Thanks for everyone’s discussions and enthusiasm about this subject. And although I have been preoccupied with the ongoing Nongshin cup this week (and Ichiriki played today), I would still like to share one more document I dug up during the weekend, that is pretty important and I feel would help with the discussion about the strength of players at this time period
These are the official records for all the players in the 4 great Go houses in 1880 (明治13年), right after the announcement of Hoensha, but before they are in serious business yet, and probably the last document to list Go players in their original dan ranking categorized by their own houses.
Notice that this is published by the house of Inoue (井上家), and the top players in the Honinbo House at 7d 邑瀨秀甫 and 6d 中川亀三郎 were the 2k and 3k players in the newly established Hoensha. Embarrsingly the head of the Honnibo house Honinbo Shugen (本因坊秀元) was only 3d at the time, and was considered one of the reason why Honinbo house declined and Hoensha splitted out along with many strong players in other 3 great houses.
What interests me the most is the mapping of these players’ old ranks and their overlapping with the latter 1883, 1884, and 1891 member list ranking in Hoensha kyu ranks. And not just the stronger players, but the weaker players as well. Some of the Shodan (1d) players on this list were still 9k on the Hoesha member list for years. I feel they would be good anchors to know the strength for players in the 1880s.
And fortunately, Hoensha’s newspapers/magazines would print some of their monthly in-house matches, and there are collections of these old records called 囲棋新報合本 (the Go newspapers of the new era collections total three volumes). And now I am scouring through all these games (about 200 to 250 games in each volume) to find games played by these anchor 8k or 9k players. And everyone could judge on their own how they fair in modern standard.
This is one of the game I found between 佐久間國三郎 (1d at 1880 record in Honnibo house, and still 9k in the Hoesha era) against 衫山千和 (1821~1899), a very old player at the time (63) who were already 5d in 1855, but left Hininbo house in 1862 (and was given 5k in Hoensha in 1883). So this game was a very old-school gold standard middle-of-the-group player against a shodan who stayed as 1d (9k) for more than a decade.
I’ll keep looking and transcribing more games between similar ranking games between 8k and 9k players. But from all the stronger players’ games I already looked up, I can say besides the old school fuseki, those around 4k to 5k surely have reading and close fighting skills as good as modern average pro players, and some have very good end games and impressive ko fights. And those games usually have annotations and self-reports about errors they thought they made in the games. So they were definitely learning and have similar capabilities to spot bad moves as we do.