Interview with Junfu Dai, France
I was born in Shanghai at the end of 1983. In 1988 Shanghai had an outbreak of food poisoning, from seafood, and both of my parents were stricken. During the year-long break they took to recover, they started playing five-in-a row, and I learned to play too. I was only five years old, but I learned well — maybe too well — after a while I was beating everyone in my family. Thinking that I had talent for black-and-white board games like this, my grandfather took me to see a friend of his who ran a local club in our district, and that’s where I learned to play go. So it was purely by accident that I took up the game. My family were under the impression that go was something similar to five-in-a-row.
After that, I had to go to school, but I continued to drop in at the club to play go on weekends, and I was lucky enough to get some good instruction. Within a year or so I had reached 1 kyu. After that I had a private tutor, or rather a series of private tutors, each about four stones above my current rank, who would give me one teaching game per week. That really helped me a lot. Around the age of ten I reached 5 dan without ever having trained at a formal go academy. My tutor then became Liu Jun, who won two world amateur go championships. I took private lessons from him for three or four years, and under his tutoring, I became one of the reigning powers of amateur go in Shanghai. I started playing for Shanghai in national tournaments, sometimes even beating Liu Jun in official competition.
But I continued my scholastic career, graduating from a good high school and passing the entrance exam for Jiaotong University, which was the fourth or fifth ranked university in China. So my scholastic level may not have been as high as my go-playing level, but I was on a proper career path. I didn’t have to sacrifice my academic life to play go.
In 2007 I went entered EM Lyon, a French business school ranked eighth in the world. One reason I chose a school in France was that my father was working there as a diplomat. Another reason was that my father had taught French, and I had lived in France for nine months when I was eleven years old, so I already had a kind of attachment to the country and could speak the language well. Still another reason was that after graduating from Jiaotong University I had gone to work for China Mobile, as a kind of sales representative for business to business service. I was under a lot of pressure in that job, and the salary structure was weak. Everyone told me that if I graduated from a good school in France, I could work there and earn a more comfortable living.
All that has changed, incidentally. Chinese salaries have doubled, and France is in the middle of an economic crisis. But I have a good job as a financial director in the innov8 group, for a wholesale firm that supplies accessories for smartphones.
I don’t play go now as much as I used to. Mainly I play in tournaments near Paris; I don’t have time to travel around. For that reason, even though I have one of the highest ratings in the European rating system, I’m not well known to most European go players. They see me only if they come to Paris.
But I’ve written a couple of French go books, one about strategy in the middle game and one about the endgame. Another ambitious project I have is to introduce people to go by associating go theory with Chinese culture: with I-ching, yin and yang, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the Thirty-Six Strategies, and so on. I want to do something to help the international go community, and I’d like to promote go in this way, rather than by the Hikaru-no-Go method.