Ranka: How did you start to play Go?
Matthew: My father was a biologist. He learned about Go from a colleague in the USA who had some Japanese students. I used to play a lot of chess with my brother at that time.
My father thought maybe we would be interested in Go. So, he bought us a Go set. With this set and a very basic knowledge of rules, I started to play Go with my brothers and some school friends.
Then when I was 17 years old, I went to Oxford University in England. There was an active Go club there where I could go to play with other students. I was about 15 kyu at that time and didn’t make any improvement in the first year. The strongest player in the club gave me 6 stones and still beat me. I didn’t play so much in the university, about once or twice a week.
Ranka: How did you become 6 dan?
Matthew: After I left the university, I started to work in weather forecasting and the London Go Centre opened. I now lived in the city where some of England’s strongest players lived. For the three years that the Go Centre remained open, we used to live at the Go Club on weekends, playing and discussing games. Then during the rest of the week we would read Go books at home. Quickly I jumped from 1 kyu to 3 dan, and I began playing in tournaments. Once I wanted to take a week off without pay to attend a tournament. I was told I couldn’t do that, so I said, “Yes I can. I resign.” After that I travelled around Europe and played in many tournaments. I became 6 dan in 1980. I learned a lot from the Japanese books and game records.
Ranka: Which style do you prefer, Japanese style or Korean Style?
Matthew: Well, I enjoyed a lot the pair games played by Chou Chun-Hsun 9p and Hsieh Yi-Min 4p from Chinese Taipei. It seems that Chou Chun-Hsun’s only interest is in life and death. In the semi-finals, the Taipei pair tricked their Chinese opponents into trying to kill a group that they couldn’t kill and finally won the game, which had been favorable to their opponents.
My favorite player is Go Seigen. I’ve been influenced by his shin-fuseki. I also like Honinbo Jowa very much. He would develop many groups on the board, each of them quite weak, and then launch an attack from his “weak” groups and crush his opponents. This is not very often done in modern Go. Kato Masao sometimes attacked from weak groups when he was young, and you sometimes see this style in O Meien’s games, but most players attack from strength. I like to attack from weak positions. The accuracy of professional players like Lee Changho, who can calculate the endgame when there are just 50 stones on the board, is amazing, but that’s not how I like to play.
Ranka: Which tournaments did you play in the WMSG? Which is the most interesting one?
Matthew: I played in Individual Men and Pairs. I was very excited to play with a Korean 9p. I got a nice game in the first 40 moves. After that, it was just like holding onto a ledge with your fingernails and just trying to survive. The most enjoyable game I played was with Jan Hora 6d from Czechia. We had played before in the World Amateur Championship in Tokyo. It was a very interesting game. He started on the 7-9 point This time I started with 5-5, and he played even higher at 6-6.
Go is an experience you share with your opponent. There are different kinds of players: some play to win; some play because they love it. I love this game. The word “amateur” comes from a Latin root meaning “to love”. An amateur is someone who loves what he does. When I knew that I was going to play with Jan, I had a visceral feeling that it was going to be a good game.
Ranka: Do you play this 5-5 opening very often?
Matthew: I got good results with this opening first in a game with Liu Xiaoguang (China) in the World Amateur Championship in 1981. It was good for me over the first 50 moves, in the next 20 moves we became even, and then at the end I missed a connection at the edge and my position collapsed. I used to spend a lot of time studying openings. I like to try invent new moves. Some strange moves work well when there’s an extra stone in the right place, so if that situation arises, you can use them.
Ranka: Do you teach beginners now?
Matthew: Not really. After I quit my first job, I didn’t have regular jobs for 20 years. I used to stay at home to do housework, look after my children and study and teach Go while my wife went out to work. Now my wife stays at home and I work as an electrician. So I don’t have much time to teach. Another thing is that I’m bad at teaching beginners. When you are teaching beginners, you have to keep from getting interested in the position yourself, because then things quickly get over their heads. That’s the mistake I can’t avoid making. I used to teach by e-mail, sometimes teach seminars, and even have people come to stay at my home for lessons, but I don’t teach much any more.
Ranka: Thanks very much for the interview!
– James Davies and Chen