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.
- Do you have ten minutes for me? I'd
like to ask you a couple of questions about your trip to
- 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?
- Sure. I was mostly interested in the
Korea trip anyway, so don't worry. When exactly have you
- We left on the 30th of October
and came back the first of November (2000).
- It was purely for leisure purposes,
- 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.
- Only twenty? There must be more pros
- Of course, sure, there are
49 active professionals in Nagoya, but not all of them
could take two days off.
- So, you went there mainly to enjoy
yourself and not as much to tighten the bonds between
professionals here and over there?
- 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.
- You played some games, I assume?
- 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
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.
(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.)
- Pardon?! You mean that in Korea the
higher Dans can no longer prove to the positive scores
they ought to have considering their rank?
- 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
- 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?
- 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
- Wow! What a difference with this
- 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.
- Do the insei also spend the night
- No no, all commute between
their homes and the Ki-in.
- 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?
- 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
- So, what's the relationship between
the ki-in in Seoul and the one in Nagoya?
- 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
- 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?
- Other than once in a while on
a private basis we don't really visit each other, no.
- Don't you think you should?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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!
- 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?
- 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
- Which country holds the best player?
- 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.
- So it is a question of focusing on
spreading Go in Japan among the youth.
- 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.
- I'm volunteering in three basic schools.
- Well, that's wonderful, but
still you won't find such people easily.
- 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.
- 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.
- Do you have a message for the Go
players of the world?
- 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.
- 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
- 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!
|Black ||Zhong Jialin, 5d*|
|White ||Hane Yasumasa, 9p|
|Event ||Training game|
|Date ||November 12, 1993|
|Place ||Internet Go Server|
|Result ||White wins by 3.5 point|
|Game record || |
Figure 1 (1-21)
Figure 2 (22-55)
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."