First World Mind Sports Games
Beijing, October 3-18 2008
I have experienced several World Amateur Championships, in Japan and Korea, but the first World Mind Sports Games (WMSG) in Beijing differed in many ways from these occasions. In the first place, the sheer mass of some 4500 players made this an event of its own class. Modelled on the Olympic Games, five mind sport disciplines took part and every discipline was further divided into different competitions (usually five or six). The five games were Go, Chess, Bridge, Draught (Checkers, Dame), and -- somewhat surprisingly -- Xianqi (= Chinese Chess). In each contest several players from the same nation were allowed. According to the official website, 4558 "athletes" took part, China alone sending 501 (412 in Bridge, 35 in Go, etc.). Thus, China took it really seriously and managed indeed to gain 12 gold medals, followed by Russia (121 players) with only four. Yet, Go (or rather Weiqi), the game which holds probably the highest esteem in China, was not that one sided. It became a real contest between the leading Go nations, China, Japan, and Korea, all sending their top professional players notwithstanding the fact that the price money was probably neglectable in relation to professional tournaments and that professionals were often matched against kyu players from the periphery of the go world, in the preliminary rounds.
Sixtytwo countries took part in the Go events sending 717 players (the second largest group after Bridge). India, Peru, Uruquay, and Austria (what a shame...) were the only countries with only one representative Go player.
In the end, China won three out of six Go competions, but in terms of medals South Korea was more successful. Moreover, Korea won the most prestigious men team tournament, and the individual men tournament. Japan, on the other hand barely managed to gain two bronze medals -- in the team tournaments of men and women -- indicating once more the deplorable state of present Japanese Go. Since Nihon Kiin pros of non-Japanese nationality like O Meien (Taiwan) or Michael Redmond (USA) played for their respective nations, the Nihon Kiin got even more chances to present itself, but nevertheless did not manage to achieve any remarkable result. Instead, North Korea appeared at the horizon, winning at least the "open individual" tournament (which was, contrary to its name, restricted to amateurs).
- Men's Individual (I. Korea; II. Korea; III. China)
- Women's (I. China; II. Korea; III. Korea)
- Individual Open, the only event for amateurs only (I. N-Korea; II. Korea; III. Korea)
- Men's team (I. Korea; II. China; III. Japan)
- Women's team (I. China; II. Korea; III. Japan)
- Pair Go (I. China; II. Taiwan; III. Korea)
All tournaments were played in a combination of six or seven rounds Swiss System that culminated in three or four KO rounds to determine the winner. Players in the preliminary rounds were divided into several groups in such a way that those of the same nation ended up in different groups. Although this arrangement was usually done quite thoughtfully a certain "luck factor" remained. Thus, Michael Redmond (9p, playing for the USA), for instance, did not make it to the finals, since he had to compete with other top pros from China and Japan in his group, while in other groups there were only two professionals. As usual in East Asia, the pairing programs were not as sophisticated as the ones used in Europe and allowed for all sorts of surprisings, at least in the preliminary rounds. I myself (5d), for instance, played in group D of the "Individual open" tournament. I was on the lucky side, this time, taking place eight in the preliminaries and leaving players like Rob Van Zeist (7d) behind me without ever playing them. My opponent, who beated me in the last round was Paal Sannes, a four dan from Norway. If I had beaten him, I would have been third, outranking even the players from Japan and Taiwan. This was due to the fact that only victories but not the opponents scores were taken into account for the pairing. Nevertheless, the top two of each group who entered the finals were usualy indeed the strongest players.
Time allowance was only 60min/30sec, a handicap for many European players. Given the fact that only two rounds were played a day, time allowances could have been a little more generous. Ing stones and clocks were used and the counting method followed a modified Ing system developed especially for the WMSG. Since most players did not know it, counting was usually left to the referees who were present in large numbers. In the end, the results were mostly the same as with Japanese rules and a komi of 6.5.
Due to the vast crowds of players, competitions tended to become more anonymous than in other championships. Price giving ceremonies were attended mostly by press people while the players, if they were not among the winners, hardly managed to get information about time and place of a ceremony in due time. While this was one of the rare occasions in the world of Go where amateurs and professionals contended in one tornament, the glass ceiling between them could be felt all the stronger. Since we amateurs were co-competitors now, opportunities to have ones games analyzed by professionals were in fact much rarer than at pure amateur tournaments.
Public game commentaries were not planned by the organizers and it was only due to the personal effort of Japanese veteran pro Otake Hideo that eventually one such event took place. The most interesting games of each day were played in the "VIP-playing room" that normal players were not allowed to enter. These games were broadcasted via the internet. In the lobby of the playing ground one such game could be seen live on a big screen and sometimes there were a few laptops for common use, where other games could be chosen too -- alas, in Chinese only!
Sumptous opening receptions, sightseeing tours or common trips to a restaurants that were standard (at least in the past) at Japanese World Ch'ships were not part of the programme (probably due to the amount of people). The general reception of players was therefore much more anonymous and somewhat drier than at previous occassions.
Nevertheless, the fact that so many people gathered had an inspiring effect and compensated for many small mishaps and inconveniences. The location itself was impressing. While the "Convention Center" where the Go events took place was indeed quite conventional, the architectonical landmarks of the olympic city such as the "Bird's Nest" or the "Media Tower" provided a formidable background. Free meals were provided in two big hotels nearby and were taken by players of all nations and all games together. Thus, one experienced also the athmosphere and the conventions among players of the other games, most notably Brigde players who provided by far the majority. The notorious male gender bias of Go tournaments was therefore counterbalanced by the strong presence of female Bridgers.
Ultimately, the differences between these games and other amateur world events were routed in different goals and motivations. Amateur games are usually meant as an incentive for players who know the game already. They stengthen the ties between the traditional superpowers of go and the top players of the other nations. Final results are not really important, since it's amateur go anyway. This time, however, national prestige as well as the prestige of the whole event among the genearal public became much more important. The well designed logo of the WMSG could be seen not only at the playing grounds but also in Chinese television. The opening was staged in a stadium of the olympic city (not the Bird's Nest though). Besides the usual speeches a modern dance performance featuring all participating games in a symbolic way had been created for the opening ceremony. The treatment of individual players, on the other hand, was perhaps not that important in the eyes of the organizers. At the same time, the basic facilities for daily needs and daily games worked quite well. In my eyes at least, this lead to the effect that the competions as such became much more serious than in previous events: Players were no longer spoiled but really challenged.
In a social sense, international tournaments become the more interesting the more often you get a chance to go there, since they provide a chance to meet old friends and make new ones. Beijing was no exception in this respect. I met and made friends with several German players (altough I missed Christoph Gerlach by one day, this time), I played (and won) once more against my old rival Vladimir Danek, I listened once more to the words of Otake Sensei and I saw again most faces that you can also find at my report of the WAGC 2006. Shocking news came from the players of South Africa: Julius Paulu, 1d, whom I had met in Japan in 2006, was expected to join the South African team but was shot one week before they left for Beijing by robbers who just stole his old car (rings sad memories...).
Finally, this was my first time in Beijing, first time in China and as such a most interesting experience. Moreover, I could sense the efforts the city had taken regarding the Olympic Games, which were still visibible at any corner. People from all over China crowded every day at the entrance to the Olympic City in front of our appartments just to do sightseeing although no sport events took place any longer. The city was generally quite clean (if smoggy) and flower arrangements with Olympic motives were displayed even on the highway to the airport. The Olympics really seem to leave a trace in the country. The Mind Sports Games were of course not more than a side effect of the Chinese Olympics but they may change something in the world of "mind sports." It is still unclear, whether and how these games will be continued (one idea is to have them after all future olympics in the respective city, or China may continue them in another way...) but in any event a precedence has been created. I am quite proud to have it witnessed and hope that more players from Austria will take the chance next time.
Bernhard Scheid, October 2008