Special live report by Pieter Mioch
- GoGoD's man on the spot
27 May 2006
"This event makes possible a cultural exchange through the game of Go. We are the wings that carry not only freight and passengers all over the world but culture as well."
Words spoken by Mashiko Takashi, Director of Japanese Airlines Brand Communication at the press conference held 27 May 2006, one day before the start of the main tournament - the 27th World amateur go championship at Sasebo, Japan, from 28 to 31 May, 2006.
Tomorrow the world amateur go championship is set to take place for the 27th time. This time, again, a record number of countries is participating. No fewer than 68 players will fight it out over eight rounds. The latest additions are Bulgaria, Cyprus and Azerbaijan. In spite of these additions, though, the favourite to carry off the enormous and very heavy JAL Cup is one of the traditional go countries: China, Korea and - but to a lesser extent - the host country, Japan. As regards playing strength and ability alone, the Japanese representative, Hiraoka Satoshi, is probably right up there in the top field. But insiders confide he may not have the stamina to take on the youthful talent from North and South Korea and China. All of their players are comfortably under 20, or half the age of Hiraoka.
The WAGC is most of the time used as an event to showcase to the participants rural parts of Japan, which in a way makes the location of Huis ten Bosch at Sasebo city (close to Nagasaki) a bit of a surprise. Huis ten Bosch is a theme park, left, where famous parts of medieval Dutch cities are faithfully reproduced. Although these are scaled down a little, it still is a huge place where you easily can get lost without ever seeing a karaoke bar, pachinko parlour, or even a convenience store. Funny thing is that Huis ten Bosch is not that popular with the Japanese. The staff told me that well over 44% of the visitors are from China!
There are altogether six participants with insei or go study experience in Japan. Leszek Soldan from Poland is the oldest at 44 followed by Farid ben Malek (35) from France, Cristian Pop (31) from Romania, Emil Nijhuis (25) from the Netherlands, Pal Balogh (20) from Hungary and Ondrej Silt (19) from Czechia. Insei, or 'go intern', is often thought of as the last step on the road to becoming a pro. All the same, it goes without saying that not all inseis actually make pro or reach pro strength just by virtue of gaining insei status. In this respect, the 27th WAGC can be looked on as an acid test: will at least one of those ex-inseis be able to penetrate the prestigious top three?
The only non-Asian born player who ever achieved this was Ronald Schlemper (10th WAGC) from the Netherlands. He did it twice (also in the 13th), just to show the go world that his first result was no fluke. By the way, Schlemper too was an former insei.
At the press conference where I again managed to sneak in disguised as an interpreter, a lady from a go newspaper asked some players which pro they looked up to. The participant from China, Tang Weixing (13!), told us he liked Go Seigen a lot. Demetris Regginos, the player from Cyprus making his debut, stole the hearts of the Japanese press, however, by answering the same question lke this: "I like Takemiya very much. I also like Go Seigen but I especially replay a lot of games of Shusaku."
Japan's Hiraoka caused a bit of surprise when he said that recently he mostly uses Yi Se-tol's games for study. It's nice to see that he didn't feel obliged to say he liked a Japanese-born pro most. It also shows that, inside Japan, players are well aware of the superb go played in Korea.
Let us finish today's report with the other nice words Hiraoka had to say:
Japan hasn't won this event in a while so of course I would like to lay my hands on the top spot very much. At the same time, however, I think this amateur championship itself is a unique chance to meet, play and get to know players from all over the world. I very much welcome a chance like this, regardless of my results.
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