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Distaff Duel in Bailing Cup

The full name is the Bailing Cup World Go Open Tournament. Held under the auspices of the International Go Federation, the People's Government of Guizhou Province, the Guizhou Sports Bureau, and the professional go associations of China, Japan, and Korea, this biennial event is backed by the Guizhou Bailing Group, a Chinese pharmaceutical company. It began in 2012, the year in which the Bailing Group launched a collagen skincare product under the name of Aitou (the Chinese name of the tournament that year was the Bailing Aitou Cup). The inaugural cup was won in 2013 by Zhou Ruiyang, who went on to earn a gold medal in pair go at the 2013 SportAccord World Mind Games. The competition for the second cup began on March 16, 2014 in Beijing.

In the four preliminary rounds, a special bracket was set aside for women, ensuring that four of them would reach the main knockout tournament. One of the winners in this bracket was a young Chinese pro who had recently won the Shanghai Jianqiao Xinren Wang tournament. This U16(male)/U18(female) event is known as the Rookie King tournament, but this year's king was Yu Zhiying, a girl. There was no women's bracket: she had to beat five opponents of the opposite sex. It is extremely rare for a go tournament that is open to both men and women to be won by a woman. In the entire history of professional go it has happened perhaps five times. The past Rookie Kings have all been male, and many of them are now among China's top stars, such as the above Zhou Ruiyang.

After her Rookie King victory, Ms Yu was asked who she considered to be the strongest woman go player in China. Her reply was, 'Rui Naiwei. When I play her I usually lose.' Not surprisingly, Ms Rui also won one of the four women's places in the Bailing knockout. She is something of a living legend, the equivalent in go of Judit Polgár in chess. In a career spanning China, Japan, the USA, and Korea, she has accomplished the rare feat of winning major tournaments open to men three times: the Chinese Hutang Cup in 1989, the Korean Guksu title in 1999, and the Korean Maxim Cup in 2004. She has also won well over thirty women's professional tournaments and was the first woman anywhere to earn a 9-dan ranking in go. Now she and her husband Jiang Zhujiu, likewise a 9-dan pro, operate a go school in Shanghai, but she continues to compete and do well, winning Chinese women's tournaments in 2012 and 2013 and capturing the women's silver medal at the 2012 SportAccord World Mind Games.

The other two women who survived the Bailing preliminaries were a pair of young Koreans, Choi Jeong and Park Jiyeon, who were taking time out from a Korean women's title match in which they were tied neck-and-neck. In the men's division, one of the survivors was the Chinese amateur Ma Tianfang, and another was from Chinese Taipei, but the rest were all Chinese and Korean pros. The survivors, 48 in all, joined 16 seeded players from China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and Korea in the main tournament.

The first round of the main tournament was held on March 18. The two Korean women, Choi and Park, found themselves matched against Korean men, to whom they lost. Ma Tianfang, though ranked among the 'Four Heavenly Kings' of Chinese amateur go, bowed to a Chinese 9-dan. The players from Japan and Chinese Taipei all lost to Chinese and Korean opponents. And what of Yu Zhiying and Rui Naiwei, the two women with proven records of triumph over men? As luck would have it they were matched against each other.

After the game a Sports-Sina reporter asked Ms Rui whether she had felt apprehensive about facing the Rookie King, or confident that her greater experience would give her the advantage.

Rui NaiweiRui NaiweiRui: 'I did not feel very confident. Aside from winning the Rookie King title, Yu has been making progress on all fronts. I was expecting a good, tough game.'

And how did it turn out?

Rui: 'For quite some time the lead remained unclear. Then I lost patience and invaded the top right corner. My opponent didn't have much time to consider her reply, and decided to let me live there so that she could rescue two stones in another part of the board. After living in the corner, I finally found myself in a comfortable position.'

The exchange Rui is describing took place between moves 68 and 77. It was a prelude to all-out war, but after parrying the attacks Yu staged in the center of the board and doing some effective counterattacking herself, Rui won by resignation at move 162. The game record can be viewed here (Rui is white).

In the second round, which has yet to be scheduled, Rui will face Korea's top-rated Park Jyeonghwan. The ultimate winner of the second Bailing Cup is due to be decided next year.

- James Davies