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Hong Wins Amateur Honinbo Too

The final field of 65 that assembled at the Nihon Kiin in Tokyo to play for the Amateur Honinbo Title ranged from the current primary school Meijin (age 11) to octogenarians Hirata Hironori (87) and Kikuchi Yasuro (84), two of the outstanding Japanese amateurs of the 20th century. In between were the three outstanding amateurs of the current decade in Japan: the two Amateur Honinbos Hiraoka Satoshi (2010, 2012) and Nakazono Seizo (2011), and the Amateur Meijin Hong Seok-ui (2011-2013).

Hong won his way in by taking first place in the Osaka regional Honinbo tournament. Not being seeded, he had to enter at the preliminary round played on August 23, where he defeated the regional Honinbo from Aichi Prefecture by 19.5 points. This earned him a bye in the preliminary repechage, after which he won his second game of the day by forcing the regional Honinbo from Mie Prefecture to resign in the first knockout round.

From the left; Sato Koya, Hong Seok-ui  and Iyama Yuta (photo: Sangtiean Rattanaseriwong)From the left; Sato Koya, Hong Seok-ui and Iyama Yuta (photo: Sangtiean Rattanaseriwong)Nakazono and Hiraoka were seeded into the second knockout round, which began at 9:30 on August 24. Together with Hong they breezed through that round and the next, defeating opponents from Nara, Saitama, Kanagawa, and Iwate prefectures and two opponents from Tokyo. In the fourth round, for the second year in a row Hiraoka was paired against Hong. Last year Hiraoka had won by half a point in the endgame. This year it was a different story. Both players made mistakes, but Hiraoka's mistake was bigger and came later, and Hong won by 5.5 points. Meanwhile, Nakazono lost to Katayama Hiroyuki, an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo making a strong comeback in Amateur Honinbo competition after a 17-year absence.

With his two most dangerous opponents both knocked out, Hong now found himself in a very promising position, but he still had to win two more games. In the semifinal round, played in the morning of August 25, he defeated former Student Honinbo Taniguchi Yohei by 15.5 points, while Katayama lost to Sato Koya, the 20-year old regional Honinbo from Shizuoka Prefecture. Sato turned out to be the surprise of the tournament. Although he has never been an insei, he is diligently training on his own with the aim of becoming a professional player at the Nagoya Branch of the Nihon Kiin.

Iyama Yuta (left) and Hong Seok-ui (photo: Sangtiean Rattanaseriwong)Iyama Yuta (left) and Hong Seok-ui (photo: Sangtiean Rattanaseriwong)The final round was played in a closed room next to a large hall, where pro Honinbo Iyama Yuta gave a public commentary on the clincher between Hong and Sato. Early in this game, Sato let Hong make a pon-nuki that Iyama rated as easily worth the proverbial 30 points, and from there on Hong was in control. Ultimately Sato was faced with the loss of half of a large group and resigned to finish second, while Taniguchi beat Katayama in the playoff for third place. The top four all received silver cups and crystal clocks from the sponsors, the Mainichi Newspaper and Sagawa Express.

Hong, who works as an instructor at the Ranka go club in Osaka, is the first player to hold both the amateur Honinbo and Meijin titles in Japan. Asked about future plans, he said he would like to work to spread the game of go, but for the time being he intends to work on what he called his many remaining go-playing weaknesses. Both Hong and Iyama said they were looking forward to the upcoming pro-amateur Honinbo match, which will be their first meeting across the go board.