Editor’s note: Lui, who’s now a regular game commentator for the E-Journal, wrote this after attending the second Pair Go World Cup in July 2016 and recently shared it with us. Coincidentally, Hajin Lee recently made a short Pair Go introduction video, saying she hopes “to see more pair go events in the US and Europe in the future.” We hope you enjoy both.
Reflecting upon his legendary career, the great Sakata Eio opined that a necessary prerequisite for go mastery is self-reliance, which can only be developed once one fully accepts the game’s solitary nature, specifically the completely isolated state that all players find themselves in during the process of a game.
As far as I can tell, there are two types of people in this world: Pair Go enthusiasts and those who can do without. Takemiya Masaki gushes that Pair Go is “playing catch with the emotions…the instant that love is born.” Ishida Yoshio, on the other hand, says that in Pair Go you have three opponents.
The most anticipated match in the first round of the main knockout tournament saw the departure of powerhouse Chinese pair Shi Yue and Wang Chenxing, who succumbed to the charming synergy of Choi Cheolhan and Oh Yujin. Our first-round victory against the Thai pair was defined more by relief than pleasure, since it ensured that we would get to play at least one more game. In the second round against Taiwanese superstars Chen Shiyuan and Joanne Missingham, the game became difficult right from the start when a mistake in judgment set the tone for the rest of the way. My partner Sarah Yu fought gamely during many continuous kos and we maintained our chances for a while but were unable to cause an upset.
Our conquerors would go on to score an excellent victory in the semifinal against the Choi-Oh pair, earning themselves a final showdown with the Chinese pair of Ke Jie and Yu Zhiying, the male and female world No. 1 respectively.
During the last round of the Shuffle Pair Go friendship match, I was paired with the Thai female player, Pattraporn Aroonphaichitra. As we waited at the board for our opponents, Amy Song, the Australian female player took the seat across from Pattraporn. But who was her partner? I took a quick glance around – there were still a few empty seats and just a couple minutes until game time. I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed Sarah, looking ever so serene, sitting next to Iyama Yuta. My new partner was completely absorbed in her phone, and I opened my mouth to say something when, sensing a disturbance in the Force, we both looked up. Making his way through the large crowd that had gathered around the closed-off playing area with ruthless efficiency was “One Dragon Per Game” Shi Yue, one of the strongest and most universally feared Chinese pros for his aggressive playing style.
Pattraporn played beautifully and we enjoyed a lead for most of the game. It was a singular experience to watch as Shi Yue struggled to contain his frustration with the position as his plans to deal us pain were disrupted again and again. When the game was over, Shi Yue transitioned seamlessly from executioner to teacher, pointing out missed opportunities and explaining his thought processes at key points while the rest of us sat transfixed by the clarity of his analysis. A while later, only dimly aware that the postmortem had concluded and that the others had started putting the stones away, I slowly and reluctantly joined in.
Later that night, long after Yu Zhiying and Ke Jie had collected their 10 million yen 1st place prize, I would find myself tuning in to the Wimbledon final from my hotel room. During one of Andy Murray’s signature tirades, I realized that Ishida was wrong. Whether you are playing Pair Go, individual go, or tennis, the number of opponents remains the same. One, and it’s not the one on the other side. As Murray sealed the first set with a thunderous forehand and an emphatic fist pump, his fierce visage betraying equal parts triumph and anguish, I was reminded of a timeless image of Sakata, in the midst of his prime, staring at the go board with an expression of utmost intensity and exquisite pain. A formidable, yet lone individual.
Pair Go was invented to popularize the game of go by emphasizing the social aspects of the game. But no matter how many players there are, the game itself remains the same mysterious, fascinating challenge it has been for thousands of years.
photo: US team Sarah Yu and Eric Lui with Cho Chikun