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.