Among the many summer go events for Japanese kids, the Toto Cup is a west-end special. It's for kids aged 3 to 18 in Kyushu (westernmost of the four large Japanese islands), in the adjoining prefectures of Okinawa (farther west) and Yamaguchi (the west end of Honshu, the largest island), and from overseas (still farther west). This year the overseas participants made up about 30% of the field: 55 came from five cities in China and 15 came from Taipei. Although no three-year-old took part, one of the contestants was five, and she won a third-place award -- but we're getting ahead of our story.
The 251 young hopefuls assembled at the Asia-Pacific Import Mart in Kitakyushu City on August 5th. They were watched, supervised, and taught by a roughly equal number of organizers, officials, volunteer assistants, parents, teachers, and guests, including four professional go players. The competition was divided into five classes and the venue was partitioned into two rooms. In one room, the kids in the unlimited class (where ranks went as high as 7 dan) played four rounds of even games and the kids in class A (1-5 dan) played four rounds of handicap go. In the other room, the kids in classes B (1-5 kyu), C (6-10 kyu), and D (11-20 kyu) played five rounds of handicap go, and a dozen beginners (class E) got their first taste of go. Overseas players were paired against Japanese opponents as far as possible.
Last year three Japanese middle-schoolers (Hashimoto Junpei, Nasu Haruki, and Nishimura Ryotaro) finished 1-2-3 in the unlimited class. This year all three tried their luck again, but each lost once in the first three rounds. At the end of those rounds there were five undefeated unlimiteds and four of them were Chinese. The fifth was Sasaki Shuma, an 11-year-old primary-school boy from Nakama, right next to Kitakyushu, but in the final round he bowed to Ding Yuexiang, a 13-year-old middle-school student from Shanghai. That made Ding unlimited champion. Niu Zebing, a classmate of Ding's, took second place by winning his final game against Luo Ruichen, a 12-year-old from Guangzhou. Cao Weilong, the fifth undefeated player, lost his final game to Nishimura to join the group of eleven who ended with three wins. Luo Ruichen had the best SOS in this group, so the first three unlimited places all went to players from China, and the top two places both went to players from Shanghai.
Since Shanghai has a population of over 20 million and a strong go organization, it was not a complete surprise to see youngsters from that city also triumph in three of the four handicap tournaments: Wu Zijie (age 12) won class A, Wen Zehai (age 12) won class B, and Wang Kaichen (age 10) won class C. In class D, however, the Japanese side finally came through: Eto Kotaro won all five of his games to finish first, while Usui Makoto, who is still in kindergarten, won four games and took third place.
None of the participants questioned by Ranka mentioned any ambition to play go professionally. 'I started too late' said Eto Kotaro. Niu Zebing hopes to run his own business, like his restaurateur father. Ding Yuexiang has no career plans yet, but named English as his favorite subject at school.
In addition to the class competition, selected kids had chances to play pair go with or play 13 x 13 instructional games against former Meijin Otake Hideo, who was born in Kitakyushu, former women's Honinbo Yashiro Kumiko, former winner of the TV-Osaka Lady's Cup Izawa Akino, and Takemiya Yoko, the son of former Honinbo Takemiya Masaki. The kids found their professional partners and opponents 'amazingly strong.' The pros also held a beginners' instructional session. One of the attendees was four years old.
Notwithstanding the youngster who burst into tears after losing to two opponents from Taipei, it was a cheerful crowd that departed from the Import Mart in the late afternoon, looking forward to a day of sightseeing on August 6. And Toto Ltd., a company that has consistently improved the world (they manufacture toilets), had just made it even better.
The game between Ding (white) and Sasaki can be viewed here.