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