The Japanese selection tournament for the next World Amateur Go Championship was held at the Nihon Kiin in Tokyo on September 15 and 16. Like the Amateur Honinbo and Amateur Meijin, it is a knockout among representatives from each of Japan’s prefectures and a group of seeded players. This year the seeded players were former world amateur champions Imamura Fumiaki (1980, 1987, 1991), Hiraoka Satoshi (1994, 2006), and Hirata Hironori (1995), plus two more recent WAGC contestants: Mori Hironobu (2007) and Tsuchimune Yoshiyuki (2008). Several other past WAGC players declined to participate. This year’s player Nakazono Seizo explained why when he said, ‘I really want someone younger to get the experience of competing in this world event.’
And so it happened. Imamura, Hirata, and Tsuchimune fell in the second round. Hirata (age 86) lost to ex-insei Yokozuka Riki (age 17), a Tokyoite now studying for his unversity entrance exams. In the third round Hiraoka, heavily favored after winning the Amateur Honinbo in August, blundered fatally against 16-year-old Togino Kazuki, a high-school student representing Ishikawa prefecture. Togino then beat Mori, the last surviving seed, to reach the semifinals, where he was paired against Yokozuka.
The other semifinalists were Hyogo representative Emura Kiko (age 32) and Kanagawa representative Nagayo Kazumori (age 28), the latter a former insei who opened his own go academy last year. Nagayo has competed with considerable success against professional opponents in the Agon Cup, but he had less success against Emura, who won by resignation. Emura then went over to watch the other game and see which teenager would be his last opponent. Here insei experience proved its value: Yokozuka came from behind to reach the final round, as he had done in the Amateur Meijin knockout in July.
The final game devolved into an endgame struggle in the center of the board. Yokozuka, playing black, thought he was slightly ahead, but did a double-take when he filled the last neutral point and realized he had lost by half a point. Emura attributed his victory in part to the teachings of Kansai Kiin 9-dan Sonoda Yuichi and in part to a prayer offered at a Shinto shrine in the middle of the night before the tournament began. Although Emura is currently studying for his law exams, he was World Student Oza in 2006 and is keen on making up for Japan’s indifferent showing in the past six WAGCs.