Hong Seok-ui, the Korean-born go player who moved to Japan in 2011 and promptly won the Japanese Amateur Meijin tournament, has now won his fourth straight Amateur Meijin title and his second straight Amateur Honinbo title. For good measure he also owns the Amateur Dragon Star title, making him a triple title-holder.
The Amateur Meijin was held in July. Since it is run on the challenger-defender system, Hong has lately been able to relax while the rest of the Japanese amateur go world competes for the right to challenge him. This year the challenger tournament came down to a game between two 21-year-olds: Ka Hyo and Tsunoda Daisuke, both of whom had formerly trained for pro careers. The game between them was a thriller that Tsunoda won by half a point on July 21.
Tsunoda, who is now studying for his university entrance exams, thus got to take on Hong in a best-of-three title match, played in high style at a hot-spring resort southwest of Tokyo. Hong, who has never dropped a game in Amateur Meijin competition, won the match 2-0. He took the first game on July 26 by killing a large group, and the second game on July 27 by outfighting Tsunoda in the opening. 'I tried to play aggressively, but it didn't work,' Tsunoda said after losing. 'I have no regrets. I just wasn't strong enough.'
Four weeks later Hong journeyed to Tokyo to compete in the Amateur Honinbo tournament at the Nihon Kiin. This is not a defender-challenger affair; Hong was seeded into the round of thirty-two, and would have to win five straight games to keep his title.
In his first game he defeated Tanaka Masato, who won the Amateur Honinbo twice in the 1990s. Beaten by resignation on the board but unconquered in spirit, Tanaka immediately starting a lengthy and vociferous post-mortem discussion.
In his second game Hong defeated Iba Yuji by resignation. Hong and Iba both work as instructors at first-class go clubs, Hong at the Ranka club in Osaka, Iba at the Shusaku club in Tokyo.
Hong's quarter-final opponent was Ka Hyo, the challenger he just missed facing in the Amateur Meijin. Again Hong won by resignation.
In the semifinal round Hong was paired against Emura Kiko, who represented Japan in the last two World Amateur Go Championships. Emura played tenaciously and the game was close, but Hong won by a point and a half.
In the final round, Hong faced Hiraoka Satoshi, World Amateur Champion in 1994 and 2006 and Amateur Honinbo in 2005, 2009, and 2012. Chang Hsu (Cho U), who was professional Honinbo and Meijin ten years ago, gave a public commentary on the game. Chang mentioned that he had recently played Hong in the Agon-Kiriyama tournament, which is open to amateurs as well as pros. Before encountering Chang, Hong had beaten seven straight professional opponents, including two nine-dans. 'The amateur go world is no place for him,' Chang said.
Although Hong lost to Chang, he justified Chang's praise in his game with Hiraoka. The pace of play was fast, both players avoiding pitched life-and-death struggles. After fifty moves Chang thought that white (Hong) had a commanding position, and the rest of the game bore him out. Hong managed his stones expertly and won by 12.5 points (here is the game record in sgf format).
In a smiling post-victory interview, Hong said, 'It was just luck that I came out on top, because I played badly in most of my games. In the final it wasn't until the endgame that I realized that I was ahead. I'm still working every day to improve my skills in go, and my language skills.'
The third-place playoff was won by six-time Amateur Honinbo Nakazono Seizo, who defeated Emura Kiko by 3.5 points.
This fall, viewers of Japan's Go/Shogi TV channel will get to see how Hong does against further professional opposition in the Dragon Star Open. Already, he has beaten four pros in the preliminary rounds.
- James Davies
UK: Aja Huang 5d took the MSO Open on August 25 in London. Francisco Divers 2d placed second and Andrew Simons 4d third. Sweden: John Karlsson 4d bested Mingyu Chen 5d at the Stockholm Open on August 23 while Charlie Aakerblom 4d was third. Netherlands: The Zomergo 2014 finished in Lunteren on August 20 with Matthias Terwey 4d (left) in first, Rene Aaij 4d in second, and Zeno van Ditzhuijzen 5d in third.
As school starts for most of the country, so has registration for the next year of the Pandanet-AGA City League. “We are changing things up a little this year and are looking for more teams!” reports TD Steve Colburn. “We are expanding the A and B Leagues are expanding to eight teams each.” Teams have until Sunday September 28th to send in registrations. Colburn is also looking for a League Manager to help during the year. All teams should contact Steve.Colburn@usgo.org for more information.
Terri Schurter 9K posted her best-ever US Go Congress tournament results this year, taking second place in the 9K division. The retired high school art teacher (at left) from Ewing, New Jersey, is a longtime go player who’s taken up fiber arts in retirement and could be seen calmly stitching together hexagonal pieces of fabric throughout the weeklong Congress. “I decided to document my stitching by photographing my progress each day on a go board,” she writes on her Hexy Lady blog. “I think that stitching throughout the week calmed my nerves,” Schurter told the E-Journal. “I find it to be a form of meditation, so it may have helped me to maintain a calm mind. Stitching during games is of questionable value, though sometimes I could not resist the urge with adequate time on my clock.”
photos by Chris Garlock (left) and Terri Schurter