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International Amateur Pair Go: a 10th Championship for Korea

Best Dressers Awards ceremonyBest Dressers Awards ceremonyAfter a stretch of fine weather and Halloween hijinks, Tokyo hunkered down under gray skys and intermittent rain for the weekend of November 2-3, but inside the Hotel Metropolitan Edmont, the atmosphere was warm and festive: thirty-two pairs from twenty-two countries and territories were there to compete in the 24th International Amateur Pair Go Championship. China returned to the competition by sending an editor (Zhou Gang) and reporter (Wang Rui) from Weiqi Tiandi, China's leading go magazine. Korea sent its top-rated junior amateur Jeon Junhak, who recently won the Incheon Mayor's Cup for the second consecutive year. (In the Korean amateur rating system, junior means under 40 and not an insei). His partner was Kim Soo-young, a student at Myongji University who is an active player on the Korean pair-go scene, who won this year's Women's Amateur Kuksu title, making her the reigning queen of Korean amateur go, and who hopes to help spread go internationally in the future. Chinese Taipei sent Lo Sheng-chieh and Lin Hung-ping, who also competed in the World Students Go Oza Championship in Tokyo in February. Russia sent Dmitry Surin and Natalia Kovaleva, who finished tenth in the 23rd IAPG Championship last year. Japan entered eleven pairs who had won their way in through regional qualifying tournaments.

In the first round, played right after lunch on November 2, the Japanese pair from the Tokai-Hokuriku region (central Japan) defeated the Chinese pair. The winners of this game were Shinichi Torii, a local government worker, and Chie Kato, a cheery primary-school student who played from a wheelchair. Three Japanese pairs lost their first games, to the pairs from Chinese Taipei, Korea, and Russia.

The first round was followed by goodwill games that partnered the championship competitors with a variety of non-competing pair-go players, including a dozen pros. Before the games began, the pros were introduced and asked to give some advice. Always think of your partner, said one. Don't keep thinking of your partner, said another. The weaker partner should relax, play his or her own game, and let the stronger partner worry about teamwork, said a third. After a mistake, take a deep breath and look over the whole board, said a fourth. One of the more perspicuous comments came from 4-dan pro Sachiko Hara, who said she found pair go very effective in teaching children because it forced them to behave well and think realistically, which made them stronger.

Most of the overseas players donned national costume for the goodwill games. The British pair were decked out as a helmeted knight and his lady. The Australian pair wore koala suits. The Swedish pair sported midsummer wreaths, and treated the crowd at the welcoming party that followed the goodwill games to a midsummer frog song and dance.

Next day the remaining four rounds were played in parallel with a huge (138-pair) handicap tournament. Chie Kato and Shinichi Torii gave the contestants' pledge in Japanese, and Wang Rui and Zhou Gang repeated it in Chinese. The Russian pair lost to a Japanese pair in round two, but the pairs from Chinese Taipei, Germany, and Korea remained undefeated in this round and the next, as did Ayako Oda and Kazumori Nagayo, a married pair of former insei who operate a go school in Yokohama.

In round four, the Korean pair defeated the German pair in less than an hour. "We never had a chance," said law student Olga Silber. "They didn't make a single mistake," added Benjamin Teuber, who is currently training at a go school in Beijing.

In a much longer game, the Oda-Nagayo pair defeated the pair from Chinese Taipei. "Our opening strategy worked, we got a territorial advantage, and we kept it," Kazumori Nagayo said. "Last time we competed we lost to the Korean pair, so we'll be looking for revenge in the final round."

And they very nearly got it. They matched their Korean opponents in the opening and came out of the middle game with a sizeable lead. The Koreans managed to reduce the lead by setting up a ko, but the ko was too indirect for them to win, and the Japanese pair simplified things by connecting it, after which they were still ahead. Near the end, however, they made a slip that cost them four points, and the Koreans won by 2.5.

This is the tenth Korean victory in IAPG championship competition, as compared with seven for Japan, four for China, two for DPR Korea, and one for Chinese Taipei. Korean pairs have triumphed every year since 2009, and this year (2013) Korean players made clean sweep by also winning the World Students Oza Championship, the World Amateur Go Chamionship, the Korea Prime Minister Cup, and Thailand's 15-dan team tournament.

The final game was followed by the traditional gala award ceremony and party. Jeon Junhak and Kim Soo-young came away loaded down with prizes. Kazumori Nagayo and Ayako Oda received a prize for the best result by a Japanese pair: their SOS score placed them third, behind the pair from Chinese Taipei. The 4th-place prize went to Dmitry Surin and Natalia Kovaleva, whose four victories included a second win over a Japanese pair in the final round. Japanese pairs took the prizes for 5th to 8th places, but the pairs from Germany (9th), Romania (11th), Sweden (13th), Vietnam (14th), and Czechia (16th) scored three wins apiece to join three more Japanese pairs in the top sixteen, and the pair from the Netherlands (Merijn de Jong and Els Buntsma) won a best-dressed prize. In all, European and Vietnamese pairs won a total of five games against Chinese and Japanese opposition, another sign of the rising level and popularity of pair go worldwide.

Full results and players' pictures are here.