Pieter, 31, has studied go at the local branch of the Nihon Ki-in in central Japan. He lives with his family in Kasugai City, near Nagoya. He is a steady contributor of articles about the Japanese go scene for the Dutch Go Association. He has recently interviewed Tsuchida Masamitsu 9-dan.
Kitani Minoru - a class apart
Kitani Minoru (1909-1975) can, with confidence, be described as one of the only players who could hold his own over a long period against Go Seigen. At the same time he was a driving force behind the development of go in the 20th century in Japan and Korea. Characterised by an unrelenting enthusiasm combined with a pure genius, he was for the go world an enduring source of inspiration and stimulation.
The achievements of Kitani on behalf of the go world are especially significant, but he will always be remembered for three things in particular by people familiar with go. First he is famous for Shin Fuseki. This new fuseki is often mentioned in the same breath as Go Seigen, but it was perhaps more the brainchild of the theoretician Kitani than of Go Seigen. Next, there was a large number of josekis developed by Kitani and, although many are no longer so popular, each day on go boards all over the world corner patterns still appear that bear the stamp of Kitani.
When I buttonholed a pro and asked him for a good example of a Kitani joseki, the answer was the 5-3 joseki in Diagram 1.
This is a sequence which is still played and was typical of Kitani. It is usual to move out with A instead of 3. The diagonal blocking play of Kitani appears at first sight to be the move of a 5-kyu or worse. White banks real territory and settles the situation. After white 6 black often plays elsewhere.
The direct clash in 1933 between Go Seigen and Honinbo Shusai Meijin is for a number of reasons often labelled "Game of the Century." This game, which Shusai managed to win, was seen as the first direct confrontation between old and new ways of playing and enjoyed enormous publicity. The game Kitani-Shusai (1938), played in honour of Shusai's decision to round off his career, can be seen as a second direct encounter between old and new. This game was, if anything, given an even higher profile.
The press was over the moon, because the newspapers now had, after five years, another "game of the century" to attract their readers. The players had 40 hours thinking time each, but halfway through the game the stress became too much for the 64-year-old Shusai and he had to take three months rest on his doctor's advice. The game was finally concluded on 4 December and the 29-year-old Kitani won by five points.
Nobel prize winner Kawabata Yasunari wrote about this especially dramatic event in his book "Meijin", which has since become famous and had been translated as the "Master of Go". The name of Kitani in this book has been altered to Otake. This choice of name has nothing to do with the top pro Otake Hideo, who was then not even born.
Immediately after Kitani had read "Meijin", he said: "I cannot say that I am entirely happy. The mere thought that everything that Otake says and does in the book will be interpreted as things that I myself have actually said and done is unbearable. The book "Meijin" is in reality not a documentary about the main protagonists in a game, but a novel in which Kawabata has used my person as a model for Otake. Otake and I are certainly not the same person."
Incidentally, under pressure from Kitani, this game was played with sealed moves after each playing session. This was a new experience for Shusai which he was, however, loath to talk about. When Kitani, halfway through the game, played a kikashi as his sealed move (Black 121 in Figure 2), the atmosphere became uncomfortable and Shusai made no secret of his ire.
The third, and for the go world the most important, reason for Kitani's fame is the number of pupils that he has trained in his own dojo. In summary, at the end of the fifties Kitani was one of the five top players in Japan, and from the sixties onwards it was his pupils who took over the torch from him. Among Kitani's best known followers we can mention Cho Chikun, Kobayashi Koichi, Kato Masao, Takemiya Masaki, Otake Hideo and Ishida Yoshio. Without exception these top pros were good for one or more titles, and they still stand at the top, 25 years after the demise of the master.
Cho Chikun is merely one of Korean geniuses from the Kitani stable. In total six pupils from Korea managed to find their way to his dojo. Among them was also the man who set up the Korean Go Association, Cho Nam-ch'eol, an uncle of Cho Chikun. (Another top Korean pro, Cho Hun-hyeon, the mentor of the present number one in the world Yi Ch'ang-ho, was not a student of Kitani but of Go Seigen's teacher, Segoe Kensaku.)
Tsuchida Masamitsu, 9-dan - Kitani Pupil
In Nagoya, there are also two professionals from the Kitani stable. After a quick phone call I was able to hear from Tsuchida Masamitsu 9-dan how he came to the Kitani dojo and to ask exactly how one dojo could bring forth so many top players. Tsuchida, who is well known for his suspicious expression, thawed perceptibly when we sat down over tea and he began to talk about his master Kitani. "On my twelfth birthday I was accepted by the Kitani Dojo. As I recall, there were three rooms of about 15 square metres, which were made use of by 10-20 persons. The majority of the aspiring professionals were between 5 and 15 years old. The 5-year-old nipper was Cho Chikun. We slept there on our mattress, which in the morning were folded up in the cupboard to make room for the go boards."
He described the daily roster as follows:
"You surely played each day with Master Kitani?"
Although Tsuchida says this extremely laconically, his expression betrays how sad he finds it never to have played with Kitani. At the same time, it seems he is resigned to accepting that this is the usual way of things.
"Was the dojo a commercial enterprise?"
"Did Go Seigen also come and play a quick game?"
"Good performances were therefore the most important thing?"
"What then was the precise reason that Kitani's pupils became so strong?"
This article appeared in "go" the bimonthly magazine of the Dutch Go Association, in issue 37-3, June 2000. The first version English version appeared on the web on 14 August 2000 on the Mind Sports Online Go pages as a special.
Translated from the original Dutch, with permission, by John Fairbairn.
Pieter Mioch can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org