First Day of Play
Competition in the Gurunavi World Amateur Go Championship began at 9:30 a.m. in the large playing hall on the second floor of the Nihon Kiin building in Tokyo. The field had been divided into three groups, with the top quarter (the A group, made up of 6- and 7-dan players) and bottom quarter (the C group, consisting mostly of kyu-level players) paired against the middle half (the B group) in the first round. Since the number of players was odd (61), one player was given a bye. The oldest contestant in the field, Aliaksandr Suponeu of Belarus, was chosen for this honor.
The game between the players from Brazil and Poland was the first to end, at 10:20. Stanislaw Frejlak, the Pole, had scored the first victory of the championship. The players immediately went to the side room to review it with chief referee Michael Redmond. The game had begun with an AlphaGo-style 3-3-point invasion. Michael corrected Thiago Ramos, the Brazilian, on the continuation.
As was to be expected, the A-group players won almost all of their games and the C-group lost almost all of theirs in the first round. The one surprise was that Dusan Mitic, a Serbian player with a 7-dan European ranking, lost to Vietnam’s Manh Linh Nguyen, 5-dan. Or perhaps this is not such a surprise. Vietnam has sent some strong players to the WAGC in the past, and has been turning out world-class chess players as well.
Organizationally, the round went smoothly, thanks to an experienced staff, the hard-working referees, and the many capable interpreters. Even the weather cooperated — sunny and warm but not hot. For the benefit of go players worldwide, several of the games were broadcast live on the Internet, including the victories by the players from China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and Korea over opponents from Thailand, Austria, the Ukraine, and the Netherlands.
After lunch, the second round started at 1:30. Now the A-group players began to meet each other, and the sparks began to fly. In two contests between players both boasting 7-dan rankings, China’s Wang Chen dispatched the U.S.A.’s Aaron Ye, while Korea’s Kim Sangcheon did likewise with Romania’s Christian Pop. In a game that lasted longer, Japan’s Murakami Fukashi defeated Russia’s veteran Dmitri Surin. In contests between 6-dans, Germany’s Benjamin Teuber defeated Finland’s Juri Kuronen and Hungary’s Csaba Mero defeated Czechia’s Jan Prokop.
There were also many close match-ups lower down in the field: between 5-dans Xin Lei (Australia) and Leon Matoh (Slovenia), won by Xin; between 4-dans Cheng Khai-Yong (Malasia) and Maros Kral (Slovakia), won by Mr. Cheng; between 4-dans John Walch (Switzerland) and Vasyl Skochko (Ukraine), won by John; between 3-dans Juan Andrade (Colombia) and Jorge Kina (Peru), won by Juan; between shodans Hordur Thordarson (New Zealand) and Ari Gonzales (Ecuador), won by Hordur; and between 2-kyus Michael King (Ireland) and Teodor Nedev (Bulgaria), won by Michael.
In the longest game of the round, which lasted nearly three and a half hours, Chinese Tapei’s Chan Yi-Tien defeated Hong Kong’s Lo Cheuk-Tung. ‘I did badly in the opening,’ Chan said afterward, ‘but managed to come from behind and stage a reversal.’ Once he had the lead, he played confidently and carefully, but Lo did not give up easily. Using all of his 30-second-per-move overtime and persevering through a long endgame ko fight, which he won, he kept the spectators on edge right up to the end. When the territories were counted, however, Chan had won by a comfortable 4.5 points.
At the end of the day, fifteen contestants remained undefeated, including B-group players from Belarus, Colombia, Israel, Italy, and Norway. All five of them would face 7-dan opponents in the next round.
– James Davies