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Players of high rank who are challenged by the improving players of the lower grades will instinctively desire to make it more difficult for the new players to attain the higher degree, because their own fame, which is their highest possession, depends upon the result of the game; and assuming that all trial games could be conducted in an impartial and judicial spirit, nevertheless, all the players would become more expert from the hard practice, even if their skill in relation to each other remained the same.
Thus a seventh degree player of to-day would be better in a year although he still remained in the seventh degree, and this constant raising of the standard must lead us to suppose that a player of the seventh degree now is quite equal or perhaps superior to an eighth or ninth degree player of a hundred or two hundred years ago. As an illustration of this increase in skill, we only have to compare the standard set in the Ryukyu Islands. They also established the classification in degrees soon after the foundation of the Academy in Japan, and then the two institutions seem to have lost touch. Korschelt relates that for the first time about the year 1880 a Go player of the second degree from the Satsuma province visited those Islands and tried his skill with their best players, and found that he could easily defeat the players there classified as of the fifth degree.
The position as head of the Academy was much coveted by Go players, but it was generally held by the Honinbo family. One of the last incidents in relation to the Academy tells of an attempt on the part of Inouye Inseki, the eleventh of that line, to obtain the headship of the Academy when Honinbo Jowa, who was the twelfth Honinbo, retired. Inseki was afraid he could not obtain the coveted position by a contest, and therefore strove to obtain it by intrigue from the Shogun's officer intrusted with the business of the Academy. When Jowa retired he was not unaware of the desires of Inseki, but it did not trouble him much, as he felt confident that the fourteenth Honinbo, whose name was Shuwa, could successfully defend his title. However, at last matters came to such a point that Jowa ordered Shuwa to present a petition to the Shogun requesting that the title be settled by contest, but the Shogun's officer, who was in league with Inseki, returned the petition, whereupon all of the Honinbo house rose and insisted on their rights in accordance with custom and precedent, and at last their petition was granted. It was fixed that the title was to be decided by ten games, and the first game began at the residence of the Shogun's officer, Inaba Tango no Kami, on the 29th of November, in the eleventh year of Tempo (about sixty-six years ago), and it ended the same year on the 13th of December. There was an adjournment of four days, and on one occasion the contest lasted all night. Therefore in all it took nine days and one night to finish the game.
It is unnecessary to say that both players put forth all their efforts in this life and death struggle, and it is said that Inseki's excitement was so intense as to cause blood to gush from his mouth, but he finally lost by four stones, and the other nine games were not played. Inseki, however, mortified by his defeat, again challenged Shuwa. This game began on the 16th of May in the thirteenth year of Tempo, and lasted two days. Inseki again lost by six stones. On November 17th of the same year a third contest took place between Shuwa and Inseki in the presence of the Shogun in his palace at Tokio. Inseki again lost by four stones. In all these contests Inseki as the challenger had the first move, and he finally became convinced of his inability to win from the scion of the Honinbo family, and abandoned his life-long desire, and it is related that thereupon the houses of Honinbo and Inouye became more friendly than ever.
In the first half of the nineteenth century Go had a period of great development. This occurred according to the Japanese calendar in the periods called Bun Kwa (18041818), Bun Sei (1818-1829), and Tempo (1830-1844). The collection of specimen games of that time are to-day regarded as models, and the methods of play and of opening the game then in use are still studied, although they have been somewhat superseded. The best games were played by the Honinbos Dosaku and Jowa and Yasui Sanchi.
On the fall of the Shogunate in the year 1868 the Go Academy came to an end, and with it the regulation of the game by the State. A few years later the daimios were dispossessed, and they did not feel an obligation as private individuals to retain the services of the Go players who had been in attendance at their courts. Thereupon ensued a sad time for the masters of the game, who had theretofore for the most part lived by the practice of their art, and to make things still worse, the Japanese people lost their interest in Go. Upon the opening of the country the people turned with enthusiasm to the foreigners. Foreign things were more prized than native things, and among the things of native origin the game of Go was neglected.
About the year 1880, however, a reaction set in; interest in the old national game was revived, and at the present day it is fostered with as much zeal as in the olden times.
Most of the higher officials of the government, and also the officers in the army and navy, are skilled players. The great daily newspapers of the capitals have a Go department, just as some of our periodicals have a department devoted to Chess, and the game is very much played at the hot springs and health resorts, and clubs, and teachers of the art are found in all of the larger cities. Go has always retained something of its early aristocratic character, and in fact, it is still regarded as necessary for a man of refinement to possess a certain skill at the game.
During the recent Russo-Japanese War the strategy employed by the Japanese commanders certainly suggested the methods of play used in the game of Go. Whether this was an accidental resemblance or not I cannot say. At Liao Yang it seemed as if Marshal Oyama had got three of the necessary stones advantageously placed, but the Russians escaped before the fourth could be moved into position. At the final battle of Mukden the enveloping strategy characteristic of the game was carried out with still greater success.
At the present time the division into the four schools of Honinbo, Inouye, Hayashi, and Yasui, no longer exists, and Go players are divided into the schools of Honinbo and Hoyensha. This latter school was established about the year 1880 by Murase Shuho, to whom reference has already been made.
The Honinbo school is the successor of the old Academy, while the new school has made one or two innovations, one of the most fortunate being a rule that no game shall last longer than twenty-four hours without interruption. The Hoyensha school also recognized the degree "Inaka Shodan," which means the "first degree in the country," and is allowed to a class of players who are regarded as entitled to the first degree in their native town, but who are generally undeceived when they meet the recognized "Shodan" players of the metropolis.
While in Japan Go has attained such a high development, largely through the help of the government, as has been shown, it seems to be decadent in its motherland of China. The Japanese players assure us that there is no player in China equal to a Japanese player of the first degree. In Korea also the game is played, but the skill there attained is also immensely below the Japanese standard.
Having now given an idea of the importance of the game in the eyes of the Japanese, and the length of time it has been played, we will proceed to a description of the board and stones, and then take up the details of the play.