Sun, Sep 18, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Seizing two titles from a legend

Lin Hai-feng defeated a Japanese go legend 51 years ago, becoming at the age of 23 the youngest ‘meijin’ in the title’s prestigious 400-year history

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Lin Hai-feng (right) competes in an unidentified go match in 1968.

Photo: Wang Min-wei, Taipei Times

Sept. 19 to Sept. 25

On Sept. 19, 1965, Lin Hai-feng (林海峰), 23, sat opposite 45-year-old Japanese go master Sakata Eio, the gridded game board an intense battleground despite the seemingly calm atmosphere.

It was the second day of the fight between the two for the title of meijin, which was one of the “big three” go tournaments in Japan. The abstract strategy game using black and white stones was invented in China, but flourished in Japan.

Sakata had won the two previous contests, but he found himself in a hard spot this time. He smoked cigarette after cigarette as he took longer and longer to make each move, only to be countered by Lin within a minute. Even though the air conditioning was on, the pressure was so intense that Lin took off his jacket and loosened his tie an hour into the match.

Each player is allotted 10 hours total of playing (thinking) time, and Sakata exhausted nine hours and 59 minutes before the final tally. On that day, Lin made go history by becoming the youngest meijin in the title’s 400 year history.

The accomplishment made the headlines of all major Japanese newspapers — which was a rare occurrence. Huang Tien-tsai (黃天才) writes in his book, Lin Hai-feng’s Road to Go (林海峰的圍棋之路) that since the tournament was sponsored by Yomiuri Shimbun, other newspapers usually would not report the results. But the next day, Yomiuri’s biggest rival Asahi Shimbun not only detailed the win, but also profiled Lin in a column on the front page.

GO PRODIGY

Born in Shanghai in 1942, Lin moved to Taiwan at age four when his father took a job with the Taipei City Government. He first garnered public attention in 1951 when he entered the National Go Competition in Taipei as the youngest contestant and overwhelmed his first opponent, who was three times his age.

The Central Daily News (中央日報), which sponsored the tournament, wrote a feature on Lin, detailing his early start and quick rise through the ranking system.

“Last year, my father gave me a handicap of four stones,” Lin told the newspaper. “Today, I give him a handicap of five stones.”

Huang writes that Lin’s father and elder brother were huge go enthusiasts but lacked the talent. Lin, on the other hand, was not as crazy about the game, and it was his father who saw his talent and kept pushing him.

“I have to force him to play at least one match per week,” the elder Lin told the Central Daily News. “Sometimes I even have to bribe him with money.”

The news report brought many challengers to Lin’s door — and he made the news again for defeating then-minister of education Cheng Tien-fang (程天放). A year later, Lin clashed against the Japan-based Chinese go master Wu Qingyuan (吳清源), losing narrowly. Wu then encouraged Lin’s father to send him to study the game in Japan.

RISING STAR

Lin left home at the age of 10, attending a Chinese school in Osaka and studying go at a dojo in Kyoto. He later relocated to Tokyo, and although he enrolled in the prestigious Japan Go Association, he became somewhat of a delinquent and had to be sent back to Kyoto where there were fewer temptations.

As Lin quickly rose through the ranking system, Wu finally accepted him as the only student he would ever take. His star continued to rise after the showdown with Sakata, and at age 25, he became the youngest player to reach the highest professional ranking of nine dan.

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