Instructional group thinking in a 1952 Takagawa game

This is a review, as apparent in the pop-out, of the game Takagawa Shukaku 7p (W) – Okubo Ichigen 5p, played in the Oteai in October 1952.

Let’s get some context. Takagawa Kaku, or Shukaku as he was at this point known, was born in 1915, At the time of this game he was 37, already old by the standards of modern top professionals (for reference, Lee Sedol retired at about this age). He had been 7p since 1945, would be promoted to 8p in '54, and eventually to 9p in 1960. At this time there were only two 9p players, Go Seigen and Fujisawa Kuranosuke (who would become Hosai the following year).

In the 20th Century, the dominant mechanism of professional promotion in Japanese Go was the Oteai tournament, which had existed since 1927. Even until its abolition in 2003, the Oteai was played without komi. In 1952, komigo was becoming mainstream but was still quite new.

This was the first game played by Takagawa since becoming the Honinbo title holder in August of the same year, having challenged and defeated Hashimoto Utaro in the seventh edition of the tournament. Takagawa held the title until 1961, eventually being beaten by Sakata Eio (b. 1920).

His opponent in this game is a younger, lower-ranked, and more obscure player. Okubo Ichigen was born in 1929, placing him in his early twenties at the time of this game. Okubo cannot have been that weak, though, as he eventually also became 9p in 1968 and even challenged for the Oza title in '65.

Takagawa, as the higher-ranked player, takes White and does not receive any komi.

  1. White immediately settles his initial A and B_ groups. In 1952, Takagawa had the full five “standard moves” available to him: 3-3, 3-4, 4-4, 5-3 and 5-4. Of these, only the 3-3 and 3-4 provide an immediate base.

  1. Black seeds two weak groups, p and q. White separates them by means of two loose pincers, the stones meeting in the middle of the side to form a third relatively strong group, C. Note that Black now has two weak groups and White still has none.

  1. Black asks to settle with a similar joseki to Play Go at! | OGS, but White denies this with Play Go at! | OGS. It may at first look like Black is thick, but the p group actually has no eyeshape – it is an unsettled and potentially weak cluster of stones. The A group has retained its base in the corner and White has even taken sente.

  1. White uses his initiative to immediately attack the q group. He first kicks, denying the stones a base, and then harasses from the north. When Black defends, though, White doesn’t neglect to respond in the south and deny Black counterplay. The A, B, and C groups are all strong; the p and especially q groups are weak.

  1. Black tries to take the time to play on the top side, but White is perfectly happy to continue attacking the q group, which has become even weaker. Observe that C is becoming even stronger as a result of this fight, and B is being given momentum to travel east.

  1. B and C chase q eastward. Whilst both B and q run through dame, C makes influence for White. The q stones are still weak. From (40) to (44) White played some sente endgame from X, which I’ve omitted for clarity.

  1. Black hanes. Since q is weak and both B and C are strong, White has no qualms about cutting, creating the two cutting groups D and r.

  1. There is some close fighting with the result that White encloses q, dependent on the complex relationship of the combat protagonists B, C, D, r, and the new group s.

  1. s forces against D, which forces against r, which forces against C. The q group is still enclosed.

  1. q is obliged to live in gote with a mere three points. White has the freedom to play away. The p and r groups are still a little weak; the D group, however, has become stronger in the fight.

  1. Now White attacks p. Since his new stones are close to C, there is little risk.

  1. After bullying the p group, White still has sente and has time to play a big move on the top side.

So, what can be learnt?

  • The opening at 2. is probably not good for Black. It was the first and, more importantly, last time that (7) R15 was played. In further exploration of the opening, Black played (7) locally in the lower right, or else as a more flexible high approach.

  • The joseki in the lower right is comfortable for White. This is something that has already been shown to us by AI, although I wouldn’t be as hyperbolic as OJE in calling Black’s play there actually mistaken.

  • Playing away from hot positions, like in the top right, to take quiet territory in gote tends to be questionable. This is the sentiment expressed by the proverb urgent points before big points.

  • Enclosing a group, like White enclosed q, and forcing it to live small and in gote is an excellent way of play.

  • Finally, that settling a group unambiguously is very valuable. To quote a saying of Cho Chikun:

“A strong group is a living group.”