I was born and grew up in Jilin, a medium-size city in a province of the same name. I started to play go when I was five years old, going on six. I reached amateur 5 dan at about the age of ten by going to a school that taught go; not a go daochang (dojo), just an ordinary go school. Then I moved to Beijing and started attending about five go daochangs, with hopes of pursuing a professional career.
Those hopes were dashed when I was sixteen years old. The age limit for participating in the professional qualification tournament was eighteen. I presented a birth certificate showing that I was still only sixteen, but that year they also checked people’s age by taking bone x-rays, and my x-ray showed that my ‘bone age’ was eighteen and a half.
You can imagine my disappointment, but over the next few years I began to realize that this was a blessing in disguise. Of course if I had become a pro I could have trained and competed with some of the world’s top players and perhaps become a stronger go player than I am now, and if I had been able to sign with one of the teams in China’s professional inter-city league, I would have had a good income, but if I had gotten into that league I would have been under terrible pressure to win, and if I had not gotten in, I would have had a somewhat restricted set of tournaments in which to compete. As an amateur, I was under less pressure and had all sorts of tournament opportunities. By now I think I must have competed in amateur tournaments in a hundred different cities in China.
This year, for example, I competed in and won the Evening News Cup — that’s how I qualified for the World Amateur Go Championship — and along with Ma Tianfang, who is another of China’s four ’titans of amateur go’, I played for the Nanning team and helped it win the Chinese amateur inter-city league. We beat out the Chengdu team, which had Hu Yuqing and Wang Chen, the other two titans. I also played this year in the amateur MLILY Cup, the Dujuanhua Cup, the Qinhuangdao Cup, the 700 Net Cup, which has a fantastic first prize of 700,000 RMB, the Feng Cheng Cup, where I finished second to Hu Yuqing, and more minor tournaments than I can remember. I missed the Yellow River Cup because it ended just before the WAGC began and I wanted to get some rest for the WAGC, but even so, it’s been a busy year, and it’s not half over yet. Another inter-city league is about to start. Besides amateurs, it’s open to Chinese pros who are not ranked in the top 100, and has an additional bracket for foreign players. Chengdu is fielding a Korean 9-dan pro, Choi Chulhan, no less, in the foreign bracket, so I may get a chance to play him.
Anyway, I’m very happy with my life as an amateur go player. When I won the Evening News Cup in 2011 I had the option of turning pro — that’s one of the rewards of winning that tournament — but I aleady knew I wanted to stay amateur. I’m not worried that my game will lose its edge. Playing in some ten big national tournaments a year, I get lots of chances to keep in form by playing tough opponents.
Go is not quite my whole life. I also play amateur football — I’m a defensive midfielder. And I like to read, especially the martial arts novels of Jin Yong.
Of my games in this year’s WAGC, my hardest was against Japan’s Satoshi Hiraoka. He put a lot of thought into the middle game and got the better of me at one point, so I may have been behind for a while, but I managed to win by two and a half points in the endgame. I won all the rest of my games by resignation.