Thank you, Hans!

Both Hans Pietsch and I were Kobayashi Chizu Sensei's students in Japan, but Hans had become an insei several years before I did, and he was already an A class insei when I came.

In the traditional Japanese Go schools, one is usually not getting instruction directly from the Sensei, but most of the times from a "sempai": an older, stronger student. ("Sempai" is one of those many Japanese words, which don't have an exact English translation, due to the culture difference. It means in general something like one's senior in culture, art, etc.)

Hans has been my sempai in Japan for one and a half years, while I was insei at the Nihon Ki-in (January 1994 - September 1995). He did take such good care of me while I was in Japan, from picking me up from Narita Airport and getting me to Igo Kenshu Center, where I lived, to showing me around, teaching me Go, Japanese language and Japanese customs, and last but not least sharing with me his delicious, impossible to get in Japan, German made candies he got from home...

He was living in Tokyo, but he came to the Go Center at least once a week, when we had the official insei games. He would review some of my games or would play fast, teaching games with me each time we met.

His Go was just like himself: very honest, solid and powerful. He wouldn't go for the obscure variations, or little tricks, but would choose the natural, apparently simple way to play. When we both were insei, he used to study mainly Takemiya Sensei and Kobayashi Satoru Sensei's games.

Hans was extremely serious about Go: his whole attitude showed that he lived for Go. It was crucial for him to become a professional after spending several years as insei, yet he devoted quite a lot of time for teaching Go to me and other students of Chizu Sensei. Hans was not merely following a tradition, but he was very dedicated to it: I think this was just a consequence of his natural generosity.

He told me several times, very enthusiastically, about his plans to spread Go in countries with little or no Go activity. It's such absurd and hard to understand what happened to him exactly during such a tour for promoting Go.

Hans will always be among us through his spirit and through his Go teaching and Go games. I am publishing here some of the games he commented for me in Japan (unfortunately I have only recorded a dozen of them or so).

Hans was not only my sempai, but he was also like my older brother in Japan. Thank you, Hans!

Hans Pietsch interview (reproduced from the German Go Magazine, Fall of 1994)

After spending four consecutive years in Japan, Hans Pietsch finally managed to take off one week, mainly to visit his family in Bremen, but also to see his old Go-friends.

Hans is the only German insei and his time is very limited. He plays in the insei league almost all year round and after this year's "honsen" (final tournament of the insei league, in which the best three players are promoted to 1st Dan) there was only one week before the next insei league began. This makes it even more special for us that he agreed to spend some of his precious time in Germany for an interview with the DGOZ (the German Go Magazine). The interview was conducted by Jochen Fassbender ("the official Hans Pietsch Historian"), Christoph Gerlach, and Wilhelm Lang.

Jochen: What is your daily training schedule like?

Hans: After I played my third honsen and was not successful, I go back to what I did in the beginning. I am trying again to memorize 100 games of professionals I like best.

Jochen: Who are they? Modern ones?

Hans: Takemiya and Kobayashi Satoru, who started last year to look after me a little bit, which means playing games and analyzing my games.

Jochen: Do Takemiya and Kobayashi have the same style?

Hans: No, they are different.

Jochen: Do you sometimes study the "Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go?"

Hans: Sure. Also, I do two hours of tsume go every day. No difficult problems, more easy ones, but a large number of them. I put them into a file and I use them to practice recognizing a shape at first glance without thinking much, which means to internalize the shape. Of course I do some difficult ones too.

Jochen: So the training happens at the Insei Center?

Hans: Training is up to each person individually. There is no professional at the Center.

Jochen: What about t he insei teachers?

Hans: There are three insei teachers and one of them is always present when we play. But that is more to make sure we play by the rules, to watch our manners and make sure we behave. The teachers don't stand in front of the class and tell us things. That only happens during official events. Before, Cho Chikun came three times a week to the center but he could not continue that.

Christoph: Who develops the training program for inseis?

Hans: There is no training program. I follow the advice of my teacher Kobayashi Chizu and do what she suggests. And many times I have bitterly regretted not following her advice.

Jochen: Such advice as learning 100 games?

Hans: Not only advice on go technique, but also about how to live my life day to day. For example how to do my household chores. She always found out when I did my chores badly like vacuuming, dish washing. Then she saw right away that the game on the next weekend would not be good. And she was always right. The concentration on the things you do in your life away from the board is also important. You have to concentrate on everything you do and follow a goal. Satoru said the same thing. Even when he goes out to eat, he has a goal. It can be something small like today I want to talk much or drink a lot. There is always a small goal. Eventually, 100% of the way you live your everyday life reappears on the go board.

Jochen: It reminds me of the idea of the Zen world to do everyday things with a conscious mind. Next question: In an interview four years ago you said: "My greatest weakness is quick and accurate reading and that is why I study a lot of tsume go." Have you done all the classical tsume go collections?

Hans: Many problems appear in more than one collection. But I have pretty much done most of the standard ones.

Jochen: Another thing you said was that "the script of your defeats is always the same. In the opening and early middle game I look pretty good but I need considerably more time than my opponents. Then, more and more, I don't know what to do with my stones and my game falls apart."

Hans: Yes, that still happens because people don't really change. What you can do is try to improve the level of your mistakes, but my handicap will probably stay the same until the end of my days.

Jochen: The young kids with fresh brains.

Hans: There is no chance I will ever be faster than they. The only way is to study more.

Christoph: Are your strengths more in the area of strategy?

Hans: My strengths against the young kids is probably in the opening and in finding the right direction of play.

Jochen: The young kids get stronger extremely quickly.

Hans: Sometimes they improve over night. It is unbelievable how quickly they get stronger.

Jochen: Then you beat the three strongest ones in one honsen.

Hans: ... but there are always new strong players coming up.

Jochen: What is your favorite fuseki, do you have your own style? How did you specialize?

Hans: I have been playing san ren sei for the last three years with black and ni ren sei with white. Which means I study a lot of Takemiya games.

Christoph: Do you really always play the same fuseki?

Hans: You play under conditions of short time limits and in the end you have to win your games. Short time limits means one hour plus one minute of byouyomi. The reason to memorize 100 games is to master the fuseki. Then you can use most of your time on the middle game.

Christoph: Does that not have the disadvantage that your opponents can better prepare for your games?

Hans: Sure they prepare and the stronger players try to take advantage of this, but that is why you study the fuseki. You know where the counter attacks come from and you have counters for the counters. Because I specialize on one fuseki I can control the game in familiar situations. In the end I have no choice. Only talented players can play everything. I am thinking of one example, a Chines player who turned professional at 14. But his style of playing is very adult, they don't do any dangerous stuff.

Jochen: Why did you chose san ren sei?

Hans: Originally I was a territory oriented player, but the san ren sei opening is very quick and a very aggressive strategy, based on benefiting from attacking the opponent. My teacher Kobayashi Chizu also plays san ren sei.

Jochen: Don't you have your own style?

Hans: I think that only really strong players have their own style. With me it still happens that in the middle game I make territorial moves that have nothing to do with the aggressive fuseki. I am not always in balance with my fuseki. That show especially when I am not in shape.

Jochen: Is it a psychological problem that you are not in form at the honsen?

Hans: Chizu says if I am in top form I'd have the right playing strength. This year I did not train hard enough. I don't want to brag but I have beaten professionals, for example Abe (9-dan). My record is a jigo and once a 4 point win (even without komi).

Jochen: One question about the insei system. If you play well at the beginning of the season (December) but badly at the end, you don't automatically make it to the final tournament.

Hans: The system changed. This year the average of the final three months counted (May, June, July).

Jochen: So what good does it do that you were A1 in December?

Hans: Nothing.

Christoph: Probably you were very frustrated when the tournament did not go well.

Hans: Sure, I was very angry. And when I am angry I can win.

Christoph: So next year around July we have to make you really angry.

Jochen: What about Emil [Nijhuis] ?

Hans: Emil is at the bottom of the insei league. He is in the new D class.

Christoph: Has he improved a lot?

Hans: Emil certainly has gotten much stronger even though you may not realize that because he is still at the bottom of the D class. He will be around European 2 dan or 3 dan now. Now he has a rival, Dimitri Bogatski, 13 years, from Kiev.

Jochen: How are European inseis financed?

Hans: In my case, my parents send me money. for Dimitri his parents can not send anything because there is no money in Ukraine. Chizu is funding all the cost. Solin from Romania has a job that she found for him, teaching one of her students who wants lessons in English. But Chizu supports us all. I can live cheaply. Emil lives in the insei center where he is with others of his own age.

Jochen: Chizu said that in choosing a student she looks if someone can live in Japan, things like language and food.

Hans: More than that she makes sure that their character is suited for living here. That is the most important thing.

Jochen: And other factors, like Leszek Soldan (Poland) who is vegetarian and has problems with the food, or the sitting?

Hans: You get used to the sitting. I sat like that even in Germany.

Jochen: If someone of your playing strength can not win the honsen, doesn't that mean that other Western players don't have a chance? Michael Redmond in 1981 was the first and last player to graduate in the classical sense from the honsen. The others, Schlemper, Wimmer, did not have to play the honsen. What happened to Troy Anderson? The ex-football player, 2.05m?

Hans: Yeah, he was special. But he did not get very strong. He never got out of D class. And he was here only for one year.

Jochen: Back to my question: do Western players have a chance?

Hans: Sure they do. People who come when they are still young definitely have a chance. Guys like Emil can get very strong if they study right. Emil has the potential to be as strong as Michael Redmond if he can channel his energy towards go. Now he is still new and only 14. At that age you have to struggle with all kinds of other things on top of go. And with Dimitri it is a big rivalry. Incredible.

Christoph: Is the competition between inseis very hard?

Hans: Sure. This is no vacation resort. This is a bunch of hungry wolves and only three pieces of meat. You never get really friendly. Sure, there is exchange, but you always hold back a little bit. But of course you can also have friends.

Jochen: Do most of them go to the international school?

Hans: That is very expensive and nobody can afford it. Emil is going to a normal Japanese school.

Jochen: This will be your fifth attempt to become professional. And after that?

I'll either be professional or I won't. I have decided to make this my last year as insei. Whatever the results.

Jochen: But you will stay in Japan regardless?

I might. I have not decided.

Jochen: Could you imagine to live as teaching pro in Europe? There is a half dozen of them in north America. At the European Go Culture Center there might be the possibility to do that.

I am not thinking of that yet. I expect to become professional next year. If that does not work, I will seriously think about alternatives. If I start thinking about it now, I will just put pressure on myself and that does not make any sense.

Wilhelm: And if you become professional?

Hans: Then I will definitely stay in Japan and play.

Wilhelm: What will that be like when you start playing as professional? How often do you play? Are there fixed tournaments?

Hans: As a pro you can play the Oteai. You have to be at least 1 dan. In the Oteai you can be promoted up to 9 dan. Then there are 7 newspaper tournaments and a few small ones. About ten tournaments per year.

Wilhelm: And you can make a living from that?

Hans: Well, if you lose all your games. In the beginning you don't make so much money as 1 dan. When you make it to 5 dan you can make a good living. Every professional tries to get to 5 dan as quickly as possible.

Jochen: Do all professionals play the Oteai?

Hans: All except the 9 dan.

Jochen: The higher you get promoted, the more difficult it gets. I am thinking of your teacher Kobayashi Chizu. She became Shodan in 1972, 5 dan in 1978, and since then?

Hans: Hard to tell. She has traveled a lot and done a lot of other things.

Jochen: Does your teacher mind that you play a lot against amateurs? Does that have a negative impact on your technique?

Hans: From time to time, I guess it does not matter. But when I get back to Japan it will take some getting used to.

Wilhelm: Get used to what?

Hans: Now I am in Germany and I speak German all day and I also will have to find my go rhythm again.

Wilhelm: What do you do except for go to stay in shape physically?

Hans: I do aerobics 2 or 3 times a week.

Wilhelm: Do you do Japanese things like Kyudo, etc?

Hans: Not in any organized way. For the final tournament I have started to meditate 15 minutes in the morning. And in the center there is a table tennis table. That is all.

Jochen: Did you meet Frank Janssen and Matthew Macfadyen in Japan?

Hans: Yes, they came to Japan at the beginning of the honsen to study go teaching methods in Japan. That is a wide area to cover in one trip. I hope they had a nice few weeks here. I don't want to be too critical, I am sure they learned a lot of useful things. But in order to really make a difference for European go, it will take more than just sending two people to Japan.

Christoph: How did you learn go and when did you start to study intensively?

Hans: That is hard to remember but I have always been interested in games, because I like to play. Before I started playing intensively in 1984, I learned the game from relatives when I was 9 or 10 (I was born in 1968). My school mate Gregor knew the rules as well, so we played at school. I remember making a little coordinate indicator to signal A1, D15, etc with little letters and numbers that could be flipped over like to points indicator at a table tennis match. That way we could signal each other's moves because in class we were sitting a little bit apart but wanted to play go anyway.

Jochen: I remember how Hans came to the club for the first time and immediately forced me down to a low handicap on the 9x9 board which we called the "Bremen Shusaku Reincarnation" in the German Go Magazine. When he beat Stefan Budig in 1986 in a friendly game, the German high dan players began noticing him.

Christoph: How fast did you make shodan?

Hans: In one year.

Jochen: In 14 months. February 84 to April 85. One rank per month. Then a half year to 2 dan and 1986 you made 4 dan, 1988 5 dan.

Christoph: How did you decide to go to Japan?

Hans: Chizu had approached me in Vienna in 1990 and said that I might have a chance. I remembered her from Budapest where I had asked her to comment some of my games. That is when we started talking. I told her how I had wanted to get information on how to become insei when I played the IBM tournament in Japan. But at the IBM tournament I did not find out very much. I did not know anybody and the stories I had heard from Rob van Zeijst had discouraged me. He had told me that it was very stressful and that he broke off his insei attempt for health reasons. That was in 1988.

Christoph: How come you played at the IBM tournament?

Hans: That was funny, I never qualified for it anywhere. It must have come as a surprise to the European Go Federation that they could send a participant and they needed to find someone quickly.

Christoph: So what was different in 1990?

Hans: Of course I had changed a bit and I was more open to suggestions. In 1988 I knew that I still had to do my Civil Service. 1990 I was finished with that but I did not feel ready to go to university yet, so I thought if I get a chance to go to Japan I'd definitely do it. Back in 1988 I already knew Chizu because I had met her 1986 in Budapest. But when I went to Japan in 1988 it did not even occur to me that people like Chizu live in Tokyo. I clearly remember playing my first game against Frank Janssen in Budapest. It was over after 42 moves. Taisha Joseki, bad position, dead group, and I had thought about it for one and a half hours already. Afterwards I asked Chizu for a commentary. She later asked me how strong I was and she had to smile when I said 4 dan.

Jochen: How old were you when you started as insei?

Hans: 22 years old. At that age others are already Meijin.

Christoph: Chizu organized that for you. Would it have been possible for a European to become insei without having such contacts?

Hans: No. Chizu is one of the few go professionals who speak very good English and have an active interest in spreading go.

Christoph: How does it help the spreading of go if you become professional in Japan?

Hans: If I reach the professional level in Japan, many young players will think about going to Japan and trying the same thing. Actually, they are coming already. And they are coming in part because I came here four years ago. That is how I see my role. I myself will probably never reach the level of Michael Redmond. Of course i will try to be as strong as possible, I want to make at least 5 dan. After me, people like Emil will come to Japan at an earlier age and they will reach higher levels.

Christoph: Another aspect could be that the mass media get interested in go if we have a Japanese professional. So far, was your first year your most successful year in Japan?

Hans: I played the honsen three times and the results got a little worse each time. But I don't think that I am stagnating or getting weaker. One thing is that the other players are getting stronger. But also, as a European top level player you come to Japan with the confidence that you have a certain strength and you need to forget about that. You have to relearn go from scratch.

Christoph: What is wrong about the go we play in Europe?

Hans: The basic knowledge is missing. It is a difference like night and day. The basic knowledge is what you have internalized about go. When you start go at 4 or 5 years, tesuji and tsume go are internalized. It becomes like eating and drinking, a completely natural thing.

Go is very difficult and hard to describe. In Europe we have the additional disadvantage that only the Japanese language is suitable to describe go. Therefore there are more opportunities in Japan to learn go.

The overwhelming majority of professionals do not have a special talent. Only very few have that. It is all hard study.

Jochen: Your ideal and that of Chizu is Takemiya.

Hans: Takemiya is a very open, friendly type.

Christoph: What can an amateur player do to improve his playing strength?

Hans: From my experience, for amateurs, where there is still a lot that can be improved, the method to memorize games is very helpful. Of course it depends on how hard you are willing to work in order to improve. Memorizing means that you have to be able to play many games to the 150th move within 5 minutes. The meaning of that is not on a rational, logical level. You are trying to reach a deep point in your brain where you develop a feeling for shape and position. This is going to help you especially during the fuseki.

Jochen: Do you replay the games of other professionals?

Hans: I use both my right and my left hand to play both colors of a game quickly. To be able to have 100 games ready at all times gives you very good concentration. In the morning I learn three new games and at night I play 10 games in a row. Unfortunately I have been neglecting this a bit lately. Of course I play all recent professional games. Basically all that have a game recorder.

Jochen: Are there games without a recorder?

Hans: Sure. All the early rounds of the big tournaments, for example. What you see in the Kido yearbook is just the tip of the iceberg. But the training through memorization of professional games takes a lot of time and I can not recommend that to amateurs. Analyzing your own games is also important. During the honsen, for example, I play two or three games per week and in between I can expect to get a commentary from my teacher. Not all insei are so lucky to have a teacher who comments on their games. The only organized event is the insei league. Apart from that you have to keep your eyes and ears very wide open if you want to learn something. You have to ask for advice. The professionals are very open in this respect. If you are serious about go and ask the seriously ? a professional knows the difference, he or she can see it in your face ? then usually they are willing to play a teaching game with you. But you have to ask for it yourself. In that respect I am in a better situation because I have my teacher Kobayashi Chizu and her brother Satoru who has begun to look after me lately.

Christoph: What do you do in Tokyo when you are not playing go. Or does that not happen?

Hans: Every once in a while there is a day where I don't do so much go. But with western people I have little contact. I have to be careful about that. It is not like the are evil or smell badly, but they are bad for my concentration. Meeting western people would mean go players I know from the past. We would be talking about the old days and that would bring up emotions that are not helpful for me now. Doing things that are not connected with my studies is the exception. In the end everything has to be about my go now.

Jochen: No discos?

Hans: No discos.

Jochen: And no music?

Hans: I can listen to music.

Jochen: Hans, thank you very much and we hope to see you again in Germany soon.

Hans: When I become professional, I will have half a year before the Oteai starts on April 1st. Then I am sure I will come to Germany.