their offspring at the Ki-In in Nagoya wanting to join up that the Ki-In employees, being not used to this, downright paniced and were scrambling to get people working at other floors down in order to help out.

Can you say that there is a clearly recognizable difference in playing style between Korean pro's and their Japanese counterparts?

Quote from Hane Naoki 8p (somewhere end of 2000):

"Difference? No, I wouldn't say that, go is go, there might be some trends but the game is the same."

Quote from Hane Naoki 8p (somewhere September 2000):

"Well, in Korea they do study *a lot*. When facing a Korean pro I will try to stay away from well-researched and studied patterns. In a less (in Korea) popular opening/game I feel I can fight on equal ground."

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