For the final day of the World Amateur Go Championship the sunshine that had prevailed so far gave way to cloudy skies, but the temperature was still comfortable. Tokyo is in the process of sprucing up for the 2020 Olympics, and many players commented on the cleanliness and attractiveness of the area around their hotel and the Nihon Kiin, where the seventh round started promptly at 9:30 a.m.
Only a few spectators were on hand for the start, and most of them congregated around the game between the Chinese and Korean players. In the past, this game has often determined the champion. This year, it seemed more likely to become a playoff for second place, following Chinese Taipei’s double win yesterday, but both players played in earnest, taking time over their moves. Korea’s Kim Sangcheon had regained his aplomb, and won by resignation.
A few boards away, Chinese Taipei’s undefeated Chan Yi-Tien was sparring with the player from Singapore, Kwa Jie-Hui. Mr. Hwa (black) began with an AI-style two-space enclosure. Mr. Chan immediately sliced into it with a white attachment at the four-four point. After a pair of hanes, Hwa started giving atari and cutting white apart. In short order he had nabbed two white stones in the corner, and eventually he nabbed four more and built his position up into some fifty points of territory, but white countered by constructing a territory of nearly sixty points in and around the adjacent corner. Most of the endgame was played in overtime, and when the score was counted, white was 8.5 points ahead. Chan was still undefeated.
Another key sixth-round game was the one between Poland’s Stanislaw Frejlak and Hungary’s Csaba Mero to see which of them would be Chan’s next opponent. Both Stanislaw and Csaba have trained in the far east and have the habit of kneeling in their chairs. The game lasted almost until noon. Asked to describe what happened, Stanislaw said, ‘Perhaps I came out of the opening about even, but then some fights started. They were really tight and I didn’t know how to play. In the second half of the middle game, however, I sharpened up. My opponent tried to resist but it did not work out so well for him. When we started the endgame I was in a good position because my groups were settled, and in the end I won by fifteen points.’
Yet another key game featured Canada’s Yongfei Ge and Russia’s Dmitri Surin, two players with five wins apiece. Yongfei outranked Dmitri, 7 dan to 6 dan, but Dmitri’s greater experience paid off. He won his second straight game, handing Yongfei his second straight loss. It was close. Yongfei actually thought that he had won, but the chief referee Michael Redmond replayed the game and confirmed that Dmitri was ahead. The Russian’s reward was a match with China’s Wang Chen in the final round.
This blow to North American honor was countered by the players from the other two North American countries. Mexico’s Jose Abraham Florencia Islas, who lost two games on the first day of play but then went on a winning streak, now tackled Switzerland’s John Walch and ticked off his fifth straight win. The USA’s Aaron Ye did his part by downing Israel’s Amir Fragman. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Lo Cheuk-Tung was defending far-eastern honor by beating Romania’s Christian Pop, to earn a last-round pairing with Japan’s Murakami Fukashi.
In the last round Singapore’s Hwa, who had failed to score a stunning upset in the seventh round, got a second chance: he was paired against Korea’s Kim. But there were to be no stunning upsets. The big four won all of their last games, Chinese Taipei over Poland, Korea over Singapore, China over Russia, and Japan over Hong Kong. Jose Islas extended his winning streak to six games by beating Australia’s Xin Lei, and Yongfei Ge halted his losing streak at two by beating Aaron Ye.
Stanislaw Frejlak described his loss to Chan Yi-Tien and his feelings about the WAGC as follows: ‘Chan was very strong. We played a modern opening with two three-three-point invasions. Soon after that we started a fight and it didn’t look so good for me, but then I found a move I was really proud of and somehow I managed to settle the shape, and I thought I was not doing badly. After a few more moves, however, I realized that it would be difficult to win, and I didn’t even know what I had done wrong. So then I started to play even more aggressively and I collapsed. I played the game out because I was in overtime and didn’t have time to count the score, but in the end I lost by over thirty points. Now I feel a bit upset about continuing a game in which I was so far behind, but I’ve really liked the tournament as a whole. When I reviewed my games with professionals, I realized I had made many mistakes, but I still had the feeling that I was doing my best.’
Xin Lei described his loss to the Mexican player and his feelings as follows: ‘I think I played pretty badly, actually. I made some bad choices early in the game and it just went downhill from there. But I also think Jose is pretty strong. Despite losing, I’ve enjoyed the tournament very much. The games were very competitive. There were a lot of very close games. I enjoyed all the games, and even when we weren’t playing we had a lot of fun. I got to experience a lot of the cultural aspects of Japan, and of course I enjoyed just being in the Nihon Kiin. There’s a lot of history here. It’s been an honor to be here.’
After losing to Stanislaw Frejlak in the morning, Csaba Mero still had a shot at one of the top eight places, but his last opponent was Finland’s Juri Kuronen. Juri described what happened, and his feelings, as follows: ‘We played a fighting game from start to finish. To be honest I didn’t know who was going to win, but I made a very slow move and Csaba got to take a critical point. After that I felt very bad, but I was able to cut him into two groups. I didn’t know if the cut would work, but I was able to make a ko, and a few moves later I think I got the lead. But it was an anything-can-happen kind of game. It’s been a nice tournament. I’m not in the best shape at the moment. I think I’ve only played two tournaments in the last two years, because I’m focusing on my work and university studies, so I’m pretty happy that I managed to get six wins. But I think I got lucky with the pairings. I didn’t have to play against any of the top contenders: China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea, or Hong Kong.’
In the final standings, undefeated Chinese Taipei was undisputed champion. Korea was the only country with one loss and took second place. Six players finished with six wins and they took the next six places, China third, Poland fourth, Japan fifth, Finland sixth, Serbia seventh, Mexico eighth, and earned awards. No awards were given out for lower places, but Spain’s Oscar Vasquez received the Asada Shizuo Fighting Spirit Prize, and even the players who went home empty-handed did not necessarily go home unhappy. Here’s what two of them said:
Hordur Thordarson (New Zealand): ‘My last game was against an opponent from Azerbaijan. I was getting tired after the long tournament, but fortunately it was not too hard and I managed to win easily. I finished with three wins, but the tournament has been absolutely incredible, amazing. This is the first major tournament that I’ve attended, and I would really like to attend some more after this great experience.’
Jeremie Hertz (Luxembourg): ‘In my last game I lost to Malaysia. I think he’s stronger than me, but it was quite even until the middle of the game. Despite this loss, I’m very satisfied with the tournament. I’m two kyu, but I beat the shodan player from Turkey, I got four wins in all, and I finished 35th, my best result ever.’
The closing ceremony was held in the playing hall shortly after the final round. The referees, Michael Redmond, Yuki Satoshi, and Aoba Kaori, awarded cups to the top three finishers and plaques to the next five; Michael Redmond congratulated all the players; and the sponsors presented additional awards, including sets of tea and sweets, go equipment, and framed pictures that moved under smartphone control. The last award to be given out was the best: two reservations for dinner at Sushi Isshin, a top-class Tokyo restaurant, arranged by Gurunavi. This award went to the champion, Chan Yi-Tien, who said he would invite Cheng Khai-Yong, the Malaysian player, to join him, since the latter had been very helpful in showing him around Tokyo.
And on this cheerful note, the 39th World Amateur Go Championship ended. However, some of the players were planning to stay in Japan for a while, and most of them were taking part in a sightseeing excursion scheduled for the next day.
– James Davies