American Go E-Journal

Feast of “food for thought” at recent Conference on Mind Sports

Sunday May 21, 2017

by Dr. Roy Laird2017.05.21_CIDEMgroupphoto-laird

A fabulous feast of “food for thought,” the International Conference on Mind Sports in Camaguey, Cuba came to a successful close on May 5 after affording some 70 participants a chance to get to know enthusiasts of other sports. Mornings were devoted to lectures and presentations, with various events , friendship matches and exhibitions in the afternoon. In an indicator of the level of interest Cubans have in mind sports, the first day of the conference was televised.

Here’s a rundown of some of the interesting presentations.
ARE MIND SPORTS REALLY SPORTS? If you’ve ever told a sports fan about mind sports, you’ve probably heard a version of this question. International Mind Sports Association Secretary General Thomas Hsiang took on this question head-on in his opening remarks, reviewing the rigorous requirements for admission to IMSA. Noting that “there is no doubt that mind sports have a beneficial impact on players, especially children,” Hsiang concluded by saying “with educational benefits for the young and health benefits for the old, promotion of mind sports is a social responsibility.”
PROMOTING WEIQI IN CUBA: Dr. Zhang Wei, Director of the Confucius Institute in Havana, musing on why weiqi is not more widely known throughout the world, theorized that the lack of economic development and constant warfare in western Asia had interfered with cultural exchanges throughout history. He also expressed the hope that weiqi would grow in Cuba throughout the world because it is good for the moral fabric of society since “no bad person plays weiqi.”
THE FUTURE OF MIND SPORTS IN CUBA: Dr. Lazaro Bueno said that notables from Simon Bolivar to Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez have all spoken of the importance of mental competition and chess in particular. Dr. Bueno 2017.05.21_Pitarra-lairdalso unveiled plans for a large Mind Sports Complex to be built soon in Camaguey.
TEACHING CHESS IN PRESCHOOL: Columbus introduced chess to Cuba in 1492, and the subsequent history of chess in Cuba is filled with distinction. The Cuban school system has included chess in its curriculum since 1989, and at present chess is taught in more than 9000 primary schools and over 1000 high schools. Luis Enrique Perez Pena said chess is now being introduced to preschool children. With Cuban children starting at such a young age, the world may see another Capablanca before long.
PITARRA – INDIGENOUS OR UBIQUITOUS? Maria Cristina Quintanar Miranda from the Universidad Queretaro in Mexico gave an intriguing presentation, describing the evolution of Pitarra (right). Played only by indigenous Mexican tribes, she theorized that it had developed as an ancient folk tradition. However, it turns out that “Pitarra” is identical to Nine Men’s Morris, a game dating back to the Roman Empire and still played in Europe. Not only that, another attendee recognized the game from his childhood in Taiwan as “The Watermelon Game,” and it is played in Cuba as “Tres,” named after the central principle of lining up three pips in a row. Ms. Quintanar came to the conference with an interesting finding and left with an even more interesting question.
SPANISH SCRABBLE: A2017.05.21_play at cide conf Spanish version of Scrabble is a big seller in Latin America, and Mexico in particular, where it is so widely played that some Mexicans call it “Lexico.” Javier Guerrero, the head of the International Spanish Scrabble Federation (FISE), said that FISE aspires to IMSA membership, but since IMSA does not admit sports that involve any amount of luck Scrabble advocates have proposed a form of “duplicate Scrabble” in which each player would play against a computer programmed to assure randomization of moves. However, Scrabble faces an even bigger hurdle — IMSA does not admit mind sports that are copyrighted or trademarked.
UNDERSTANDING ASIAN THINKING THROUGH GO: Fernando Aguilar of Argentina is one of the strongest Latino go players and certainly among the best known, having scored upset victories against two Japanese 9Ps in the 2002 Toyota Denso Cup and having played in many international tournaments. Aguilar was not able to attend the conference, but submitted a paper entitled “Go As A Way to Understand Oriental Thinking” in which he identified five sets of contrasting concepts that are spelled out in detail in Sun Tzu’s classic “The Art of War,” noting that their meaning can be more deeply understood through the study of go. The strong player maintains a balance between Attack and Defense; Efficiency and Concentration of Forces; Transparency vs. Deception; Emptiness and Solidity; and “Chi” (potential) vs. “Li” (material gain).

Other speakers held forth on the importance of physical exercise and fitness if one is to play one’s best, the superiority of in-person game play over video and computer game, the social and cultural significance of dominos, and draughts (10×10 checkers) as a metaphor for life. The overarching theme that emerged, and with which participants surely agreed, was well stated by the Scrabble representative: “The family that plays together is a happy family.”

Dr. Laird, former president of the American Go Association, attended the conference, presenting on “Play Go and Grow.”

Categories: Latin America