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Korea Prime Minister Cup (First Day)

Yeomju Gymnasium Arena (Ito Toshiko)Yeomju Gymnasium Arena (Ito Toshiko)The 7th Korea Prime Minister Cup International Amateur Baduk Championship is being held October 27-28 in Gwangju. The tournament is hosted by the Korea Amateur Baduk Association (KABA) and the Gwangju Amateur Baduk Association, and is sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation, the Korean Olympic Committee, Guangju Metropolitan City, Korean Air, and the Hana Bank. Also cooperating are the Korean Baduk Association and the Asian Go Federation (AGF).

The tournament is organized as a simplified MacMahon system. On the basis of declared ranks, the field is divided into two halves, the top half starting out with one extra point for pairing purposes. This year the top-ranked player is China's Hu Yuqing, 8-dan, twice former world amateur champion and recent winner of the Qingdao Cup in China. Next in rank are three 7-dan players from Canada, Chinese Taipei, and the USA, followed by 6-dans from Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, and five European countries (Azerbaijan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia,and the Ukraine). Notable among the 5-dans is the hometown favorite, Korea's Han Seung-Joo. Also competing are includes four Korean extras, ranked 7-10 kyu, who were added to fill out the bottom half of the full field of 72.

The tournament was preceded by an orientation meeting on October 26 at the players' hotel, where the pairings for the first round were announced. Loud cheers went up when it was revealed that Russia would play the USA.

Alexei Lazarev (Ito Toshiko)Alexei Lazarev (Ito Toshiko)The tournament itself is being held at the huge Yeomju Gymnasium, located next to a world cup soccer stadium. At 9:30 a.m. on October 27 the constestants were seated at their boards in half of the gymnasium arena, awaiting the start of the opening ceremony. The other half of the arena was being prepared for a children's team tournament. The opening ceremony consisted of a rapid succession of speeches by the sponsors, starting with a rousing welcome from the Gwangju's mayor Kang Un-Tae and ending with a rousing command to start playing, given by KABA's president Cho Kun-Ho. The players fell to with a will.

In the first round, the 6-dan-7-dan confrontation between Russia and the USA turned into a long and determined battle that lasted more than two hours and ended in victory for Russia's Alexei Lazarev. In other first-round games, the Asian big powers (China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea) defeated opponents from Luxembourg, Australia, Madagascar, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Singapore and Thailand also won, against Belarus and Brazil, getting the Asian zone off to a good start. Meanwhile, the rain that had been falling since early morning had turned into a downpour, and most of the players were content to remain inside the gymnasium complex for lunch.

Chen Chi-jui (Ito Toshiko)Chen Chi-jui (Ito Toshiko)In the second round, the Asian players began to encounter each other. Another 6-dan-7-dan confrontation took place between Chinese Taipei, represented by 12-year-old middle-schooler Chen Chi-jui, and Hong Kong, represented by 19-year old Chan Nai-san, a freshman at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Although Chen outranked Chan, age and experience proved their value: victory went to Hong Kong. Chan Nai-san's comment: 'I was lucky.' In a greater upset, Vietnam's Mai-duy Le (2-dan) beat Singapore's Xiang Zhang (6-dan). Meanwhile New Zealand's Doyoung Kim defeated Czechia's teenaged hope Lukas Podpera, and in a match between two more European teenagers, Poland's Mateusz Surma defeated Germany's Jonas Welticke.

Yongfei Ge (Ito Toshiko)Yongfei Ge (Ito Toshiko)Mateusz continued his winning ways in the third round, at the expense of Hungary's Rita Pocsai. Canada's veteran 7-dan Yongfei Ge defeated Ukraine's Artem Kachanovskyi, generally regarded as one of the best two or three players in Europe. Wearing what he described as a lucky jacket borrowed from one of the interpreters in defense against the falling temperature in the gymnasium, brought on by the rain, Finland's Juri Kuronen handed Doyoung Kim his first loss. Alexei Lazarev scored a third straight win by beating Mai-duy Le. Also remaining undefeated were Hu Yuqing, Han Seung-joo, and Austria's Schayan Hamrah, who defeated France's Danguy le Calve, Thailand's Apidet Jirasophin, and Belgium's Kwinten Messiaen, respectively.

The big game in the third round, however, was between Hong Kong and Japan. Chan Nai-san took the lead by capturing a group in the opening, but Japan's Kinoshita Nagatoki fought back gallantly and the middle game became close. The two players struggled through a nerve-wracking endgame that stretched well beyond the scheduled 6:00 p.m. closing time and ended in victory for Japan. The players then all went out for a traditional Korean dinner at a nearby restaurant.

- James Davies