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19 June 2000 By John Fairbairn


Although Japan is changing fast, it still has more than its fair share of fuddy duddies. One of the first things they noticed about Yamada Kimio when he appeared in his first title match (the 45th Oza in 1997) was that he was wearing casual clothes. In the west he'd have to be wearing no clothes for anyone to notice.

More to the point, he wasn't (apparently) even nervous. The dominant impression he gave was of curiosity. Title matches involve lots of peripheral activities, such as parties with local dignitaries. All this was new to Yamada, but his only comment was that it takes longer to play a title game than you first imagine. Despite that, he used all of his generous time allowance - newcomers to title matches tend to play too fast, or to fall into the wrong rhythm of using their time.

Yamada Kimio

In short, young Yamada is the king of cool. This comes in handy on the go board. A great believer in the adage that no-one ever won a game by resigning, he has the knack of pulling off come-from-behind victories, sometimes turning the tables twice or even three times in one game. He did this in the Oza, beating holder Ryu Shikun in Game 1. Refreshingly, and typically, he did not resort to the standard "I was lucky" comment afterwards (which, in any case, really means "I played a blinder - absolutely creamed him." ). No, as befits a son of Osaka, Yamada was more forthright (and, to some, impudent): "I swindled him."

Casual he may be in some ways, but not when it comes to go. He will think nothing of spending all morning and afternoon playing over as many as ten games. He has been praised by none other than Fujisawa Hideyuki as being a deep reader, with the ability, moreover, to come up with rigorous and uncompromising solutions to problematical situations.

There was a time when the fact that he was from Osaka was seen as a hindrance. Success breeds its own problems. Being young meant that he spent a disproportionate time travelling to Tokyo - in events such as the Oteai, the senior player gets to play at home, which is Tokyo for most pros. Success in title matches meant even more time travelling to the capital. Even with the famous bullet train it's a long haul. The temptation was therefore strong to move to Tokyo. There is also a subtle psychological consideration. It is easy to stay in Osaka and be a big fish in a little pond. It takes courage and an independent mind to migrate to the bigger pond full of pike with sharp teeth.

Yamada is certainly an independent soul, which is maybe a little strange when you consider that he has two brothers who are also professional go players. But it seems it was mostly that curiosity that spurred him on. He wanted to find out first hand what top pros thought about. He wanted to know about the things that don't appear in game records. But then he decided that there were plus sides to staying in Osaka, too. He reasoned that if he could play over a game enough times he would gradually see the things he had previously missed, and would in the process get the benefit of learning to think for himself. Rather than indecision, he sees flexibility of the mind as something as useful as a samurai's sword.

Another, more recent, factor was his entry onto the international stage. International go means travelling is involved even from Tokyo. Might as well do it from Osaka. How far Yamada can go internationally has yet to be seen, but he is one of the few native Japanese pros capable of holding his end up and so he is being strongly encouraged to set his sights on overseas targets. In his most recent international sortie, the 1st Nong Shim Spicy Noodles Cup, he made a creditable showing in going down by just 1.5 points to Chang Hao. The year before (1999) he reached the semi-finals of the 4th Samsung Cup before going down to Yi Ch'ang-ho.

Yamada was born on 9 September 1972. He began playing go regularly in his first year at school, visiting a go class run by an amateur in the east side of Osaka. In his second year he was good enough to become an insei at the Kansai branch of the Nihon Ki-in. Two years after that he became a live-in pupil of Yamashita Yorimoto 6-dan, who in turn was a pupil of Hosokawa Senjin - that is, impeccable Osaka stock. He joined four or five other live-in pupils, two of whom included his elder brothers Wakio 7-dan (born 1969) and Shiho 6-dan (born 1967). Kimio means "third born" incidentally.

What his teacher noticed about him was his "outstanding" flexibility and his devotion to study, aspects we have already alluded to. In short he was "smart". At the time he became his pupil, Yamashita reckoned Kimio was already 6-dan amateur. Yet that was when he really began to study! This was evidence that he really wanted to become a pro.

This investment in his own future paid off rapidly, because as soon as he made 1-dan he zoomed up through the ranks. In his first year (1989) he scored 23-6. In his second year 23-6; third year 39-5; fourth year 35-10. In 1992 he tally was 39-9; in 1993 it was 40-10; in 1994 it was 40-14. Even the tougher opposition was no hindrance. In 1995 he scored 40-12; in 1996 47-11; in 1997 47-19 - this was incidentally the most wins by a top pro that year.

1998 saw a reality check, however. He scored only 21-18. His promotion to 8-dan was also a long time coming. It took five years. And he is a little long in the tooth to be genuinely a "new kid" though with his boyish grin that is how he is still seen. Such status is, of course, more than a matter of age: it is also a sign of promise of things to come. His supporters in west Japan still have great faith in him. We can be sure that the flexible samurai from Osaka is coolly plotting his future progress.

Promotion record:

1d: 1989
2d: 1989
3d: 1990
4d: 1991
5d: 1992
6d: 1993
7d: 1995
8d: 2000

Here is a sample of Yamada's games in downloadable sgf format.

  • Game 1: Against Ishida Atsushi (46th Honinbo) 1989-08-30
  • Game 2: Against Chang Hao (9th Japan-China Supergo) 1994-03-23
  • Game 3: Against Ryu Shikun (45th Oza) 1997-10-28
  • Game 4: Against Morita Michihiro (8th Ryusei Final) 1999-09-04
  • Game 5: Against Mimura Tomoyasu (25th Kisei) 1999-12-23

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