The European Team Championship is the opening event in St Petersburg at the European Go Congress. The defending champions France had qualified alongside teams from Russia, Romania, and Ukraine. In the end they finished in third place this year, losing in the first round to Russia, drawing in the second with the eventual champions Ukraine, before beating Romania in the final round. Here we (Revue Francaise de Go) present an interview with Antoine Fenech (AF), the captain of the French team.
RFG : Hello Antoine. To begin with, can you explain the principle of the Pandanet European Go Team Championship.
AF : The championship was created 6 years ago. It was one of the first big events to take place on the internet. The participating countries are separated into 3 divisions, with a system of promotion and relegation spots; France has always been in the first division. In the first division, there are 10 teams and they play a match (4 games contested by different players) every month, normally on Tuesday evening, on Pandanet, who is sponsoring the competition with about 20,000 Euros a year. At the end of the season, the 4 best teams are invited to contest the finals at the opening of the European Congress.
RFG : Do France often reach the finals?
AF : We participated 4 times in 6 years. In the beginning, we did not have high hopes and thought more of avoiding relegation. But actually we found ourselves in the fight for the qualification spots and since then this became out goal … until finally we won the tournament last year.
RFG : What did this victory change for you?
AF: I think that it was a catalyst for Go in France. Thanks to this competition, we had an objective on the European ladder. In actual fact, to be (individual) champion of Europe, it was probably a little beyond the reach of Thomas Debarre, Tanguy Le Calvé, or Benjamin Dréan-Guénaïzia. But to become team champions, thanks to the support of Fan Hui, it was within reach.
RFG : So for this year’s final, what were your thoughts?
AF: We arrived in poorer shape than last year, since we were only fourth in the league. We played Russia at home in the first round, and we were probably too scared of them. This initial defeat compromised our chances for the title, but we realised in the end that we were not so far from contention, as Russia were beaten by Ukraine against whom we drew! Finally, it showed us that, even without Fan Hui, the title is within our reach, and that motivates us even more for next year, even if the qualification phase is always difficult.
RFG : When we look at the results, we see that France is rather alone amongst many countries from Eastern Europe. How can you explain this?
AF : We have a young team and an excellent team spirit. If we look at our neighbours Germany, they also have strong youth players (Krämer, Obenaus, Welticke…) but they still pick the older generation, and they switch between the first and second division. We were able to better integrate our young players (Tanguy Le Calvé, Benjamin Dréan-Guénaïzia, and now Denis Karadaban). I hope that we will have one or two more new players there in 2 or 3 years.
RFG : Now concerning your role as Captain, how do you choose the line up for the team for each round?
AF: It is very simple, I send an email to the team before each match to see who is available. From the players who respond favourably, I try to build the most competitive team. Our team is rather homogeneous, so the absence of a single player is rarely crippling. We also use the principle that a player who won his last game has the right to play again in the following match should he choose to.
RFG : Do you take into account the opponents, for example if a French player has very good results against a particular opponent?
AF : Of course! For example in the finals, Thomas Debarre was very sad after his two initial defeats. We could have changed the line up for the final game against Romania, but Thomas is always very motivated by his games against Catalin Ţaranu. So we chose to stick with the same team, and we took the point!
RFG : Between two seasons, are there departures and additions to the squad?
AF : In the first year, our team was experimental with many “old” players present. From this generation, only Frederic Donzet still played actively and continued to participate. Today, he is no longer playing in tournaments but is still part of the team, who has not seen any departures since the second year. We have also steadily integrated more and more young talents (Benjamin, Tanguy et Denis) as I have already said. We also had the support of Fan Hui, who became French and joined the team, in helping us become champions of Europe. This year, he had less free time and took a break from the competition. As we are not short of numbers, we keep the inactive players on the team if they want to restart playing. Evidently, we continue to bring aboard the young players who make 5-dan.
RFG : Do you see yourself continuing in the role of French Team Captain for a long time?
AF : As long as we keep up this team spirit, this motivation and this dynamic, and so long as the players haven’t had enough of me, I stay! It must be understood that we have quite a different mode of operation to the other countries, who often rely on a hardcore of 4 or 5 players. They share their winnings between a smaller group, but they always have to be available for each round. I think that our strength lies specifically in our ability to be a group of 7 or 8 players. In any case, as captain, it is like this that I want to continue to manage our team.
RFG : Thank you Antoine for making yourself available to our readers !
AF : Thank you !
Based on the original interview in Revue Francaise de Go.