A light rain was still falling on the morning of May 31 as the players made their way, some on foot but most by bus, to the Shimane Prefectural Assembly Hall. First to take his seat in the main playing room, ten minutes before the 9:30 starting time, was China’s Baoxiang Bai, arguably the favorite to win the tournament. He has been making his mark on the Chinese national tournament scene since 2006, when he took second place in the Huanghe (Yellow River) Cup at the age of 13. The next year he won the amateur Qiwang (King of Go) tournament, in 2009 he won the amateur Dujuanha (Azelia) Cup, and in 2010 he won the Wanbao (Evening News) Cup. Those last two triumphs earned him the right to represent China at this year’s Korean Prime Minister’s Cup and the 32nd World Amateur Go Championship. At age eighteen he is already recognized as one of the four top amateur players in China.
Five minutes later Woo-soo Choi took the seat facing Baoxiang Bai. Choi is less well-known, having had no national triumphs until he won the Korean amateur Kooksu in 2010. In that tournament, however, he defeated Hong-suk Song, who had beaten Chen Wang, another of China’s top four, to become last year’s world amateur champion. The Kooksu victory made Choi this year’s Korean player at the World Amateur.
Soon after Choi sat down, Chinese Taipei’s Tsung-Han Wu took his seat at the adjacent board, and at 9:30 on the dot Poland’s Kamil Chwedyna ambled into the main playing room and sat down facing Wu. Referee Yasuhiro Nakano then gave the signal to start.
On the top board Baoxiang Bai correctly guessed that Woo-soo Choi’s hand held an even number of stones and quickly played the first black stone on the four-four point in the top right corner. Choi took his time before replying on the four-four point in the top left. On the second board Kamil Chwedyna produced another unusual opening, positioning white stones on the 8-8, 8-10, and 8-12 points.
The game on the second board ended within an hour and a quarter. Black carved white’s position into pieces and captured two of them. Kamil Chwedyna manfully resigned and stepped out of the playing room, to be swarmed by a group of uniformed girls from the go club at the Okuizumo Choritsu Takada Primary School, who collected his signature on their programs.
A rather older group of spectators had gathered around the board where Japan’s Hironori Hirata was playing Czechia’s Radek Nechanicky. This game ended with the Czech player’s resignation at 11:36.
Some of the spectators now moved over to watch Bai and Choi play out the endgame of their crucial encounter. White had started well in the opening, but in the middle game white let black capture two stones in the center in a classic turtle-shell shape. The territory white took in return did not compensate for the power black gained in the center. Bai’s expression revealed nothing, but he said later that once he took those two stones he had felt confident of winning, and win he did, by 3.5 points, just before noon, with by then a crowd of close to thirty onlookers thronged around the board.
At this point the only game still going was the one between Eric Lui of the U.S.A. and Xiang Zhang of Singapore. It continued until nearly 12:40, Eric Lui winning safely by 5.5 points. In the meantime France’s Thomas Debarre, The Ukraine’s Mykhailo Halchenko, Spain’s Joan Flos, Thailand’s Choltit Rattanasetyut, and Vietnam’s Kanh Binh Do had also won their games to join Woo-soo Choi, Kamil Chwedyna, Hironori Hirata, and Eric Lui in the group with four wins. These nine will be fighting to stay in contention while the two remaining undefeated players, Baoxiang Bai and Tsung-han Wu, battle it out it in the afternoon round.
In parallel with all this action in the playing room, the three referees, together with other professional players in attendance, had been kept busy reviewing the completed games, assisted by a capable staff of interpreters. The weather was also cooperating. The rain lifted during the break between rounds 5 and 6, and several players took advantage of this interval to stretch their legs and visit Matsue Castle.
– James Davies