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Hiraoka Regains Amateur Honinbo Title

Left to right: Tanaka (3rd place), Hiraoka (1st), Nakazono (2nd), Hong (4th). Photo courtesy of Nihon KiinLeft to right: Tanaka (3rd place), Hiraoka (1st), Nakazono (2nd), Hong (4th). Photo courtesy of Nihon KiinJapan's annual Amateur Honinbo tournament starts with regional Honinbo tournaments in each of Japan's prefectures and ends in a showdown at the Nihon Kiin in Tokyo. This year the 64 players who gathered in Tokyo included the Prefectural Honinbos, five Student Honinbos (primary, middle, and high school, university man and woman), women's amateur champion Arai Miyu, and other seeded players, notably the reigning Amateur Honinbo Nakazono Seizo and Amateur Meijin Hong Suk-eui. They ranged in age from 11 (Takahashi Keisuke, Prefectural Honinbo from Iwate) to 86 (1995 World Amateur Champion Hironari Hirata).

The showdown began with two preliminary rounds played on August 24. Among the thirteen players who lost both games and were eliminated were Takahashi Keisuke and former Amateur Honinbo Tanaka Masato. The first of the six main rounds was also played on August 24, eliminating 19 more players, leaving 32 to compete in the second round the next morning.

The second and third rounds saw the departure of the two women and four more former Amateur Honinbos: Harada Minoru, Miura Hiroshi, Hirata Hironari, and Samejima Ichiro, who in total have won the title 17 times. Mr Samejima's defeat came at the hands of Hiraoka Satoshi, World Amateur Champion in 1994 and 2006 and Amateur Honinbo in 2005 and 2009. By the end of the day the field had been reduced to four: Hiraoka, Hong, Nakazono, and Student Honinbo Tanaka Nobuyuki, a senior at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. In the semifinal round, played in the morning on August 26, Hiraoka beat Hong by half a point and Nakazono recovered from a lost position to defeat Tanaka by 5.5 points.

The final game took place in the afternoon of the 26th, with a public commentary by former pro Honinbo Wang Mingwan (O Meien). Mr Nakazono, playing white, produced an imaginative opening and led for most of the first half of the game, according to Mr Wang. Mr Hiraoka remained calm, however, and won by 2.5 points. His steady and extremely accurate endgame play drew high praise from Mr Wang, who said, 'I thought white was ahead, but Mr Hiraoka may have known all along that he was going to win.' In the third-place playoff, Mr Tanaka defeated Mr Hong.

At the awards ceremony Hiraoka, Nakazono, Tanaka, and Hong received silver cups and gifts from the sponsors (Sagawa Express and the Mainichi Newspaper). Chief referee Takanashi Seiken (7p) lavished further praise on Mr Hiraoka's endgame play, especially in his half-point win over Mr Hong. Mr Hiraoka, his voice finally betraying his excitement, said he was particularly happy to have some progress to show after losing to Mr Nakazono in the final round last year, and Nihon Kiin Managing Director Hirano Norikazu expressed gratification at the large number of young players in the field of 64, a good sign for the future of Japanese go.