When a group of US go players (2013 US–Cuba Friendship Trip Planned 9/23/2012 EJ) arrives in Cuba this Friday, it’ll be the second visit from the United States in as many months. Former AGA President — and current American Go Foundation President — Terry Benson (at left in photo) visited the Cuban Academy of Go on January 11 during a personal trip to the island last month. His report follows.
I was picked up by Rafael Torres Miranda and Señorita Kenia, the professora de go at the Academy, who drove us 15 minutes to the school’s location, west of Havana in the Playa district quite far from Old Havana and downtown.
The Academy was established in 2009 with funding from Japan’s Kansai Kiin, Benson says, and followed previous visits from various pros. The Academy occupies a space under the sports stadium and is supported by the government sports department. The professora is 15 kyu and gets an average and modest monthly Cuban salary to teach and run the club.
The academy is open Mon to Fri. 4 to 8 and sometimes later, but is not open on the weekends at all, when the professora is off. Attendance averages 10-15, out of a local group of 40-50. There are about 450 go players in the country. Tournaments are in the 50-player range. To play in a tournament you must show up a minimum of four times a month.
At the Academy they have mostly home-made boards and Cuban-made stones. The boards are ok, one sided with paper applied to something like foamcore. The stones are very light. There’s no internet access and no computer. They need both: they didn’t know about the go symposium held last year. They have a few dan level players including one 5 dan, some women, and the kids who come after school.
I played an even game against Yordan Cruz 1-dan (at right in photo), which was about right. I managed to eke out a 1.5 win after a poor endgame. We used an ancient set of thin slate and clam shell stones on one of the few thicker boards. The room was big, 60×30 or so, room for 30 boards plus lecture space. There’s also an office, kitchen, and two bathrooms. The space is well lit, with lots of posters.
The poor state of Cuban public transportation – and that most Cubans don’t have cars - encourages the creation of local clubs. So the Academy is one of several in Havana. Cuban go is old style: face to face. Despite the limitations, the Cuban go players were like the many Cubans I met – musicians, farmers, fishermen, artists – content, happy to be playing/singing/working, and encouraged by the changes which are gradually transforming their island world. They hope for more contact with the go world, and as this year’s visits show, this will surely happen. Who won’t want to play go under the sun on a beautiful beach with a stone in one hand and 7 year Anejo in the other?