Young power, Korean power, and professional-caliber play have marked Japan’s Amateur Meijin tournament since its beginning in 2006. So far, all four Amateur Meijins have been in their teens (Tsuneishi Takashi) or twenties (Yoon Chun-ho, Hon Seisen, Hong Suk-eui). For three of them the Amateur Meijin title has been a stepping stone to a professional career: Yoon and Hon went on to qualify as pro shodan with the Kansai Kiin, and last year Tsuneishi made pro shodan with the Nihon Kiin. Yoon, Hon (formerly Hong Mal-geun-saem), and Hong Suk-eui are Korean players who now reside in Japan. Hon operates a highly successful go dojo in Tokyo, while the current title-holder Hong, who majored in Japanese literature in his unversity days in Korea, is pursuring his studies and working as a go instructor in Osaka.
The Amateur Meijin tournament, which is run on the challenger-defender system, starts with a regional knockout in each of Japan’s 47 prefectures to determine a prefectural representative. These representatives and a number of seeded players then meet at the Nihon Kiin in Tokyo for a grand knockout to determine the challenger. This year the grand knockout field was exceptionally young; it included six high-school and seven university students. In one of the key games on the first day of play (July 15), Ito Kenryo, an 18-year-old pro aspirant from Shizuoka, forced Amateur Honinbo Nakazono Seizo to resign. Another key game was a clash between former world amateur champions Hiraoka Satoshi (1994 and 2006) and Ha Sung-bong (2008). Ha, who works as an instructor at Hon Seisen’s dojo, won by 9.5 points. Considering that before immigrating to Japan in 2009 Ha had also won some 28 Korean amateur tournaments, that he had contested the Amateur Meijin title with Tsuneishi in 2010, and that in the Agon Cup last year he had defeated eight straight professional opponents, he was now a strong favorite.
Ha continued his winning ways the next day, beating Komazawa University senior Kanesaka Shuhei by 17.5 points in the fourth round and former Amateur Honinbo Tanaka Masato by 14.5 points in the fifth round. His last opponent was high-shool senior Yokozuka Riki, a recent insei and pupil of the chief referee, Kamimura Haruo. Michael Redmond gave a public commentary on this game, which Ha won by resignation. Ito defeated Tanaka in the third-place playoff, and the top four all received silver cups and gift certificates from the sponsoring Asahi Newspaper.
The three-game title match between Ha and Hong was played in high style at the Sekitei inn in Yugawara, a go-friendly hot spring resort south of Tokyo. Ha had beaten Hong many times in Korea, but last year Hong had defeated Ha by resignation in the quarter-final round of the Amateur Meijin knockout. In this year’s title match Hong prevailed again, by 3.5 points in the first game on July 28 and by resignation in the second game on July 29. Hong, who is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Yoon, Hon, and Tsuneishi, rated his performance at 80%. Ha vowed to get stronger and challenge again, for the sake of the children he instructs in Tokyo.