Personal History

I learnt to play Go somewhere around 1998, while studying physics at university. That is not to say that the game was on the curriculum, but rather that I happened across it there during the course of everyday life. My initial level of skill at the game was really rather poor indeed, although I imagine that this is the case for most beginners. In my case however, I probably persisted in remaining between 30-25-kyu for about 4 years; although as you will see, there were some mitigating factors there. Turning up at the Go club in Durham meant emailing a postgrad to ask which lunchtime would suit him. I was given a date and advised to learn how to play before attending. In order to learn the rules, I remember reading the basic tutorial on the britgo website. That website was quite the veritable gold mine of information, containing amongst other things, the rules, a list of downloadable opponents, and a list of all the clubs in the British Isles. From the latter, it is quite possible that I learnt that a club existed in Dublin at this time, but I can’t be 100% certain of that. Even if I had learnt of it, I certainly had no real desire or inclination to travel to the birthplace of Irish Go. Firstly I was very much focused on Chess at that time, and secondly to visit Dublin wasn’t so easy when you were a poor little student. After a fair few months of playing, I quit Go, obstensibly to concentrate on my studies. The highlight of this first foray into Go had been a trip to the Newcastle club, which met in John Hall’s flat. It was stuffed full of piles of old computer magazines, and had over 6 people playing the game, one of whom taught me something useful.

The next time I played any Go was at home in Northern Ireland, in the summer between universities – Durham and Queens. This short spell lasted a week at most, and solely consisted of a few little games on Yahoo! Go , all of which confirmed that I was at most about 25 kyu and still had very little skill at the game after a year long break. It was not until I arrived at Cambridge University, over a year later, that I actually started to learn the game properly. At some point there, I remember looking at the IGA’s website and competition records and actually selecting a target of 2-kyu as an ambition. According to my research, the level of 2-kyu would have been good enough to allow me to compete for 3rd place in the nation, and thus seemed to me to be a respectable goal. Here there was an echo back to my days as a Chess player at Methody (Methodist College Belfast), where I had never risen above board 3 on the first team. By the way, I should mention that that reaching the level of 15-kyu had been my initial target. It seems funny now, but I chose that because it seemed to be a level that would mark a general understanding of the game. I slipped past the rank of 15-kyu too easily though, and chose the aforementioned marker as a replacement. I suppose that it is true to say that the selection of 2-kyu was truly the first genuine connection I ever made with Irish Go. For at that moment the dream of playing in the Irish Championship slipped into my imagination for just the shortest of moments.

Some names of players from that period, in a list which is by no means exhaustive, but whom I especially remember for some particular reason

After the  relatively short period in Cambridge, I then returned to live in Northern Ireland, entering into what was a somewhat difficult period in my life. Being unemployed and without a Go club to visit, I played only online on KGS, with the diversification of Chess at Fisherwick. Actually I combined both one night, when a tourist from Belgium passed through the city. In 2004 I took part in my first Irish Go Congress, which takes place at the Teachers’ Club in Dublin. My debut in the rapid was pretty disasterous, for I arrived late, and then I managed to spill my beer in the time scramble. In my defence this wasn’t a skill I was familiar with yet. The placement of the pint glass is very important when playing, especially with blitz given the sharper movements that it requires. Better still is not to take a pint at all when you’re playing blitz, but I was young and headstrong then. The main tournament saw me scoring a reasonable 3 wins out of 5 from my entry grade of 5-kyu. In the first round I lost to Olivier Deme (4-kyu), I think this was my first and final loss to him. Then I lost to Ralf Neitzke (5-kyu), a german living in Dublin, who was very impressed at how I tried to win, despite it being impossible. In round 3 I recovered to beat another German living in Dublin – yes, there are a lot of them – Joerg Abendroth (5-kyu). My last two games were handicapped, against Rory Wales (9-kyu) and Arthur Cater (11-kyu). This 3/5 result appeared to be good enough for me to compete in the qualifying heats for the Irish Championship League, for I was informed that I would be able to do just that the following year. The winner of that year’s Irish Open was Toshio Nishimura, who was a fairly quiet man from Japan, and was clearly on holiday in Ireland. He celebrated his victory with a pint, his first pint that is, of Guinness after the final round. There was a big tie for second place, on top of which was Stephen Flinter. The turnout was a modest 26 players. Later that year, Noel Mitchell again won the national championship, beating Stephen Flinter in the final. Noel also travelled to Japan for the World Amateur Go Championship, he scored 4 wins from 8 to finish in 36th place. The tally of 4 wins is still the highest achieved by an Irish player in the WAGC.

As part of the 2005 qualifying cycle then, I was drawn against Paul Brennan, who I believe does something around medicine in Cardiff. I am not sure if he is playing Go anymore, but he certainly was then. Paul was around 2-kyu, and had a lot more experience than myself. So given that I was weaker on paper, I certainly expected to lose my qualifying match that year; but in fact I won by a very small margin. Possibly this is because the game was played through computers, which I always feel brings out the blunders in older players. If you manage to download that game from the archives, you can see that Paul drops one or two computer clangers in the course of the game. Still, I certainly couldn’t help that. Fresh from this victory, I then started out in the league  proper, with the stated aim of avoiding being outright last by winning at least 1 game from the 7. This I did, for over the course of about 6 trips to Dublin, I managed to pick up 4 wins in all. I suppose it helped that at this time I was improving quite quickly, was probably more motivated than my opposition, and was very active. An active player is normally tactically sharper than an inactive one, so being sharp probably allowed me to exploit some slackness brought on by rust and overconfidence. Against Noel and Steve, I was effectively badly crushed, the gap in our ability was very evident at that time. Nevertheless, I was overjoyed by managing to emerge in 3rd place in such an event. Actually, in terms of surprises, you can probably say that I repeated the result of Olivier Deme, who also gained the same placing the previous year on his first run in the Top 8. Playing in the Top 8 (inevitably) involved several trips down to Dublin to play of a night in the Pembroke Inn. The interior of the bar was designed by John Gibson, and gave quite a nice atmosphere for your games. The room had several levels. In 2 corners, on either side of the bar itself, there were raised decks which were illuminated in green lamplight. I had always wanted to play one of my games in this setting, but nobody else was ever interested in playing up there. All the games were played on the other side of the room, at the tables on either side of the long wooden rail, which practically ran the whole way from the doorway to the far end of the room. Sadly, the Pembroke Inn is no longer in use, having closed its doors during the depression of the tobacco famine, so I will never realise this little ambition to play under a green light.

The Irish Open of 2005 was quite a success for me. As I had mentioned, I had been improving quite a bit (although not astronomically you understand), and thus entered at 3-kyu, two ranks higher than the previous year. I managed to win all my games, including two against dan players: Gerry Mills(1-dan), and Jens Andersch (1-dan). At the time that really felt like quite a scalp. To obtain victory over not just 1 dan player, but 2 dan players, means that you begin to dream about reaching that mythical dan rank. The tournament included what is termed as a double header – which is an Irish Open game which was also a Top 8 game. It was against Brian Gallagher, who wasn’t sure if I was from Ireland or not, but I was able to reassure him on that matter. It was a fairly tight game, but I managed to battle through to victory. Knowing what to do in the endgame assured me of a good few wins in those days. The winner of the event was Yung Chen, a strong 1-kyu from China who was studying somewhere in Dublin. Stephen Flinter was again the top placed local, managing fifth place. Yung Chen managed to beat me in the last round of the rapid tournament, which caused me to lose out on SOS in a 3-way tie at the top. I was a bit bitter about that at the time, having been in the lead right up to the final round, but you just have to accept the fate that the great tiebreaker-goat in the sky deals down to you.

Around late 2005  a gentleman from Galati, Romania arrived to work in Belfast at the very same company as myself. He was a Go player too, which made the whole thing an insanely improbable coincidence. My first thought on reading the email announcing his arrival was that this was a wind up, but it wasn’t a joke, it was completely real. I think at around this time I started to take some lessons from Cristian Pop. So this created something of an educational greenhouse for us both. We moved up the ranks, and even began teaching new players in the club in-house in work. I could list out various names from the club whom I played with during the period in Belfast, but most of their names are recorded in the EGD‘s tournament records. One thing I do remember, is playing a guy from Greenland, who was over on holiday in the province. I think that this may have been a first, as Go is not yet really established in their country.

In 2006 I got exactly the same result as before in the Top 8, beating all the fellow kyu players, but losing to the dan players. That was the year that Ka Chun Leung stopped playing, one of the few compatriots I would see playing on KGS in those days. I seem to remember that he had tallied up the number of games he had played on the internet, and decided that it was best to be doing something else with his life now. The Irish Open, which took place in March, was won by InSeong Hwang, who having once been a trainee pro, was simply head and shoulders above everyone else in the tournament. He found the fact that I lost against Kate (Zhong Nam) Yu pretty funny. I was reviewing the game, and had gotten up to about move 70 or so. On seeing the position, he asked me pointedly « How can you lose this? » – of course the answer is that I was still weak. Kate Yu has studied in a Go School as a child, whilst she may have forgotten most of her fuseki, once she started the combat, I just crumbled. I took home a 3/5 score at an entry grade of 2-kyu, a reasonable result. Noel Mitchell, who generally says he finds a 5 round weekender pretty tiring, was the best local, edging himself into 5th place. 2006 was the first year with Olivier Deme as congress organiser.

PENTAX Image

In the summer, Belfast Go Club took part in the BGA’s Go Week – you can see above a few pictures of us playing in somebody’s communal garden in work. Most of the players here are from Poland, and I believe that one of them was one of the early drivers in their association, he told us that he was partly responsible for making one of the first available commercial Go sets there. I think that I also took part in the Q-Con that summer, with a little stand for the Go club. It is one of those enormous conventions that gamers, cosplayers, and the ilk go to – very little interest for Go there though. After the summer had passed, I was  lucky enough to trot off to Korea to play in their version of the World Amateur Go Championships. The Korea Prime Minister’s Cup is played at faster time limits than the World Amateur Go Championship. At that time there were the separate domains of KABA (Korean Amateur Baduk Association) and the IGF (which was pretty much controlled by the Nihon Kiin), things have changed in the international domain now though. This competition was playing in Jeonju, which is the hometown of Lee Chang Hao. It was a remote enough place in the countryside, which had 1 sole bar about 5 minutes walk from the hotel. Geoff Kaniuk and Tony Atkins, two players I knew from the UK, had been invited there, basically to run the draw. Cristian Pop was also playing in the competition, he being my teacher at that time. I also ran into players like Hatime Araki and Farid Ben Malek, who I now have the chance to see if I visit my local club. I had a decent enough showing there, beating Columbia, Madagascar and Cyprus, although I was pretty gutted to lose to South Africa in the last round. A win would have given me my ambition/target of a 50:50 performance. It was an instructive introduction to the demands of international competition. I learnt that it really does pay to be prepared for the event, and it is important to remain focused during the tournament. Some of my fellow competitors spent time running round the hotel at 3:00am knocking on doors, or dripping soju all night – enjoyable, but not perhaps so productive. All in all it was a great experience. Back home in Ireland, I had also begun trying to organise more Go events. This year I launched the first online competition on Dragon: a 9 by 9 knock-out tournament. It took almost 2 years to complete! I believe that I also joined the IGA committee in 2006, such was their hunger for organisers.

2007 was the year I first won the title. In retrospect the victory could be considered slightly sour due to not playing the final against Noel, and Terrence not finishing all his games properly. Well that was something I couldn’t help happening, but it did spur me on to  improve the Top 8 rules. The matchplay final was against two-times champion Steve Flinter, and included an amusing illegal move take-back on his part during game 1. If you’ve never had somebody take a stone off the board that still has liberties, just trust me on this, it’s quite an experience, and the ticking clock and dumbfounded spectators really add to the moment. Of course, this was nothing malicious on the part of Steve, who was obviously a bit gobsmacked at the mistake he’d made. The Irish Open also went well for me, I entered at 1-kyu and scored my highest ever position of 5th place, more than anything this was due to the lack of strong opposition. D.K.Kim, a Korean player living in Dublin took home the title; he is one of those few players who are known only by their initials rather than their full name. 2007 was also the year of the first Belfast Tournament, for which Tibi secured the services of Catalin Taranu (professional 5 dan). It was held in the Catalyst Arts Centre, before its extensive renovation took place. 22 players took part, which was a great success for our club. I actually managed to win the tournament, but basically only because it was a rapid. With more time, Noel Mitchell would probably have destroyed me in the final round. Gerry Mills, who was a great supporter of Go in Ireland, came with a huge bookstall to the Belfast Tournament. Catalin Taranu was giving simultaneous games whilst the main rounds were in progress, and then also a commentary on the final game (what a piece of work this game was!) It was a very happy moment for me, and I hope for others. The only sad note there was that it marked the last appearance of Eamon Sloan, hailing from somewhere around Castlewellan. I’d first come across him  playing on KGS, and being already at 3-kyu, he was clearly a talent. I have no idea why he suddenly decided to quit after his first and only tournament. Possibly having arrived at university, he decided that he had no more time for the game. You can see Eamon in the picture below, watching Catalin playing a move against Olivier Deme.

Catalin giving a simul

Scene from Belfast Tournament

An ambition can be a great motivation for a player. After winning the title in 2007, I experienced a terrible emotion I had first felt in 1995. That year, I was part of a team which just won everything that was going in the School Chess circuit. We started with victory in the Ulster Schools Cup, then followed that with the Irish Schools and Colleges championship, which involved a mammoth trek down to Cork in the school minibus. Then the jewel in the crown was the Times School’s Cup – which sadly I don’t think even exists anymore. After a regional qualifier, this then involved a series of telephone matches, then a trip over to London by plane for the finals. Victory brought a sum total of 3 celebratory receptions, and a silly little piece on Ulster TV. The whole euphoria around it just triggered something in me, and I remember standing in my bedroom thinking to myself, « Well that’s it, I don’t have anything else to do, I don’t want to play anymore. » It was a pretty dark thought, but it returned to me in 2008 – which all in all, I would characterise as a pretty dark year for my Go. I guess I am not alone in suffering from this emotion. Once you realise your ambition, however small it is in reality, you sometimes have trouble seeing exactly what is next.
  IrishOpen IrishRapid Irish.Title Belfast Online 9×9
2004 Toshio Nishimura Dan Gilder Noel Mitchell    
2005 Yung Chen Tony Atkins Noel Mitchell    
2006 In Seong Hwang Ian Davis Noel Mitchell    
2007 DK Kim Roman Pszonka Ian Davis Ian Davis Claas Roever
Strangely enough, in contrast, Go in Ireland was looking very healthy in 2008. By this time I was now President of the Irish Go Association, although this is no indication that I was somehow responsible for this state of affairs. We have already mentioned that Belfast was blooming, but we were also seeing green shoots in Galway and Cork, with student filled clubs. You may have noticed, just above this text, a small table, giving the list of tournament winners in our country. Bearing in mind that the Irish Rapid is only a side event, you can see that up until 2007, there was a distinct lack of a real tournament scene in our island. In 2008 that changed completely.
In 2008 we had tournaments at UCC/Cork, Galway, and Belfast; then in  addition there was the KGS-online tournament, together with the standard Irish Go Congress and National Championship packages. It was something of a sea change in activity for the game here. That year I played a mixture of arrogant and negative Go, and had depressingly bad results as a direct consequence. I was nonetheless very enthusiastic about the game in our country. Everything looked to be in great shape. In Cork we had Lukasz Blek, Terrence McSweeney, Justyna Kleczar, Wei Wang, Cao Tongyu, Wenzhi Liang- then in Galway Daniel and Claas, the usual crowd in Dublin, and in Belfast we had James Hutchinson now, who was clearly working his way up through the ranks.  The year started with the University Rapid in Cork, won by Wei Wang, who beat probably his only potential rival in the field of 18 players, Cao Tong Yu, in the first round. Sadly, neither myself, nor anyone else from Belfast made it down to that one, but James Hutchinson did drive his brother and I to the Galway tournament. There  I learned that Terrence was clearly stronger than me now, although not invincible, as his local rival, Lukasz Blek, upended him in the finish. In Dublin, at the Irish Open, Cho Seokbin (7-dan), another former Korean trainee professional took the title. His main rival there was Ondrej Silt (6-dan), a former trainee professional from the Czech Republic, but Seokbin dispatched him in the first round and went on to win the Open. Wenzhi Liang (1-kyu) from Cork was a surprising 3rd place with 4 wins from 5,  finishing just behind Ondrej on SOS. Having lost against Wei Wang in the first round, he had a combination of a good draw and good play to take third place, gaining victory over former champion D.K. Kim in the third round, and then over Terrence McSweeney in the final round. Terrence and Wei took places 4 and 5 respectively, with Noel Mitchell back in 6th, in a SOS staircase that traced all the way back to 10th place, which I took for myself. Back home at the Belfast tournament, the numbers were down, but the competition was fierce. This year we had moved inland, to Belfast Boat Club, which was the home of the Belfast Go club at that stage, on the edge of the university quarter. The studious australian student Yohei Negi was brutally, and I mean brutally, run out of time by Daniel Paraschiv; so that they ended up sharing the laurels. I have to admit that this was possibly my fault, as I set the time limits for the event. Of course this behaviour is completely standard in a lot of other games, it seems to be only in Go that we developed a fledgling sense of morality about this. Leaving these musings aside, the table below should let you see the increase in activity we had over this period – the number in brackets represents the number of competitors. We can probably name this period as a celtic tiger, when compared to the years before.
Year UCC Galway Dublin Belfast Internet/Interpro
2008 Wei Wang (18) Lukasz Blek (18) Seokbin Cho (56) Yohei Negi , Daniel Paraschiv (14) Claas Roever (16)
2009 Wei Wang (18) not held In Seong Hwang (44) Matt Crosby(17) Connaught
2009 Wei Wang (18) - - - -
2008 was also my first, and so far only, trip to the World Amateur in Japan, where I recorded basically the exact same result as I had made in Korea. Again, a bitter loss in the final round haunted me somewhat, as I overdosed on cups of green tea, and became progressively more furious at seeing myself inevitably lose by 1.5 points. The first World Mind Sports Games also took place this year in China, only John Gibson was able to go over to represent us - some countries got a bit carried away and sent teams of about 30 people to the event. I’m not sure why they felt it was so important to go in such numbers, but by all accounts the event was very enjoyable. The year 2008 ended with two championship events. The traditional end of year final saw Claas Roever keeping the Irish title out of the hands of Noel Mitchell, in a close fought 2-1 match. Meanwhile, the Irish Ladder, which was instituted by Olivier Deme to replace the qualifier matches, saw its to become traditional end of year scramble for position, which saw Tongyu Cao taking top spot.
In 2009 I started my project of an IGA newsletter, which I managed to keep going until the middle of 2011. It was a modest venture featuring news/tournament reports, game reviews, book/software reviews, and (of course)an obligatory tsumego. All but a few of the articles there were written by myself. So the project was almost a 1 man show at some points, which makes me wonder in retrospect if it generated that much appreciation or interest amongst the community. The tournament calendar started with the UCC tournament, which by now had gained a reputation as a harbinger of natural disasters. (See Cork floods of 2008.) This time we had severe gales, which saw us basically ejected from the tournament venue due to safety concerns. This led to a frankly beautiful round by candlelight in a nearby bar. I mean honestly, how many of you have ever played round 3 in a bar by candlelight? By the way, the bar in question was called the Thirsty Scholar.
Wei Wang by Candlelight

UCC tournament by Candlelight

 

I caught the flu before the 2009 Irish Open, but like a trooper, or probably more accurately, like a right banana, I went down and played the tournament anyway. I like to believe that the 1 aspro-clear per round I ingested showed my  professional dedication to the game, but my actual results seemed to disagree somewhat.The tournament was basically a duel between the two korean insei, InSeong Hwang and Chimin Oh, the former proving the stronger. My form recovered a little in the Top 8, where I managed to squeeze my way into the final. Since Claas was on a sabatical in New Zealand at the time, quite unusually the entire final was played over the internet. Around this time I quit my job in Belfast and moved to another one in the wilds of Letterkenny. A fond memory of this final has to be sitting in the internet room of the NW snooker club, freezing my ass off, my only company 3 old boys playing poker, and playing out the last game in the final there against Claas Roever. On winning I triumphantly went out to buy a bag of chips to celebrate. Seriously, what else? This was a true representation of the glamour of the game in our country! (To be fair there isn’t that much to eat in Letterkenny after midnight.) 2009 was also the year that Karl Irwin turned up at Belfast, usually with his mate Bobby. He was a strong chess player at MCB, a little like myself. For a while we had an enlivened atmosphere at the club, as we approached a decent number of players on Monday nights.

What else happened in 2009? I took the decision to replace the Irish Online Knockout title, with an interprovincials title. It seemed like a reasonable idea to me, because all sports in Ireland have a club > interprovincial > national hierarchy. Indeed, in its first year it was quite  a little success. John Gibson, with some dubious claim about an aunt, worked his way into the Connaught side, who edged out my own Ulster team in the finals. We had a second tournament in UCC Cork, which Wei Wang won again. This tournament marked the first appearance of Gavin Rooney, then 4-kyu, who gained 1/3, missing the final 2 rounds. In the Belfast Open Matt ‘KyuT’ Crosby beat Andrew Simons to take the winner’s purse. The sad note of this year was the loss of two players. Olivier Deme stopped playing and organising this year.As legend has it, he stormed out of the Pembroke after John Gibson ripped him off. His legacy was the Irish Ladder tournament ‚ which by now was working well as a replacement to the old challenge match qualifying system for the Top 8. Tongyu Cao won the ladder again this year, defending his roost with acclaim on KGS. Brian Gallagher, after representing us in Japan, basically just stopped playing completely. The reason, so I gathered, was a spot of domestic turbulence. Organisationally, we had yet another shambolic sort of Top 8. Yet again, the competition dragged on for ever, and a large part of the games were left unplayed. We should be clear that this disorganisation was certainly nothing new, which probably allows us to say that it made the situation all the worse. So one of the final acts of the year was to introduce a kick-off weekend for the Top 8. This introduced a face to face event where 4 matches would be played by each player. This wasn’t a new idea of course, some of the first championships had been organised in exactly that same way.

2010 was then something of a fresh start for the Irish Championship. Noel Mitchell, who is a star at this kind of thing, organised a conference room for us at the Burlington Hotel in Dublin. This was a great venue to play the event in: good lighting, stable tables, plenty of space, no background noise. I think everyone really enjoyed it. Ungratefully, I tricked Noel in a ko fight, to exit the weekend in a 4/4 triumph, along with James Hutchinson. Then, after a quick finish to the remaining games in the Top 8, we waited about 6 months to finally play the final, which I won, thus claiming my 3rd and so far final Irish title. Elsewhere, the Irish Open was won by Ondrej Silt; Wei Wang being again unable to dislodge him from the top spot. David Phillips won the Belfast Open, despite dropping his final round game to Colin MacSweeny. James Hutchinson took home second place on SOS. Willem Koen-Pomstra won the UCC tournament, beginning a reign of Dutch dominance in the event. He proved too strong for Tong-Yu, who picked up yet another second place finish in the event. There was sadly no Galway tournament this year. King of the Irish Ladder in 2010 was Colin MacSweeny. Internationally, I trained very hard for my second appearance in the KPMC, playing a series of 25 minute absolute time limit games on KGS in preparation. It paid off for me, as despite terrible jetlag again, I managed to get a 4/8 result, which saw me in 25th place, and 1st place from the second group. Interestingly enough, or worryingly enough depending on how you look at it, I experienced first hand here the medical condition of fatigue memory loss. At one point, sat in the playing room next to Piers (Poker) Shepperson, we were discussing something about the previous evening, neither of us could remember exactly what had happened such was our zombie like state. Where had we gone to eat last night? Absolutely no idea. Of course, being woken up at 3:00am in the morning by fire alarms and prank calls on previous nights didn’t exactly help. John Gibson represented Ireland at the World Amateur Go Championship, picking up 2 wins from 8. As a final note for the year, 2010 was the start of the European Team Championships. Ireland entered a team into this, at times torturous, event. So far we have been stuck in Division C. Personally, and this is a personal history, since I have never really rated this competition, I don’t intend to document it here. If you want to know the details, you can look here or here to find the information you are looking for.

2011 started with the kick-off weekend for the Top 8, which was again held at the Burlington Hotel courtesy of Noel Mitchell’s organisational abilities. James Hutchinson and myself dominated the event, taking 4 wins apiece. I seem to remember that James actually lost to Claas on time, whilst about 100 points ahead on the board, but Claas resigned post result. Imagine the fuss that would cause in some events. Somewhat naughtily, John Gibson didn’t appear on the first day, spending the day at work instead. After the remainder of the games were played, the final turned out to be a repeat of last year’s – James against myself. The next event played was the Irish Go Congress, which was again a Pandanet European Cup event. Antii Tormanen (6-dan) and Wei Wang (7-dan) tied for first place, in what was a very competitive field. Pavol Lisy (5-dan), edged out Ondrej Silt (6-dan) on tiebreak for 3rd place. Gavin Rooney (2-dan) was best of the locals, taking 8th place on tiebreak. I managed an unremarkable 2/4 result, for 14th place, taking time out in round 1 to broadcast one of the games on IGS. The Galway tournament was popular, with 24 players taking part. Justyna Kleczar proved too strong for the field, picking up 4/4, Rory Wales finished in second place. Two novices from the Belfast club took part – the Crossthwaites, a father and son combination. Both picked up a 50% score, suggesting 15k and 20k were suitable ranks and thus that sometimes I can guess people’s ranks correctly. I didn’t make it that year, going to a stag party instead in England. From England came the winner of the Belfast Open that same year. Out of a field of 23 players Andrew Simons (3-dan) took first place, ahead of Matthew Crosby (3-dan). I again sat out the tournament as I made the draw by hand, eschewing the labours of technology. UCC was disaster free this year, and won by a player from the Netherlands again. Kim Ouweleen (3-dan) took first place with 5/5. He is currently running the website badukmovies with Peter Brouwer. I managed to take second place on SOS from a certain Matei Garcia (4-kyu) who had 5 wins compared to my 3, underlining the evil nature of ranks in Spain. Then the final event of the year was the Irish Final, despite taking a lead, I ended up losing to James 2-1. I seem to have a problem playing against his style these days, maybe playing about 100 handicap games against him over the years has something to do with it!? It is nice to see a clubmate you played on 9 stones taking the national title though, the Japanese call that repaying a debt. In the Irish Ladder, whose popularity was waning, the year ended with Roman Pszonka climbing to the highest rung. Internationally, James Hutchinson travelled to the WAGC, taking 4/8 in Japan for a strong 36th place. At the other major international event, in Korea, the KPMC, Rory Wales scored 3/6 for 49th place, rather good for a debut.

2012 was to be the last year in which I was actually resident in Ireland. The year began with the kick-off weekend for the Top 8, for which we had some new entrants. Firstly we had Justyna Kleczar, who became the first woman to qualify for the championship cycle. Then we had Tiberiu Gociu, giving Belfast 3 players out of 8. Lastly we had Roman Pszonka, who had been a 4-dan at his peak. He had been living in Ireland for 5 years, and was thus now eligible to enter the competition. James Hutchinson beat him after Roman Pszonka basically fell asleep in the game. For those of us who don’t resign when behind, these gifts happen from time to time, a simple tactic you noted 100 moves ago slips out of the amateur mind, and bang go 50 points. I finished the weekend with just 2 points, which was frankly disappointing. Despite recovering somewhat to end with 5/7, I still lost the tiebreaker with James Hutchinson, who would go on to play Roman Pszonka in the final, which would now habitually take place at the very last moment possible in the year, perhaps out of some hidden sense of snideness toward the ruthless efficiency now present in the Top 8. The Irish Open found a new sponsor in the shape of the Confucius Institute of Ireland, which is headed by Dr Liming Wang. Champion of the 48 player field was the thoroughly nice guy Csaba Mero (6-dan), who held off Guochen Xie (6-dan) to take the title. Kim Ouweleen (3-dan) edged out student Chu Lu (4-dan) to take 3rd place. Gavin Rooney (2-dan) finished in 6th place. After their game, Csaba remarked to him that he must be the Irish Champion/strongest player in Ireland, to which Gavin agreed, although I did interject to point out that he never turned up to play in the Championship. There was to be more truth in that than I thought. My open performance in the tournament was a fairly mediocre 2/5 for 10th spot, to be honest, I think I missed out on something in my game with Gavin. Next up was Galway, for which I was sadly not present. The main reason being that I had moved to France to start working there instead. Notably this year it was a handicap swiss, something that hadn’t been seen in Ireland since the days of the Irish Handicap in 199?. Kim Ouweleen (3-dan) won the tournament, beating his girlfriend, Justyna Kleczar, into second place. At the Belfast Open, Laurens Spijker (2-dan) from the Netherlands was the champion, establishing an almost complete dominance of our local tournaments by the orange land. I popped back from France to play on the first day only, allowing me the time to make a narrow loss to Laurens. Claas Roever took second place in the end, on tiebreak. The Ladder, which was fairly lifeless, was won by James Hutchinson, but Roman Pszonka won the Championship proper, although somewhat disappointingly it was all played out over the internet, on KGS. Internationally we had a pretty vibrant year. After a difficult search for a workable location, the second World Mind Sports Games took place in Lille, Ireland had a 3 man team there of myself,  James Hutchinson, and Rory Wales. Sometimes your tournament is all about the draw, and the WMSG was a fine example of this for me. Round 1 was against the UK (their first team to be precise) and on Board 1 I was facing Matthew Cocke (5-dan). If I had played board 2 against Vanessa Wong, I am quite sure she would have annihilated me. Somehow I managed to beat Matthew by 1.5 points, mostly after some insipid play on his part. Round 2 was against Romania, where I was drawn against Iulian Toma (3-dan) – well this was much the same story, except that the winning margin was bigger. He called me a coward during the game, a little joke on his part, but never a good idea against me. Anyway, although we lost to the UK, Romania, and Australia, the team ended up in 10th place, with wins over Italy and Brazil. That wasn’t enough to push us into the final stages, but it was a good performance in our group. In a rare personal triumph, I collected enough GoR to push me over the 2-dan mark, becoming the third Irish player to obtain that title. Colin MacSweeny represented us at the WAGC, which took place in China for a change. He scored 3 wins to take 48th place, which was exactly the same number of wins, and the same placing that James Hutchinson picked up at the KPMC that year. A strange co-incidence if ever there was one! Kenneth Savage and Sheena Walsh took up the invitation to the International Amateur Pair Go Championship in Tokyo, Japan. They scored 1 win out of 5 to take 29th place. Impressively that win came against China. Less impressively, it was a walkover caused by political machinations. In what must be a depressing trend for the organisers of international events, some political scandal sometimes occurs in the months prior to the competition, leading to the exclusion of some state such as North Korea or China. The Irish Ladder was devoid of scandal and participation, with scarcely a game played all year in it. James Hutchinson managed to pick up first place in the competition.

The years in exile

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 subsection to proceedings. 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 an grand, red tape bound, institution. 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. I think that everyone hopes that its future is gong 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, which we still await. 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 boyfiend 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.

This, as of the 1st of August, 2014, is my personal history of Irish Go. I hope that you enjoyed it, and if you did not, well why on earth have you read this far? :) Farewell reader.


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

Year KPMC WAGC EGF Oza
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

 

Teachers I have studied with, in chronological order: Ron Polak 5-dan , Cristian Pop 7-dan, Guo Juan 5-pro

Last updated 19 May 2015

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