Shuko the Champ – 2

September 25, 2006

Albeit a bit late, I’m giving a follow up to my previous post on Fujisawa Shuko.

shuko.jpgBetween 1960 and 1970 Shuko won 14 titles, including the Meijin twice, plus four unfortunate challenges for the same title. The Meijin was then the most important tournament in professional go.
Already such achievements were more than enough to make him one of the strongest players of the XX century.

Then a long hiatus followed: his results in professional tournaments were terrible, due also to a strong drinking habit.
He nevertheless made a comeback winning the 1st Tengen title in 1976, aged 51, at a time when all the title winners were players in their twenties or early thirties: it was said that you needed a lot of stamina to go through the best-of-five or best-of-seven title match.

But the best was yet to come.

You may remember from my previous post that Shuko, as the main professional representative that negotiated with the newspaper Yomiuri Shinbun the establishment and sponsorship of the Meijin title, was instrumental for the birth of that tournament back in 1962, and how he proceeded to win its first edition.

But fifteen years later, the professional go players were increasingly unhappy about the amount of sponsorship from the Yomiuri. Requests for a rise of the sponsorship were systematically turned down. Fed up with such behaviour, the Nihon Kiin (the Japanese professional go guild) took away the title from the Yomiuri and gave it to its competitor Asahi Shinbun, that was well prepared to pay much more for the exclusivity.
So in 1976 (while Shuko was winning the 1st Tengen title) a new Meijin tournament started.

The Yomiuri management realised what a big mistake they had made, letting slip such sponsorship to their competitors. So they decided to get back into the game by funding yet another tournament, the biggest of them all, both in term of money and in terms of complexity of organisation.

In 1977, the Kisei title was born, and it had the highest purse of all time – as of today, around 42,000,000 Yen.
Kisei means “Saint of Go”, and to win the title you have to go through four or five sub-tournaments, that involve almost every professional and that take several months to complete. The final is a best-of-seven match: in every game the players are allotted eight hours of thinking time each, so each game lasts two days.
Winning the Kisei really means being the strongest player of the year.

Everybody expected the young stars (Rin Kaiho, Takemiya Masaki, Kato Masao, Ishida Yoshio…) to win the first Kisei title, but, contrary to all expectations, at the end of the mammoth tournament the final was an affair between two veterans, Hashimoto Utaro (aged 70!) and… who else but Fujisawa Shuko?

Shuko won the 1st Kisei 4-1 and, to everybody’s astonishment (but not his, as he always boasted to be the strongest go player…), went on winning it other five years consecutively, beating the cream of the professional go: Kato 4-3, Ishida 4-1, Rin 4-1, Otake Hideo 4-0, Rin again 4-3.

The really incredible thing was that his results in other tournaments were still awful, as he kept on being drunk most of the time.
Shuko always said that he just needed to win four games a year to be on top of the go world, so a couple of months before the Kisei title he would go on the wagon, set himself straight, proceed to wipe off his opponents with is brilliant genius, and then get back to alcoholic celebrations for the rest of the year…

To be continued…


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