Ear Reddening Game

    Keywords: Culture & History

In 1846[1] Shusaku played against Gennan Inseki. Shusaku was then 17 years old and 4 dan. Gennan on the other hand was close to 50 years old, an established 8 dan, and head of House Inoue. Thus, it was a great privilege for Shusaku to play Gennan. The first game was played with two stones handicap, but it became clear that Shusaku was too strong and that no handicap was needed.

In their second game Shusaku took Black. After making a mistake in the taisha joseki (see below) played in the lower right corner, Shusaku played flawlessly. Gennan had closed the no-komi gap however so the game was very close. The game continued to the 127 move, the famous ear-reddening move. [2]

White had just played the marked stone white+circle as move 126, when Shusaku played B1. This move is called the ear-reddening move. Gennan's disciples were watching the game and not one of them doubted that Gennan would win. But a doctor, who also had been watching the game, thought that Gennan would lose. When pressed for an answer he replied: I don't know much about the game, but when Shusaku played B1 Gennan's ears flushed red. This is a sign that he had been upset.

The ear-reddening move  

B1 is a profound move having influence in all four directions. It expands black's moyo at the top, it helps the four black stones below[4], it reduces the influence of white's strong position to the right, and it also has an eye on white's moyo on the left side. In short B1 is the central point for attack and defence.

Eventually Shusaku won this game by 2 points after 325 moves.

Gennan's Mistake

Spirit: White should probably have forced with 1 before 3. Black cannot allow white 'a' so this would have prevented Black's good move in the previous diagram. White can expect more profit from his attack now since his thickness is working more efficiently.

What Gennan should have played instead  

Black's Joseki Mistake

Black's joseki mistake with proper move marked  

B2 is usually considered a mistake: Black should slide to 'a', White 'b', then Black 'c'.[3] (If Black turns at 'd' instead of extending to 'c', then Black will fall into a losing ladder.) This allowed Gennan to close the no-komi gap early in the game.

Dissenting Opinions

In a recent book [5] Yoda Norimoto, a top Japanese pro, published a commentary on this game. Yoda introduces the game as Shusaku's most famous game. He further says that, though it is a fine game (rippa na), it isn't so outstanding in his opinion. Later in the game commentary, regarding the famous "ear reddening" move, Yoda quotes Go Seigen as saying that any first class pro would play something like that. Yoda concludes by saying that he doesn't think this move is fantastically amazing.

Opinion of Leela Zero (2018.06.21): [ext] https://youtu.be/9BVe6T4WEtE (Russian, by Alexander Dinerchtein)


  • [2] John Power Invincible, the games of Shusaku Ishi Press, February 1982
  • In Hikaru no Go, episode 63, Hikaru read the kifu for this game and commented on Shusaku's (Sai's) genius.
  • [5] Yoda Norimoto Yoda Ryuu Naraberu dake de tsuyoku naru kogo meikyoku shuu, Mynavi, sixth edition, 2013, page 114. ISBN 978-4-8399-2876-6 (Japanese)

[1] The date was 1846-09-11,14,25 {Koka 3-VII-21, 24, 25}.

[3] Note: Although the taisha joseki appears as early as 1705 in GoGoD, the variation here first appears only four months before this game. In that earlier appearance, Nakagawa Junsetsu played the extension at W1 in the diagram above against Shusaku, who answered with the same B2, pushing from behind. Shusaku won the earlier game - he held black after all :) The "better" slide mentioned above does not enter history until 1929 when Inoue Ichiro played it against Hayashi Yutaro in the Oteai.

The traditional classification of B2 as a mistake is not perhaps as clearcut as it might seem. It has continued to appear off and on. Ch'oe Myeong-hun played it against Yi Ch'ang-ho in game 2 of the 3rd Ch'eonweon in 1998 and most recently Tang Weixing played it in the China Weiqei League in 2009.

[4] A note in Invincible elaborates that due to the influence of the ear-reddening move, capturing the black center stones is too small scale.

Ear Reddening Game last edited by on July 4, 2018 - 18:02
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