Hatsu Banzuke Crystal Ball


I embark on this exercise with more trepidation than usual. As noted in my previous post, there is a convergence of factors that makes this banzuke the least predictable since I started making these forecasts. Since then, we’ve also had Harumafuji’s retirement thrown into the mix. Usually, prediction errors just switch the positions of two or three rikishi, without affecting the rest of the banzuke. This time around, there is a lot of potential for errors that have cascading effects on much of the banzuke: for instance, incorrectly predicting whether Hokutofuji is given an extra Komusubi slot. That said, the forecast should still give a good idea of where everyone will end up within a rank or two. How it will fair in Guess The Banzuke is another matter—the game may see a rather unusual distribution of scores.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Hakuho Kisenosato
Y2 Kakuryu
O1 Goeido Takayasu

This is the only straightforward part of the banzuke. The Kyushu yusho winner Hakuho once again takes over his customary top spot. By virtue of his partial participation and four wins, Kisenosato moves up to Y1w. Kakuryu occupies what would have been Harumafuji’s slot. Both Kisenosato and Kakuryu are under orders to go the full 15 days in the next tournament they enter, and perform at Yokozuna levels, or retire. Kakuryu is under greater pressure to make Hatsu that next tournament.

9-6 Goeido and 8-5-2 Takayasu maintain their respective Ozeki positions from Kyushu; neither is kadoban.

Lower San’yaku

S1 Mitakeumi Tamawashi
K1 Takakeisho  Onosho
K2 Hokutofuji

Three rikishi will drop out of San’yaku: Sekiwake Yoshikaze and “Ozekiwake” Terunofuji, as well as Komusubi Kotoshogiku. Two incumbents remain. Mitakeumi defended his S1e rank and is the only definite placement among the San’yaku contenders.

Who gets the other Sekiwake slot? The contenders are Onosho, incumbent Komusubi who achieved a bare-minimum 8-7 kachi-koshi winning record, and the two rikishi ranked just below him who both went 11-4: M1e Tamawashi and M1w Takakeisho. Because Takakeisho is ranked below Tamawashi, he cannot jump over him with the same record, and is almost certainly out of the running for Sekiwake despite assembling a very strong record against tough competition and defeating Tamawashi head-to-head. Takakeisho will instead make his first San’yaku appearance as shin-Komusubi.

Onosho’s main claim to Sekiwake rank is that he achieved a winning record as Komusubi, and normally that gets first dibs on any open Sekiwake slot. He also defeated Tamawashi and Takakeisho head-to-head. But his overall record isn’t as strong. In addition to the wins over the two M1 rikishi, he defeated one Yokozuna, one Komusubi, M3 Hokutofuji, and three other rank-and-filers. He had six losses to San’yaku opponents, and also lost to the woeful Tochiozan.

By comparison, Tamawashi defeated two Yokozuna, one Ozeki, two Sekiwake, one Komusubi, and Hokutofuji, with no “bad” losses. Takakeisho was similarly impressive, defeating two Yokozuna, one Ozeki, two Sekiwake, and Tamawashi, and losing only to a Yokozuna, an Ozeki, and the two Komusubi. By the numbers, Tamawashi, Takakeisho, and, for that matter, Hokutofuji, all performed better than Onosho. Since I’m a numbers guy, I’m going with the forecast above, but don’t be surprised if the NSK goes by rank instead, and the banzuke ends up with S1w Onosho, K1e Tamawashi, K1w Takakeisho. They could also give everyone a promotion with S1w Tamawashi, K1e Onosho, and K1w Takakeisho, although this would only increase the disparity between the two M1 rikishi.

A better solution to this mess might be to create an extra Sekiwake slot, but this seems highly unlikely, since an 11-4 record at M1 is not considered strong enough to “force” such an extra slot, and neither is an 8-7 record at Komusubi. Plus this still leaves out one of the deserving trio, and they’re certainly not creating two extra slots!

Finally, Hokutofuji more than earned an extra Komusubi slot—no rikishi with his rank and record has ever been left out of San’yaku. Given recent events, sumo could use both an extra rikishi in the upper ranks and a positive story, so I’m going with Hokutofuji at K2e, though this is also far from certain.

Upper Maegashira

M1 Ichinojo Yoshikaze
M2 Kotoshogiku Tochinoshin
M3 Chiyotairyu Arawashi
M4 Shodai Endo
M5 Okinoumi Takarafuji

If there are 10 rikishi in the named ranks as predicted, and if they all participate for the entire tournament, the M1-M3 ranks will constitute the joi, facing a full slate of San’yaku opponents. However, recent history suggests that some or all in the M4-M5 ranks will be drawn into the fray as well.

Ichinojo performed well enough in Kyushu to have received a San’yaku rank on many a banzuke, but he misses out on this top-heavy one. If he keeps bringing the same sumo, it’s only a matter of time. Okinoumi moves up 7 spots, and Endo moves up 5. I gave Endo the nod over Okinoumi because he is popular, and they owe him one after the “unorthodox” scheduling near the end of Kyushu.


M6 Ikioi Chiyonokuni
M7 Chiyoshoma Tochiozan
M8 Kaisei Chiyomaru
M9 Sokokurai Shohozan
M10 Aminishiki Terunofuji
M11 Kotoyuki Daishomaru
M12 Daieisho Kagayaki
M13 Abi Takekaze

Another potential minefield for predictions. With the exception of Ikioi, no current member of Makuuchi among this group achieved even 9 wins in Kyushu; everyone else is either getting promoted too much with a bare-minimum 8 wins, or not getting demoted enough. I’ve given Terunofuji the most generous placement I can justify. Sokokurai, who went 14-1 in Juryo, gets the highest placement for a promoted rikishi since May 2016. Abi makes his highly anticipated Makuuchi debut at M13.

Lower Maegashira

M14 Asanoyama Ishiura
M15 Yutakayama Nishikigi
M16 Daiamami Ryuden

Harumafuji’s retirement and Terunofuji’s demotion shrink San’yaku to either 9 or 10 members. I’m going with 10, and so my banzuke extends down to M16w. If Hokutofuji is left out of San’yaku, the banzuke would extend to M17 for the first time since July 2014.

Harumafuji’s retirement at least clarified the line between Makuuchi and Juryo. We don’t have to decide if Daiamami did just enough to earn a second chance, or if Ryuden did just enough to get promoted—both should be in the top division in January. They’ll be joined by Asanoyama, who’ll be looking to regain his Aki form, Ishiura, who gets another shot at showing that he belongs in Makuuchi, where he successfully fought for nearly a year before a disastrous Aki landed him in Juryo, Yutakayama, who will be looking to improve on his two previous one-and-done 4-11 top-division tournaments, and Nishikigi, who just barely survives yet again.

What the Kyushu Results Mean for Hatsu

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The Kyushu basho has concluded, and while the Yusho race was largely a one-man affair, the rest of the proceedings were filled with unanticipated results. At the end of each basho, the banzuke gets reshuffled for the next one, and this is the most complex and unpredictable reshuffling I’ve seen. I will have a full banzuke forecast post once I’ve digested the final results, but here are some initial thoughts.

What makes the task difficult for the banzuke makers?

I’m glad you asked. We have a confluence of unusual events.

  • Below the Yokozuna ranks, we had three rikishi who missed all or most of the tournament, ranging in rank from Sekiwake Terunofuji to M8 Takanoiwa to M16 Ura. Where should they be ranked in January?
  • We have a 14-1 Juryo champion, erstwhile Makuuchi mainstay Sokukurai, who needs to be worked into the banzuke much higher than usual for rikishi promoted from Juryo.
  • We have several 7-8 rikishi whose make-koshi records warrant demotion, but there is a dearth of rikishi with kachi-koshi records to place ahead of them.
  • Several rikishi near the bottom of Makuuchi have records that aren’t quite good enough to make them safe from demotion to Juryo. Conversely, several rikishi near the top of Juryo have records that aren’t quite good enough to guarantee promotion to Makuuchi.
  • Perhaps the greatest complication is that we have 5, count them, 5 rikishi whose records would usually warrant Sekiwake rank, and only 4 “normal” San’yaku slots to accommodate them. This doesn’t even include Ichinojo, who will miss out on San’yaku promotion despite accumulating double-digit wins at M4.

Who will be in San’yaku?

We already knew that Kotoshogiku will vacate his Komusubi slot; with today’s loss, Yoshikaze will drop from Sekiwake all the way into the maegashira ranks (I expect to see him at maegashira 1). We also know that Mitakeumi will retain his Sekiwake 1e slot by virtue of his 9-6 record.

Beyond that, things get complicated. Our shin-Komusubi, Onosho, turned things around in a big way and ended the basho with an 8-7 record that guarantees a second tournament in San’yaku. Normally, this record would also ensure a promotion to the open Sekiwake slot, but this time we have another strong contender in former Sekiwake Tamawashi, who went 11-4 from the M1e slot. In the past, there have been a couple of cases of an 8-7 Komusubi and a 10-5 M1 competing for a Sekiwake slot, and it’s played out in different ways. Going 11-4 makes Tamawashi’s claim stronger, but I’m not sure how this will play out.

Onosho’s friend and fellow rising star Takakeisho also went 11-4 from the M1w slot. Being on the West side puts him in line behind Tamawashi, and 11-4 is not strong enough to force an extra Sekiwake slot to open, so he will be shin-Komusubi at Hatsu. This fills up four San’yaku slots: S1e Mitakeumi, S1w/K1e Onosho/Tamawashi, K1w Takakeisho. So what to do with M3 Hokutofuji, who also delivered an amazing 11-4 performance? My guess is that this record is good enough to force the creation of an extra Komusubi slot, and that he will be K2e at Hatsu, but it’s not guaranteed. Having all four of the promising youngsters—Mitakeumi, Onosho, Takakeisho, and Hokutofuji—in San’yaku, plus the formidable veteran Tamawashi, with Ichinojo knocking on the door, makes me really look forward to Hatsu. It’s going to be a long wait until January 14th!

Who will be in the joi?

The joi is a somewhat nebulous category of the top 16 or so rikishi who battle each other. In addition to the upper named ranks, it includes a number of the highest-ranked maegashira. How many? Well, that varies from tournament to tournament depending on the number of San’yaku members participating, and as we’ve seen recently, it can change during a tournament following withdrawals of upper-rank rikishi. In Kyushu, the line fell between M5e Takarafuji, who faced a number of the upper-rankers, and M5w Arawashi, who made only a couple of cameo appearances.

Drawing the line in the same place for Hatsu, the 9 rikishi projected to make up the joi include 4 current members and 5 wrestlers from lower down the banzuke who separated themselves from the rest. The returnees include the two demotees from San’yaku, Yoshikaze and Kotoshogiku, M2 Chiyotairyu, who fought his way to a respectable 7-8 record after a rough start, and Ichinojo. These four should make up the M1/M2 ranks. Rounding out the M3-M5e slots should be Tochinoshin, Arawashi, Shodai, Okinoumi and Endo; none are newcomers to this part of the banzuke.

Where will the Makuuchi/Juryo line fall?

Barring unusual circumstances (e.g., multiple retirements, court orders…), Myogiryu, Aoiyama, Takanoiwa, and Ura will be demoted from Makuuchi. Sokokurai and newcomer Abi have definitely earned their promotions from Juryo. I think Asanoyama and Nishikigi did just enough to avoid demotion by the skin of their teeth, and Ishiura and Yutakayama did just enough to return to Makuuchi after a one-tournament absence (but not enough to convince us they can make it an extended stay). The bubble is made up of Daiamami and Ryuden, who may or may not exchange spots in what would be a Makuuchi debut for Ryuden. Ryuden would have made this decision a lot easier had he defeated Daiamami head-to-head when they met on day 14.

I don’t envy the banzuke makers (or your humble prognosticator). If you have other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will do my best to answer.

Matches to Watch on Senshuraku

Today’s results drained some of the drama from the final day, but there are still several bouts with a lot at stake, as well as ones with high entertainment value.

At the top of the torikumi, Goeido faces Hakuho. This bout is for pride, as Goeido already has his kachi-koshi and Hakuho has clinched the Emperor’s Cup. Goeido is fighting to reach double-digit wins, and seeks to improve on his 6-35 lifetime record against Hakuho, while the Boss surely wants to punctuate his unprecedented 40th yusho with a victory on senshuraku.

Given today’s results, MitakeumiYoshikaze is not the “there can be only one (Sekiwake)” clash it might have been, as Mitakeumi earned his kachi-koshi and will remain S1e, while Yoshikaze was handed his make-koshi and will give up his rank after two tournaments. What’s at stake? With a win, Yoshikaze should only be demoted to Komusubi, while with a loss, he’ll drop out of San’yaku altogether.

KotoshogikuIchinojo could be a great bout from an entertainment standpoint, but there’s not a lot at stake. Even with an 11-4 record, Ichinojo is unlikely to get a San’yaku promotion, something that has never happened before to an M4 rikishi with that record, but the logjam ahead of him is also unprecedented.

Onosho, on the other hand, probably has the most at stake of any rikishi tomorrow when he faces Takarafuji. Both men are 7-7, so it’s a straight kachi/make-koshi playoff. For Onosho, the difference between outcomes is stark: win, and he probably gets Yoshikaze’s vacated Sekiwake slot; lose, and he drops out of San’yaku altogether.

San’yaku promotion supremacy comes down to two bouts: TamawashiHokutofuji and OkinoumiTakakeisho. Right now, Tamawashi, Takakeisho, and Hokutofuji are essentially tied, and their pecking order is determined by their current rank. With a win, Tamawashi will claim the highest promotion slot. If Hokutofuji wins, then Takakeisho needs to win to stay ahead of him. However things play out, all three should be in San’yaku for Hatsu.

In addition to Onosho and Takarafuji, 3 others will have their make/kachi-koshi fate determined on the final day. Takekaze will look to earn his kachi-koshi against Chiyonokuni, while Chiyoshoma and Aminishiki go head-to-head. I hope Uncle Sumo has one last good trick left for this bout.

In what can’t have happened very often, Endo goes from his cameo at the very top of the torikumi to the very bottom, where he will try to achieve double-digit wins against Kagayaki.

The battle for Makuuchi remains a muddle, and may do so even after tomorrow’s matches. Nishikigi (against Daishomaru) and Daiamami (against Shodai) are fighting to avoid demotion; to a lesser extent, so is Asanoyama (against Chiyomaru). Their fate rests partly on the men down in Juryo, where Ryuden, Ishiura, and Yutakayama each need a senshuraku win to have a credible promotion case.

Kyushu State of Play Heading Into the Final Weekend

The yusho race

Hakuho leads by one win over Hokutofuji and Okinoumi. Everyone else has been mathematically eliminated from the yusho race. On day 14, Hahuko faces…Endo? Why do the schedulers hate Endo? Sure, he is doing well with 9 wins, but at M9, it’s not like he’s run out of opponents closer to his own rank with reasonable records. Also, why isn’t Hakuho fighting Arawashi, who at M5 is the highest-ranked rikishi he hasn’t faced, and who also sports a very respectable 8-5 record? Or, for that matter, why not Okinoumi?

Hokutofuji faces a resurgent Onosho, who needs to win both of his remaining bouts to maintain his Komusubi rank. Onosho leads the series 4-1.

Okinoumi gets another big step up in the quality of his opposition. He managed to get past a less-than-full-strength Tochinoshin. Now he gets M1 Tamawashi, who is looking genki indeed and who still needs wins to lock down a San’yaku slot (and possibly rise all the way to Sekiwake).

The battle for San’yaku

We know that at least one slot will open up in San’yaku, as Kotoshigiku will definitely drop into the maegashira ranks for Hatsu. Terunofuji will also drop out of San’yaku, but he occupied an extra Sekiwake (or, as we’ve been calling it, Ozekiwake) slot that will not be available to others. The other 3 incumbents are still in limbo. S1e Mitakeumi is 7-6, and a win tomorrow against Arawashi or on senshuraku against Yoshikaze would clinch his kachi-koshi and his rank for Hatsu. Even if he loses both bouts, he shouldn’t drop down further than Komusubi, so he won’t open up another slot—it’s only a question of what flavor the one slot will be. S1w Yoshikaze is 6-7, and needs to win tomorrow against Ichinojo and on Sunday against Mitakeumi to hold rank. If he wins one of the two, he should also not get demoted further than Komusubi, but two losses would drop him out of San’yaku. Finally, there’s K1w Onosho, who needs to win twice to extend his stay at Komusubi. Add it all up, and between one and three slots could be open.

Who are the contenders for these slots? Hokutofuji leads, followed by Tamawashi and Takakeisho, and then Ichinojo. With 11 wins, Hokutofuji may have already done enough to lock down a slot no matter what happens, and a win in the final two days should almost certainly do it. Both Tamwashi and Takakeisho can each lock down a slot with another win; the only way Ichinojo has a shot at getting in is if they both lose twice and he wins out. Tomorrow, Takakeisho takes on the tricky sumo villain Chiyoshoma, who’ll be looking for his kachi-koshi.

Just to recap, the six key bouts that will start to unravel the rather tangled state of affairs at the top of Makuuchi are:







The battle for Makuuchi

We know of two definite demotions from Makuuchi: the kyujo Takanoiwa and Ura. After his loss today, Aoiyama also very likely faces demotion. Nishikigi is in a lot of trouble, and Daiamami and Myogiryu are in only slightly better shape. Asanoyama and Takekaze could use another win apiece to be assured of another basho in the top division, while everyone else has done enough to be safe.

How are things down in Juryo? The one certainty is that 12-1 Sokokurai will be back in Makuuchi after a two-basho absence. Ryuden, Ishiura, and Abi each need another win to ensure promotion, while Kyokutaisei and Yutakayama need two apiece to have a claim.


Ozeki Takayasu withdraws from Kyushu

Apparently, Takayasu aggravated his leg injury sufficiently to pull out of the tournament on day 13. He already had his kachi-koshi, clearing his kadoban status, and wasn’t in yusho contention, so there wasn’t anything at stake other than pride.

Several dominos fall as a result. Goeido automatically gets his kachi-koshi by fusen tomorrow. And Hakuho gets none other than Endo on day 14. More to come tomorrow.

Key day 13 matches

Given that it’s Thanksgiving in the U.S., this is just a short preview. Tomorrow, I’ll recap where things stand going into the final weekend.

Before he faces the two Ozeki, 11-1 Hakuho gets M5 Takarafuji. They have faced off 14 times, with Hakuho winning 12.

One of the two 10-2 chasers, Hokutofuji, goes up against Yoshikaze. Both have a lot at stake, as Yoshikaze desperately needs a win to have a shot at attaining his kachi-koshi and maintaining his Sekiwake rank, while Hokutofuji now leads the race for promotion to San’yaku. Let’s hope Yoshikaze didn’t injure himself too badly. The other chaser, Okinoumi, faces an increased level of competition in M6 Tochinoshin, who showed his old strength in defeating Asanoyama.

In other notable upper-rank bouts, the two Ozeki face off when Goeido takes on Takayasu. After losing his last 3 matches, and 5 of the last 7, Goeido still needs a win to achieve his kachi-koshi and avoid becoming kadoban. I’m sure he doesn’t want to have to try to do it on senshuraku against Hakuho! Mitakeumi, who still needs a win to maintain his rank, takes on IchinojoOnosho, who needs to win all of his remaining matches, faces Shohozan, and Takakeisho is matched up against Tochiozan.

One of my candidates for bout of the day pits M1 Tamawashi against M9 Endo, who’s won 6 in a row. Both men already have their kachi-koshi, so this battle of contrasting styles is over how big their promotions will be. Endo is really being tested here by being matched with an opponent much higher up the banzuke. Will Tamawashi’s furious attack prevail, or will Endo find a way to turn this into a test of mawashi skills?

Day 12 matches to watch: what’s on the line

The yusho race

As we all know and I won’t belabor, the yusho race is now, well, a race. Hakuho will need to regroup tomorrow against Mitakeumi in order to ensure his lead, with the added incentive of avenging the one blemish on his Nagoya yusho.

What would already have been a huge bout between 8-3 Takayasu, who just erased his kadoban status and is once again a full-fledged Ozeki, and 9-2 Hokutofuji takes on added importance. Hokutofuji will want to keep pace in the yusho race as well as strengthen his San’yaku bid (see below). He won in his only previous meeting with Takayasu.

The other 9-2 pursuer, M12 Okinoumi, takes on none other than Aminishiki in an intriguing and surprisingly important bout.

The battle for the upper ranks

After today, we know we will have two Ozeki for Hatsu, but Goeido still needs one win to avoid becoming kadoban. He takes on Ichinojo in a “who knows what’s going to happen?” match. Surprisingly, their career record is even at 5-5.

Today’s victories by both Mitakeumi and Yoshikaze made it more likely that they will continue as Sekiwake. Mitakeumi needs just one win in the final four days, and will have his first shot at kachi-koshi against Hakuho. Yoshikaze still needs two wins, but has the easier task tomorrow when he meets Chiyonokuni.

Onosho’s loss today left him no room for error—he needs to win out to defend his Komusubi rank. Tomorrow, he takes on Chiyotairyu, which has serious brawl potential.

In the race to join San’yaku, there are only 3 likely contenders. Tamawashi and Hokutofuji kept pace today, while Takakeisho did not. Tomorrow’s Tamawashi-Takakeisho bout looms large!

The battle for Makuuchi

While the battle for the upper ranks got clearer today, that for who will be in the top division got muddier. Among the demotion candidates in Makuuchi, Daimami, Kotoyuki, Asanoyama, and Takekaze won, while Nishikigi, Aoiyama, and Myogiryu lost. Aoiyama, Daiamami, and Nishikigi now need to win 3 out of 4, Takekaze and Myogiryu need 2 wins, and Kotoyuki and Asanoyama should be safe with another win (Daieisho and Daishomaru could each also use another win to be assured of staying in the top division).

Tomorrow’s matches that affect demotion chances are Aoiyama-Kotoyuki, Daiamami-Ikioi, Endo-Myogiryu, Takekaze-Chiyomaru, Chiyoshoma-Nishikigi, Asanoyama-Tochinoshin, Takarafuji-Daieisho, and Shohozan-Daishomaru.

Down in Juryo, Sokokurai won to go to 10-1, and is likely one win away from cementing his promotion. Ishiura, Yutakayama and Abi are next in line, and need two wins apiece. Ryuden and Kyokutaisei round out the list of those with a realistic shot at promotion. The big Juryo bouts between contenders tomorrow are Kyokutaisei-Ishiura and Sokokurai-Yutakayama.