Aki Basho 2011: Wrap-up

I had so much fun this basho that I am now finishing my second bottle of whiskey (In De Gama terms, that is equivalent to having finished a cask!). I can’t quite tell if the Sumo was more interesting than it has been, or if I was drunk, or if my preoccupation with the crux and the pocket might both have been a product of being drunk AND made the sumo more interesting. Whatever the case may be, you’ll find more of my words below: Let’s Aki Basho Wrapping Upping!

The M1 Crux

At any rate, let me start off this wrap-up with where my interest in this basho began: The M1 Crux. The M1 Crux is a great place to start watching a basho because these guys are at the top of their game and they tend to start the basho off by going through the meat grinder. They face rikishi after rikishi who occupy ranks that are not often attained by chance.

The meat grinder extends beyond the M1 pair all the way down to the bottom of jo’i. In fact, jo’i, meaning “high rank” is nebulously defined as the group of rikishi who face the sanyaku and yokuzuna in a basho. Sometimes, the M1s disappoint and the rikishi ranked lower in jo’i surprise. That was not the case during this basho.

The M1 pair, Homasho and Okinoumi, performed wonderfully. I went into this basho hoping that both rikishi would do well and that Homasho would beat Okinoumi and kachikoshi. I got my wish. Not only did Homasho kachikoshi, he got a record that should make the current crop of Ozeki blush. Speaking of Ozeki blushing, did I mention that among Homasho’s 10 wins, he managed to beat every Ozeki? Homasho has been at M1 several times before, but I feel like he is finally showing a level of sumo that means the meat grinder is behind him. I have been disappointed so many times by improving rikishi whose performance has suddenly declined. Don’t let me down, Homasho! I will be rooting for you next basho!

Now on to Okinoumi. This was his first time to hold the M1 rank and he managed a very nice 8 win kachikoshi with wins against two Ozeki to boot. I think that the meat grinder is not quite behind Okinoumi yet, but he has shown himself to be a serious contender at the Jo’i level. He even has me holding my breath a bit that he might perform well in sanyaku. Probably its not quite that time for him yet, but I will be watching his performance carefully next basho.

Jo’i and Honorary Members

The rest of jo’i can be summed up with five words: not very interesting this basho.

Two notes of interest:

First, I am expecting Goeido (10-5 @ M5 with a poverty of kachikoshis above him) to occupy a high rank in the next basho, and I am hoping to see him go against Homasho again. I was looking forward to Homasho’s bout with Okinoumi a lot this basho. Next Basho, I will be looking forward to Homasho’s bout with Goeido. If you happen to feel like rooting for Goeido, let me know in the comments below. Always fun to have a little rivalry.

Second, Gagamaru became an honorary member of Jo’i in the latter half of the basho. I was surprised at just how far into the crux he found himself and I am looking forward to Valentine’s analysis of his strength of schedule. With the fighting spirit prize under his belt, I am thinking we might just see him in Valentine’s Top Ten. Make sure to check back with us in the coming week for that post. Kudos to Gaga. It was a great bout for him.

Sanyaku

The basho started with a great M1 Crux, but after the Sekiwake got done grinding Jo’i’s meat, the action turned to them. It was apparent as they emerged from the pocket that the were going to be forces to contend with. Both of them emerged from the pocket without a single loss and Kisenosato even won his first crux bout against Kakuryu. Both Sekiwake finished up at 12-3, with Kotoshogiku likely headed on to Ozeki.

I have to say, I am slightly dissatisfied. I wish it were Kisenosato headed on to Ozeki and not Kotoshogiku. Its a mark of shame, I think, that one of Kotoshogiku’s qualifying bashos was the natsu bullshit that we endured this summer. Moreover, I wasn’t so happy with his performance this basho. I thought he got lucky a lot while he was in the pocket and some of the bouts in the crux looked a little like yaocho. If he performs well next basho, then I will be well satisfied, but I really wish I could have one more basho of him in sanyaku just to make sure he is really ready for this promotion. I would say that I have qualms. That aren’t unassailable, but they do exist. Kotoshogiku won’t be my favorite ozeki anytime soon.

On the other hand, I hope that Kisenosato will be my favorite ozeki next basho. I feel a little bad for saying that. Can I really betray Harumafuji like that. I love Haruma. I wish he had never been promoted to ozeki and I am glad that he was not promoted to yokozuna. When Haruma has a great crux bout, you remember it forever. As Ozeki, those bouts have been far fewer and longer in between.

But back to Kisenosato. I would love to see Kisenosato perform well next basho. He would need to win 11 bouts next basho to secure his promotion. Based on his performance in this basho, I think he has a far better chance of doing so than Kotoshogiku does. Kisenosato recieved the outstanding performance award this basho. I would like to see him recieve it again next basho. Kotoshogiku also received the outstanding performance award… I don’t really see it.

Hakuho showed he was still in control. He lost only to Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku. Of the two losses, Hakuho looked as though someone had told him to give up in Kotoshogiku’s bout. Kisenosato’s bout was more convincing.

Of Aran, I can only say that he is lucky he had Kotooshu around (at least in body…. for part of the time) to make him look good. I wonder if he will have Kotooshu around next basho (mind or body).

As for Kakuryu and Toyonoshima… not bad… but nothing to write home about.

The last person in Sanyaku to comment on is Blutto. Blutto started this basho off poorly with losses to both Homasho and Yoshikaze (Connelly, is it really true that you have pinned your hopes to this puff of lucky wind?). That said, Blutto came back and had a great latter half of the tournament. I felt that there was some fishy stuff going on near the end of the basho (and it wasn’t just Kakuryu), but Baruto had not part in this, I’m thinking. He got two nice wins over Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku.

I’ll leave the lower ranks to Valentine for his Top 10 post. I am looking forward to his analyses of the lower ranks’ strength of schedule. As for myself, I will be looking carefully at the Juryo winner Myogiryu in the next basho. I invented the crux and the pocket in response to Valentine’s note that the banzuke isn’t always the best way to judge which rikishi is the underdog down at the lower levels. I tried to define the crux and the pocket this basho using the M1 pair. Next basho, I am going to try to apply it to Myogiryu. We’ll see how that goes, but if you want to hear from a man who served as the inspiration for the crux and the pocket, check back here to be inspired by Valentine’s Top Ten.

It was a great fall basho, everyone, and the good news is that in two months, Sumo starts again!

10 responses to “Aki Basho 2011: Wrap-up

  1. Nice read. I do agree with you: its going to be interesting seeing less filler guys in the upper ranks and more solid fighters. I might have to take you up on your rivalry offer. I do think that Goeido (if hes not having a terrible basho) will be able to beat the Homey.

    Also, whats the problem with “pinning hopes of a lucky puff of wind?” He is a solid fighter, and when others maybe do a bit worse he can pull off a excellent run. Regardless, I think a lot of the guys are a bit confused to what exactly is the pocket or crux … but what I do know is that in my pocket there’s a long hard crux for that lucky puff ;p

    • About Goeido, may he lose.

      About the crux and the pocket, if I had a clear idea of what I meant by it, I’m sure the rest of the guys would also be less confused. What I do know is that I know more about the crux and the pocket than I did at the beginning of this basho and less than I will at the end of the next basho.

      Yoshi’s Crux this basho:

      Kisenosato: loss
      Kotoshogiku: loss
      Baruto: win
      Kotooshu: double loss (considering Kotooshu’s pocket of shame)
      Hakuho: loss
      Harumafuji: win
      Homasho: loss
      Okinoumi: loss
      Toyonoshima: loss
      Kakuryu: loss
      Kaisei: loss
      Tochinoshin: win

      Yoshi’s pocket:

      Aran: win
      Kokkai: win
      Wakanosato: win

      The tricky thing about the crux and the pocket though is that it isn’t necessarily based entirely on the current banzuke. I think you have to look at two rikishis’ history against each other over the past year (or maybe the last six bouts fought?) to determine which is the crux and which is the pocket with any accuracy. The crux is the one with the better record and the pocket is the one with the worse record.

      For example, Aran is ranked higher on the banzuke than Yoshi, but Yoshi has beat Aran more times than he has lost in the last year… so Aran goes in the pocket. By contrast, Kaisei has a winning record against Yoshi over the last year, so despite being ranked lower on the banzuke, Kaisei goes in Yoshi’s crux. Same with Tochinoshin.

      Determining Strength of Schedule using Crux/Pocket

      As you can see from Yoshikaze’s crux and pocket he had a huge crux (almost as large as yours) and a small pocket. That means his strength of schedule was impressive. Unfortunately, his crux performance (the number of crux rikishi he beat) was not so impressive. His pocket performance (the number of pocket rikishi he beat) was good.

      Strength of schedule: impressive
      Crux performance: 3-9
      Pocket performance: 3-0

      But I am making this stuff up as I go along. All my reports during this basho were based solely on banzuke rankings. Yoshikaze is the first rikishi I have given a true crux/pocket analysis to.

      The M1 Crux: An explanation

      Also, about the M1 Crux: What I have seen over the last few basho is that the M1 pair tend to hit a block of crux rikishi right at the beginning of the tournament. The M1 Crux refers to this time at the beginning of the basho. I think its worth giving one’s attention to the M1 Crux because during this time, the sanyaku tend to be going up against pocket rikishi. Its better sumo watching to see which M1 is beating down crux rikishi than getting all excited about a sanyaku beating a string of pocket rikishi. Once the M1 Crux dies down around Nakabi and the M1s start facing each other and the rikishi in Jo’i, the sanyaku are just getting going.

      So Briton-Meyers’ tip towards more enjoyable Sumo watching is to keep your focus on the M1s until nakabi and then shift your focus over to any sanyaku with a decent pocket performance post-nakabi. At any rate, it worked out well for me this basho.

  2. I appreciate your analysis. Any information you have on how the rikishi are paired on any one day would be helpful too. In other words, how do they decide who plays whom and on what day? I know they try to avoid pairing rikishi from the same stable, but other than that… Is there some system?

  3. That’s a question that I have myself.

    It seems to me that:

    Sanyaku face Jo’i in the first week.
    Sanyaku face Sanyaku in the second week.
    Jo’i face Jo’i in the second week.
    If a rikishi in lower makuuchi does really well, they get worked into the jo’i/sanyaku rotations in the second week.

    Beyond that, I have no idea how they choose to pair the rikishi on any given day.

  4. Yeah, that’s pretty much how it goes. However the schedules become more fixed the further you go up the banzuke.

    The Yokozuna will almost always face Komusubi the first day then the M1s and M2s but after that it gets mixed up. He also will face the other yokozuna, or highest ranked ozeki on senshuraku.

    Some other things that alter the banzuke would be, as mentioned before, men from the same heya won’t fight, and also family members won’t fight, unless in a playoff situation. A good example is now Shotenro and Kyokutenho can’t fight. Shotenro married Kyokutenho’s sister, and so they are now related my less than 4 generations, they cannot fight in the ring.

    Sometimes the banzuke committee will also take fans into account. Theya have been known to alter traditional bout orders in order to make things more exciting. Back in Haru 2010 in which Baruto secured his promotion to ozeki, his bout with Hakuho was pushed back to day 11, as opposed to being a bit earlier in the basho. Just in this past basho, Kisenosato faced Hakuho from S1w on day 12, which is pretty late.

    It seems that the banzuke committee discovered the crux/pocket theory before Briton-Meyer, as that is mostly how it’s organized. Although when you get lower down the crux/pocket gets a bit wider. Using M7w as a template we see that they fight anyone from M1 to M16, where as Hakuho only normally fights as low as M4, which is pretty close to most sanyaku schedules.

  5. in short, there is a rubric, and each rank has a general schedule, but it is subject to great change, so it’s kind of impossible to go into in a comment. I’ll tell you what, I’ll look into it and write a post about it in greater detail.

  6. The crux/pocket theory is compelling because it is pleasingly simple and elegant, but it considers only two variables: rank and pair history. This theory helps us figure out who to root for, and helps us understand who is “trending” up or down. I guess I just want to know if there really are some hard and fast rules that govern this sport. I don’t want to think that the whole thing is rigged or political or that guys in smoke-filled rooms make all the decisions that pick winners and losers before the bouts even take place. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to help elucidate these questions for us fans. You are the true aficionados!

  7. Ideally, the pocket/crux theory only uses rikishi history against each other. I guess rank comes into play in terms of who gets paired up against each other. But, you can probably eyeball pocket and crux based on rank. It won’t always work out (in Yoshi’s case, Aran’s rank puts him above Yoshi, but their history puts him in Yoshi’s pocket)

  8. unfortunately due to the nature of the beast, we have to base the crux/pocket on current rankings, past pairings, and recent results. There are some guys down in the lower ranks who might still have winning records against Kotoshogiku.

    I’m sure we’ll see some refinement of the theory from Briton-Meyer within the next few basho. But as far as the pairings go, we’ll still have to deal with smoke filled rooms full of old men. Which is what we specialize in. And by that I mean smoke filled rooms…. not rooms full of old men.

  9. I guess you could say that as the gentlemen of Sumo and Stogies age, we are developing a specialization in smoky rooms full of old men; at least, if you put it that way, watching sumo in smoke filled rooms year after year sounds more edifying… well, sort of…

    Anyhow… as for the crux/pocket categorizations: I think there should be a two year limit on past pairing records. I’d say a one year limit, but as I look around at the rikishi’s history with eachother, a single year doesn’t seem like enough. There are a lot of rikishi who only face off once or twice a year. There are far fewer who face off less than three times in two years. And even fewer rikishi who haven’t faced each other at all in the last two years.

    But…. they do exist. I guess in those cases, we have to fall back on current rankings to determine who is the pocket and who is the crux.

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