Kobayashi Koichi

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Kobayashi Koichi's Nihon Ki-in photo

Kobayashi Koichi (小林光一, b. 10 September 1952 in Asahikawa, Hokkaido) is a 9-dan Japanese professional of the Nihon Kiin. He is known for his successful tournament career from the mid 1970s through Ď90sówith over 65-titles and 1,200 career wins; rivalry with Cho Chikun; solid, pragmatic fighting style; fuseki and joseki innovations.

Kobayashi was a pupil of the Kitani Dojo. HE married his teacher Kitani Minoru's third daughter and the only one of his seven children to become Go professionals: Kitani Reiko|Kobayashi Reiko], 13 years older. They married on 22 March 1974 and stayed married for 22 years, until her premature death from cancer on 16 April 1996. Their daughter Kobayashi Izumi became a Go professional, and Izumi's two daughters Cho Kosumi and Cho Koharu also became Go professionals.

Kobayashi was named Honorary Kisei, Meijin and Gosei for winning each title for five consecutive years.[1]

Table of contents


Kobayashi's style is built around reducing the game into positions that can be analysed and fully read out. Thus, instead of opting for large moyo or chaotic fighting games, he tries to simplify positions before they become too complicated. Once he reduces the opponent's options to bring unknowns into the game, he's able to use his strong analytic ability to slowly shut-out the opponent. Piece-by-piece the opponent finds him- or herself systematically pushed into an inevitable outcome. It's often the case that in games against Kobayashi the outcome has been decided long before the endgame even starts. As such, Kobayashi developed a masterful ability to 'win won games' -- once you were behind it was almost impossible to catch up.[7]

Through hard study Kobayashi acquired profound reading and positional analysis abilities that enabled him to size up the overall position and determine its requirements regardless of traditional theories or personal dogma. This is paralleled by an intuitive pragmatism, which enabled him to find the most effective means for simplifying complicated positions in his favor.[8] As a result, he's often able to find surprising compromises and moves that other professionals often overlook, such as those which might appear inferior or crude.

For example, on move 85 of the 16th Kisei title match, game four, TV commentator O Meien 8d firmly suggested that no matter what happened Black would not play 85 in the game, because professionals hate passive defending moves. Kobayashi then played 85. A Yomiuri reporting was then reminded of an interview two years earlier where Kobayashi said, 'To win a best-of-seven you can't just rely on fighting spirit or your feelings. No matter how others criticize me, I always aim to play the move with the best chance of winning.' Black 85 looked very painful, but it was one of those moves.[9]

Kobayashi has no qualms about replying passively to White's move. A move that professionals without Kobayashi's pragmatism would find painful to play and thus not seriously consider.  

In fact, Kobayashi's aesthetic indifference and reductionist style initially irritated some professionals, esp. Takemiya Masaki. In the 1980s, Takemiya made several insulting comments towards Kobayashi. Of particular note were those in 1987 leading up to the 11th Kisei title match. In an interview with Igo Club he said:

I'm sorry to say this, but with his kind of game it's regrettable that he's Kisei. I don't want to have go fans thinking that it's OK to play like that, so I have to beat him and settle the issue. In a word, his go is like the subway. You get where you want to go, but you don't see any scenery.[10]

On the other end, Kobayashi chose to remain silent towards his critics, possibly not wishing to be dragged into futile mudslinging while letting his victories speak for themselves. An appreciation for his style of go reached a wider consensus toward the end of the decade as Kobayashi continued to dominate the Japanese go world.

In 1986, the Nihon Kiin issued a special publication of Igo Club titled: "A Life Devoted to Go: The Secret of Kobayashi Koichi's Strength." In the book, three essays were written about his style by Ishida Akira, Kato Masao and Rin Kaiho. A short summary of each players' thoughts were as follows[2]:

Ishida Akira: Single-minded devotion to the game and his studies, but his effort and study isn't everything, after all many people put in as much effort and study. Willingness to consider painful variations on a global scale as much as the natural, conventional ones. A strong spiritual strength that doesn't become disheartened by making a small oversight and motivates him to keep playing his hardest. Maintaining a hunger to win, even after experiencing great success in his go career. Studying to refine your game versus studying to win your games. Both lead to one another, but the latter is more difficult because it discards a certain level of pleasure in your games, but Kobayashi is able to take this path.
Kato Masao: Initially, Kobayashi had a certain amount of disinterest in territory, would play slack variations that gave away territory too easily. This would often force him to have to stake his entire game on the center. Another problem was that since his influence could be based on a slack exchange, then it could be less effective than otherwise, making his center claims all the more difficult to win with. But he underwent an astonishing transformation in this regard, switching from moyo to territory in a short space of time. At some point it became clear to him that: "First class players all play a territorial game," or at least they don't undervalue it so lightly.
His calculation was second to only Ishida Yoshio in the Kitani Dojo. He became increasingly skillful at winding-up a game, even in cases where an attack wasn't successful. In time, he had cultivated a strong spirit. He also developed a flexible attacking style (counter to his old, large-moyo style attacking, where everything could be on the line), building sequences that created solid attacks & shapes, but didn't over-invest in the attacks. He acquired the steady patience required to lead this style to the end of the game. However, strong calculating styles all reach their zenith, with the ultimate factor simply being the end of one's youth. So I wonder how long Kobayashi can keep up his current style. I will meet him in the Meijin finals this year to test his strength.
Rin Kaiho: "The player most skilful at winning a won game is Kobayashi." It's an inborn weapon of his, yet we can see its emergence in his games. In his old-style he could fall behind when his attacks failed, he had an overly-optimistic positional judgement, undervalued territory, and he would play thickly even when this caused him to fall behind. He also seemed to run away with his own aggressiveness from time-to-time. From his own realizations of the importance of territory and from the influence of his friends Cho Chikun and Kato Masao, he made a transformation from a large attacking style to a territory one. But then he went too far in the other direction. After some years, he found a good balance.
He developed an outstanding sense of territorial balance, which gave him the freedom from indecisiveness in his games, allowing him to play flexible moves so as long as the result was adequate. He now plays for the averages and for the long-distance race. "You have to run at a steady pace through the opening, the middle game, and the endgame, and pull ahead of the opponent with a little spurt when you near the goal. In my opinion, Kobayashi understands this aspect of go better than anyone else."

Kobayashi Fuseki

Kobayashi has been a major contributor of opening theory and new josekies in modern go. Although he often carries a set of preferred openings, particularly as Black, he's equally well-known for developing openings to counter opponents with strongly distinctive styles, such as Takemiya Masaki and Kato Masao. Nonetheless, his most well known opening innovation is the kobayashi fuseki -- marked by the formation of Black 3-5-7 below (Black 7 can also be @ A):

Kobayashi Fuseki  

The fuseki is similar to that of the Mini-Chinese fuseki, in that it induces the opponent to play their next move on the right-side, else Black will build a tremendous moyo by playing on the right himself. Once White makes the standard approach at B, Black can play C to further induce an invasion later at D. Another response to White B is Black F. In either case, Black's goal soon turns to threatening a moyo on the bottom, which will lead to a fighting game when White tries to prevent it. Since Kobayashi's role in popularizing the pattern, it has appeared in over 2,500 professional games and has grown to include several sub-variations derived from White's different replies.

Study Ethic

Kobayashi is usually referenced as the most studious player of his generation. When John Power was researching Honinbo Shusaku for his book Invincible Kobayashi made the off comment that he had studied the complete games of Shusaku's ten times since being an insei. Given that Kobayashi wasn't known for his exaggeration, this meant that from 1965 to 1980 he went through Shusaku's 400-plus games about every 18-months. He further referred to a rare, life-and-death, problem book for professionals by Segoe Kensaku, saying that even though he'd gone through the problems about 20 times, he still had difficulty with a few.[4]

Kobayashi's dedication to the study of past masters and games have allowed him to make significant theoretical and joseki contributions to go and led to him publishing many historical, game-commentary books.

Kobayashi's Slump and His Wife's Battle with Cancer

Kobayashi's wife, Reiko, began her battle with breast cancer in late '94. Although fighting to remain strong in his go for Reiko, Kobayashi eventually succumbed to a slump in mid '95. On 16 April 1996, Reiko passed away. Koichi had not told most people about his wife's illness.

Hurt that his wife's last memories of him were his feckless tournament results, he vowed to gain another title in her honor. His first international victory of the 10th Fujitsu Cup was this title.

Reporter Kawakuma Hiroyuki: "Most of the fans assembled to watch the public commentary on the final were only too well aware of his feelings. When he appeared on the stage after the game, he was enveloped in thunderous applause. I've never heard such warm applause before."[3]

Although still in mourning, Kobayashi was able to gain his strength back to compete in top level events. He proceeded to earn over 20 additional titles in the following years.

In 1998, Kobayashi remarried. His new wife is his younger brother's wife's sister, 15 years younger. Reiko, knowing that she was dying, had played matchmaker so her husband wouldn't be alone.

Cho vs Kobayashi

Cho Chikun and Kobayashi Koichi were both students of the Kitani dojo. Although Cho entered three years earlier, Kobayashi became a professional one year earlier and even though he was nearly four years older. Even early on in their careers a rivalry was noted between the two, with Kido sponsoring a Three-game Rivals Match between the two in 1977. By that time they'd already faced off in a number of minor title finals. But Cho took off by winning big titles first. Kobayashi's first big title, the Meijin, was taken away from Cho. They also both fought back and forth on the Kisei. However, their most contested big title has been that of the Honinbo title. In fact, Kobayashi can put most of the 'blame' for not winning the Triple Crown (Honinbo, Kisei and Meijin) on Cho, recalling that Cho held the Honinbo title for 10 consecutive years from 1989-1998, nearly the entire time Kobayashi was also at his peak. Between Cho and Kobayashi, they really had a monopoly on the 'big three' titles. As such they were each other's most dangerous opponent.

In an interview before the 47th Honinbo match in 1992 Cho commented about Kobayashi's first Honinbo challenge, "At that time there was a difference in strength between us, so the result was understandable. Looking at it impartially, Kobayashi is now probably stronger than me." However, when a reporter relayed this message to Kobayashi he replied, "Cho's just being diplomatic. I've played many professionals up to now, but my opinion remains unchanged: Cho's the strongest. His knack of playing moves that are without parallel and his severity in the fighting are something new in go."[6]

Games between these two rarely follow established patterns. The reasons for this are four fold. First is Cho's penchant for playing experimental moves. This allows him to use his intense reading to his advantage and keep games interesting to him. Second is Cho's perfectionist tendency towards the opening. If the reading reveals even the smallest defect or slightest personal distaste, Cho will try his best to find another variation, no matter how unconventional. Third is Cho's fighting style coupled with Kobayashi's attacking style. Fourth is both player's profound reading abilities, which reveal surprising moves at different points of the game. Cho's usually arrive in the opening and during complex infighting; Kobayashi's usually arrive towards the late opening to late mid-game. Cho's come from his obsessive-like reading and perfectionist openings, while Kobayashi's come from his flexible, long-term positional analysis and strong endgame.

Contrasting the two more precisely: Although they both play a territory-oriented style, Cho has a fondness for shinogi strategy, Kobayashi for playing aji-keshi moves to secure positions; Cho tries to seek truth on the go board, Kobayashi seeks the most pragmatic way to victory.

Cho v. Kobayashi Title Matches
Year Title Result
1972 4th Shinei (1-0) Kobayashi
1972 16th Prime Minister's Cup (1-0) Kobayashi
1974 6th Shinei (1-0) Cho
1977 2nd Shijin-O (2-0) Kobayashi
1982 Shusai Cup (1-0) Cho
1982 37th Honinbo (4-2) Cho
1985 4th NEC Cup (1-0) Cho
1985 10th Meijin (4-3) Kobayashi
1986 10th Kisei (4-2) Kobayashi
1986 18th Hayago Championship (2-1) Cho
1987 19th Hayago Championship (1-0) Kobayashi
1987 13th Tengen (3-2) Cho
1990 45th Honinbo (4-3) Cho
1991 46th Honinbo (4-2) Cho
1992 47th Honinbo (4-3) Cho
1994 18th Kisei (4-2) Cho
1994 16th Kakusei (1-0) Kobayashi
1995 14th NEC Cup (1-0) Kobayashi
1997 22nd Meijin (4-2) Cho
1999 23rd Kisei (4-2) Cho
2001 34h Hayago Championship (1-0) Cho
2004 51st NHK Cup (1-0) Kobayashi
2011 1st Igo Masters Cup (1-0) Cho

Rank Progression

  • 1967: 1d
  • 1967: 2d
  • 1968: 3d
  • 1969: 4d
  • 1970: 5d
  • 1972: 6d
  • 1974: 7d
  • 1976: 8d
  • 1979: 9d


  • 1972: 16th Prime Minister's Cup
  • 1972: 4th Shin-Ei
  • 1973: 5th Hayago Championship
  • 1974: 18th Prime Minister's Cup
  • 1975: 7th Shin-Ei
  • 1976: 1st Shinjin-O
  • 1976: 20h Prime Minister's Cup
  • 1976: 2nd Tengen
  • 1977: 2nd Shinjin-O
  • 1978: High Dans Oteai
  • 1982: 14th Hayago Championship
  • 1984: 22nd Judan
  • 1985: 10th Meijin
  • 1985: 11th Tengen
  • 1985: 23rd Judan
  • 1986: 10th Kisei
  • 1986: 12th Tengen
  • 1986: 24th Judan
  • 1986: 2nd China-Japan TV Championship
  • 1986: 33rd NHK Cup
  • 1987: 11th Kisei
  • 1988: 12th Kisei
  • 1988: 13th Gosei
  • 1988: 13th Meijin
  • 1988: 1st China-Japan Meijin
  • 1989: 13th Kisei
  • 1989: 14th Gosei
  • 1989: 14th Meijin
  • 1989: 2nd China-Japan Meijin
  • 1990: 14th Kisei
  • 1990: 15th Gosei
  • 1990: 15th Meijin
  • 1990: 3rd China-Japan Meijin
  • 1991: 15th Kisei
  • 1991: 16th Gosei
  • 1991: 16th Meijin
  • 1991: 4th China-Japan Meijin
  • 1992: 16th Kisei
  • 1992: 17th Gosei
  • 1992: 17th Meijin
  • 1993: 17th Kisei
  • 1993: 18th Gosei
  • 1993: 18th Meijin
  • 1993: 6th China-Japan Meijin
  • 1994: 16th Kakusei
  • 1994: 19th Meijin
  • 1995: 14th NEC Cup
  • 1996: 2nd Ricoh Cup
  • 1997: 10th Fujitsu Cup
  • 1997: 19th Kakusei
  • 1997: 30th Hayago Championship
  • 1997: 6th Ryusei
  • 1998: 24th Tengen
  • 1999: 18th NEC Cup
  • 1999: 24th Gosei
  • 1999: 25th Tengen
  • 1999: 37th Judan
  • 1999: 6th Agon Cup
  • 2000: 13th China-Japan Tengen
  • 2000: 1st China-Japan Agon Cup
  • 2000: 38th Judan
  • 2001: 23rd Kakusei
  • 2001: 26th Gosei
  • 2002: 11th Ryusei
  • 2002: 27th Gosei
  • 2003: 12th Ryusei
  • 2004: 1st Internet World Go Open?
  • 2004: 21st NHK Cup
  • 2004: 23rd NEC Cup


Fun Facts

  • Go World published over 150-commentaries of his games.
  • In 1992, Kobayashi set a record for playing in six of the seven big, Japanese title matches in a single year. The only title he didn't qualify for that year was the Tengen (in the challenger's final he lost to Yamashiro Hiroshi). Source: [ext] http://www.nihonkiin.or.jp/match/z-obizaka/title-s6.pdf
  • In 2005, Kobayashi achieved his 1,200th career win.
  • Kobayashi and his daughter, Izumi, played together and won the 2nd Ricoh Cup pair go tournament in 1996.
  • On 29 July 2004, he faced his daughter at the 43rd Judan tournament, making the game the first ever father-daughter pro tournament game. They both played a fighting game with him winning as White in the end.
  • The English commentary book, "Tournament Go 1992," called 1992, "The Year of Kobayashi." In this year, it is difficult to find a title match in which Kobayashi didn't play as either a title holder or challenger.

See Also


kobayashi koichi kato masao judan 1984 (Image credit: 0)
kobayashi koichi kato masao judan 1984 (Image credit: Foxwq.com)

kobayashi koichi jul2023 (Image credit: 2)
kobayashi koichi jul2023 (Image credit: Foxwq.com)

Kobayashi Koichi and Reiko with their two young children, including Kobayashi Izumi (Image credit: Google Images)
Kobayashi Koichi and Reiko with their two young children, including Kobayashi Izumi (Image credit: Google Images


[1] Source: Kobayashi Koichi names Honorary Triple Crown!, [ext] http://www.nihonkiin.or.jp/english/topics/12/topics2012_09.htm#120928c
[2] A full translation of these essays can be found in Go World, Iss. 46 pp. 38-47.
[3] Source: Go World, Iss. 81 p. 8.
[4] Source: Go World, Iss. 37 p. 23.
[5] Source: 1996 Kido Yearbook.
[6] Tournament Go 1992 (1996) by John Power, p. 69.
[7] Source: Go World, Iss. 56 p. 45.
[8] Source: Go World, Iss. 58 p. 16.
[9] Tournament Go 1992 (1996) by John Power, p. 26.
[10] Source: Go World, Iss. 49 p. 8.

Kobayashi Koichi last edited by Jono64a on February 12, 2024 - 01:36
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