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Park Wins 2013 Korea Prime Minister Cup

In brief, the 8th Korea Prime Minister Cup International Amateur Baduk Championship went the same way as the 35th World Amateur Championship in Sendai last month and the 7th KPMC last year. The Chinese and Korean players were unscathed in the first five rounds and the Korean player won the decisive game between them in the sixth round, which is the final KPMC round. The players were different, however, and there was plenty of drama in the rounds preceding the sixth.

Park Jaegeun receiving cupPark Jaegeun receiving cupFor most of the 61 contestants, this year's KPMC began with a flight into Incheon on October 10, an overnight stay at a hotel near the airport, and a bus ride the next day to Gumi, a formerly rural town that has grown into a major manufacturing city. The buses took them to an orientation meeting at GumiCo, a convention center on the outskirts of the city, then to the Gumi Century Hotel. After checking in, they collected in the Century's banquet hall, where they were greeted in Korean by the mayor of Gumi, the president of the Korean Amateur Baduk Association, the chairman of the Korean Olympic Committee, and members of Korea's National Assembly and Gumi's City Council. They were also greeted by Suh Daewon, a former Korean amabassador to the United Nations and to several European countries, who is now president of the Asian Go Federation. Speaking in both Korean and English, Mr Suh pointed out that the Asian contestants at the KPMC were outnumbered by the Europeans, and explained that the AGF's mission was to spread baduk all over the Asian continent. Martin Stiassny, president of the European Go Federation, and Andrew Okun, president of the American Go Association, offered greetings and thanks in return, in English. All this was preceded by a magic show and followed by a lavish buffet feast.

GumiCo entrance seen from withinGumiCo entrance seen from withinNext morning the players were bused back to GumiCo, where chief referee Yoo Changhyuk gave the signal to start round one at 10:00. In 1993 Mr Yoo won the Fujitsu Cup, starting a quarter century of international dominance of the game by Korean pros. While still competing professionally, he now also operates one of Korea's largest baduk schools. His instructions were interpreted by Lee Hajin, a younger Korean pro, who served as MC throughout the tournament. Her cheerfulness, charm, organizing abilities, and excellent English did much to make the tournament a success.

The KPMC is run under a simplified McMahon system, with the field divided into two halves. In the first round players are paired against random opponents from the same half. This year, the random draw matched Russia's three-time European champion Ilya Shikshin, who finished 4th at Sendai, against Hong Kong's Chan Chihin, who took 4th place in the 2012 WAGC at Guangzhou. The teenager from Hong Kong got his Russian opponent into trouble in the early middle game and won convincingly. On another board, Taiwanese insei Lin Shinwei, who finished 10th at Sendai, bested the Ukraine's Dmytro Bogatskyy. The players from China, Japan, and Korea defeated opponents from Vietnam, Denmark, and Indonesia. After their games, winners and losers alike headed downstairs to the GumiCo lunchroom to fortify themselves for the afternoon rounds.

Jostein FloodJostein FloodThe second round was paired at random across the entire field, without regard to McMahon groupings or the results of the first round. This allowed the showdown between the last two undefeated players in the top MacMahon group to occur in the final round instead of round five. It also produced a clash between two insei: Taiwan's Lin and Korea's Park Jaegeun. Park proved the stronger of the two. In all, twenty contestants finished the second round undefeated, including Park and the contestants from China, Hong Kong, and Japan, who defeated opponents from Lithuania, Malaysia, and South Africa. In the tragedy of the round, the UK's Jonathan Diamond outplayed Norway's Jostein Flood but committed an oversight in the final filling of the neutral points. Both players were distraught. 'I won but I feel as if I had lost,' said Jostein. 'Of course my opponent probably feels even worse.'

For the third round the pairing scheme reverted to the McMahon system, and a major upset occurred. Swiss 2-dan Sebastien Ott beat Austrian 5-dan Schayan Hamrah, who tied for 6th place at the KPMC last year. Ott thus ended the first day undefeated, as did seven other contestants: China's Fu Li, who beat Thailand's Nuttakrit Taechaamnuayvit ('Krit' for short); Czechia's Ondrej Silt, who beat Spain's Pau Carles; Finland's Juri Kuronen, who beat the Netherlands' Alexander Eerbeek; Hong Kong's Chan, who beat New Zealand's Kaikun Xie; Japan's Emura Kikou, who beat Romania's Lucretiu Calota; Korea's Park Jaegeun, who beat Canada's Bill Lin; and the USA's Hugh Zhang, who beat France's Jerome Salignon. Ott and Zhang had been seeded into the lower half of the field, so they now found themselves in the second-highest McMahon group, the other six undefeated players forming the top group.

In the fourth round the next morning, interest focused on the game between the Chinese and Japanese players. Japan's Emura was seeking revenge for a loss to China's top amateur player in Sendai, but China's Fu, world amateur champion in 2002 and currently China's 50th-ranked amateur, took advantage of a mistake to gain an early lead, which he then kept to win by resignation. Emura was visibly shaken by this loss. In the other two top group games Juri Kuronen and Ondrej Silt fell to Chan Chihin and Park Jaegeun. In the next McMahon group Sebastian Ott lost quickly to Taiwan's Lin Shinwei, but in a two-and-a-half hour struggle that delayed the start of the next round by 45 minutes, the USA's Hugh Zhang recovered from a massive capture to defeat Israel's Jonathan Lidor.

In the fifth round Korea's Park was drawn down against Romania's Lucretiu Calota, whom he disposed of by killing a group of stones. The smiling Romanian then strolled out to have his picture taken in royal Korean robes in the lobby in front of the playing room. Meanwhile, China's Fu Li played Hong Kong's Chan Chihin in a David-and-Goliath game to see which of them would meet Park in the final round. Chan, cast in the role of David, managed to draw some signs of agitation from Fu, but counter to the Biblical outcome, the Chinese veteran prevailed in the end. The USA's Hugh Zhang, drawn down against Poland's Koichiro Habu, won to stay undefeated and earn a pairing against Chan in the final round.

Park JaegunPark JaegunAfter lunch, the deciding game between Fu and Park was played on a board set up on the stage at the front of the playing room. The action was relayed down to the first floor for a public commentary, where some two dozen spectators took time out from other tournaments being held in the same building to witness Park's triumph. In his post-game interview, Park said he had found the final game unexpectedly easy to win--the players from Taiwan (Lin Shinwei), Canada (Bill Lin), and Czechia (Ondrej Silt) had given him stiffer competition.

Despite his chastening loss to Park, Fu finished a strong 2nd, three SOS points ahead of Bill Lin and Chan Chihin, who tied for 3rd and 4th places. Since Chan won his final game against the USA's Zhang, Park emerged as the tournament's sole undefeated player. In two other last-round games Japan's Emura downed Thailand's Krit and Russia's Ilya Shikshin beat Lin Shinwei, proving again that he is a dangerous opponent for some of the best Far Eastern amateurs. The result of these games was that Emura finished 5th, Ilya Shikshin 6th, Lin Shinwei 7th, and Krit 9th, while Romania's Lucretiu Calota took 8th place.

At the awards ceremony following the final round, Park received a bound testimonial, a large cup, and much applause. Runner-up Fu received a bound testimonial, a smaller cup, and equal applause. The contestants who finished 3rd to 9th received bound testimonials and further applause, as did the rest of the top sixteen (the Ukraine's Dmytro Bogatskyy, Czechia's Ondrej Silt, Germany's Michael Palant, Austria's Schayan Hamrah, Vietnam's Khanhbinh Do, Finland's Juri Kuronen, and the USA's Hugh Zhang).

For the players who did not place in the top sixteen, there were zonal awards. The winners in the Asian zone were (1) Edwin Halim (Indonesia), (2) Yifei Yue (Singapore), (3) Sansar Tsolmon (Mongolia), and (4) Zhefan Mah (Brunei). The European/African winners were (1) Alexander Eerbeek (Netherlands), (2) Pau Carles (Spain), (3) Jonathan Lidor (Israel), and (4) Jannik Rasmussen (Denmark). The American/Oceanian winners were (1) Kaikun Xie (New Zealand), (2) Wen Qian (Australia), (3) Augustin Antonissen (Chile), and (4) Santiago Tabares (Argentina). In all, nearly half the participants went home with awards and there were gifts for all, including framed photos and hand-drawn artwork.

As in any McMahon tournament or Swiss system, the final standings were to some extent determined by the luck of the draw. If the players who finished 11th and 15th had drawn average opponents in the randomly paired second round and earned three or four SOS points apiece instead of just one, they might have ended as high as 9th and 10th--unless Krit had also earned four SOS points instead of just two in the second round, in which case he would have retained 9th place. But such speculations lead nowhere and aside from the Ott-Hamrah upset, the top sixteen standings told a consistent story. There was also a picture-perfect finish in the middle of the field: in the final round the players from Turkey, Serbia, the UK, and Sweden captured 28th to 31st places by beating opponents from Switzerland, Norway, Poland, and Malaysia, who finished right behind them in 35th to 32nd places. The entire tournament staff deserve credit for a job well done.

And for the city of Gumi, the sound of stone hitting board now gave way to the strains of Beethoven and Saint-Saëns, marking the beginning of a five-day international music festival.

Complete results can be found here.

More tournament pictures can be found on Cyberoro's website here, here, and here.

- James Davies (photos: Toshiko Ito)