Memories from the 2016 London Go Open

(This is a translated version of the original article, published on the March 1, 2017 issue of World of Weiqi magazine, p. 100–102.)

I took part in my very first London Go Open during December 28–31, 2016. The tournament, sponsored by Google DeepMind, Nippon Club, Central London Go Club and London City Go Club, reached its 43rd year at the International Students House in Marylebone, London. This year’s competition saw 112 entrants from 17 different countries such as UK, Switzerland, France, Germany, China, Japan, Finland, Sweden, and the USA, which almost matched the scale of a mini Go congress. In addition, the open section hosted an unprecedented group of strong players, with 19 players at EGF 4d and above; notably, thanks to the powerful presence of four EGF 7d’s, there was much to contest for the top prize! Apart from 7 rounds of intense tournament games, players also enjoyed events such as game reviews and commentaries from Romania’s Cătălin Țăranu 5p, Pair Go, Lightning, and Rengo, topped off with a spectacular New Year celebration.

For me, I cherish every trip to a Go event because of all those short but beautiful moments. The UK may not have the largest Go-playing population in Europe, but it certainly doesn’t lack the festivity and camaraderie unique in Go tournaments!

London Go Open. (Photo: Marek Labos)

Battles

The Main Tournament consisted of 7 rounds, and used Swiss McMahon pairing, a system commonly seen among European tournaments. Each player was given an initial score based on their rank, in addition to the number of wins; together, the total score reflected not only strength, but also performance. Compared to the rather fast pace of online games, a generous main time of 90 minutes allowed much more careful and intense calculations, thus creating many high-quality games. As Joel Barrett, an avid Manchester Go fan who’s been actively playing in tournaments since early 2016, could attest, “most tournaments give an hour to each player or less, so it was nice to be able to play with 1.5 hours on the clock, which allowed me to make better decisions without being under time pressure.”

Most notably, this year’s open section proved to be the strongest ever in the history of the tournament, and suspense was well-kept until the very end. In a historic tie for 1st place, the prize money was shared by China’s Qiuchi Li 7d and Korea’s Seong-jin Kim 7d, while former Korean professional 4p Hajin Lee (Haylee Maas) and Chinese 6d Qinmeng Zhang both fared 3rd in the final standings. Li, a strong Tygem 9d, still recalled his special journey to being a co-champion: “I’m over the moon to win my first major Go event. I got off to a good start in the last round, but my opponent did well to peg me back in the endgame, so maybe luck was on my side to grant me a half-point win! If I lost after squandering such a lead, it would have been the toughest loss ever for me, so I was just happy to get over the line.” Zhang, the only 6d among the top four players, also expressed his joy: “Any occasion to mark my name in the history of this prestigious tournament would be glorious; in addition, it was fun to play with people from different countries and make new friends!”

Seong-jin Kim (L) and Qiuchi Li (R) lifted the trophy. (Photo: Marek Labos)

Chemistry

Pair Go, judging by its name, is a competition that requires collaboration from two players on each side. To perform strongly, both players must adapt properly to each other’s rank and style. This year’s Pair Go competition saw 20 pairs competing, many of them consisting of one male and one female player. Compared to the Main Tournament, the casual mood and the 20-minute absolute time settings filled the venue with joy. My partner, Lova Wåhlin, came from Sweden and proved herself as a strong EGF 1d with solid records. To prepare for the Pair Go tournament, we even played a practice game to find each other’s strengths; despite many dramatic twists in our games, we finished nicely with a 3–1 record. Many couples were also among the playing field, including Hajin Lee and her husband Dan Maas, who enjoyed the tournament with an immense passion. Lee, also very popular on YouTube as Haylee, reflected cheerfully, “we both enjoy playing Go, so neither of us needed to wait while another one was playing, and playing Pair Go together was quite fun!”

Pair Go. The lowest-ranked pair at center, Gerry Gavigan and Gudrun Breitenbauch, won the tournament with a 4–0 record. (Photo: Marek Labos)

In addition to Pair Go, there was also a special tournament called Lightning Go. Each game in the event was a 10-minute absolute blitzkrieg, which galvanized tremendous excitement. Because of a handicapped system, which accommodated for rank differences, Kyu players had an equal chance to win as well as Dan players. The final, amusingly enough, also took place between a couple, with Korea’s Chi-min Oh 7d competing against his girlfriend, Zoé Constans 15k from France, in a 21-stone handicap game! Eventually, it was Oh who secured an amazing victory, after an unbelievable display of trick moves which made the room erupt with laughter. A long ovation followed the game’s conclusion from the spectating crowd, who greatly appreciated this hilarious moment.

All smiles around the 21-stone handicap game in the Lightning Go final. (Photo: Xiaocheng Stephen Hu)

Reviews

In order to create an open space for participants to assemble and discuss their games, the organizers set up a separate review room, with extra sets of boards and stones. Compared to the tense atmosphere in the playing rooms, the review room saw players of all ages and ranks join and enjoy the simple happiness of playing Go. Maybe that’s what Go is all about!

Cătălin Țăranu 5p, a Romanian professional player and teacher, served as a guest reviewer and lecturer during the 4-day Open. As a teacher, Cătălin was patient, knowledgeable, meticulous, but also humorous; most notably, he reviewed my tournament game with UK champion Andrew Simons 4d, giving a thorough board analysis while answering questions from the audience. By interacting with professional players, I learned a lot about my game as well as things I needed to work on. Most importantly, it was fun being a part of a big board review!

(L) Cătălin Țăranu 5p, Andrew Simons 4d, and me in the big board review session. (Photo: Marek Labos)

Veterans

Any success in organizing an event would not happen without the tireless efforts put in by the organizers. Among them was Jenny Radcliffe, the Tournament Director of this year’s London Open; apart from managing the Main Tournament, she also organized Lightning Go and Rengo, as well as hosting the awards ceremony on New Year’s Eve. Radcliffe had participated in 11 London Opens and directed 6 of them; albeit not under the heaviest spotlight in the winners’ circle, her efforts were truly instrumental. Her reflections on the tournament were very positive: “Ever year is special in its own way. We saw an unusual number of strong layers competing; there were more children and teenagers than usual, too, which was very pleasing. But really, my favorite aspect was meeting all the awesome people who came to the tournament. Every year I make a few new friends, and every year I get time to catch up with old friends!”

While Radcliffe’s history with London Open was certainly special, she might not manage to break another record held by 73-year-old veteran Go player Francis Roads, who attended every single London Open in 43 years. Roads, who also hosted the opening ceremony, remarked: “Being still able to hold my own London Open at the age of 73 with younger players was very special. When I stood up to make my welcome speech, I found out that players from 17 countries were attending, which is a record for the Open!” For me, their commitment was formidably amazing, which made the tournament an even more special event.

Francis Roads and Jenny Radcliffe (R) in Pair Go. (Photo: Marek Labos)

Celebration

The last few hours before the arrival of 2017 began with a festive awards ceremony. Although my entry rank was “below the bar” in the McMahon system, I managed a fortunate 5–2 record and won my own section, which was perhaps a good gift for myself! The ceremony was succeeded by the Rengo event, which allowed teams of up to 4 players to enter, and hilarity permeated the room as everyone was relieved from the pressure of competition. Afterwards, we enjoyed a wonderful New Year’s Eve dinner in Chinatown, talked about our lives on and off the goban, and promised to see each other again in the new year. When 12:00 AM arrived, everyone in the room started clapping and singing Auld Lang Syne, a traditional British celebration that marked the commencement of the new year, opening the door to hope and new expectations.

I remember walking out of the building, listening to the resonating symphony of clicking stones on Great Portland Street, and seeing my own silhouette under the dimming street lights. At the end of the day, everyone must return to their own busy lives, at work or in school, and the party could not go on forever…But there’s always plenty of journey ahead. After all, we are all journeymen ourselves, traveling along an endless path on the goban, and striving to be better. ∎

Co-champion Qiuchi Li (4th to the left) and me (right) among the participants of London Open. (Photo: Marek Labos)
Singing Auld Lang Syne at 2017’s approach. (Photo: Marek Labos)