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