The rain that began during the previous evening’s excursion to West Lake was still falling on the morning of Thursday, May 28, lending a misty aspect to the view from the windows of the Tian Yuan Tower. Ten minutes or so before the 9:00 starting time, the players began gathering in the playing room on the fifth floor. Hongsuk Song of Korea and Chen Wang of China took their seats at the first board and began eyeing each other in silence. Naisan Chan of Hong Kong took his seat at the second board and waited for his opponent Cheng-hsun Chen of Chinese Taipei. Chen arrived shortly after, accompanied by his mother, beaming for photographers. At the board next to them, Yohei Sato of Japan and Fernando Aguilar of Argentina were seated facing each other in silence. At the next board, Taewon Jo of DPR Korea was seated facing an empty chair, waiting for Thomas Hsiang of the United States.
A few minutes past 9:00, Executive Chief Referee Lingdai Chen, today speaking Chinese, declared the start of the fifth round. His interpreter Wei Zhang translated this declaration into English and play immediately began on twenty-seven of the thirty boards. Five minutes or so later twenty-nine games were in progress, but Jo, now standing, was still waiting. To everyone’s relief, Hsiang walked in soon after that, beating the forfeit deadline with minutes to spare, and the first round was fully under way.
The first of the top games to finish was the one between Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong, Chen against Chan. Chan won by resignation. ‘I had a bad opening,’ said the 17-year-old boy from Hong Kong, ‘but Chen made a mistake in the middle game and I captured three or four very important stones. He played on for about a hundred moves after that, but I didn’t give him any chance to catch up. He plays very well, but he is very young and hasn’t had enough experience yet, so he gets nervous during the game and that leads to mistakes.’
The next top game to finish was the one between Jo and Hsiang, Jo winning. ‘This was similar to my loss against the Chinese player (Chen Wang),’ Hsiang said. ‘Both of them played a very balanced game. In both games I tried to initiate fighting, but they avoided it altogether. Then in the endgame they landed punch after punch. They are so strong that they can hold off in the opening and middle game, and if there are no accidents, then in the endgame we mortals just cannot catch up. I lost to Jo by 15.5 points.
‘Against Wang the margin was less,’ Hsiang continued, ‘but from the one game I’ve played with each of them, I can’t say which is stronger. They don’t need to fight against a player like me. If they play each other, then perhaps we’ll see some fighting.’
The third top game to end was the one between Aguilar and Sato, Sato winning by resignation. ‘This was a tough fight right from the opening,’ Sato said, ‘the kind of game in which one false step would be fatal for either side. Aguilar played extremely strongly. He never let up, always making the most severe move. He made some overplays, however, and that’s where I got ahead.’
That left the game between Wang and Song. The Korean Song had taken an early lead on a joseki exchange in the top right corner and was playing conservatively to defend it, but Wang was not giving up. The game continued through ko fight after ko fight, both players intent on the board, their expressions revealing nothing. One by one, the other games finished, Czechia over Venezuela, Hungary over France, Colombia over Thailand, Canada over Poland, Russia over the Ukraine, Serbia over Israel, Sweden coming from behind to beat Singapore, Mexico losing on time to Denmark. Eventually Wang and Song were the only two still playing, surrounded by a crowd of two dozen spectators. Both players were in byo yomi. Song was playing most of his moves in ten to twenty seconds, while Wang several times went dangerously close to the thirty-second mark. Another ko exchange took place. Referees brought in additional bowls of stones. Finally, as his clock announced twenty-five, Wang tapped the board twice and slumped back in his seat to indicate that he had resigned.
A post-mortem immediately began, with two former world amateur champions assisting: last year’s champion Yuching Hu, who had been giving a live commentary on the Wang-Song game on Chinese television, and Daichun Li, world champion in 2001, who currently coaches Hangzhou’s amateur and professional teams. After nearly half an hour the players and analysts went upstairs for lunch, Song to prepare for this afternoon’s showdown with Chan of Hong Kong, Wang to prepare for a game with Chen of Chinese Taipei.
– James Davies