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Honinbo Shuwa

Honinbo Shuwa

Honinbo Shuwa (本因坊秀和, 1820-1873) was a Japanese professional Go player, and also the fourteenth head of the Honinbo house (from 1847 to 1873).

His most significant games were probably the three challenge games of 1840 and 1842 against Inoue Genan Inseki. After Jowa's resignation of the post of Meijin godokoro in 1839, Genan was making yet another for the post of Meijin godokoro when the Honinbo house lodged a complaint with the government, leading to the first game between Shuwa and Genan in 1840. Shuwa won this game by 4 points (on black), leaving Genan so dismayed by his strength that he discontinued the series and withdrew his application. The subsequent games in 1842 were attempts by Genan to show he could beat Shuwa taking white (even though he could take black every 3rd game, as befitted a difference of 1 dan rank), but he was beaten twice more, the second time by 6 points and the third time by 4 points. After these 3 losses Genan resigned himself to retiring as an 8-dan, despite the fact that he was recognized by many (including his great rival Jowa) as being equivalent to Meijin in strength.

Shuwa's comprehensive victories over Genan established himself as the pre-eminent player of the day. He reached 8-dan soon after his triumph, and his only serious rivals in the prime of his career were the group known as the Tempo Top Four - Yasui Sanchi, Ito Showa, Ota Yuzo, and Sakaguchi Sentoku. Although he played some games with the members of this group on even terms, he generally gave them a handicap. He found Sanchi to be his most difficult opponent, and Yuzo to be his easiest.

Unforuntately, Shuwa's aspirations to be Meijin were undone by a variety of factors. The primary problem was the instability of the Tokugawa regime in its final decade, which gave very little thought to matters of Go in its final years. Shuwa also suffered a critical defeat at the hands of the 13th Inoue, Matsumoto Inseki. Matsumoto was certainly not in Shuwa's class as a Go player, but Shuwa perhaps made too leisurely a start in his game, allowing Matsumoto two shimaris in the fuseki. When Shuwa realized he was not catching up as easily as normal he exerted himself fully, but Matsumoto was just able to hold him off and score an improbable 1 point victory (taking black). It was said at the time that Matsumoto was possessed by the spirit of Genan Inseki, and Shuwa was forced to abandon his ambitions of becoming Meijin.

Nonetheless, he remained at the pinnacle of the Go world until his death in 1873. The end of his life was at the worst point of go's fortunes after the Meiji Restoration. He lived to see the Honinbo residence in Edo (Tokyo) taken back by the state in 1869 The family members for a while resumed the family name Tsuchiya.

While his reputation is somewhat overshadowed by that of his brilliant, pious and short-lived pupil Honinbo Shusaku, it is undecided and to an extent imponderable who was the stronger, the typical playing conditions of the time meaning that they did not test this in matches played purely as competition. Shusaku's games having been published soon after his death, they became a training manual, adding to the impression of the pupil's level. Shusaku possessed an unusual modesty, and would always take black against out of respect for his teacher, even upon reaching 7-dan. Shuwa played a famous 17 game series with Shusaku between 1846 and 1847, which contained some of the best Go of the classical era. Taking white in all games, Shuwa lost the series 4-13, and his overall results against Shusaku were 6-17-1 , but in light of the handicaps and Shusaku's natural brilliance at the Go board, it is virtually impossible to compare the two players.

Shuwa's style was unspectacular but thoroughly professional. His style with Black epitomized the values of classical Go - making one's groups safe and strong early on. He is greatly admired by modern professionals for his light, flexible play, as well as his refinement and mastery of "amashi" when playing with white. Although he did not officially reach the rank of 9-dan (Meijin), he is honored as one of the Four Sages (players who were said to be of Meijin strength but only reached 8-dan) alongside Honinbo Genjo, Yasui Chitoku Senchi, and Genan Inseki.

Apart from his genius on the Go board, Shuwa is also famous for his brilliant pupils and sons. Three of his natural sons became head of house after him: Honinbo Shuetsu, Honinbo Shuei and Honinbo Shugen were respectively his eldest, second and third sons. In addition, he gave generous amounts of his time to his brilliant pupils Shusaku and Murase Shuho, who went on to become 18th Honinbo.

One of the factors in the eventual revival of organised go was a study group called "Third Day Meeting" that Shuwa himself had set up, when the oshirogo ceased in the early 1860s. This grouping survived and contributed to the later Hoensha.

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