American Go E-Journal

THE TRAVELING GO BOARD: Shanghai: Chicken Feet, New Friends, the Mysteries of Go and Pint-Sized Players

Friday May 21, 2010

“How much you can drink is directly related to how strong you are,” proclaimed Sun Bo, brimming glasses of both wine and beer in front of the amateur 5-dan. E-Journal photographer John Pinkerton and I had landed in Shanghai a few short hours earlier and Jin Sheng Yu (far left) and his wife Dai Zijia (far right) had picked us up and whisked us off to dinner with fellow go players Quin Zhixuan 5d (2nd from left), Du Yufeng 3P (3rd from right) and Sun Bo (3rd from left), who goes by “Jacky.” We’re in China to cover the 31st annual World Amateur Go Championships (WAGC), which start Monday in nearby Hangzhou and arrived a few days early to explore go in Shanghai. Feng Yun 9P had generously provided an introduction to Jin and though we had all just met, we were soon bonding over platters of Cantonese food, wine, beer and of course, go talk. Jin is a 4-dan pro in his early thirties who became a pro at 11 in 1990 who now works days at the Children’s Palace and runs a go school on weekends. His wife, who insisted we call her Diana, teaches English at a Shanghai high school. Jacky, who we immediately nicknamed “Tough Jacky” because he confidently claimed to be strong at everything from go to ping pong, drinking and karaoke, is Jin’s student and colleague at the weekend go school, which is so new — it just opened in March — that it hasn’t been named yet. As we downed one delicacy after another — you haven’t lived until you’ve sucked the fatty skin off chicken feet and slurped up glutinous rice balls in sweet red bean sauce — discussion ranged from the pros and cons of internet play (“anyone can get to 7-dan online”) to how best to study pro games (split between some who said it was necessary to try to understand the moves and others said No, just play through the moves and try to get a feel for them). All agreed that at the top levels go is deeply mysterious and that questions of “good” and “bad” moves largely come down more to a sense of the game and style, rather than absolute assessment. After dinner we adjourned to Jin’s club, near the famous Jingan Temple in downtown Shanghai, on the 6th floor of a nondescript office building. We could hear the chatter of young voices as we came out of the elevator and soon a dozen young go players were crowding around us, practicing their English and excitedly shaking hands. A few minutes later I was playing a simul with 7-year-old Zhu Qiying (l) and 8-year-old Zhang Chi (r), two young kyu players whose seriousness and poise was impressive. Zhu took up the game just 10 months ago on a dare from her classmates in school, and her twice-a-week lessons compete for her attention with dance, piano, English, skating, mathematics and other classes. Zhang — a rosy-cheeked youngster who also studies Chinese chess, piano and calligraphy — would like to be a pro and has been playing for two years. Jin has fifty young students already, and his instruction covers all aspects of go, “because you can’t understand go without understanding its culture, as well.” After the games and brief interviews and photos, the kids went home and we went into the teacher’s room to check out the gambling go game Jacky and Zhixuan were playing. But that’s another story.
– Chris Garlock; photos by John Pinkerton

Categories: Traveling Go Board