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Go Personalities:
The greatest player who ever lived

The prodigy of Go:

Shusaku was one of the brightest stars to ever play the game of go. Born under the name of Torajiro on May 29, 1829 in a village near Onomichi as a merchants' son, he learned go at the age of 4, and quickly became famous as a go prodigy in his area. When he was six, the daimyo of the region, Lord Asano took note of him and became his patron, sharing his personal teacher of Go with him, who played at a professional level.

But it soon became clear that the local talent was not strong enough for Shusaku to be taught properly, so he was sent to Edo, becoming a diciple in the Honinbo school, the leading institution of Go at the time. By the age of 10, he had officially achieved the rank of 1-dan, an achievement his Lord, Asano rewarded with a yearly stipend, when he returned home shortly afterwards. But he soon moved back to Edo, was promoted to 2nd Dan in 1841 and changed his name to Shusaku. At age 14, he achieved the rank of the 4th dan.

The ear-reddening move:

In 1846, after another 18-month stay in his home town, Shusaku was travelling back to Edo, when he stopped for an arranged match in Osaka, where he was to play Gennan Inseki of 8th dan, a player said to be of Meijin strength. Their first game, in which Shusaku took a handicap of two stones, was suspended halfway when Gennan realized Shusaku was much stronger, and didn't need the handicap, offering Shusaku the first move in the next game, an enormous honor coming from a player of higher rank.

Early in the second game, Shusaku made a bad play that put Gennan into an advantageous position. But with his 127th move, a move of genius, he managed to turn the whole game around. But as it was played, most of the people analyzing the game in another room were still sure that Gennan would win, but a doctor watching the game as well disagreed and said Shusaku would win. When pressed for his reasoning, he answered:

"I don't know much about go, but when Shusaku played that move, Gennan's ears flushed red.
This showed that the move upset him and he was taken by surprise."

And indeed, the game turned after this play, Shusaku taking the lead and winning by 3 points in the end. After this game, one of the most famous games ever and considered a masterpiece for both players, they played three more games, one of which was also ended in the middle and the other two being won by Shusaku, whose reputation had now been firmly established.

King of the Hill:

When Shusaku arrived back in Edo, he heard that he had been promoted to 5th dan, and was asked to become the heir of Shuwa, the next in line for the position head of the Honinbo School. Feeling bound by duty towards Lord Asano and his own family, he refused at first, but when his lord relinquished his claim on Shusaku, Shusaku was free to accept, becoming Shuwa's heir, additionally marrying Jowa's daughter.

When Honinbo Josaku died in late 1847, Shuwa became the new head of the Honinbo house, recognized as the strongest player of his time. After being promoted to 6th Dan in 1848, Shusaku was finally able to participate in the castle games, where he would play (and win) a total of 19 games in the following years. Although recognized as strongest player right after Shuwa, he accepted a challenge by Ota Yuzo, whom he had problems with, to play a sanjubango (thirty-game match). But Shusaku proved to be the stronger player once again, winning most the games, not losing once with Black, and forcing Yuzo to take a handicap after game 17.

Today, Shusaku is known for his undefeated streak in the castle games, the Shusaku fuseki and his complete mastery of the strategic principles and the practical techniques of go, every move backed by thorough analysis. His games are indispensable study material for aspiring go players. Because of his talent and achievements, he is one of the two players ever to be called Kisei or "Go saint" by later scholars and players of Go. Shusaku was probably the greatest go player who ever lived, living in an age filled with great go geniuses, forcing them all to take a handicap from him.

The brightest stars...

When a cholera epidemic devastated Edo in 1862, several disciples of the Honinbo school also fell ill. Helping care for the sick, Shusaku also caught the disease, passing away on 10 August 1862, aged only 33 years.

In the manga Hikaru no Go, Sai Fujiwara the heian ghost living inside Hikaru's mind reveals that he had lived inside Shusaku as well, teaching him all he knew, and opening up his talent in the first place.

What's your Shusaku Number?

Someone on Sensei's Library proposed a Shusaku Number for Go players, similar to the Erdos Number for mathematicians, or like the theory of six degrees of separation (or six degrees of Kevin Bacon in the movie industry).

It works like this. Shusaku, and only Shusaku, has a Shusaku Number of zero. Anyone who personally played him at Go has a Shusaku number of one. Anyone who played one of those people (but not Shusaku himself) has a Shusaku number of two, and so on.

It indicates how close you've come to playing "The Great One" of Go. It's pretty tough to figure yours out exactly, but it makes a good Fermi problem. Let's assume that all professionals play all their contemporaries at least once. I've played an amateur 6-dan, who must have played at least one professional (probably more) in his life to get where he is. I've also played lots of people online, at least some of who must have received a lesson from a pro at one time. Either way, I'm probably one step removed from playing a pro. Now we just need to figure out how many generations of Go professionals there have been since Shusaku died. That was about 140 years ago. Let's say an average Go career is about 40 years. That makes about 4 generations. So modern professionals probably have a Shusaku number of around 4 or 5, which would likely make mine about 6 or 7.

Apparently, the lowest Shusaku number of someone alive recently is 3. This belonged to Iwamoto Kaoru (died in 1999), and possibly a few others who are still alive.

This whole thing seems like something that would only be of interest to geeks, but a lot of Go players are geeks. I'm no exception. And I think it's interesting.

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