The history and evolution of kyu rank in Go game

I’ve been feeling terrible for the past week, didn’t have much progress, but the investigation of the kyu ranking would still continue, just take a bit longer.

Here is the oldest known game I found that definitively involved a player that has a weaker rank than a Hoensha 9k (1d). The 9k player 佐藤民之助 gave 2 handicaps to an unknown player and still won. And this put the black player at a strength of Hoensha 11k according to their ranking system.

transcribed record below:

What do you all think about the black player’s strength? On par with a modern high SDK player?


When was the game played?

Also, it’s interesting to see that Waltheri has no hits for B2 [woops, C2]. That move struck me as unusual.

Usually Black would play D2 (attachment from the corner) or F4 (the table-shape attachment on top).

According to the record, Sep 23, 1885. And the shodan player was from the House of Inoue, and specifically in the description said he had been tested by Shuho, the head of the Hoensha (to be given the Hoensha 9 kyu rank).

Do you mean black move 18 at C2? I think black was just afraid for white to take the corner from him if played at D2 (where white can definitely play at C2 to uproot the black group). With handicaps, favor solid territory isn’t a bad choice, although passive.

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Definitely dan strength today, I’d say from looking over it without any AI input.

The AI analysis finds a lot of errors, but no obvious blunders. I’m 2 dan, and I think that I’d maybe make different mistakes, but be more accurate in some places. I’d put black at about 1 or 2 dan, white about 3 or 4 dan.


I’ve put up for this for long enough, and time to continue our journey.

This is the list of the Hoensha member list in 1894, right after they revert back from pure kyu ranking to the traditional dan ranking on Apr. 1893

Compare this with the 1891 member list, we can find they are mostly the same, except they renamed and group the old 10, 11, and 12 kyu rank into “3 kyu of Shodan” (三級初段), “2 kyu of Shodan”(二級初段), and “1 kyu of Shodan” (初級初段). Effectively make all the 9 kyu to 12 kyu players “Shodan”. And instead of increasing order of “kyu”, it reverted to decreasing order of kyu within the “Shodan”.

The reason behind the decision of reverting back to the old dan system in 1893 is not well documented, but from most sources I can find they pointed to an agreement almost a decade ago at 1886 between the original head of Hoensha Murase Shuho (村瀨秀甫) and Honinbo Shuei (本因坊秀榮 the head of Honinbo house at the time). After the 9th game on Nov 15, 1885, of their ten-game matches to determine who would dominate the Go community (Murase Shuho already won 5 of the 9 games in josen 定先, always played white), Honinbo Shuei proposed to give up his Honinbo house title to Shuho, recognized the rank and diploma issued by Hoensha, and granted the title of 準名人(Jun Meijin, effectively 8d) in the name of Honinbo house to Shuho. However, Shuho also had to recognize and gave Shuei 7d diploma in the name of Honinbo house (Shuei was only 5d at the time of the match), and all the future diploma issued had to be signed by both parties (and split the fee gathered), and Hoensha had to return to the old dan ranking system (they have to sync their rank somehow).

Murase Shuho finally agreed to the term on July 30, 1886, and became the 18th head of Honinbo house - Honinbo Shuho (本因坊秀甫), and he wanted the head of Hoensha to also be the head of Honinbo house in the future, tried to cover everyone into one banner (the first attempt to a nation-wide association). But Shuho died very suddenly on Oct 14, 1886, just 2 and half months after (the shortest term as the head of Honinbo), without leaving any clear instructions as to who will be the next in line for the Honinbo house and the Hoensha.

Since it was so sudden, Shuei was again tried to push for his return as the head of the Honinbo house. But the 2nd hand of the Hoensha 中川亀三郎 (Nakagawa Kamesaburo, the first, not to be confused with his adopted son Ishii Senji 石井千治, who later on also called himself Nakagawa Kamesaburo) disagreed, and already assumed to be the head of Hoensha on Nov 1, 1886. Everything seemed to revert back to the way before the agreement (except Shuei still got his 7d recognition), and Shuei became the de facto head of the Honinbo house again. Although when Shuei issued an open challenge to everyone for his Honinbo title, Nakagawa Kamesaburo didn’t accept and just kept expanding Hoensha for more branches all over Japan and start recruiting more players from other houses and more young players through their development programs (their Insei system). The Osaka branch of the Hoensha was established in 1887, and 青年研究会 (young study group) of the Hoensha was established in 1889 (the sort of official Insei system for Hoensha).

On Mar 26, 1893, the headquarter of the Hoensha moved to a brand new building, and a ceremonial game was played between Iwasaki Kenzo (巖崎健造 the vice president and the 2nd hand of the Hoensha) and Shuei (at the time, he proclaimed to be Honinbo Shuei, but not everyone recognized it). Iwasaki Kenzo was famous for being a “thoughtful” player (he played very slow), and the ceremonial game only went for 21 moves and suspended. When the Hoensha wanted to print this game in their newspaper/magazine for the next month, they wanted to list Shuei as a Hoensha 3 kyu, but Shuei wanted to use Honinbo house ranking, and made a big deal about his old agreement with Shohu a decade earlier in 1886, and demanded they honor it.

At this point, for some reason, perhaps related to the deteriorated health of the executive Kobayashi Tetsujiro (小林鉄次郎 who was one actually running the day-to-day task), or perhaps the year earlier in 1892, Shuei started 囲碁奨励会 - the Go promoting group (became 四象会 later on), and it acted like a monthly tournament with prize money (which Yasuhisa Tamura 田村保寿 the later famous Honinbo Shusai won the 1st round, and this is like proto pro games with sponsors), and Honinbo house started to regain their fame where many strong players didn’t just play games within Hoensha, but between the Hoensha and the Honinbo house members. In any case, Hoensha seemed to finally agree on this term, and on Apr 1, 1893, the next issue of the Hoensha newspaper started to list games using the old dan ranking, with a reverted dan ranking member list shown above the next year.

I personally believe that the death of Kobayashi Tetsujir (小林鉄次郎) on Nov 7, 1893, played a major role in this. The concurrent ranking system worked fine for more than a decade, and Hoensha seemed to be at its height at this point. But the original member of Hoensha started to age and died, and Nakagawa Kamesaburo was more of a diplomat. With Kobayashi Tetsujir gone, Nakagawa Kamesaburo seemed to want to lead the Hoensha more like a traditional house.


Interesting! I never knew about this tension between Shuei and Nakagawa.

Or that “Nakagawa Kamesaburo II” was adopted.

Since you’re on the topic, could you clarify the initial relationship between Shuei and Shuho, please? Sensei’s Library uses a strange phrase, saying that Shuei was Shuho’s “semi-younger brother”.

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Shuho has no blood relationship with Shuei. Shuho (born 1838, originally named 村瀨弥吉 Murase Yakichi) lived next door to the Honinbo house, and by chance being discovered by Honinbo Josaku (本因坊丈策 the 13th head of Honinbo house) when he was 8 in 1846. And one year later when Jusaku died, Honinbo Shuwa (本因坊秀和, originally named 土屋俊平 Tsuchiya Shunpei the 14th head of Hoininbo house) included Shuho as one of his pupils. Shuho was contemporary with Shusaku and was the 2nd or 3rd in line for the head of Honinbo during the 1860s, right after Shusaku, and on par with the 3rd son of Honinbo Jowa (本因坊丈和, the 12th head of Honinbo house) - Nakagawa Kamesaburo (中川亀三郎 born 1837 he was adopted by one of his uncle’s family, all of Jowa’s sons were given to other families).

The Honinbo (本因坊) name is not technically a “family” or “clan” name, but originally just the name of the house where the first Honinbo Sansa as a monk lived in the temple. 坊 indicates it is a yard and a place. Historically until Shuwa, the Honinbo house had never been a heretical hereditary clan, but the next heir would be selected based on merit, the strongest pupils would be “adopted” as the next titleholder (a cross between brand name and a corporate name, but using feudal laws). However, after Shusaku died unexpectedly, Shuwa for the first time, selected his own eldest son - Honinbo Shuetsu (本因坊秀悦) as the heir (who was only 14 years old and 3 dan at the time).

Shuei (born 1852, originally named Tsuchiya Heijiro 土屋平次郎) was the 2nd son of Shuwa, and was adopted by the house of Hayashi (林家) when the original heir died the same year as Shusaku in 1862, and given the name Hayashi Shuei. Although mostly he still considered his blood family over his “adopted” family house. And he was also the reason why the Hayashi house was later merged into the Honinbo house. As for his trip with Shuho started from 1872 to 1875, it is hard to tell. There were few records as to what they were doing in those three years, just that Shuho met several important people that later on help to establish the Hoensha. From their own accounts, they seemed to be pretty close with each other.


heretical clan

I think you mean hereditary.

Great post, btw! Thank you.

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I cannot edit my first post to add a link to my next reply, should I make a new post as part II and link this post for a new index? Or just keep the content in one post?

Thread management decisions are surely up to you.

I remember I asked before on how to edit and there is a trick to change the post to a wiki (maybe involving an admin to do it?) do your changes and then change it back to a normal post.

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I just simply couldn’t edit it anymore. Maybe a post can only be edited within certain time limit after it was posted?

Yes, exactly. Let see ( @Vsotvep ) if a mod can change it into wiki?

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@claire_yang you should be able to edit it now, and when finished our wonderful mods can lock it back (as you want).

Before I finish digging into the transition between the 1890s and 1920s, I found someone made a relationship graph of all the key people involved in the creation of Hoensha

The red lines mean blood relationship, the blue lines indicate teacher-pupils, the purple lines are adoption, the green lines are marriages, different colors in the blocks indicate different houses.

I feel it is definitely interesting enough, if someone wants to write a novel, or make a tv series, or movies out of this love-and-hate mess where modern Go born out of it.


Perfect picture to hang in a go school headmaster office.

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While I was researching the early 1900s Go players all across Japan, I found this very interesting list

Notice the people circled in red

Inukai Tsuyoshi (犬養 毅) and Toyama Mitsuru (頭山 満), the first one Inukai Tsuyoshi was a cabinet minister at the time, and later Prime Minister of Japan (where his death by assassination indirectly lead to the progress of War World II in East Asia), and the second one Toyama Mitsuru was a key player in East Asia “spy network”, where every event regarding Korea, China, and Japan between the 1890s to WW2 had something to do with him.

Although it was not uncommon for nobles, businessmen, and industrialists to sponsor Go since the 1870s (after the Shogunate failed, and Go communities looking for new financiers), and list them as guests or honorary members, while these sponsors themselves are usually novices. But I actually found a game played by Toyama Mitsuru against 吉田俊男 (Yoshida Toshio, son of 吉田半十郎 5 dan - a founding member of Hoensha, and Toshio said to have the strength of at least Shodan)

I transcribed it below to correct an error

From the look of it, Toyama Mitsuru was a pretty strong player himself, not just a simple sponsor. There is even a picture of him playing a 13x13 game with Inukai Tsuyoshi

From all the information I found, there was something fundamentally changed during the 1890s to 1910s in the Go community in Japan, and most likely the real root of amateur Go community started to emerge.


I found these pdfs at Evolution of Go - #5 by Oni

The History of Go Rules, Chen Zuyuan 2011

The Game of Go: Speculations on its Origins and Symbolism in Ancient China, Peter Shotwell 1994–2008