Questions and answers, insei edition

I’ve had a short break from the insei studies now; next week, the April league, and my final month as insei for now, begins. How time flies!

How many of the readers remember the questions and answers blog post series? I’ve gotten some really interesting questions that I’d rather answer in a blog post rather than just in the comments section, so today I’m doing an insei edition of the series.

Hi, first of all thank you for this blog and the time you spent with it; it is well written and I enjoy to reading it.

Are you allowed to watch professional games, like Oteai matches or something similar?

Thank you!

It appears that insei are allowed to watch the games. Usually the professionals play on Thursdays: I’ve several times donned my insei badge and went to watch some games on the spot. On Thursdays, many games are also relayed on the Yuugen no Ma server (Japanese version of wbaduk), but seeing the players as well as the games makes for a much more interesting experience.

You mentioned ōteai matches — in fact, the ōteai system no longer exists. It was a ranking tournament that was in use from 1927 to 2003, after which it was replaced with a promotion system that was based on winning a set amount of games, receiving the most prize money from professionals of a given rank, or performing well in important key tournaments (for example, winning the Kisei, Meijin or Honinbo gives a promotion to 9 dan straight away). For more information about the new promotion system, check this Senseis’ library page out.

Are you going to watch the Kisei match between Cho and Takao together with other inseis live, maybe in a similar tv room as it was in hng?

I didn’t end up watching the Kisei match with other insei — the Kisei games were actually played on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and normal insei had to be at school at the time of the games. I did go see the Kisei final being played out in Kofu, as you may remember. That was a very fun day trip!

Is there a big difference between young and old pros, maybe in their behavior and their commitment to tradition. Are there any contemporary professionals who still wear traditional ceremonial clothing at their matches? Etc.

Professional players seem to get more serious in general as they age, but that shouldn’t be such a surprise. All professionals seem to get equally serious when it’s time to play a game, however! I’m afraid I don’t have much to share on the tradition aspect of the question here. If it’s about playing attire, I’ve seen Yoda clad in a kimono several times when he’s teaching the insei on weekends, but other pros I’ve seen are usually wearing a suit or something similar formal.

How does it feel to play a strong professional in an even (or without komi) game?

Lately there’s some interesting development here; it feels like nowadays, I can understand pro (or insei) opponents’ ideas and plans much better than I can understand other opponents’, eg. when playing on the internet. Of course, if I’m playing a strong professional, they’ll still catch me unawares with their superior positional judgment, and their reading would be sharper as well. Pardon the metaphor, but playing against your regular strong amateur feels like fighting against a whirlwind, while playing against a strong professional feels like fighting against a strong current.

Are professionals really as amazing in reading as the rest of the world maybe thinks, or do they sometimes overlook easy things (maybe in one of your english classes, when they argue about your game)?

When for instance discussing the game at the English class, they do sometimes overlook some “simple things”, though of course still not any fundamentally easy things. Such overlooks are just natural when you’re going through different ideas on a few seconds’ thought. When having more time and for example playing a game, while reading far ahead, they’ll also make sure that their reading is correct. If there’s limited time, they’ll read as far as they can, and if they’re not sure of the read-out line of play’s safety, they’ll pick a simpler way. I’d definitely say that the professionals’ reading abilities are amazing.

Have you become friends with some players that you’ve met several times, or are the Japanese keeping their distance to foreigners?

In insei training, there’s little time to socialize; I’ll be either playing, recording a game, having one of my games reviewed by an instructor, or watching an instructor review somebody else’s game. In fact, regular socializing during insei training is even forbidden, and will cause a scolding. For this reason, I’m not all too familiar with the insei, even now. At the Ichikawa dojo, I’ve had more of a chance to chat normally with Kenta and Ayato, who are B and C class insei respectively, and also with Sayaka, Mizuki and Hana, E class insei each.

The English class has been a good way to get to know some professional players, and I feel I’ve become better friends with the young professionals there than with any of the insei. The professionals there are a very friendly and open-minded lot, and it doesn’t feel like they’re being reserved around foreigners, as one could imagine from your average Japanese person.

You at some point mentioned an “archenemy”: have you faced her again since then, or made new archenemies?

The archenemy I mentioned earlier was named Fujiwara: she promoted to B class after January, and has been staying there since then. In other words I haven’t had the chance to play her lately, unfortunately. Since I’ve been stuck in class C now, I’ve more or less played the same insei all over, with a few exceptions of course (the insei who drop to C class from B, and the insei who rise to C class from D). None of my latest rivals have gotten suddenly stronger like Fujiwara did back in January, so it hasn’t felt like I’ve made any new archenemies lately.

Are there any other foreign insei at the moment; if so, how are they doing?

There was a French insei who quit just before I became insei last October. During the while I’ve been insei, however, there have been no other westerners apart from me.

There are, however, currently four insei from Taiwan, and they are all currently in the A class. I figure that the most promising professional students are sent from Taiwan to Japan to study. There are many Taiwanese players who became professional at the Nihon Ki-in too, for example Ō Rissei 9 dan, and Yū Hō 6 dan who attends the weekly English class.

 Is it so that once every month or two, a new insei pops in and sprints right away to A class, or is it the same faces moving between the classes every month?

New insei are admitted only on four occasions each year: the beginnings of January, April, July and October (meaning that this next weekend, there’ll probably be a good number of new insei starting in the E class). After I started in October, so far none of the newer insei have passed by me (indeed, I think all of the new insei since then are still in E class), so I’ve yet to see a similar case like Hikaru was in Hikaru no Go. Usually it’s more or less the same insei who are balancing on the borders of any two classes.

That’ll be all for questions and answers today — if you can think of any more queries, feel free to add them as questions to this blog post! I’ll do my best to answer them in due time!