Google has celebrated the 185th birthday of nineteenth century Go player Honinbo Shusaku - widely considered to be the greatest player of the board game during its golden age.
Go is thought to have been invented between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago in China, and was mentioned in the Analects by the philosopher Confucious. The game arrived in Japan via Korea, where it was adopted as a popular pastime by the Japanese Imperial family around 1,500 years ago.
Similarly to chess, while the rules of Go are simple, it is made difficult by the complex strategy opponents must use to outwit each other.
Shusaku was born Kuwahara Torajiro on 6 June 1829, in the village of Innoshima, near the town of Onomichi, Hiroshima.
By the age of six, he had gained a reputation as a Go prodigy in his home town. Having outgrown the players in Onomichi aged eight, he moved to Edo, modern day Tokyo, to study at the legendary Honinbo Go house, having received a patronage from a local Lord. Two years later he received his first diploma, or ‘dan’.
Other than brief visits to Onomichi, Shusaku remained at the academy. He was given the name he is now known by in 1841, when he was promoted to 2-dan.
During his travels from Onomichi to Edo in 1846, he encountered Gennan Inseki, a 50-year-old 8-dan player. The incident spawned the famous ‘ear reddening move’, so called because Inseki’s ears flushed red when he lost to his junior, Shusaku.
Shusaku went on to become the second person to receive the title of Gosei or “Go Saint”, the first being his predecessor Honinbo Dosaku, and also gave his name to a strategic move known as the Shusaku fuseki.
He is best known for winning nineteen castle games in a row, which were tournaments fought in the presence of the shogun. His score remains unbeaten, with modern players calculating their ‘Shusaku score’ to compare how close they are to reaching his level of expertise. The score is calculated in terms of beaten opponents.
Shusaku died aged 33 in 1862, after he caught cholera while tending to sick members of the academy.
He was buried in his home town.
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