Exile

2013 onwards

By 2013 I was now firmly rooted in Puteaux, France, a town adjoined to Paris, rich in the wealth of the land taxes of La Defense, and reigned over by its own Queen. My games were played in foreign clubs over jars of Troll or Leffe, and the sounds of nos-tal-gi playing in the background over (still) impenetrable layers of multiple French conversations. Hence the introduction of this new chapter in my story. Enough diversions however, let us get back to Ireland. What was happening on the Go scene? The kick-off weekend of 2013 saw Roman Pszonka stamp his authority on proceedings with a 4 game winning streak. Noel and Claas trailed behind on 3 wins, with James having a shaky start with just 1 win. After the remaining matches were played it was Noel and Roman who qualified for the final, and again, this didn’t take place until the very end of the year. So the next tournament was the Confucius Cup (do you still remember when it was called the Irish Open), which I missed with a heavy heart, but not too heavy, as I was getting married instead. The turnout was rather milky, with only 38 players present in the competition. The winner was the now familiar face of Csaba Mero (6-dan), beating Zebin Du (4-dan) into second place. Antoine Fenech (5-dan) took third place, heading a large contingent of French players, including Julian Renaud, a former Dublin regular. Roman Pszonka, now registered for Ireland, was at the top of the locals with 8th place. There was sad news after the tournament, Mark Webb (4-kyu) passed away after a struggle with cancer. He was a nice guy, who although bound to a wheelchair since an accident on the rugby field, enjoyed a positive outlook on life. He was the first Irish player I knew who died, and it upset me that he died so young. The Galway tournament took place in July, and was a handicap Swiss again, with defending champion Kim Ouweleen (4-dan) managing to take only 5th place. In first place was Justyna Kleczar (2-kyu), who had the more tiebreak points than Thomas Shanahan (6-kyu), Anthony Durity (7-kyu), and Kenneth Savage (8-kyu). The turnout was a light 14. In October the Belfast Open took place, and was won by Tiberiu Gociu, whose GoR had slumped down to 5-kyu levels. Visiting Polish player Josefa Kubitova (8-kyu) took second place. The field was just 15 players, continuing a depressing trend in attendance figures. University College Cork played host to the next tournament in October. This time Kim Ouweleen did manage to hang onto his title, batting Roman Pszonka down into second place. 18 players took part in the competition, which was not set upon by an natural disasters whatsoever. The year ended with the IGA final, which was surprisingly won by Noel Mitchell, although to be fair he has had a good record against Roman despite the rating points difference. The Irish Ladder was again won by James Hutchinson, in another famine hit year. We might well ask ourselves as to what caused this overall downturn in activity. I don’t think that it was anything dramatic, just a result of combination of small things such as emigration. For instance, Eoghan Barry who had spent several years as IGA secretary, went back to the USA, and Marek Gutkowski (also active in Dublin and the IGA) moved back to Poland. Another symptom of this inactivity we can mention, is that Rory Wales was unable to find anyone to replace him as President of the IGA. A decidedly unhealthy sign one might say, but then again, it didn’t for a moment stop Go being organised in Ireland. So perhaps it can be said that we Irish only have an interest in organising tournaments locally, and no interest in building up a grand institution with all the red tape that contains. Thinking about it, that kind of sentiment is probably quite common across most of Europe. Speaking of which, what about the international dimension in 2013? Representing Ireland in Japan was James Hutchinson, who again scored 4/8 for a very commendable 31st place. In Korea (KPMC) Colin MacSweeny also put in a solid performance with 3/6 for 46th place. Finally, we also of note that this as the year of the introduction of a new European Professional system, which despite its potential merits, arrived by a rather waffle ridden email, which some countries didn’t even get the chance to read, and had only the initial effect of canceling the current European Cup grand prix. At that time, I think that everyone must have hoped that its future was going to be somewhat brighter than the somewhat muddled beginning we all witnessed. Right at the close of 2013 I started a new initiative, a correspondence championship , which would take place on Dragon Go Server. This proved surprisingly popular, and over 20 people came forward to play in this tournament. Given what had happened to previous internet events, I was really pleased at this uptake, and was able to split the event into 2, rather full breasted, round robins.

Naturally 2014 began with the same Top 8 kick-off weekend as before, which was again held in the Burlington Hotel grace of Mr N.Mitchell. Remarkably, two qualifiers did not turn up to the event to play. This was all the more disappointing as one of them, Gavin Rooney, had been given a wildcard into the event by the IGA committee. This was offered during a period in which we (the committee) struggled to find competitors for the tournament. So it was that 6 people did battle, the top man being Roman Pszonka on 4 wins, with James Hutchinson on his heels with 3 wins. As it transpired from the remainder of the matches, these two would go forward into the final, a final which never actually finished! The 2014 Confucius Cup was happily one event that I did attend. This was the 25th anniversary of the Irish Go Congress, so all the stops were pulled out to gather up some old champions to the competition. Matthew Macfadyen (6-dan) and Csaba Mero (6-dan) responded to invites to attend, and Ondrej Silt (6-dan) also turned up. The winner, who was also invited, was the current European Champion Fan Hui (2-pro). Despite some near misses, he beat all opposition, whilst Csaba Mero took second on tiebreak from Antoine Fenech (5-dan), then Ondrej Silt. From the 43 attendees, Roman Pszonka in 8th place, was the top local, while I managed a reasonable sounding 10th place. I had a fairly run of the mill 2/4 score, but I had a somewhat lucky win against our sponsor in the final round – I was oh so close to dropping a 40 stone group into atari. Luckily years of study saved me just in time from the Devil’s atari The event was silently marred somewhat by an uncalled for walk-out from Gavin Rooney before he had even started the competition. Having arrived at about 1 hour past the starting time, he had no opponent, and was not happy simply to slot into round 2 per standard practice. His loss sadly. The next event was in Galway, where they again ran a handicap swiss tournament. Justyna Kleczar was absent, something minor distractions around finishing exams and moving to the Netherlands, and was thus not able to defend her title. Another woman won in her place, Marie Julien (4-kyu) won all 5 games, one more than her boyfriend Aurelien Journet-Brochet (1-dan). The field was a small, but happy, 11 players, which in my opinion was small mostly due to some enforced changes around dates. Both these players were French students, who were on some sort of exchange visit. So it was an interesting co-incidence that the next event in Ireland that year was an international club match between Irish and French teams: Dublin -v- Clermont-Ferrand. This encounter, which was played with handicaps, came to an amicable result, a 6-6 draw.

The Belfast Open took place in August, and was won by ‘Nyoshi’ (Cao Ngoc-Trang) (2-dan) ahead of James Hutchinson. A total of 14 players attended, and for once I was not among them as I completely missed the event – probably having a day on the swings instead. Piotr Gawron, who I used to play at Belfast City Hall all those years ago, was in attendance however. Belfast also had its own club championship, which was dressed up as the Ulster Championship. James Hutchinson won the final 2-0 against Tiberiu Gociu. The UCC Go tournament was the last event of the year. It too was a Swiss Handicap, which in theory should set it wide open. Again however the strongest player won, Philippe Renaut (2-dan), newly arrived from France and trying to start up a restaurant business, cleaned up with 5 wins out of 5. Gerry Gavigan, a shaper and mover in the London Go scene, came second. Oh what about the Irish Championship final. We forgot about that didn’t we, and so did the players. After Roman losing the first game (played 26 December) to James, no more games were played. The committee ended up adjudicating in James’s favour in May of the next year. I have no idea what went on there, and perhaps I don’t want to have an idea. In any case, something slightly ridiculous of farcical must be suspected. Oh! Did I forget to mention the ladder? Yes, that tournament ran without much enthusiasm throughout the year. Philippe picked up the title after the usual November jostle. The validity, or wisdom, of using the ladder was then an item for discussion at the 2015 AGM. It’s unpopularity was of course a visible symptom of the disinterest in the Irish Championship cycle. Oh! Didn’t I nearly forget the world stage to boot. Well John Gibson played in the World Amateur, picking up his usual two wins. Thomas Shanahan was the new face in Korea, also picking up two wins for his troubles.

Anyway, at least 2015 got off to a bright start. The Top 8 started in January, with the usual cunning of Noel Mitchell deployed to secure the venue. The AGM, which was held at the same time as the Kick-off weekend, voted to restore the women’s championship after Carol Doyle expressed an interest in organising it. Rory Wales tried to resign as President again, but yet again absolutely nobody stepped up to replace him. Madness. The next event there was the Winter Warmer tournament in Galway, which at the initiative of Philippe. It was another Swiss Handicap, and it was won by Venkata Velpuri, a beginner from Belfast, edging out Philippe himself on tiebreak. (The tiebreak looks to have been lower rank wins over higher rank.) The Confucius Cup started in February this year. With the continuing sponsorship of the Institute the prizes, pros, and players in attendance were top notch. My son was still too young to travel, so I didn’t even attempt to make it over for 2015. Kim Young-Sam (7_dan) edged out Chi-min Oh for the title. The Irish were far behind Roman Pszonka 15th, Philippe Renaut 17th, and James Hutchinson 21st. Matthew Macfadyen, who nearly upended Fan Hui at the event, went on to visit Galway Go Club on a little holiday tour. As always Rory Wales compiled a nice report on the Confucius Cup. The work done by the Confucius Institute was, as ever, top notch. The contacts of Prof Wang and the combined clout of the institute and the Chinese Ambassador brought home the goods. They also secured the services of Fan Hui to deliver online lessons to IGA members, something which I feel was underappreciated by the IGA – attendance could have been higher. Perhaps, like me, they always had real life interfering.

From big successes to minor ones. I managed to coax some of the others into restarting the newsletter. In early March we published a first edition for that year. It is possibly the biggest and best newsletter we’ve had. A proof, if more proof were needed, that teamwork is a good thing. (2015-Issue1) April saw the Ladder start up again, somewhat later than it was supposed to start, but there were no complaints there. More exciting was the second tournament in Galway at the end of the month. Somewhat disappointingly it attracted just 9 players, this time the Belfast players being unable to attend. Philippe won the event, which was a Swiss Handicap again. In second place was Geoffrey Crespino, who is also from France, but resident in Dublin. No review of the event appeared on the website this time. Whether that was down to lack of time, lack of interest, or just depression at the poor turnout, I don’t rightly know. This was to become a recurring feature though!

With May came some minor activity, with the rebooted Interprovincials having an airing, and the Ulster Championship qualifiers being played. June saw James Hutchinson deliver a good performance in the WAGC with a solid 4/8 score. This included a win of a 6-dan, but sourly enough this was the infamous 6-dan of Azerbaijan, but you take what you get! Then August brought us the Belfast Open, which I actually did visit, but just to say hello to people. Unfortunately that didn’t get my any Korea points (misers). Karl Irwin cleaned up in this event, clearly demonstrating that his time spent in China hadn’t gone to waste. His main opposition was James Hutchinson, who ended in second place, whilst Louise Roullier (4-kyu) (another player from France!) came in third. [You’ll have to forgive me if I make a quick tournament director nerd intervention here. Normal McMahon practice is to allow only players who play in all rounds to play above the McMahon bar – it’s a practice that OpenGotha doesn’t enforce by default. In this case it doesn’t make any difference, James had one extra MMS point – but beware of the pedants that might complain that they have been cheated out of a prize. In all nerdy-seriousness, this kind of error – or abnormal McMahon practice – can potentially put somebody’s nose out of joint.]

There was then the kind of summer break we all expect. A sad note came in August with the loss of Bernard Palmer, a bit of a rogue at times, but enjoyable company. September saw Connaught (Philippe Renaut, John Gibson(!), Richard Brennan) take the Interprovincial title with a 2-1 win over Ulster (James Hutchinson, Tiberiu Gociu, Roger Clarke). October saw Philippe Renaut beat James Hutchinson in the Championship final. Whilst November saw John Gibson trot off to Korea were he only managed 1 win this time, certainly no disgrace though given the strong field. November also saw a tournament in Cork, for which no report appeared on the IGA website. I don’t understand why that was, but at least John Doyle had a write up at CorkGo. Geoffrey Crespino was at the head of 11 players with 5 wins to his name, whilst in second there was Piotr Gawron with 4 wins. Local player Mike Vaughn directed the tournament, using a Swiss system, but adjusted to take the number of wins into account when calculating the handicap. Finally we should mention the Irish Women’s Championship, which didn’t quite finish in time for the end of the year, but the two highest finishers in the league,Michelle Renaut and Carol Doyle, were by now playing a 3 game final match. So as not to leave you in suspense, we can reveal that Carol won by a 2-1 margin, the last match taking place on January 10th. One last fact about 2015 – IGA membership was standing at 22 persons.

So onto 2016! This was the year of AlphaGo. Deepmind’s team of developers came up with a truly radical improvement on neural net and UCT techniques and redefined professional play. In January they announced that they had beaten Fan Hui, and of course, they went on to do even more than that. Naturally this provoked a lot of media attention, even in Ireland were the game is extremely low profile. Arthur Cater and John Gibson each had a spot on RTE to discuss in general the game of Go in the actual match itself. Not to be outdone by this, January also saw the Belfast Handicap tournament take place. Out of the 8 players in attendance, it was Tibi won this event with 3 wins in a row, then a bye. Lucretiu Calota (5-dan), a former Romanian Champion who had just moved from Brasov (RO) to St Albans (UK), was second. He also had 3 wins, but had lost to Tibi in their head-to-head encounter. February saw Cian Synnott start up the Online-Go club on OGS, and it was initially quite a little success. February also saw John Doyle start up a newsletter, which was a lightweight, but very welcome addition to the scene. As you may have guessed, my own attempt at a reboot had totally ground to a halt. I think I have to accept that Ireland doesn’t have enough going on to warrant a bulky newsletter.

The big event of the year, the Confucius Cup took place, who would miss that? Myself, I would. Despite going to the trouble of hunting for an AirBnB total disaster struck. Young child sick all night, and all morning, equals a cancellation of flights. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for when I booked for my family to travel over, but these things happen. Anyway, the tournament didn’t care about my misfortunes. It carried on regardless. As always a full report from Rory Wales is available. Some participants over indulged in the black stuff, but amongst the more restrained Mingyu Oh came through as the winner, ahead of Mateusz Surma, then Cristian Pop, who was then third twice in a row. The participation was 44, perhaps lower than the sponsors wanted, but in my opinion a good figure for an Irish tournament.

The ladder, which had been judged as a complete failure in 2015, struggled back to life in April. It did actually see quite a few games played, mostly towards the end of the year though. James Hutchinson ended as the winner, ahead of Matei Garcia. September saw the Belfast Open take place, with local Daqun Wang powering into first place, ahead of James Hutchinson. No report was posted on the IGA website for the event, which for me is a kind of depressing trend. With 14 players it had a reasonable turnout, and a good mixture of players from around Ireland, the UK, and France again. There was sadly no Galway tournament, but Cork hosted an event in December, another Swiss Handicap event. Of the players there, it was Zhiqing Zhang (5-dan) who carried off the title. It was actually an all Dublin Club podium, with Arthur Cater coming in second, and Hao Wu third. What about the Irish Championship. This mainstay of competition only attracted 7 players to the Top 8, a bit of a bum note. Noel and James came out on top with Michael Thai taking third ahead of the long absent Stephen Flinter. James won the final 2-0, the last game being played in January 2017. Internationally John Gibson was representing us at the WAGC, which was in China that year. He took away his customary 2 wins. Playing in Korea was Carol Doyle who sadly failed to score a win, and finished in last place – of course there was no shame in that, at 10-kyu she was the lowest ranked by 2 grades. It is probably the right place to say that Internationally and Nationally there was a growing trend of it getting harder to have the best players turning out to play Go. It’s probably true that for each individual concerned, they have their own valid reasons for not being able to jet off abroad, or to fight it out in Dublin, but there’s no getting away from the picture of an aging and thinning population of Go players.

We’ve already strayed into 2017,  but let us start it afresh. We won’t begin with the Top 8, we will begin with the AGM instead. The report of 2016 is here. The report of 2017 is here. As you can see the IGA now has no President, nobody is in charge. Nice way to start the year, eh? Being President isn’t really a big job, which kind of leaves me puzzled as to why nobody wants to take it on. All it involves is coordinating the IGA committee work and looking smart at prize givings. I’d go so far as to say that it was an easy job! To me it’s a bit of a symbolic event regarding the health of the Irish Go Association, but perhaps not of Go in Ireland. Probably the truth of the matter is that most people are too busy to do it. For example – at least 4 of the community became parents. Others are working too hard to countenance the role. Possible candidates have gone, either to other countries or to the great goban in the sky. The IGA is getting thin on the ground. I think people also have the impression that being in the IGA committee involves a good deal of work. Actually, no it doesn’t involve a great deal of work. It just involves talking to each other, and doing a few little admin jobs. If the IGA was a bigger organisation then it would be a role which would demand more work, but as it is being President, or being on the committee, that only demands as much work as you want to put into.

The Top 8 began without James Hutchinson, I don’t know why he couldn’t make it, but it was surely a negative point that he wasn’t able to take part. Philippe was the leader after the kick-off weekend in January, that was a lead which he hung onto well, finishing on 7/7. Noel and Steve were tied on 5/7. They played their tiebreak game at the end of August, with Noel picking up the win and the chance of another title. In March, the Confucius Cup saw just 47 players turn up, an improvement on the previous total of 44. Still, it is quality not quantity that counts. Seong-Jin Kim (7-dan) edged out Pavol Lisy (1-pro) to win the event. Zhiqing Zhang (5-dan) zon the Friday night rapid. Full report from Rory Wales is here. Amazing support from the Confucius Institute again made this event a big success – particularly praised by Mateusz Surma for instance. I actually played a game in this, most of the time I was behind the keyboard relaying games to OGS and KGS at the same time. The Galway tournament (Swiss handicap) took place in May. It saw 17 players turn up, and Thomas Shanahan won the event.There was an almost unheard of Pair Go event in May to mark 60 years of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Japan. I would have quite liked to have gotten to that event, but unfortunately had scheduled a holiday months earlier. Few details are available, but Matei Garcia and Rachael Plomp edged out John and Naomi Gibson. Chris Rafferty and John Courtney won the Rengo side event. The next two events had no report on the Irish Website, which is kind of odd. The Belfast Open took place in July, and Lucretia Calota (5-dan) won this time. He edged out Karl Irwin (4-dan). 15 players took part, which is pretty reasonable, but only 13 players turned up to Cork, which is a shame. Kim Ouweleen(4-dan) was the winner there, he edged out Przemyslaw Dyszczyk (1-kyu) who I think I am right in believing has moved to Ireland from Poland. Nobody went to the World Amateur Go Championship in China, which is a damn shame. Kevin Farrell did go to Korea, and he did quite okay to take 2 wins. As a bit of an addendum for this year, no IGA ladder took place, and nobody updated the Korea Points.

Onward to 2018 which looks well placed to be described as A good year for the roses as I write (July, 2018). Of course, the 2017 final was not played in 2017. Again the IGA Championship dragged on and on. To spin backwards a bit, after the Kick Off, Peter Kasko dropped out in July, in August the play-off was played between Steve and Noel, Noel and Philippe then started the final. Game 1 in November, Game 2 in December, Game 3 in February. It was Philippe who won the odd numbered games and the title. There was no Top 8 kick off weekend at the beginning of 2018. There was (is) no ladder in 2018. The Confucius Cup was all but destroyed by the weather as Emma blanketed the country in snow, cancelling my flights, cancelling almost everyone’s flights. A tournament was played but it was a greatly reduced affair. Some people went to mammoth lengths to attend, but still couldn’t quite make it there. It was nuts, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Sitting at home trying to explain to people what the latest situation is over Facebook/Email/Whatever – it gets increasingly depressing after already spending so much time in the previous months sitting there trying to help organise the thing. Yes, I actually helped try to organise the event such was the paucity of Dublin support  (Arthur and John excepted) to work with the Confucius Institute. Owing to the constraints of life, Rory not only stood down as President, he had also stood down as Confucius Cup organizer – a considerably harder role. He had made out a huge sheet of notes to help the next organisers, but in the end, well we didn’t get to use that very well. As of today (still July, 2018) I don’t know what the fate of next year’s event is. Will there be a 2019 Confucius Cup? I hope that there will be, and bitter as the memories of 2018 are, I would try to help it out.

So 2018 basically just started out with a small rapid event which was all that was left of the Confucius Cup. 30 minutes absolute time, a C-Class event. Lukas Podpera won, fairly deservedly so as he had actually managed to get to Ireland from the Czech Republic. There was no AGM, and no new AGM was scheduled. The Top 8 came to pass in June. Cian Synnott pulled a remarkable performance out of his hat to win 4/4. James Hutchinson and Tibi Gociu were next in line with 3/4. The Top 8′s qualification criteria had changed, so that to now qualify you had to have played in an event in Ireland in the previous year, or to have played in the PGETC team. I didn’t see that, or the Top 8 announced anywhere, which I thought was a bit poor as far as things go. Still it was nice to see such a big shake up in the event!

Michael Thai got 3 wins in the WAGC.

What will happen in the rest of 2018?


A table of individual international representation for Ireland in the period covered by this article

Year KPMC WAGC EGF Oza
2018 - Michael Thai -
2017 Kevin Farrell - -
2016 Carol Doyle John Gibson -
2015 John Gibson James Hutchinson -
2014 Thomas Shanahan John Gibson -
2013 Colin MacSweeny James Hutchinson -
2012 James Hutchinson Colin MacSweeny -
2011 Rory Wales James Hutchinson -
2010 Ian Davis John Gibson -
2009 Olivier Deme Brian Gallagher -
2008 Terence McSweeney Ian Davis Terence McSweeney
2007 John Gibson Noel Mitchell -
2006 Ian Davis Stephen Flinter Noel Mitchell
2005 - Bernard Palmer -
2004 - Noel Mitchell Stephen Flinter

 

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