Not long ago, on February 24 to be exact, sixteen globetrotting, go-playing university students gathered at the Hotel Monterey La Soeur Ginza in Tokyo for a reception to kick off the 12th World Students Go Oza (throne) Championship. Half of them, four young men and four young women, came from China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, where go is a major intellectual sport. Another six young men and two young women came from Brazil, France, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Russia, Thailand, the Ukraine, and the USA. Ahead of them were two days of competition to determine the champion and put the others in their places.
If you imagine a typical go-playing university student to be slight of build, serious, studious, and quiet, then there was one who looked the part perfectly. That was the young man from China: Wang Chen. But for the past few years Mr Wang has also been one of the 'Four Heavenly Kings' who rule China's amateur rating list.
A native of Dalian, Mr Wang learned go at age seven and started taking part in the annual Chinese professional qualification tournament at age ten. After nine straight failures to make pro, he gave up and enrolled at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, where he studies economic reporting and captains the university's go team. In the meantime, he had begun winning major amateur tournaments in China, at least one each year since 2009.
Chinese amateur tournaments have significant monetary prizes. When he won the Chenyi Cup in 2011, Mr Wang earned as much as a white-collar worker in China might make in two years. Essentially he was putting himself through college by playing go. Last July he won the first Chinese International University Weiqi (go) Tournament, and this year in January, after taking fourth place in the Evening News Cup, he beat one of China's top pros in the Evening News pro-amateur team match, so this unassuming economist-to-be landed in Tokyo with excellent prospects of winning yet another championship.
And that's what he did. In the first round on the morning of February 25 he downed Ken (Kai Kun) Xie, who had been New Zealand champion at age twelve in 2006. Playing black, Wang killed two groups of white stones and won by resignation in 175 moves. (When played out to the end, a typical game of go lasts nearly 300 moves.)
In the second round Wang faced Yamikumo Tsubasa, an Osaka University student who has consistently done well in the Japanese Students Top Ten Tournament. Playing white, Wang killed a black group at the 120th move. Mr Yamikumo conceded the game 44 moves later. Next morning Wang defeated the other Japanese player, Ritsumei University coed Go Risa. She came out of the opening badly and resigned after only 90 moves. Wang's last opponent, Chung Chen-En, a student at Taiwan's National Central University, put up more resistance than the other three, but in the end he too resigned, following a futile last-ditch attack on one of Wang's groups.
Yamikumo, Go, and Chung did not lose to anyone else, so they finished as part of the four-way tie for runner-up. Tie-breaking points put Yamikumo second, Chung third, and Go fourth. Taiwan's Hu Shih-Yun also lost only one game and came in fifth. The opponent she lost to was the USA's Maojie Xia, who had played the two Japanese and finished a highly commendable sixth.
In his championship interview Mr Wang said that all of his games had gone well. None of his opponents would argue with that. He added that after graduating he hopes to continue his amateur career and is particularly interested in coaching talented young players.
And what about the rest of the world? Viktor Ivanov (Russia, 9th place) and Kwan King-Man (Hong Kong, 10th place) matched Maojie Xia by winning two games apiece, and although Yanqi Zhang (France, 12th place) won only once, the opponent she beat was Zhou Shiying, the Chinese female player. At both the reception and the awards ceremony, officials in the All Japan Students Go Association, which handled all the organizational work (drinking party included), remarked on the rising level of play in countries outside the Far East.
Complete results and clickable game records can be found here.