The 2014 Toto Cup International Junior Go Championship was held on July 28th at the Asia-Pacific Import Mart in Kitakyushu. This is the city where Toto got its start as Toyo Toki (Oriental Ceramics) nearly a century ago. While still mainly a ceramics manufacturer, the firm has expanded into high-tech fields such as photocatalytic coatings, and is also an enthusiastic sponsor of tournaments for young people, in disciplines ranging from basketball through volleyball to go.
At the opening ceremony the contestants and other participants were welcomed in Japanese and Chinese by a group of officials that included Ishimaru Yasuhiko, general manger of the general affairs division of Toto, Kitahashi Kenji, Mayor of Kitakyushu, and some big names in the go world: Otake Hideo, former Japanese Meijin, Luo Jianwen, vice-chairman of the China Weiqi Association, and Chou Chun-Hsun, Taipei's first professional 9-dan go player. Mayor Kitahashi pleased the audience by describing go as the ultimate intellectual game.
Following an explanation of the tournament rules in Japanese and Chinese by referees Takemiya Yoko (son of another former Japanese Meijin) and Jin Qianqian (a Chinese pro), the players limbered up with calisthenics. Such exercises are a regular part of the day for Japanese schoolchildren and much of Japan's work force, blue collar and white collar alike, but they are a bit unusual at go tournaments. But then, this was no ordinary go tournament: the contestants were a peppy group of over two hundred youngsters from Kyushu and neighboring prefectures in Japan, five cities on the Chinese mainland, and one city in Taiwan. A dozen or so of the youngest concluded the opening ceremonies by presenting bouquets to the officials.
And then the competition began. The strongest dan-ranked players faced off in an unlimited class, in which all games were played on even terms. The other dan-ranked players competed in an A class with handicaps given according to rank (1-5 dan). The numerous kyu-level players also played handicap go.
Eighty of the Japanese contestants had been selected through prefectural qualifying tournaments. Among them were Hashimoto Junpei, a highschool junior from Kumamoto Prefecture who won the unlimited class in 2012, and Nishimura Ryotaro, a highschool freshman from Yamaguchi Prefecture, who was unlimited runner-up in 2011 and took third place in 2012. Both of them won their games in the morning round.
When the round ended Ranka spoke with Qi Taozhu, a Chinese schoolgirl who was looking somewhat unnerved after having a large group of stones captured by Hashimoto Junpei. She admitted to taking go lessons at a daochang (go academy) in Guangzhou, but said she had no intention of becoming a professional player. Her school interests include math and English, and as for a career, she said, 'Oh, I'm undecided; my plans keep changing.'
While the dan-ranked players were completing this round, the kyu-evel players completed two rounds, with a break in between for some pair go on 13 x 13 boards. Also participating in the pair go were Otake, Takemiya, and Okinawa native Chinen Kaori, a former holder of several ladies' professional titles. Ms Chinen was taking a break from a beginners' class she had been teaching with Izawa Akino, another female pro.
After lunch, Hashimoto and Nishimura kept on winning. At the end of the third round, four of the five undefeated players in the unlimited class were Japanese. In the deciding fourth-round games among these five, Nishimura defeated Hashimoto by 3.5 points while Ren Yihua, a 13-year-old from Dalian in China, defeated Imamura Daigo, a freshman at the Sasebo National College of Technology in Japan. The fifth undefeated player was drawn down and lost, so the champion was either Nishimura or Ren, but which one? When the tie-breaking points were tallied, they gave first place to Nishimura, second place to Ren, and third place to Hashimoto.
Hashimoto and Nishimura than began an extended analysis of their final game, at the conclusion of which Ranka asked Nishimura for his comments. Echoing the sentiments of countless professional and amateur players before him, he said, 'I played badly; I was lucky to win.' Asked how he studied go, he said he played every day on the Internet. His next major tournament will be the Amateur Honinbo in Tokyo, August 23-24.
Ren Yihua, who came accompanied by his father (a lawyer) and mother (a real estate agent), also considered himself lucky to have won four games, since he has not studied go formally for over a year. He now plays mainly on the Internet, against opponents from China, Japan, and Korea. Like Qi Taozhu, he gave math as a favorite school subject. Hashimoto Junpei, who has been a tournament player since his primary school days, said that these days, he plays go only to prepare for events such as this one.
In the meantime, while the tournament staff calculated the scores to see who had won the other sections, Ms Chinen and Ms Izawa were holding the players enrapt by challenging them to solve a series of go problems. When the awards were presented, it transpired that class A had been won by Xie Le, a nine-year-old from Shanghai who said he had made shodan in six months at a daochang, and then quit formal instruction and carried on by himself. Class B (1-5 kyu) was won by Yeh Che-chun, a twelve-year old from Taipei. Class D (11-20 kyu) was won by Ren Zheming, a diligent third-year middle school student from Shanghai who said he liked math and science and played go only once or twice a month. Class C (6-10 kyu) was won by Ai Xiaoke, a six-year-old from Beijing who started playing go at age four. She said she plays go every day during holidays, but has other interests at school, such as swimming, table tennis, and fencing. Her mother commented that China seems to be trying to make school more interesting for the students, instead of just stuffing knowledge into them as in the past.
And after giving these and the other prize-winners their awards, Mr Ishimaru summed things up for Ranka by saying, 'Toto is glad to sponsor tournaments like this. It's meaningful for us because, after all, the future belongs to these young people.'
- James Davies. Photos by Ito Toshiko.