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Feature: Honinbo Dosaku (1) Go Logo
16 August 2000 By John Fairbairn


Many regard Honinbo Dosaku (1645-1702) as the greatest player who ever lived. Only 153 of his games - many rediscovered only in the 1990s - remain but all are treasured.

Honinbo Dosaku was born in Iwami on 1645 with the name Yamazaki Sanjiro, denoting that he was the third child in a noble family that included three boys and two girls. His younger brother Dosa was later to achieve go fame as Inoue Inseki III.

Dosaku learnt go at the age of seven and later went to Edo to study under Honinbo Doetsu. His family had been urged to send him to the Yasui school as they were then in the ascendant, but they preferred the prestige of the Honinbos.

Doetsu instantly recognised the boy's talent and beseeched Dosaku's father to let him adopt him. This was allowed and Dosaku in due course was appointed Doetsu's heir. He succeeded as the fourth head of the Honinbos in 1677 when Doetsu felt obliged to retire after having forced Yasui Sanchi to quit as Meijin. It was said that it was Dosaku who, as Doetsu's second in the match against Sanchi, had made the difference - at least that was the rumour put out by the Yasuis.

At Doetsu's request Dosaku applied at the same time for the now vacant Meijinship, and although Sanchi feigned illness to avoid the meeting of all the players summoned by the Commissioner of Shrines and Temples to decide the matter, for almost the only time in history was this application passed without objection. He was also appointed as Godokoro on 14th of the 4th month, 1678. His reign as Meijin, the youngest ever, was also unusual in not being marred by intrigues or challenges.

Nevertheless, despite Dosaku's outstanding skill and reputation, we can never know how good he really was because he was never pushed to his limit. He had a clutch of remarkable pupils, but one of them, Dosetsu (the future Inoue Inseki IV), once said if he took White in 100 games with Dosaku he would lose all 100.

Of the 16 castle games Dosaku played with white, he won 14, all by huge margins. In the two games he lost he gave two stones and lost by a single point - one of these became famous as his masterpiece, reflecting his own view of the game. What made Dosaku outstanding was, in part, his contribution to go theory.

He was the first player to have a truly global view of the game, he invented the three-space pincer, and he pioneered tewari analysis (analysing the efficiency of positions by removing superfluous stones) and amashi strategy (letting the opponent attack but forcing him to end up achieving nothing but muscle-bound shape - coincidentally pioneered also in China around the same time by the genius Huang Longshi). Remarkably most of this came after he became Meijin.

He attracted and nurtured many great students, notably the "Five Stars of Dosaku": Ogawa Doteki, Kuwabara Dosetsu, Hasseki Hoshiai, Sayama Sakugen and Kumagai Honseki. Any one of these was worthy of succeeding as Honinbo, especially Ogawa who has been called the greatest ever go prodigy, but four died young. The reason was probably tuberculosis brought on by overcrowding - at one time Dosaku had over 30 pupils living in.

His material success was such that at one stage he was able to bail out his own feudal lord to the tune of over 300,000 ryo when 3,000 ryo were worth 100 million yen today.

One of the highlights of Dosaku's career was a challenge from the Okinawan players who came with a mission in 1682.

A collection of Dosaku's games is available from Games of Go on Disk ( .

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