Tokyo November basho post analysis. Playoff is cool, but cruel – just ask Terunofuji

I think it’s fair to say all of us like playoffs. It brings a fun, dramatic, sudden death situation, where involved rikishi go all in. We even prefer multiple playoffs, which can contain original rules.

Former ozeki Terunofuji, on the other hand, probably does not want to hear the word “playoff” any more. Last Sunday, the Mongolian succumbed to Takakeisho’s thrusts, meaning that he has now lost all three playoffs where he participated – prior to that, he faced two yokozuna, Kakuryu in Aki 2015, and Kisenosato in Osaka 2017. The object of this article will be to see if somebody else holds such a miserable record.

Having no fun during playoffs: Terunofujji Haruo

Prior to that, a few words about playoffs themselves:

  • Playoffs aim to decide between rikishi tied for first place. The outcome of the bout between them during the regular phase – should it exist – is NOT taken into account. Taking Terunofuji’s example, the Mongolian defeated Kakuryu in 2015, lost to Kisenosato in 2017, and defeated Takakeisho one week ago – each time on day 15. But he wasn’t declared winner in any of these basho – he had to face his opponents once again, and lost thrice.
  • The rules are:

a) For a two-way playoff: one bout is scheduled, and the winner takes it all. Straightforward.

b) For a three-way playoff: the wrestler A faces the wrestler B. Let’s say A wins. A faces the wrestler C. If A wins, he’s the champion. If C wins, he faces B. If C wins, he’s the champion. If B wins, he faces A, and so on, until someone wins twice in a row.

Three- way playoffs rarely occur, but it actually took place in March 1990, between Konishiki, Kirishima and Hokutoumi (the eventual winner, who actually lost the first bout!)

c) For a four-way playoff: two semi-finals (A vs B, C vs D) and a final are scheduled.

d) For a five-way playoff: lots are drawn. A faces B, C faces D, and E – banzuke’s highest ranked rikishi – goes directly to the final stages. A/B, C/D and E then meet in a three-way playoff.

Incredibly, such a playoff occured in Kyushu 1996, where Akebono, Wakanohana, Takanonami, Kaio and Musashimaru (the eventual winner) were all tied with a noticeable 11-4 record. Takanonami defeated Kaio; Musashimaru defeated Wakanohana; Akebono directly qualified for the three-way playoff. Musashimaru defeated Akebono, then Takanonami.

e) For a six-way playoff: the aim is to reduce the number of rikishi to three, in order to set up a three-way playoff. Therefore, A faces B in a single bout, whereas C faces D, and E confronts F. Losers are eliminated.

Such a configuration seems impossible to get, but juryo is more prone to bring such a tied lead, when there’s no clear favorite at the beginning of the basho. It actually took place this year in July: Kyokutaisei, Hoshoryu, Akua, Chiyonoo, Mitoryu and Meisei (the eventual winner) were all tied with a 10-5 record. Remarkably, all three finalists (Akua, Hoshoryu and Meisei) came from the same stable (Tatsunami beya).

So, does anybody else holds a “minus three” record in playoffs?

It comes to no surprise that Hakuho holds the record of playoff participations – alongside Takanohana. The dai yokozuna has been top of the chart for an uncountable number of times – and he sometimes had to face stern opposition.

His first participation came as early as in May 2006, where he defeated Miyabiyama; his last one occured in January 2014, where he defeated Kakuryu (who actually got promoted to yokozuna after a yusho the following tournament). Overall, Hakuho has a “plus two” score: six wins to four losses.

In a way, Hakuho did worse than Terunofuji, as the yokozuna lost no less than three playoffs in 2009! Asashoryu (twice) and Harumafuji were the winners. Apart from Asashoryu, Harumafuji (including one playoff where he was still named “Ama”) and Kakuryu, Hakuho also faced… Toyonoshima (in November 2010)!

As mentioned, Takanohana also participated in ten playoffs – and his record is even, five wins to five losses.

With even records: former yokozuna Takanohana

Interestingly, Futahaguro has participated in two playoffs. But as we know, he’s the only yokozuna ever who never won a single yusho during his entire career – it goes therefore without saying that he lost both… but there’s better – or, rather, worse.

Kitanoumi has a noteworthy record, that might inspire Terunofuji. Indeed, the yokozuna participated in eight playoffs, won three of them, and actually got a “minus four” record, after his first four playoffs!

Actually, another great man from the past, Musashimaru, holds the most terrible record: one win (during the afore-mentionned Kyusho basho 1996) in six tries!

Deadly during playoffs: former yokozuna Chiyonofuji

Meanwhile, Chiyonofuji has been the true playoff-killer: six wins, and no loss…

16 thoughts on “Tokyo November basho post analysis. Playoff is cool, but cruel – just ask Terunofuji

  1. Since Tachiai is venturing into a new language altogether, is it a suitable time to suggest having a language toggle, as well as to make posts on previous basho searchable via drop down lists or folders? The current tag system is honestly a bit unwieldy and not at all specific. I had reason to look up one of your excellent reports on Takakeisho’s shin-ozeki basho, and it took a lot of random guesswork to skip the right number of pages on infinite scroll.

    • I can totally second that. Those french postings are a pain in the ass, as you have to scroll over them … Any sswitch to filter languages would be great. I also second that it’s difficult to find older posts.

      • As it turns out, my French articles have received many positive comments from French speaking readers. Can’t really agree with your opinion – especially exposed in such a way.

        • I’m all for bringing sumo to more and more audiences internationally, but a lack of proper categorising of Tachiai posts (yes, each basho has its own folder but there’s no way to actually access that folder from the top bar) has been a bugbear for a long time. Was hoping that since you’re diving into French reporting as well (might get me to actually learn French too, ha), now would be a good time to reorganise a little.

          • LOL. A great time to find someone who knows how to redesign the site…or knows how to manufacture time. A basho-specific “bar” or page would be nice. I’ll add it on the to-do list.

          • Agreed. Andy has started to regroup posts related to specific honbasho, which is awesome! I’m sure he’ll find other ideas for French translations.

        • Tim, I wouldn’t take it as a gripe about French. The infinite scroll has been a challenge for a while. If we’re at the final weekend of a tournament and I want to re-read about early action on the first few days, it’s A BEAR. Good luck if what you really want is from some Jungyo post three years ago. Thank God I put some of those features up in the menu bar but I totally agree the site needs some navigational upgrades.

          Sumo-fandom is multi-ligual and I’ve been keen on the idea of embracing even more languages…Hebrew, German, Russian, Mongolian, Georgian, Hungarian…and yes, even Japanese. But the core navigation problem would still exist so a redesign is needed long before my pipe dreams could ever be realized.

      • The infinite scroll is my own biggest gripe with the site. A language toggle wouldn’t make a dent in it. I’m going to see what I can do about easing that but that really has nothing to do with a handful of articles, written during a lull in the action. If there had been a Jungyo, you’d be scrolling past those…next weekend there will be amateur sumo you’ll have to scroll past…

    • Your gripe really has nothing to do with the French. I have been frustrated by that infinite scroll, too. A lot of gems really get buried after a few days. Takakeisho’s shinozeki basho is a good example since that was MANY moons ago. There’s a timeframe based widget that I may be able to add. Let me look into it. A language toggle wouldn’t have helped you at all. A handful of French articles over a year and a half? You’d have had to scroll past 200 or so articles to get back that far. A language toggle would not have prevented that.

  2. Thanks for this interesting topic.
    Somehow, it did not surprise me to discover that Chiyonofuji had a perfect 6 win record in playoffs.
    On paper, any debate about the relative greatness of Chiyonofuji vs Hakuho has to be resolved in favor of Hakuho – the results are clear. But there was a mystique about the Wolf that Hakuho doesn’t have.
    I saw him (on TV) on a couple of trips to Japan, and the impression stayed with me over the years, even though I was not exposed to sumo. Greatness can communicate itself even to a person who knows nothing about the field.

  3. There have been six 3-way playoffs in Makuuchi, plus two 4-way and the one 5-way you mention. They’re much more common in juryo: 27 3-way, ten 4-way, two 5-way, two 6-way, one 7-way, and the record-holder 8-way playoff in July 2001!

  4. I have been watching Sumo for a couple of years but I don’t think I have ever seen a 3 way playoffs at the makuuchi division yet.

    So how does a 3 way playoffs work with live TV? eg. Say after A beats B, does he just stay ringside? Or does he goes back to waiting room to redo his hair again and such? If not, then how long of a break does he get before he fight C?

    • The matches of any playoff involving 3 or more rikishi are done in rapid succession without breaks in the action.


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