A Harakiri Boy of Go
Helmut Wiltschek's Go Stories, Part II
My own go career started in the early 1960ies when Friedrich Susan and Alfred Nimmerrichter dominated the scene in Austria. Nimmerrichter had organized the first international Go congress in 1953 and Friedrich Susan achieved the third place at the European Championship in 1960. I was at that time a student of physics at the University of Vienna, and played chess in my leisure time. In 1962, however, I changed to Go. My first teacher was Helmut Gruber, then 5 Kyu, who is still a very good friend of mine.
First time in Japan and the consequences
In my second year of Go, in 1963, the First International Go Championship (predecessor of the modern World Amateur Championship) was held in Tokyo. Austria sent a team of four players consisting of two contestants (Alfred Nimmerrichter and Manfred Wimmer), a non playing leader of the group: Robert Nagel (vice-president of the Austrian Go Federation), and a substitute: Horst Müller, a young player who had come to Japan “to study Go” one year before. Horst Müller was one of the first Europeans to visit Japan with such an intent and was welcomed like a popstar. Thus, he sold his return ticket and stayed in Japan for more than two years. When the same kind of team tournament was held in 1964, I earned the right to play as one contestant while Müller was the second. After the tournament, Müller and I were allowed to stay in the house of Go-master Iyomoto Momoichi (1919-1974, 6d pro) for half a year. Müller had made friends also with other professional players as for instance Kosugi Kiyoshi (8p) and Nagahara Yoshiaki. Both stuck much time together with us but to be honest we studied more of the Japanese night life than of the game of Go.
At that time the Nihon Kiin was the Mekka of Go. There I encountered Kajiwara Takeo the racor sharp theoretician of Go or the “amateur monster” Yasunaga Hajime. I remember having played a good game with 5 stones handicap against Rin Kaiho, but against the handicap style of yokozuna Yasunaga I needed six.
Kitani Reiko, daughter of the famous Kitani Minoru, once invited me to Kitani Sensei’s dōjō, where I had the chance to meet all the stars of tomorrow: Otake Hideo, Kato Masao, Ishida Yoshio, Takemiya Masaaki and Kobayashi Koichi. I was asked to play a game of rengo with them. Next to me sat an eight year old prodigy from Korea by the name of Cho Chikun.
Eventually Horst Müller returned to Austria and I soon followed. However, short time later two attractive ladies from Japan showed up in Vienna. One became the mother of Müller’s beautiful daughters, Sakura Silvia and Miwa Manuela. The other became the mother of my own son Taro Thomas. Consequently, I had to quit my studies and find a job. Since I had already worked in a casino during my student time, in 1968 I began as a full time groupier in the Casino of Kitzbühl, Austria’s most famous skiing resort. Horst Müller, however, went again to Japan and became a successful business man. I visit him every time I go to Japan where we clean up old memories together with wine, sake and Go.
Working at the casino caused me to quit my studies of physics but it did not stop my dedication to Go. In 1969 I went to an international tournament in Bled (in present day’s Slovenia) together with my arch rival Manfred Wimmer. In the first round we were matched together. After a huge furikawari the game turned out jigo (there was a komi of 5 points at that time). The next round we succeeded against the phalanx of the Yogoslavian Go elite with European Champion Zoran Mutabzija on top and finished both at the first place.
Some time later I got an invitation to visit Taiwan from the renown physicist Shen Chun-shan, a strong Go player who had become US Honinbo during his stay in the States. He arranged a game between me and a twelve year old boy that was broadcasted on TV. The game started with immediate violent fighting and went on as a kind of roller coaster. I played quite well and had some chances to win but eventually my famous baka poka (silly mistakes) cost me a jigo on the board. Not too much of a shame against future Kisei, O Rissei.
In 1975, the European Go Championship was held in Austria, in the city of Krems. My game against Michael Katcher turned out one of the greatest thrillers of the tournament. After seven hours of janbara-go and seven ko-fights I made my final sayonara ko threat and the game was over. However, Katcher lost to my fellow countryman Ernst Novak and left the tournament in frustration. This paved the way for my third rank at this championship, after Wimmer and Jürgen Mattern from Germany. Incidentally, the same ranking had already occurred in 1970.
This was a great time for Austrian Go. Helmut Hasibeder, a pupil of former Austrian Champion Ernst Skrob, entered the scene and became European Champion in 1978. Manfred Wimmer went to Japan to start a professional Go career. And Nagahara Sensei came to Austria to prepare for the first Amateur Go Championship in Japan which entangled difficult negotiations with communist countries. He built up his headquarters in my appartment close to Gumpoldskirchen, a famous wine growing region, where he would relax from the strains of his work at the close by heurigen (Austrian wine tavern).
In 1979, the first World Championship was eventually held in Tokyo with three Austrians participating: Walter Zickbauer, the president of the European Go Federation, as the representative of Europe, Helmut Hasibeder the current European Champion, and myself as the representative of Austria. The championship at that time accorded to a strict KO-system. In spite of tough fighting neither Hasibeder nor myself survived against the top players of China and Korea.
In 1983 I became representative of Austria for the third time. Just when I arrived at Tokyo, I was asked to participate a mammoth tournament with some 1200 contestants. At that time, Helmut Hasibeder was a post-graduate student of medicine at Tokyo’s Keio University and therefore also took part in that tournament. In spite of jet-lag (and sake-lag from the welcome party with my wife’s relatives) I had a successful performance which earned me promotion to six dan. Hasibeder did well too, which led to the unique case that two Helmuts from Austria were given roku-dan diplomas by Rin Kaiho.
Immeadiatly afterwards I headed to Osaka to play the World Championship. In the friendship tournament before the Champoionship I prevailed against the former Japanese women champion, Yamamoto Miyako. The game was so spectacular that she later described my style in the Newspaper Go Weekly as the go of a "harakiri boy" (since I was already 44 at that time, harakiri ojisan, "suicide uncle", might have been more appropriate). Later, I had to fight some of the elite players from China and lost, but chief referee Kato Masao praised Ronald Schlemper (then an insei at the Nihon Kiin) and me for outstanding fighting spirit.
In 1987, the World Championship was held for the first time outside Japan, in Beijing. I happened to represent Austria again and took the chance to travel in China together with my old friend Nagahara Sensei, and the Japanese representative Imamura Fumiaki who collected three World Champion titles during his go career. On my way back home, I made a stop-over in Cologne where a European team tournament took place. The Austrian team consisting of Hasibeder, Wimmer, Wiltschek and Bernd Scheid eventually scored victory. I could barely finish my last game but I missed the prize-giving ceremony because my plane was already on the leave.
The Gruber dynasty of Go
In 1992, my old friend and first Go teacher Helmut Gruber returned with his family to Austria after a long stay in Germany. His daughter, Eleonore, who was then a student of physics, had already shown great talent for Go when she was little, but had not played during her time at school. I realized that she might be well suited to represent Austria at the 4th Women Championship but the deadline for application had already passed. Thanks to my personal contacts to the Nihon Kiin, however, I succeeded to have Eleonore accepted anyway. After a short but extremly intense training with me she eventually won four of seven games and reached twelfth place! In November 1993, Eleonore and I represented Austria at the 4th International Pair Go Championship in Tokyo. At that time, we met Kito Yoshiteru in his own bar in Nagoya. Kito-san had spent several years in Vienna and was a most valuable teacher of Go, particularly Hasibeder and Novak gained much from his knowledge. The following year, Eleonore took part once more at the Women Championship and achieved place 16 (4 wins of 8). Thereafter, however, she went as a post-gradtuate student of physics to the USA. She is now living in California working at the University of Berkely, and married to an Austrian physicist. Yet in 2000, I had another chance to participate in an international pair championship, this time with Eleonore's mother Sieglinde Gruber who is also a strong go player and became Austrian women champion in the same year.
Since 1995 professional player and Go author Nakayama Noriyuki and I organize Go trips to Ischgl in Tyrol. Ischgl is one of the most attractive tourist resorts in the Austrian Alps, suited for skiing in winter and hiking in summer. A lot of famous Japanese Go players, professionals and amateurs alike, have already come to Ischgl, among them Nakayama Kaoru, Hisajima Kunio, and joseki professor Abe Yoshiteru, or Muraoka Shigeyuki, an exellet skier, and Honda Goro from the Kansai Kiin. Shigeno Yuki, the well known female professional who had spend many years teaching Go in Italy, also came to Ischgl from Milano. There is further a group of regular visitors from Germany.
Helmut Wiltschek, 2006
This article was given to me by Helmut Wiltschek in Oktober 2006. I slightly rearranged and shortened the text, but did not alter the content.
Pok, November 2006