The Magic of Go

Professional tournaments

There are 21 tournaments in which professional go players belonging to the Japan Go Association or the Western Japan Go Association can compete. Many are open tournaments, but some are restricted to women professionals or younger players. The seven big open titles are sponsored by newspapers. The three most prestigious are the Kisei (sponsored by The Yomiuri Shimbun with a first prize of 33,000,000 yen), the Meijin (28,000,000 yen), and the Honinbo (25,000,000 yen). These titles are decided by best-of-seven matches where the games are held over two days, with each player allotted eight hours thinking time.

The four other big open titles are the Judan, the Tengen, the Oza and the Gosei. The winner’s prize for the first three of these titles is a bit more than 10,000,000 yen, while the first prize for the Gosei title is 6,400,000 yen. These four titles are decided by best-of-five matches and each player has five hours to make his or her moves.

Each of these titles starts out with its own system of preliminary elimination tournaments that all professionals from 1-dan and above may join: An exception is the Gosei title in which only players 5-dan and above are eligible. In the first stage, lower-ranked players (from 1- to 4-dan) compete for places in the second stage, where they meet the seeded higher-ranked players (5- to 9-dan). The winner of the final stage becomes the challenger, or, in the case of the Meijin and Honinbo tournaments, the last surviving three or four players in the final preliminary stage are allowed to enter a final round-robin tournament (called a league). Nine players participate in the Meijin tournament and eight in the Honinbo tournament. The winner of the league becomes the challenger to the title holder.

For each game played in these tournaments, a professional receives a game fee. In the first preliminaries, the fee may amount to only a few tens of thousands of yen, but the higher the player’s rank and the more games he or she wins, the higher the game fee becomes. Fees for each game in the final stages of the top three titles are a bit less than 1,000,000 yen.

There are also four titles open only to women-the Women’s Kisei, Honinbo, Meijin, and Kakusei.

Two TV stations sponsor lightning go tournaments. From 6 a.m. on Sunday, TV Tokyo broadcasts the Lightning Go Championship, and from 12:20 p.m. you can watch games from the NHK Cup on Channel 3. In these games, each player has 30 seconds to make a move and a top-rank professional gives a commentary as the game progresses.

Defending territory

Go tactick

After you have mapped out territory, it is often necessary to make a reinforcing move to defend it. For example, Black 25 in Diagram 1 (Figure 4 in the column two weeks ago) is an important defensive move.

If Black omits this move, White will play 1 in Diagram 2, threatening to capture the marked black stone. Black cannot escape. If he tries to run away with 2 and 4, White pursues him with 3 and 5, driving the black stones into the corner, where they run out of liberties. White captures four stones with 7. Not only does this capture gain White eight points, but it also wipes out most of Black’s territory on the right.

Illegal moves

Rules of Go

In general, you can play on any vacant intersection, but there are some restrictions. One is that you cannot commit suicide. In other words, you cannot play so as to fill the last liberty of your own stones. Here are some examples.

Rules of Go

White cannot play 1 in Diagram 3. If he were to do so, his two stones would be without liberties, so they couldn’t remain on the board. Similary, White cannot play at 1 in Diagram 4 and Diagram 5, as his stones there would also lack liberties. This prohibition on suicide is an important concept in understanding whether groups live or die. This will be the subject of our next column.