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