12-year-old Japanese girl to become youngest female professional Go player next year

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Saki Yanagihara speaks at a press conference in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Tuesday.

Eleven-year-old Saki Yanagihara will become a professional Go player on April 1 next year, according to an announcement by The Nihon Ki-in, a Japanese association promoting the game of Go.

Just 12 years 5 months old when she turns pro, the Tokyo-based Yanagihara will be the youngest active female professional at that time. Koharu Cho is currently the youngest professional Go player, and will be 13 years 4 months old on April 1 next year.

The association’s special recommendation system for female Go players will be applied to Yanagihara’s promotion as a first-dan player. Under this system, the teacher of a competent student honing their Go skills at the association can recommend her as a professional hopeful, separately from the recruitment exam run by the association.

Yanagihara was recommended after achieving certain promising results, such as being runner-up at the 37th world youth Go championship in the under 12 category. Her promotion was approved at a regular board meeting of the association on Tuesday.

She is scheduled to participate in professional league matches in January as a probationary player even before becoming a first-dan player.

“I was really surprised but happy,” Yanagihara said. “I’ll work hard so I can be a rival to second-dan holder Sumire Nakamura [the youngest woman ever to turn pro, then 10 years old]. I want to become an internationally successful Go player.”

After the press conference, Rina Fujisawa, the 23-year-old Women’s Honinbo title holder, handed Yanagihara a bouquet of flowers, which made her smile.

Yanagihara started playing Go when she was 3, taught by her parents, both amateur dan holders. Currently, she is training at a dojo school run by fourth-dan Seisen Hon, who has taught many professional Go players.