The 39th World Amateur Go Championship, also known as the Gurunavi (Gourmet Navigator) Cup, began with a friendship match on the morning of May 2, 2018 at the Nihon Kiin headquarters in Tokyo. The WAGC contestant were matched against Japanese opponents with a wide range of ages and playing strengths. Although they were instructed to enjoy themselves in the match, the mood was serious. Particularly on the top four boards, where the WAGC contestants from China, Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Japan took on one professional and three strong amateur opponents, the pace of play was slow and concentration was intense. The contestants from Korea and Chinese Taipei eventually defeated two very young opponents by resignation, but the other two of these four games were still going on at the 12:00 ending time, and had to be abandoned. The Chinese player’s opponent was Hong Maleunsaem, a former Korean WAGC contestant who is now a professional 3-dan at the Kansai Kiin and runs a go dojo in Tokyo that has produced some of Japan’s best young professionals.
Following lunch, the General Meeting of the International Go Federation was held, also at the Nihon Kiin. Outgoing IGF president Chang Zhenming began by summarizing the considerable support that the IGF and China had been giving to the game of go in the past two years. Among other things, he mentioned that attendance at Chinese go tournaments, national and international, professional and amateur, had totaled over 50 million. These tournaments drew considerable Chinese media attention and dispensed substantial prize money. IGF secretary general Wang Yi, IGF vice presidents Thomas Hsiang and Dan Hirotaki, and directors Taki Hiroko, Eduardo Lopez, and Martin Stiassny then gave more detailed reports on IGF operations in the past and coming years, including last year’s world amateur go championship in Guizhou, upcoming world amateur go championships in Matsue in 2019 and Vladivostok in 2020, numerous amateur and professional pair go events, the Latin American Go Congress, international mind games tournaments, a women’s go championship in Tokyo planned for 2020, to coincide with the summer Olympics, and a renewed effort to gain recognition for go as an Olympic discipline, with the aim of making it a demonstration sport at the Olympics in 2020 or 2022. The General Meeting concluded with the announcement that Mr. Dan would serve as the new president of the IGF, and Korean professional player Yoo Changhyeok would join Mr. Hsiang as a new vice president.
The General Meeting was followed by a press conference featuring chief referee Michael Redmond and six of the contestants. Michael Redmond noted that the East Asian players were still the strongest, but that it will be interesting to see how close to them the rest can come. The Japanese contestant Murakami Fukashi then implored the stronger contestants not mistreat weaker opponents in their games. Wang Chen (China), who last competed in 2010, observed that the level of play at the WAGC was steadily rising and said he would do his best. Korea’s Kim Sangcheon said he hoped to bring the championship back to Korea. Chan Yi-Tien, WAGC winner in 2014, reported that the qualification tournament in Chinese Taipei had been particularly tough this time. ‘I was lucky to get here,’ he said, ‘but now that I’m here, I hope I can play some good games.’ Olafur Sigurdarson (Iceland) said he was happy to be in Japan, that he had enjoyed traveling around Japan before the championship, and that he hoped to enjoy the championship itself too.
Spain’s Oscar Vazquez, age 15, stated that this was his first international tournament and his first time in Japan. Then he said, ‘I want to beat someone stronger than me, the American player in particular.’ Asked later to clarify this remark, he said he wanted to beat the American player because that player is slightly younger than him, bravely adding that another of his ambitions was to beat all European players under the age of twenty.
The press conference ended with these six contestants answering questions from reporters about go education and the growth of the go population in their countries, and whether they had been influenced by classical Japanese go, that is, go in Japan’s feudal era. All six said yes, but some also mentioned the influences of Hikaru no Go and, more recently, AlphaGo. After the press conference, the contestants boarded buses for an evening reception at the Chinzanso, a swank hotel and plaza complex on beautiful grounds a short drive northwest of the Nihon Kiin.
The reception started off with a bang: with a jumbo-size calligraphy demonstration, and some lively singing and dancing, by a group of girls from the Namegawa Consolidated High School. Then, following introductions of Gurunavi founder Taki Isao, other sponsors, the IGF officers, and the championship referees, with speeches by some of these people and a toast, the attendees enjoyed a buffet dinner that did full justice to Gurunavi’s reputation as an online guide to excellent eating.
– James Davies