Since the Tokyo District Preliminary Junior Go Championship Tournament, mysterious numbers like “753” and “246” have been recited like incantations in the Hori household. (Refer to Column: ” Striving to Overcome Adversity, Part 2: Winning the Tokyo District Tournament and Going to the National Tournament”)

The numbers “753” and “246” refer to a player’s dan goal. With “753,” the captain holds a 7 dan, the sub-captain holds a 5 dan, and the third player holds a 3 dan. The number “246” means the captain has a 6 dan, the sub-captain a 4 dan, and the third player a 2 dan.

At the time of the Tokyo District Tournament for Team Hori, the captain held a 5 dan, the sub-captain held a 2 dan, and the third third player held a shodan (1 dan). However, at least a “246” is required to win the national tournament and a “753” is even better. This was setting the bar quite high considering the boys’ Go ability. However, upon hearing about the reputations of strong teams from other prefectures, we all understood that the boys must achieve at least a “246.”

The team from Kitaurawa, Saitama Prefecture was reputed to be particularly strong. According to “Go Blog,”   the captain holds a 6 dan, the sub-captain holds a 5 dan, and the third third player holds a 3 dan. In addition, the following entry was posted:

“The members of the Kitaurawa Elementary School team have not changed since the second tournament three years ago, at which time the entry system for school teams was adopted. At the second tournament, the team finished fourth at the prefectural preliminaries, just missing the national tournament. Spurred on by this experience, the team then won the Saitama Tournament three years in a row. At the third national tournament, the team reached the quarter-finals. Since the sub-captain and third player are now in the sixth grade, this tournament, as their last competition at this level, will cap off these years of effort. This year all players, from captain to third player, went undefeated in the fifth Saitama Prefecture Tournament, and moved on to the national tournament. They can be expected to win the national tournament.”

Team Hori was absolutely no match for them at the time of the preliminaries, and so the boys began an intensive Go training regimen day and night. They spent their weekends at a junior Go school and were coached after school Mondays and Thursdays by an instructor at a neighborhood Go salon. For the last month, they also went to a Go school Wednesdays and Fridays, and to top it off, the boys participated in an intensive summer course.

I drove the boys to and from the Go school in my Alphard van in between work responsibilities. A week before the tournament, you could clearly see the tension mounting on their faces. So in the car I told them, “Do your best and let Providence do the rest.”

What I meant, was for the boys to do what they needed to do and enter the tournament without worrying about the outcome. It is also important for them to believe that after all their efforts, the matches will turn out fine. When I step onto the starting block for the Japan Masters Championships, I always remind myself of how hard I have worked. (By the way, I was again the 8th best this year. :->)

In any case, a “246” was achieved two days before the tournament. We all thought that we had done all we could.

The first day of the tournament was the preliminary round. It was held at Nihon-Ki-in (Japan Go Association), a ten-minute walk from our home. Since this place is in our school district, I felt as if we were on our home ground for the Go matches. As usual, I accompanied the three boys, walking up a hill by a park to the venue. Despite the early morning hour, it was very humid. We arrived at Nihon-Ki-in and received the tournament schedule at the reception desk. Team Hori was in Group A.

There were 64 teams from all over Japan at this tournament. Every prefecture was represented, from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Prefectures with large populations, such as Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Aichi, Fukuoka, and Hokkaido were represented by two, three or as many as five teams.

This tournament is comparable to the Japan National High School Baseball Championship in summer, in which only the champion teams from each prefecture participate, making it one of the goals of elementary school Go players.

The first day featured preliminary rounds. The 64 teams were divided into 8 groups and played three matches to determine which teams advanced. Teams with even one loss during these three matches are immediately eliminated and cannot move to the next stage. So the atmosphere at the venue was just as intense as tournament matches more so than league matches. Since a team must face an opponent that has won its previous match, the further the players advanced, the more difficult it would be to win. On day two, the eight winning groups compete in a three-match tournament to determine the champion. For group matches, three players make up one team, and games for the captain, sub-captain, and third player start at the same time. The team winning two or more games advances. Despite the group-match format, players are on their own when they face their opponents.

This marked the fifth tournament since group matches had been adopted in the Junior Go Championship, and no one team had been seen as the most likely winner. In the first tournament, teams were made up of players selected from the prefecture, therefore, there was no school champion (So-called Tokyo D Team won the championship). In all of the three following tournaments a team featuring two brothers had been victorious (their father was a professional Go player). For the second and third tournament, Higashi Nakano Elementary school, where these brothers attended, won. Then, the brothers moved, changed schools and won the fourth tournament playing for Ichigaya Elementary School.

This year’s tournament had no favorite since the older brother of this team had graduated.

The first team to face the Hori brothers was from Morioka City Daijiji Elementary School from Iwate Prefecture. The captains, sub-captains, and third players from the teams sat quietly across from each other with the Go board between them. At the signal from the head judge, the games began at the same time. The first five minutes are a “photo-op,” during which parents and chaperons can stay in the room to take photos. When that time is up, they are asked to leave, with only the children left to compete against each other. For some quick games, the play can progress considerably during these five minutes. So whenever I leave after seeing an unfavorable game situation at the beginning, I feel extremely anxious until I find out the results.

I asked the boys to let me know the results as soon as the games were over. First, the third player, a first grader, shyly told me he had won. My second son, in the third grade, then announced his victory. The result: Team Hori won the first round, 3-0.

Before lunch, the boys took on the team Suita City Senri Dai-Ichi Elementary School from Osaka Prefecture in Round 2. They won, 3-0. At lunch, we headed to a park we were familiar with to relieve some tension. It was very humid and there were striped mosquitoes, not exactly a comfortable place. But the boys wanted to get away a little bit from the match venue to take their minds off Go.

In the third round, Matsumoto City Imai Elementary School from Nagano Prefecture was the opponent. Although the sub-captain lost, Team Hori fortunately came away with a 2-1 victory.

The boys had made it through the preliminaries on the first day and secured a spot in the final eight. The next day was the championship tournament. That evening, for good luck, the seven of us went out for a fried pork cutlet dinner. (In Japanese, this is a play on words. Katsu means fried meat and the pronunciation is the same for the word “to win”.) We decided to go to bed early to be ready for the next day.