The Choongam Baduk Dojang (go academy) has been a driving force behind Korean Baduk for the past two decades. In the 1990s it was not only a training place for young aspirants but also a meeting place where some of the strongest Korean players would get together to analyze games and investigate new moves. In 2011 it was reorganized in its present form by the merger of three dojangs. When the players at the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup visited it on September 18, they were welcomed by its headmaster Choi Gyubyung, 9-dan. He explained that Choongam was currently the leading baduk academy in Korea, having the largest number of insei and having turned out the largest number of professional players. Photos of these pros adorned the hallways. The 51 KPMC contestants were then matched against a like number of Choongam students for a friendship match. While the match was in progress, Mr Choi kindly consented to an intervew with Ranka.
Choi: Choongam has a long history, and I've been with it since the beginning. It was founded in its present form in 2011 by Yang Jaeho, Yoo Changhyuk, and Heo Janghoe, all professional 9-dan. It has students of many levels, up to the insei level. There are different rooms for students of different levels. As a pupil advances from level to level, he or she moves up from room to room. Ranka: Please tell us a little about the history and organization of Choongam.
Ranka: How many foreign students do you have?
Choi: At present Benjamin Lockhart, from America, is studying here, and we have students from Taiwan as well. In the recent past we've also had European students, from Czechia, France, and Poland, for example.
Ranka: How was today's friendship match organized?
Choi: We matched the KPMC contestants against the Choongam students in order of rank, for the contestants, and rating, for the Choongam students. We excluded the top twenty Choongam students, so we started with number twenty-one, who was matched against the top ranked KPMC contestant, and then so on down.
Ranka: What do you think are the keys to becoming a good baduk player?
Choi: To start with, memory is important, as it is in any form of education, not just baduk. You have to gain and retain knowledge. But the most important thing in baduk is to develop the ability to figure things out for yourself. To do some original thinking during your games.
Ranka: How do you view the current baduk competition between China and Korea?
Choi: Last year China pulled ahead of Korea, but I think this may be a temporary situation. China has a very good educational system, however. It will be very interesting to see how the contest between China and Korea develops in the future.
Ranka: Thank you very much.
Postscript: Ranka was unable to keep tally of how all the friendship matches turned out, but at the top end, the KPMC contestants had a tough time. Although the KPMC champion-to-be Wei Taewoong won his game, China's Hu Yuqing, twice world amateur champion, lost to Choongam's Cho Namkyun, and Japan's Tsuchimune Yoshiyuki lost to Choongam's Moon Hyojin. At the bottom end, however, where the Choongam side consisted mostly of primary school students who were still near the beginning of their serious baduk studies, it was a different story. Ranka is pleased to report that some of the smallest European countries can still produce players who can defeat some of the kids at Korea's leading baduk academy.
This is a continuation of an interview Ranka had with Alexandra when she played in the first World Mind Sports Games in Beijing six year ago. At that time she had interrupted her university studies in Hungary to study go at the International Baduk Academy in Korea. That interview ended with Ranka asking Alexandra what her future plans were. She said she wanted to get stronger at go, see how much progress she had made a year later, and then decide what to do next. What she eventually decided to do was to enroll as a graduate student in Korean literature at a Korean university. Studying Korean literary theory and writing a thesis in Korean left her little time to play go, so when she earned her degree and returned to Hungary, she was playing only at about the 1-dan level. Nevertheless, when a call went out on the Internet for someone to represent Hungary at the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup, she answered it.
Alexandra: Actually I got started by accident when I was fifteen. I was looking around on Internet sites, I think Japanese-related sites, and I found this site about go and I got really interested in it. So I started to play on KGS and later looked for some Hungarian players, and that is how I started the game. Ranka: How did you get started playing go?
Ranka: And how did you come to pursue a graduate degree in Korean literature?
Alexandra: That actually developed from my interest in Korea. After I spent one and a half years in Korea I went back to Hungary and graduated from my university, and after that I went to one of these reading evenings. It was something like a reading circle. They were reading Korean writers' short stories, and I really liked them. I really liked their atmosphere. They were very, like, harmonious. And so when I later applied for a scholarship to Korea, a governmental scholarship, I thought, I could study Korean literature in Korean, which is an asset, and I'm also kind of interested in Korean literature, so why not?
Ranka: Can you tell us about one Korean author that you particularly like?
Alexandra: Of course! To start with, I like female writers a lot, because in Hungary thare are not that many of them; it's still mainly male writers that dominate the scene. One of the writers I like is Kong Ji-young. She's quite famous and has a lot of works in translation. I particularly like her because I wrote my thesis about her. She's one of the first female writers that got really famous. She writes about things in a very female way that I like very much.
Ranka: What does she write about?
Alexandra: Well, she writes about several things, but the short stories I particularly like from her are about making the transfer from the eighties, when Korea was still sort of a dictatorship, to the nineties when they finally became democratized. It became an inner struggle inside Korean people, especially Korean youth, university students. At one time in the eighties they thought that socialism was going to be the way to go, but at the end of the eighties a lot of Eastern European socialist states became democratic. So they had this whole world collapsing inside them. How were they to overcome the collapse?
Ranka: You now work as a translator. Have you translated any go books from Korean into Hungarian?
Alexandra: No, because the go population of Hungary is only about 100 to 150.
Ranka: What do you translate?
Alexandra: Well, right now I'm just starting out, so I'm trying to establish myself as a freelancer. So far I've mostly translated literature, and that's what I'm most interested in. Much of my work has been proofreading translations by Koreans who are translating Hungarian literature into Korean: famous Hungarian writers or famous Hungarian historical books. I've also worked as an interpreter; I interpreted for a well-known writer when he was in Hungary. His name is Yi Mun-yeol and he's very famous in Korea, so I was really happy to have that chance.
Ranka: We wish you good luck in your career.
Alexandra: Thank you.
- Photo: Ito Toshiko
Andre Connell is a Johannesburg-based information technology consultant who represented South Africa at the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup in Seoul. Ranka spoke with him after he had played two rounds and split two games with very different Asian opponents.
Andre: I learned about the game at Stellenbosch University, which is where I studied. We have a student center where the students can go and get fairly cheap food, and the go club used to meet there. So one evening I walked past and asked the guys, 'What are those? Can you eat them?' Which is kind of the standard question. It started from there and I've been playing ever since. Ranka: How did you learn about the game of go?
Ranka: How many years ago was that?
Andre: That was in '95, so it was nineteen years ago.
Ranka: How has go developed in South Africa during those nineteen years?
Andre: It's grown. During the Hikaru no Go phase when everyone was watching the manga, it grew quite a lot. We've kept a few of those players, and I think the general level in South Africa has improved quite a bit. We have one very strong player, Victor Chow, who has been playing in South Africa and is pretty much the strongest guy around in our country, but there are a lot of the rest of us who have also increased our level. I'd say we've got between five and ten players at around the two to four dan level now, which is much better than, let's say, fifteen or twenty years ago when I started, when we had only a couple of dan players. So that's basically where we are at the moment. We're not as strong as many of the European countries, for example, but we're doing fairly well.
Ranka: Does Victor Chow teach the rest of you?
Andre: Yes. We generally play against him in tournaments. Every time you get to a tournament, which can be about two to five times a year, you get to play a game against him, and it's pretty much a teaching game.
Ranka: Do you also go into the places where the original African population lives?
Andre: The townships, for example. One of our strongest clubs is actually in Soweto. We have a couple of players from there who have actually gone to the World Amateur Championships and to the KPMC. I think about seven or eight years ago Julius Paulu went to the World Amateur Champs, and Welile Gogotshe went to the KPMC four years ago. Julius was around 1-dan. He's unfortunately passed away since then, but Welile is one of the strongest players in South Africa. He's probably around 3-dan. He's doing very well.
Ranka: And now, can you tell us about your first game, this morning?
Andre: My first game this morning was against Mongolia. It was quite a tight game. I had a large lead up to about move 100, and then I kept losing little chunks of territory and stones, and eventually managed to sneak it by 2-1/2 points, but it was quite tight at the end. It was one of those that almost got away. At least it was 'almost' -- it didn't get properly away.
Ranka: And what was the story this afternoon?
Andre: I played against the Korean player. He is very strong, quite a few stones stronger than I am, but it was a lot of fun. I tried to attack one of his groups. It didn't work out too well, and then he had one of my groups on the run. It managed to live, but he ended up taking a quarter of the board in return, so he was twenty or thirty points ahead and there was no way I could catch up, unfortunately.
Ranka: Thank you and good luck in the upcoming rounds.
Postscript: In the remaining rounds Andre faced four European opponents and beat one of them to finish 36th.
- Photo: Ito Toshiko
Lorenz Trippel is a Swiss 1-dan who works at an office in Zurich, likes cycling, is an active go organiser and is also a prolific provider of go information on the Internet. Ranka talked with him shortly after he arrived in Seoul for the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup.
Lorenz: We have a long history of go in Switzerland. We started in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and from there we have been growing slowly, like everywhere else in Europe, I think. Now we have about 150, maybe 200 active go players. We have the tradition that every club holds a tournament each year, so we have eight or nine tournaments a year. As we are small, our organization has waves. Sometimes the people get very active and do a lot, and some other times things go a bit slow. But still, we are maintaining quite a good tournament schedule. We also try to promote the game on some special occasions where we can put up a stand, talk to the public, and explain the rules. That's probaby, from my point of view, the most important thing the organization can do: to promote the game. Ranka: Please tell us about go in Switzerland.
Ranka: How did you get started in go?
Lorenz: I got started through my family. My father played, my aunt played, and I have an older brother who played -- a half-brother, who is much older than me. When I was like ten he was already in his thirties. So they would play against each other, my father and my brother, and I would watch them playing. That's how I started, just by observing the older family members. And then one day I started to play myself, but I don't really remember the moment when I started to play.
Ranka: Please tell us more about your go-playing aunt.
Lorenz: She's now over one hundred years old, and she has a very emotional connection to the game. She's not a strong player. She just has this feeling about it, about playing the stones. She likes the game, but she is not competitive at all. To her, it's more of a social doing.
Ranka: And what are you looking forward to in the KPMC?
Lorenz: In this tournament I really couldn't say what I'm looking forward to. I just want to play good games. I cannot win a prize. I'm sure that if I play too well in the beginning I will meet some very strong opponents and get crushed, so how well I do cannot be counted by numbers. I just want to to play good games.
Ranka: Thank you and we hope you do.
Postscript: Lorenz played quite well on the first day of the KPMC, beating 2-dan and 3-dan opponents from Norway and Spain and losing only to a 4-dan from the Netherlands. His prediction then came true: on the second day he was matched against a pair of 5-dans from Thailand and Germany and a 4-dan from Israel, lost all three games, and finished 35th. But that was still second highest among the eight 1-dans competing.
- Photo: Ito Toshiko
Ranka talked with Belarusian 1-dan Aliaksandr Chakur shortly after his victory over a like-ranked player from Brunei in the first round of the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup.
Ranka: How long have you been playing go?
Aliaksandr: I've played go for about ten years. I started to learn in my university days. Then I found a go club in our city, Minsk, where there were other players and also a teacher, Alexandr Suponev. He began to teach me and I started to progress. I played a lot every week.
Ranka: Is there a lot of go activity in Belarus?
Aliaksandr: We have around eighty players, and we sometimes have tournaments.
Ranka: Are you currently the strongest of the eighty?
Aliaksandr: The three strongest players now all play as 1-dan, and then there are three to five 3-kyu players, so I may not be the strongest, but I am one of the strongest.
Ranka: What happened in the game that you just finished this morning?
Aliaksandr: In that game I was stronger. Her opening was much weaker and I killed most of her groups.
Ranka: And what are your hopes for the coming rounds?
Aliaksandr: It's mostly communication -- to communicate with people from other countries -- also to play and review games, maybe become stronger, and maybe find some new ways to progress.
Ranka: How often have you been to the Far East before?
Aliaksandr: One time to China, one time to Japan, and this is my third time in Korea, always to play in a go tournament. I've played in the KPMC twice before, in 2008 and 2012.
Ranka: How did you do those two years?
Aliaksandr: I won about half my games and lost about half. That's my usual result, so I hope that this year I will do the same, or maybe better.
Ranka: Thank you and good luck.
Postscript: This year Aliaksandr broke even again. In his next five games he faced opponents from New Zealand, Turkey, South Africa, Portugal, and Peru, with ranks from 1-dan to 6-dan, and defeated two of them to take 31st place.
Sweden's new go champion Jakob Bing has played in two Korea Prime Minister Cups, both times winning three games and finishing near the middle of the field. In 2012, playing as a 2-dan and assisted by a McMahon point, he came in 33rd out of 70. In 2014, now ranked 3-dan, he finished 28th out of 51 without McMahon assistance, the tournament having reverted to the normal Swiss system. Ranka interviewed him shortly after his last game.
Jakob: Well, sadly, it seems that go in Sweden has been shrinking. It was more active seven years ago when I started playing. There were more tournaments, with more players. We still have one very big tournament, the Gothenburg open, which gets up to sixty or more participants, but a normal tournament can be like twenty to twenty-five people. The number of tournaments has been shrinking as well. How many do we have left now? I think maybe five or six a year. But a new thing that has started is that we have a summer go camp near Gothenburg, arranged by the Gothenburg go club. This has been very successful for three years in a row. It's very nice, very relaxed, in a nice natural setting near a lake. Quite a lot of people come. Ranka: Can you bring us up to date on the go scene in Sweden?
Ranka: To learn how to play better?
Jacob: Yes, to learn, but in a more relaxed atmophere than at a tournament. It's good for people who don't like the competitive atmosphere in tournaments, but they want to meet others and play a lot of go. I think it's a very good thing to have, because it's a different way of playing go together, and some people prefer it.
Ranka: And now please tell us how you feel about your performance here at the KPMC.
Jakob: For some reason, I have been playing much too aggressively. In fact, I've been playing very badly for the past few months, though I've played a bit better in the tournament here. I lost all three games on the first day, but I kind of had strong opponents. Then today I won all three games, for the opposite reason. I guess that if you lose all your games on the first day you can expect to meet weaker people.
Ranka: Which do you think was your best game of the six?
Jakob: Either my first game against the player from Malaysia or my third game against Vesa Laatikainen, from Finland. I think I played best in those games. The third game ended with me dying a lot. I thought I was going to kill my opponent and I tried too hard and everything died. But it was fun.
Ranka: Thank you very much.
Photo: Ito Toshiko
James Sedgwick is president of the Canadian Go Association, but was competing in the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup as a player. Ranka interviewed him at breakfast at the Olympic ParkTel, before the bus ride to the Korea Baduk Association building for the first round.
James: Canada is a big country, so it can be hard to get an overall picture of how the community is doing. You notice how one region can have a mini-go-boom for a few years while there's another region where the organizers have fallen away. A lot of Chinese organizations are very active now. There are two or three schools in Toronto that teach kids, mostly Chinese kids from second-generation families, and that's having a big impact. A lot of strong young players are coming in. There was a youth tournament this spring which had forty children under twelve, mostly from these schools. Ranka: Please tell us about the go community in Canada.
Ranka: What are the names of these schools?
James: One of them is called the Golden Key Go School, because it operates at the Golden Key Culture Center. They ran the last Toronto Open. Another is just called, in English, the Toronto Go School.
Ranka: And what about the rest of Canada?
James: I think the rest of the community is growing slowly, but when I look at players around my level, about European five dan, there are five to ten of us from a Western background. I don't think there were that many ten or twenty years ago. So it's hard to perceive, but the growth is there.
Ranka: What is it like, trying to organize go in a country as big as Canada?
James: Recently I think we've had a more active executive in the Canadian go organization than we had five or ten years previously, which is a good sign, but it's always a struggle to figure out how you've made a difference at the end of the day. You need the local go communities to do a lot. Well, they're trying, and we're trying too.
Ranka: How was your visit to the Choongam Baduk Academy yesterday?
James: They were very strong, generally stronger than the field here. It was impressive to see. It's always a shock the first time, but I've been to go camps in Shanghai and Beijing -- my wife is originally from Beijing -- so I've had similar experiences elsewhere. It was about what I'd expect at a strong go school here. The intensity of the training the kids go through to get as strong as they are, we're nowhere near that yet in the West.
Ranka: Was it a good warm-up for the KPMC?
James: Oh yes, it got my brain into gear. I'm still thinking through some of the positions in my head. During the tournament I hope I won't make the same mistakes, although I'm sure I'll make make different mistakes.
Ranka: What other hopes and expectations do you have for the KPMC?
James: My hopes are mainly to avoid embarrassment. I'm a little weaker than the last few Canadian representatives. Last year the Canadian representative in the KPMC finished third. I think it's unlikely I'll be able to match that, but my goal is to finish in the top ten.
Ranka: Last year's Canadian representative was Bill Lin. Have you played him very much in Canada?
James: Yes, quite often, in the Canadian Go Association's online Dragon League. That league was created and named by Chuck Elliot, a long-time go organizer in the Canadian prairies who is now in his seventies but doesn't seem able to sit still. I think he's currently involved in setting up some sort of school in China where they teach go and English. I've played Bill maybe five games in the past two years. I don't know that I've been able to win any of them, but I've had chances at fairly late stages in some of the games.
Ranka: Thank you and good luck.
Postscript: After beating Jerusalem Open winner Amir Fragman in round three but losing to the players from China and Chinese Taipei in rounds two and five, James found himself matched against one of Europe's strongest players, Thomas Debarre of France, in round six. The winner of this game would earn an award for placing in the top sixteen. James lost, but still earned an award by placing in the top four in the America and Oceania zone.
- Photo: Ito Toshiko
Malaysia was represented at the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup by the secretary of its weiqi association, Jimmy Cheng (Cheng Khai-yong in Chinese), who also works as a weiqi (baduk, go) teacher. Ranka interviewed Jimmy after his first-round victory over an opponent from Sweden.
Ranka: How did you learn to play go?
Jimmy: I learned because I watched the Hikaru no Go animations. I started when I was fifteen years old, about eleven years ago. At the time, there were hardly any go players in Malaysia, so at first I was just playing by myself, but afterward I managed to find the Malaysian Go Association, which we now call the Malaysia Weiqi Association, so I joined them and started playing competitively.
Ranka: And when did you start teaching?
Jimmy: Teaching? I started teaching in 2010, only four years ago. Before 2010 there was no weiqi teaching in Malaysia. All of the weiqi players were playing on their own. Actually, there was no institute teaching any game like chess or weiqi in Malaysia. Then, suddenly, a chess academy where they taught Chinese chess and international chess appeared, so I approached them and told them I was good at weiqi, and started teaching there. After that, I started recruiting students, and it all grew to the point where now we have three or four weiqi institutes promoting the game, and I'm also going into primary and secondary schools to teach.
Ranka: Are you based in Kuala Lampur?
Jimmy: Yes, I'm based in Kuala Lampur, and most of our main events are held in Kuala Lampur, but the game has started growing in other places too. One place is a chess academy in Ipoh, which is up north of Kuala Lampur. There's someone trying to promote weiqi in every part of Malaysia.
Ranka: How old are your students?
Jimmy: The yougest I've taught is about six years old, but I've also taught a lot of adults. Normally I teach groups of students, mostly in primary and secondary schools. When adults come, often they want to learn so that they can get their sons or daughters to learn. About half the population of Malaysia is Chinese. They migrated into the country from China a long time ago, but they still relate to Chinese culture, so I'm sure they are potentially interested in weiqi. There is just a lack of information about the game, and how to learn it. So to promote our game to them, what I am doing now is to create places for them where they can learn to play.
Ranka: Do you make a good living at this?
Jimmy: For me, it's actually quite good. I don't belong to any one institute. If there's any place where they need someone to teach, I go there. I've been sort of a pioneer. It was quite hard in the beginning, but now, after these few years, I think I earn about the same as a university graduate. I still don't own my own institute, however. I think that if I had my own institute I could do even better. But I just hope I can spread weiqi all around Malaysia, so wherever they need help, I'll go there and provide them with material assistance, with the teaching materials and equipment that they need.
Ranka: And now, can you tell us about the game you just finished in round one?
Jimmy: Well, first of all, my objective here is to beat the players who are ranked at the same strength as me or below. When I play someone above my strength, it may be kind of hard to win. Before the game I checked my opponent's rank and saw that it was 3 dan, the same as me, so I hoped to win and fortunately, I did. I can't say it was a hard game. I'd call it a comfortable win, although he fought a lot.
Ranka: Thank you very much.
Postscript: In his next game Jimmy outdid himself: he upset Thai 5-dan Vorawat Tanapatsopol. Then after losing to two 6-dans and a 4-dan, he won his last game against another 3-dan opponent, Portugal's Daniel Tome. This earned him a well-deserved award as one of the top four players in the Asian zone excluding China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, and Japan.
- Photo: Ito Toshiko
European youth go champion Lukas Podpera, who was Czech champion in 2013 and came in sixth in the World Amateur Go Championship in 2014, started the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup by beating Lou Mankao, a 5-dan from Macau. The game ended well before lunch, so Ranka took the opportunity to ask him about his experiences at the Choongam Baduk Academy, where he had studied in the past.
Ranka: When did you first attend the Choongam Baduk Academy?
Lukas: I first attended the Choongam Baduk Dojang two years ago when I told Mr Kim Sungrae, who is now one of our referees, that I would like to study baduk seriously somewhere in Korea. He recommended Choongam as the best, the biggest, and the most famous dojang in Korea, so I went there for one month, and then I returned a year later, last year, again for one month.
Ranka: How much do you think those two months improved your game?
Lukas: Both times, after I studied at Choongam there was a European Go Congress and I played really badly in it. I had learned a lot of new stuff, my head was thoroughly confused, and I didn't know what to do. But now, two years after first going to Choongam, I believe I've improved by at least one stone, from average European 5-dan to strong European 6-dan. So I had to be patient a bit and wait for the results, but the results came.
Ranka: How did you study there?
Lukas: I remember that in the morning there was always almost no one there. Some of the kids went to school, because they were generally about five years younger than me. So in the morning I would do life and death problems and replay games. They way they replay games is not like the European way, where we replay from books very slowly, reading the commentaries. They would replay the game really fast. Sometimes it would take them only fifteen minutes to replay a game. So sometimes I replayed ten or fifteen games a day. And also we played some kind of league games, usually with fast time limits, like at most half an hour of basic time.
Ranka: Do you think you learned a lot by replaying all those games very fast?
Lukas: Yes. At least my reading became much better than before. Before I was like all Europeans, much slower than the Asians, because they're reading by shapes and we're only reading by moves. Although I was much better than them at positional judgement, they would always exploit some of my aji, or kill me somewhere, That didn't happen in Europe. So my reading improved a lot, I think.
Ranka: What other foreign students did you meet there?
Lukas: I guess the most well known European student there was Mateusz Surma, a 5-dan from Poland. He stayed there for two years, I think, so he had been there the longest, but there was also Rémi Campagnie from France, another 5-dan; he was studying there for three months. There were no other European students, but from the USA there was Benjamin Lockhart, who is studying there still, and from Canada there was Gansheng Shi, who stayed for two months.
Ranka: How do you hope to do in the KPMC this year?
Lukas: Two months ago I played in the World Amateur Go Championship and did really well, so I would like to get a similar result. I would like to win five games, which is probably what is needed to finish at least in sixth place.
Ranka: Thank you very much.
Postscript: After lunch, Lukas lost to Juang Cheng-jiun (Chinese Taipei) in the second round, but he won his next three games, beating Kim Ouweleen (Netherlands), Thomas Debarre (France), and Doyoung Kim (New Zealand). In his last game he fought valiantly but unsuccessfully with Tsuchimune Yoshiyuki (Japan) for a place in the top six. Tie-breaking points put him ninth.
After losing to Thailand's Vorawat Tanapatsopol in the first round, Mexico's ebullient Emil Garcia reeled off five straight wins to capture sixth place in the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup. In his last two games he downed a pair of veteran Nordic players, Vesa Laatikainen (Finland) and Thomas Heshe (Denmark), who have a long history of winning their respective national championships and competing with considerable success in past World Amateur Go Championships and KPMCs. Emil talked with Ranka the day after the 2014 KPMC ended.
Ranka: How did you start playing go?
Emil: The first time I saw go was in a movie called Pi (Faith in Chaos). It was a movie about a guy that had started in the stock market. He plays go with his neighbor and they find a lot of patterns, sacred geometric things. I got really intrigued with this game. I thought, 'Oh, I want to know what this game is.' Luckily, two days after that, I found a neighbor who had a go board, so it was like 'Oh a go board, that's it -- the game I saw in the movie! I want to learn.' At that very moment I became a go addict. I started playing every day with that guy until I beat him two months later. So that's how I started playing go.
Ranka: How old were you at that time?
Emil: I was fifteen years old. Now I'm almost thirty, so I've been playing go for more than half my life.
Ranka: Could you tell us something about go in Mexico?
Emil: Well, actually I am now the president of the Mexican Go Association. We are working very hard to promote and develop go in our country. There are clubs in each state. We have several places in Mexico City where you can play. What I am doing now is mainly for people in the capital, but there are also clubs in cities like Puebla, Guadalajara, and so on. As for tournaments, we do one national Internet tournament. Our fifth Internet go tournament is taking place right now. We also have what we call the Torneo Mexicano Presencial. You can call it the Mexican Open in English; it's going to be held in November. And this year we are going to have our first Mexican Go Congress. This is going to be our very first go congress and we are getting a professional player to come from Korea. They are sending one professional player to Mexico, so he can teach us and we can learn their techniques.
Ranka: Have you enjoyed yourself here in Korea?
Emil: Oh, I've had one of the most wonderful times ever at a go tournament. This year I managed to finish in sixth place, out of fifty-two. This is the best result in the entire history of Mexican go. It's also one of the best results for any Latin American person except Fernando Aguilar. Besides that, the organizers have been very kind, their attention has been really great, the interpreters have been wonderful, everything has been wonderful. I've really loved it. I want to bring the mood of the tournament, and its events, back to Mexico so that people who do not have a chance to come here can experience it in their own homeland. That is one of the purposes of the Congress, actually: to be able to bring this wonderful Asian environment back to America.
Ranka: Thank you very much.
- Photo: Ito Toshiko
America's Benjamin Lockhart, 7-dan, was paired against Hungary's Alexandra Urbán, 1-dan, in the first round of the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup. After winning that game, Benjamin beat a series of steadily stronger opponents -- Tomas Hjartnes (2-dan, Norway), Alvin Han (3-dan, Singapore), Dejan Stanković (5-dan, Serbia), and Dmitry Surin (6-dan, Russia) -- until his victory streak was finally stopped by Wei Taewoong (7-dan, Korea) in the final round. Both the American Go Association and the Choongam Baduk Dojang, where Benjamin is currently training, can take pride in his fifth place finish.
Ranka: Where are you from?
Benjamin: New York. I grew up in Brooklyn.
Benjamin: My father is a mathematician and so he knew about it; computer and math people usually know about go. He taught me and my brother when I was maybe nine years old. I then studied and played on and off until I was about sixteen and started taking it pretty seriously. For the past five years I've been studying it pretty much every day. For the last three years it's really been my whole life.Ranka: And where did you learn to play go?
Ranka: How did you get into the Choongam Baduk Dojang?
Benjamin: When I was eighteen I went to Budapest. Lee Youngshin, who is a professional player, was living and teaching there, and I became very good friends with her. When I came to Korea a year later, she and Yang Geun, a 9-dan pro, helped me get into Choongam. They recognized that I needed a dojang to study at, and Choongam had just been recreated by merging three dojangs, so it all fit together. They told Choongam who I was and that I wanted to study, and Choi Gyubyung, the 9-dan pro who runs Choongam, let me in. I've been studying there for three years.
Ranka: What made you decide to do this?
Benjamin: Anyone who wants to study go seriously has to move to Asia.
Ranka: Do you want to become a professional player in Korea?
Benjamin: I don't think that I can become a professional in Korea unless I become a Korean citizen, but I can become a professional in America through the American system. I hope to play in the next American pro qualifying tournament, whenever they have it. It's still very unclear, but as I placed in the top division of the US Open I think I can get a spot. That's why I came to the KPMC.
Ranka: Please tell us about your game against the Russian player in the fifth round of the KPMC.
Benjamin: He died immediately in the opening, and so the game was kind of easy. I played very carefully, very solid. I won by a point and a half in the end, which was pretty tight, but I was just being very careful. Maybe I was lucky that he didn't play so well in the beginning.
Ranka: How was your game against the Korean player in the last round?
Benjamin: I'm not happy about it, because I didn't play very well, but I at least played with some fighting spirit. I kind of went for an all-out victory, got too excited about it, and started misreading. It was over after I misread. I got drunk on my own thoughts of victory, which is a mark of inexperience.
Ranka: Thank you and more power to you.
- Photo: Ito Toshiko
Tsuchimune Yoshiyuki is a youthful-looking 41, but he is a veteran of numerous national and international tournaments. He represented Japan at the 2008 World Amateur Go Championship, taking fifth place, and at the 2010 Korea Prime Minister Cup, where he finished second. In 2008 he also beat two pros in the Agon Cup, and last year he captained the TIS Alliance, a three-man team that won the 13th Japanese Prime Minister's Cup Amateur Team Go Championship. Ranka interviewed him during and after the 2014 KPMC, in which he finished fourth.
Tsuchimune: This year the KPMC conflicted with the big national tournament to select the Japanese player for the next World Amateur Go Championship in Thailand. The strong players -- Emura, Hiraoka, Mori, and the rest -- all wanted to play in the WAGC qualifier. In the end someone had to decide to pass up the chance to compete for a trip to Thailand, and that person was me. Ranka: Please tell us how you were chosen to come to the KPMC this year.
Ranka: How often have you been to Korea?
Tsuchimune: Once four years ago for the KPMC, of course, and several other times in connection with my work.
Ranka: What differences did you note between the KPMC this year and four years ago?
Tsuchimune: The main difference was that four years ago it was held in Changwon, in the southeast part of Korea, and this year it's in Seoul in the northwest. Another difference is that this year the field was smaller and I was one of the 'old men' in it: one of the ten oldest. But in terms of tournament organization, the number of interpreters, and so on, the KPMC was just as good this year as in 2010. Both times it was a very interesting and enjoyable tournament.
Ranka: Please tell us about your games on the first day.
Tsuchimune: Even though I won the first two games, the Belgian player I met in round one was strong, and the Israeli player I met in round two was stronger. And then in the third round I was simply outplayed by that boy from Chinese Taipei. He had better ideas than me. At some point the flow of the game went wrong. It didn't develop into the sort of game I like. The position was still difficult, but I lost without being able to accomplish much of anything.
Ranka: And how about your three games against the players from Hong Kong, Serbia, and Czechia on the second day.
Tsuchimune: Those games were also difficult, but they turned out well. I was able to play the kind of go I'm good at. Still, although I won all three, the Czech player I faced in round six was very strong: strong enough to get the best of me in one part of the game. If I had lost to him it wouldn't have been at all surprising. My general impression is that the competition from the European players is a lot stiffer than it used to be.
Ranka: Are you satisfied with your performance?
Tsuchimune: I guess I got the results I was worth, and did about what was expected of me, but I can't say that I'm satisfied. I wanted to win the tournament. If I get the chance to compete again, I'll try to do better.
Ranka: Thank you.
- Photo: Ito Toshiko
Vorawat Tanapatsopol (formerly Charoensitthisathien) is no stranger to Seoul. He studied at Blackie's International Baduk Academy for a month in 2011, and last August he took part in the international preliminaries for the Samsung Cup, losing to American 7-dan Eric Lui. Ranka caught him for a brief interview during the 9th KPMC closing banquet at the Olympic ParkTel on September 21.
Ranka: First, please tell us how you were chosen to represent Thailand.
Vorawat: I qualified for the KPMC by playing in an eight-man knockout tournament in Thailand. We had to play three rounds to decide the winner.
Ranka: Can you tell us something about other tournaments in Thailand?
Vorawat: In the past few years there have been many tournaments in Thailand. First prize is generally about two thousand dollars. Three rounds is typical but each tournament has a different system: some use the knockout system and some use the Swiss system. Now we have three big tournaments in Thailand. One is the King of Kings tournament, another is the Coke Cup, sponsored by Coca-Cola, and the third is sponsored by the Bank of China.
Ranka: And what international tournaments have you taken part in, besides this one?
Vorawat: I played in the KPMC three years ago, and last year I played in the World Amateur Go Championship in Japan. I also took part in the Asian Games in Guangzhou four years ago. Those have been my main international tournaments.
Ranka: Your third place finish at the KPMC this year is very impressive.
Vorawat: I think my pairings were a bit lucky. The strongest player I played was Emil Garcia, from Mexico. He took fifth place. That was my hardest game. But my other opponents were very strong too, like the players from Singapore, Vietnam, and Germany: they all won four games.
Ranka: What tournament are you looking forward to next?
Vorawat: I hope to take part in the World Amateur Go Championship in Thailand next year. I’ll do my best to win the qualifying tournament and represent Thailand again.
Ranka: And we hope to see you there. Thank you very much.
- Photo: Ito Toshiko
Last year a new force appeared in Korean amateur go. Wei Taewoong, who had just turned twenty, came out of essentially nowhere to finish as runner-up in the Lee Changho Cup and the Nosacho Cup. Then at the end of the year he won the Guksu, Korea's top amateur tournament, and earned the right to represent Korea in the 2014 World Amateur Go Championship. Shortly after taking second place in the WAGC, he competed in an eight-player knockout to decide who would represent Korea in the upcoming Korea Prime Minister Cup, and he won that too, beating last year's KPMC champion Park Jaegeun.
Ranka interviewed Wei shortly after he won the 2014 KPMC.
Ranka: Please tell us how you got started and about your playing career up to now.
Wei: There was a baduk academy in my neighborhood and I started going there when I was seven years old. That's how I learned to play, although I don't remember the name of my first teacher. Later I went to another baduk academy for ten years, but I wasn't making very good progress there, so a year and a half ago I switched over to the Choongam Baduk Academy. I now train at Choongam from morning to evening five days a week, preparing for what I hope will be a professional career. Often I don't get home until midnight. On weekends I study at home or take part in other tournaments.
Ranka: How have your parents reacted to your decision to try to make pro?
Wei: They haven't come out clearly for or against it. They've just said, 'If you think you can keep it up then go ahead.'
Ranka: Had you played in other international tournaments before the World Amateur Go Championship in Gyeongju this summer?
Wei: No, that was my first international tournament.
Ranka: Did it make a deep impression on you?
Wei: Yes it did, because I lost to the player from Chinese Taipei and ended up in second place by one SOS point. That loss left a deeper impression on me than anything else in my career so far.
Ranka: How would you compare Chan Yi-tien, the player who beat you in Gyeongju, with Juang Cheng-jiun, the player from Chinese Taipei you beat here?
Wei: After losing to Chan, I was worried about Juang because he was so young, but he turned out to be a little weaker than Chan.
Ranka: Had you played Benjamin Lockhart, the American player, at Choongam?
Wei: No, but I had heard that he was at about the same level as a few other trainees I knew there, so I had some idea of what to expect.
Ranka: Does that mean you were able to relax when you played him in the last round?
Wei: Actually I relaxed too much.
Ranka: How would you describe your style of play?
Wei: I seem to have a reputation for liking to fight.
Ranka: But your game against the Chinese player in the fifth round appeared rather peaceful.
Wei: It may have looked that way, but there was a lot of invisible fighting going on.
Ranka: Is there any professional player that you particularly admire?
Wei: Lee Changho.
Ranka: How do you feel about winning the KPMC?
Wei: After finishing a sad second in Gyeongju I was pretty uneasy about how I might end up here, but now that it's over and I've managed to come in first, I feel very happy.
Ranka: What will your next tournament be?
Wei: I'm not sure whether it will be my next or not, but I plan to compete in the new Jeongseon Arirang Cup in early October.
Ranka: Thank you and good luck.