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
With the start of the 35th World Amateur Go Championship now less than two weeks away, it is time to take a look at the field. Fifty-seven players from a like number of countries and territories are scheduled to make the trip to Gyeongju, Korea to compete in the four-day, eight-round Swiss system. Many will be veterans of previous tournaments held in Japan and China, some drawn back to WAGC competition after a long absence, perhaps by the chance to be part of the first WAGC held in Korea. As usual, the largest contingent will come from Europe (30 players) and the youngest from the Far East (15 players, including an 11-year-old from Indonesia).
China, whose players have won this championship seven times so far during the current century, will be represented by Wang Ruorang, a 16-year-old from Nanjing who took third place in the Chinese Evening News Cup in January. Normally the winner of the Evening News Cup represents China at the WAGC, but the winner also has the option of turning pro any time during the ensuing year, and this year's winner, 13-year-old Yi Lingtao, took that option immediately. In the meantime, Mr Wang has been doing famously, beating a pro opponent right after the Evening News Cup, beating last year's WAGC runner-up in March, and leading an eight-man Chinese amateur team to victory over a Korean team in April. One recalls that Qiao Zhijian, the Chinese player who won the WAGC two years ago (and then turned pro) was also 16.
Korea, which has won the WAGC four times this century, will be represented by Tae-woong Wi. Mr Wi (age 20) qualified by winning the Korean amateur Guksu title last December, beating the 2010 world amateur champion in the final match. That feat, added to second-place finishes in the Lee Changho Cup and the Nosacho Cup and a 9-3 performance in National League competition, boosted him to second place in the U40 division of the Korean amateur rating system. The Wang-Wi game should be a highlight of the tournament.
Japan, which won the WAGC in 2000 and 2004, will send in Kiko Emura, who represented Japan at the WAGC and the Korea Prime Minister Cup in 2013. Last February Mr Emura also represented all human go players when he trounced Zen, Japan's and perhaps the world's strongest go-playing computer program, in consecutive games on 13 x 13 boards.
Other players to watch include Naisan Chan (Hong Kong), who took 3rd place in the 2009 WAGC; Yongfei Ge (Canada), who defeated a professional opponent at the SportAccord World Mind Games in Beijing last December; 16-year-old Yi-Tien Chan, youngest of the 22 amateur 7-dans in Chinese Taipei; Sang-Dae Hahn (Australia) and Liang Jie (USA), who also have 7-dan ranks; Czech champion Lukas Podpera; Dutch champion Merlijn Kuin; Finnish champion Juuso Nyyssönen; Hungarian champion Pál Balogh; and Serbian champion Nikola Mitic. Competition for the top ten places should be fierce.
For those who miss out, there will also be two prizes awarded for fair play and fighting spirit. And for everyone there will be a warm week of Korean hospitality. A particular attraction will be the Gyeongju Baduk Festival, July 5, 10:00-12:30 at the tournament hotel (the Hyundai Hotel), where local players will play friendship games with the contestants, Korean pros Lee Hyunwook and Bae Yunjin will play simultaneous games, and former pro world champion Cho Hunhyun will give autographs.
- James Davies