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.
The 9th Korea Prime Minister Cup International Amateur Baduk Championship was held on September 19 and 20 at the headquarters of the Korean Baduk Association in Seoul (baduk is the Korean word for go). Korean players had won six of the eight preceding KPMCs, but this year Korean fans had cause for apprehension: just two months before, at the World Amateur Go Championship in Gyeongju, Korea, their player Wei Taewoong had lost to a player from Chinese Taipei and finished only second. In the KPMC, however, Wei came through magnificently. He dispatched opponents from the Ukraine, South Africa, and Hong Kong on the first day, and added three more victories on the second day to score a perfect 6-0 result.
Wei's opponent in the fourth round was Chinese Taipei's Juang Cheng-jiun, a fourteen-year-old who had defeated Japan's Tsuchimune Yoshiyuki in round three and will start playing professionally next year. Juang seems never to stop smiling -- except when he sits down to play. Then his eyes bore into the board and his friendly grin is replaced by a look of hyper-intense concentration. As his game with Wei progressed, however, hyper-concentration morphed into hyper-agitation, followed by resignation after only an hour and fifteen minutes of play.
Wei's fifth-round opponent was China's Hu Yuqing, two-time world amateur champion and by far China's top-ranked amateur player. Now it was Wei who showed signs of agitation while Hu wore an expression of calm confidence -- until the endgame began. That was when Wei seized on some small mistakes by Hu to surge into the lead. By the end of the game he was more than ten points ahead.
Wei's last opponent was the USA's Benjamin Lockhart who, like Wei, is training at the prestigious Choongam Baduk Academy in Seoul. Had the American taken this game he would have finished in first place, but as it turned out, the tournament had already climaxed in round five. Wei now won decisively again to become undisputed champion.
Meanwhile, Hu was beating Juang in what turned out to be the game that settled second place, and the other forty-seven contestants were fighting pitched battles for the remaining places. A list of final standings is given below.
A complete tournament record is available here.
The tournament was run on the Swiss System with a pairing algorithm that attempted to match players with the closest scores (wins, SOS, SOSOS) in each round. This algorithm is known not to produce the ideal order of finish, Chinese Taipei's 7th place being a case in point, but it generates maximum excitement and tension, and that is important too. The lack of precision in the final standings, which is inevitable with any version of the Swiss system, was largely compensated for at the awards ceremony. Certificates and prize goods were presented to no less than eighteen players, including the top sixteen in the tournament as a whole and the top four in each of three continental zones (ten players got double awards). For the record, let it be said that although Serbia's Dejan Stanković, the oldest contestant, was not among these award-winners, in terms of the players he beat and lost to, he also turned in an award-worthy performance.
Before, during, and after the tournament there were numerous extra activities: a visit to the Choongam Baduk Academy, an opening ceremony with Korean traditional and popular music, an evening excursion to the Seoul Tower, a visit to the Changdeuk Palace and Secret Garden, and two opportunities to participate in simultaneous games against Korean professional opponents. The second opportunity came in a massive car-free street festival in which a team of some hundred pros took on all comers, hoping to break a 1000-game record set in Japan. Whether because of overcast skies or the competing attractions of the Asian games in Incheon, the hoped-for 1004-game mark was not reached, but all fifty-one KPMC players joined in the attempt.
The referees (Korean pros Seo Bongsoo, Cho Hyeyeon, and Kim Sungrae), the interpreters (Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish), and the staff did an outstanding job of assisting the players and keeping everything running smoothly. Particularly impressive was the tactful way they dissuaded players whose games had finished from crowding around the China-Korea board in round five, giving the two players in that critical match ample space in which to concentrate without distraction. Except for the absence of the Brazilian contestant, the whole tournament went without a hitch. Already one looks forward to the 10th KPMC in 2015.
- James Davies (photos by Ito Toshiko)
Final standings in 9th Korea Prime Minister Cup
1 Wei Taewoong (6-0, Korea)
2 Hu Yuqing (5-1, China)
3 Vorawat Tanapatsopol (5-1, Thailand)
4 Tsuchimune Yoshiyuki (5-1, Japan)
5 Benjamin Lockhart (5-1, USA)
6 Emil Garcia (5-1, Mexico)
7 Juang Cheng-jiun (4-2, Chinese Taipei)
8 Dmitry Surin (4-2, Russia)
9 Lukas Podpera (4-2, Czechia)
10 Zhao Jiarui (4-2, Hong Kong)
10 Alvin Han (4-2, Singapore)
12 Thomas Debarre (4-2, France)
13 Trần Quang-tuệ (4-2, Vietnam)
14 Özgür Değirmenci (4-2, Turkey)
15 Stefan Kaitschick (4-2, Germany)
16 Thomas Heshe (4-2, Denmark)
17 Lou Wankao (4-2, Macau)
18 Jimmy Cheng (3-3, Malaysia)
19 Dmytro Yatsenko (3-3, Ukraine)
20 Doyoung Kim (3-3, New Zealand)
21 James Sedgwick (3-3, Canada)
22 Dejan Stanković (3-3, Serbia)
23 Mihai Serban (3-3, Romania)
24 Vesa Laatikainen (3-3, Finland)
25 Kim Ouweleen (3-3, Netherlands)
26 Miguel Castellano (3-3, Spain)
27 Amir Fragman (3-3, Israel)
28 Jakob Bing (3-3, Sweden)
29 Bram Vandenbon (3-3, Belgium)
30 Marcin Majka (3-3, Poland)
31 Aliaksandr Chakur (3-3, Belarus)
32 Sebastian Mualim (3-3, Indonesia)
33 Andrew Kay (3-3, UK)
34 Daniel Tomé (3-3, Portugal)
35 Lorenz Trippel (2-4, Switzerland)
36 Andre Connell (2-4, South Africa)
37 Stefano You (2-4, Italy)
38 Tomas Hjartnes (2-4, Norway)
39 Albertas Petrauskas (2-4, Lithuania)
40 Gregor Butala (2-4, Slovenia)
40 Thomas Shanahan (2-4, Ireland)
42 Alexandra Urbán (2-4, Hungary)
43 Kinyi Kina (2-4, Peru)
44 Dolgorsuren Batmunkh (2-4, Mongolia)
45 Daniel Bosze (2-4, Austria)
46 Aaron Chen (2-4, Australia)
47 Jeremie Hertz (2-4, Luxembourg)
48 Peter Smolarik (1-5, Slovakia)
49 David Pollitzer (1-5, Argentina)
50 Demetrios Katsouris (1-5, Cyprus)
51 Sung Hui-yee (1-5, Brunei)
52 --- (0-6, Brazil, absent)
Zonal Awards: America and Oceania
1 Benjamin Lockhart (USA)
2 Emil Garcia (Mexico)
3 Doyoung Kim (New Zealand)
4 James Sedgwick (Canada)
Zonal Awards: Europe and Africa
1 Dmitry Surin (Russia)
2 Lukas Podpera (Czechia)
3 Thomas Debarre (France)
4 Özgür Değirmenci (Turkey)
Zonal Awards: Asia (excluding China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Macau)
1 Vorawat Tanapatsopol (Thailand)
2 Alvin Han (Singapore )
3 Trần Quang-tuệ (Vietnam)
4 Jimmy Cheng (Malaysia)
The wait is almost over for online gaming enthusiasts! SportAccord begins the countdown to the launch of the 4th edition of the World Mind Games Online Tournament on the 15th of September. The tournament, featuring bridge, chess and go, is being organized by SportAccord in partnership with RSportz, the community-based global sports network and online platforms BridgeBase Online, Chess.com and Pandanet.
The online tournament also marks the countdown to the 4th SportAccord World Mind Games to be held in Beijing from December 11-17 this year. Last year’s online tournament attracted over 700,000 players from all across the globe and SportAccord expects to comfortably attract a higher number of participants through the tournament online portal, www.onlinewmg.com. The portal will be the gateway for participants and enthusiasts for game rules, registration and all further information surrounding the SportAccord 2014 World Mind Games Online Tournament. Open for a period of 2 months, registration for the online tournament is open to players from beginner to advanced levels. All participants stand a chance to win attractive prizes such as Formula 1 grand prix tickets sponsored by presenting partner Alliance Renault-Nissan and watches from World Mind Games official partner Rado. Additional prizes include Samsung TVs, tablets and gift cards. A total cash prize purse of $12,000 will be shared between the winners of the different tournaments. SportAccord 2014 World Mind Games Online Tournament partners, Bridgebase Online, Chess.com and Pandanet will operate the online hosting of the disciplines of bridge, chess and go, respectively.
SportAccord, the Union of International Sports Federations, operates the Multi-Sports Games, the World Combat Games, the World Beach Games, the World Urban Games and the World Mind Games. The 4th edition of the SportAccord World Mind Games will be organized in Beijing from December 11-17, 2014, featuring bridge, chess, draughts, go and Xiangqi in cooperation with the respective international sports federations. The SportAccord World Mind Games unite the world’s best players in a quest for glory and prize money. SportAccord is constantly looking to engage more people in mind sports in a fun and exciting way through cultural programs and online games.
Tournament dates: September 15– November 15 (for GO the registration ends on September 30).
Official hashtag: #mindgames2014
Hong Seok-ui, the Korean-born go player who moved to Japan in 2011 and promptly won the Japanese Amateur Meijin tournament, has now won his fourth straight Amateur Meijin title and his second straight Amateur Honinbo title. For good measure he also owns the Amateur Dragon Star title, making him a triple title-holder.
The Amateur Meijin was held in July. Since it is run on the challenger-defender system, Hong has lately been able to relax while the rest of the Japanese amateur go world competes for the right to challenge him. This year the challenger tournament came down to a game between two 21-year-olds: Ka Hyo and Tsunoda Daisuke, both of whom had formerly trained for pro careers. The game between them was a thriller that Tsunoda won by half a point on July 21.
Tsunoda, who is now studying for his university entrance exams, thus got to take on Hong in a best-of-three title match, played in high style at a hot-spring resort southwest of Tokyo. Hong, who has never dropped a game in Amateur Meijin competition, won the match 2-0. He took the first game on July 26 by killing a large group, and the second game on July 27 by outfighting Tsunoda in the opening. 'I tried to play aggressively, but it didn't work,' Tsunoda said after losing. 'I have no regrets. I just wasn't strong enough.'
Four weeks later Hong journeyed to Tokyo to compete in the Amateur Honinbo tournament at the Nihon Kiin. This is not a defender-challenger affair; Hong was seeded into the round of thirty-two, and would have to win five straight games to keep his title.
In his first game he defeated Tanaka Masato, who won the Amateur Honinbo twice in the 1990s. Beaten by resignation on the board but unconquered in spirit, Tanaka immediately starting a lengthy and vociferous post-mortem discussion.
In his second game Hong defeated Iba Yuji by resignation. Hong and Iba both work as instructors at first-class go clubs, Hong at the Ranka club in Osaka, Iba at the Shusaku club in Tokyo.
Hong's quarter-final opponent was Ka Hyo, the challenger he just missed facing in the Amateur Meijin. Again Hong won by resignation.
In the semifinal round Hong was paired against Emura Kiko, who represented Japan in the last two World Amateur Go Championships. Emura played tenaciously and the game was close, but Hong won by a point and a half.
In the final round, Hong faced Hiraoka Satoshi, World Amateur Champion in 1994 and 2006 and Amateur Honinbo in 2005, 2009, and 2012. Chang Hsu (Cho U), who was professional Honinbo and Meijin ten years ago, gave a public commentary on the game. Chang mentioned that he had recently played Hong in the Agon-Kiriyama tournament, which is open to amateurs as well as pros. Before encountering Chang, Hong had beaten seven straight professional opponents, including two nine-dans. 'The amateur go world is no place for him,' Chang said.
Although Hong lost to Chang, he justified Chang's praise in his game with Hiraoka. The pace of play was fast, both players avoiding pitched life-and-death struggles. After fifty moves Chang thought that white (Hong) had a commanding position, and the rest of the game bore him out. Hong managed his stones expertly and won by 12.5 points (here is the game record in sgf format).
In a smiling post-victory interview, Hong said, 'It was just luck that I came out on top, because I played badly in most of my games. In the final it wasn't until the endgame that I realized that I was ahead. I'm still working every day to improve my skills in go, and my language skills.'
The third-place playoff was won by six-time Amateur Honinbo Nakazono Seizo, who defeated Emura Kiko by 3.5 points.
This fall, viewers of Japan's Go/Shogi TV channel will get to see how Hong does against further professional opposition in the Dragon Star Open. Already, he has beaten four pros in the preliminary rounds.
- James Davies
Next month, starting on World First Aid Day (September 13) and running through International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19), the planet has a whole week in which to encourage more of its inhabitants to play go.
Inspired by David Ormerod of Go Game Guru, Learn Go Week has already attracted support from players in Australia, France, Luxembourg, Mexico, the UK, and the USA. All it takes is the willingness to organize an event at which beginners can learn the game. Look out, world: one event is scheduled for September 13 at Ajaccio in Corsica, the birthplace of Napoleon.
The 4th SportAccord World Mind Games will be held in Beijing, China, December 11-17, 2014.
Like last year, the Mind Games will be preceded by the 4th SportAccord World Mind Games Online Tournament, which will be played on the Internet Go Server (IGS, aka Pandanet).
The tournament is open to amateur players in all countries and territories belonging to the International Go Federation.
Registration closes on September 15, 2014.
Full details are available here.
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.
Yitien Chan (Chinese Taipei) snatched victory in the 35th World Amateur Go Championship, overtaking Korea by a single tie-break point. Chinese Taipei take home the trophy for the first time ever, and this is also the first time since 1986 (when Hong Kong won) that the winner was not one of the Big Three (China, Japan and Korea).
In a tie-break lottery of sum of opponents’ scores, Chinese Taipei scored 46 taking first place, followed by 45 points for Korea and 43 points for China. The top 10 comprised of Chinese Taipei (1st), Korea (2nd), China (3rd), Hong Kong (4th), the Ukraine (5th), the Czech Republic (6th), Russia (7th), Sweden (8th), Japan (9th) and the USA (10th).
Full results here
In the late 20th century several European go players earned professional rankings in the Far East, but now Europe has its first home-grown pros: Pavol Lisy (Slovakia) and Ali Jabarin (Israel). And they are young -- 19 and 20 -- which is a good sign for the future of European go.
Pavol and Ali won their professional spurs in a three-stage 16-player qualification tournament held in Strasbourg on May 23, Amsterdam on May 24, and Vienna on June 20. In the first two stages, Pavol beat opponents from Germany, Czechia, France, and Romania to finish with a perfect 4-0 record and earn the first European professional ranking. Ali lost to Sweden's Fredrik Blombak in the first round, but came back with three straight wins in the next rounds to qualify for the final in Vienna, where he defeated Czechia's Lukas Podpera to gain the second professional ranking. Complete results and information about all sixteen players can be round here. Pictures and further details are here.
The qualification tournament was organized and sponsored by the European Go Federation and the Beijing Zong Yi Yuan Cheng Culture Communication Co. Ltd., better known as CEGO. CEGO is a group of Chinese go players with the will and the financial resources to invest in the future of go -- in Europe. Next September, Pavol, Ali, and four other young European players will journey to China under CEGO sponsorship to begin five and a half months of training there, followed by three more months of online training after they return to Europe next year.
They will be the second such group of Europeans brought to China by CEGO, and CEGO is committed, in a contract with the EGF, to continue the training program in future years. But CEGO's and the EGF's plans do not stop there. Next year they will organize a Grand Slam Tournament in Europe with substantial prizes, open to the new European pros and a few more players who qualify by earning bonus points in other European tournaments.
CEGO's training program also includes a pair of Chinese player-coaches, Zhao Baolong and Li Ting, who take part in the on-line training leagues. Mr Zhao is a young 2-dan Chinese pro. Ms Li is a Chinese-born player who earned a 1-dan pro rank in Japan, and is now working toward a PhD in 'comparative go' at the University of Vienna. Ms Li is a diminutive and quiet person, but she was instrumental in putting CEGO together.
All this recalls the Big Dragon Project that got chess rolling in China in 1975 and turned China into a major chess power, particularly in women's chess, by the end of the century. So far, several Europeans have devoted most of their lives to playing and teaching go -- the UK's Matthew MacFadyen and Romania's Cornel Burzo (Pavol Lisy's final opponent) come to mind. Nor is there any lack of young players who dream of making this game their life. With a European pro system in place, more of these dreams can become reality. Europe still has a long way to go before challenging Far Eastern domination, but the fuse has been lit.
- James Davies