Fingertip go is making speedy progress

Ivan Viganò

THE FINAL match of the 9th National Go Contest in Osaka in November 2006 was an international affair and was played at the blistering pace of 2 hours and 10 minutes for 230 moves. That pace is tough to keep up when you are not allowed to touch the board during the opponent's turn. Each player then only has his memory of the whole-board position help him consider a next move!

These unusual conditions applied in the ever more successful annual event organised Song Jung-taek by the Japan Go Society for the Visually Impaired. The venue for the two-day event was Osaka University of Commerce. They played host not just to contestants from all around Japan, but also to guests from abroad.

The top foreign entrant also walked away with first prize, but that will cause no surprise to those who know the name Song Jung-taek, left, of Korea. especially those who lost to Song in the 2005 European Congress in Prague.

Six players were strong enough to play in a 19x19 knockout. Watching them playing on this big board was fascinating. Hands were constantly running smoothly over the board enabling the participants to "see" what was happening. Looking from the side, I sometimes felt as if I could see the thought processes and understand what the contestants were thinking about.

The 19x19 board used at the tournament closely resembles a traditional board (see below) but examples are rare. Unfortunately the mould used to produce it has been damaged and can't be used any more. The Japan Go Society for the Visually Impaired intends producing a new one and currently is evaluating some prototypes.

 

This may involve international collaboration. Prof. Nam Chi-hyeong of Myongji University in Korea - she teaches at the baduk (go) faculty there - was in Osaka to Nam Chi-hyung get first hand experience, and there is also a Korean manufacturer that offers traditional legged boards for blind people.

Song Junk-taek and his main Japanese rival Nakamaru Hitoshi - both are rated 5-dan - won all their initial games and so met each other in the final scheduled for the next day.

This game is available here . A fight started soon after move 19 with White sacrificing a few stones in order to create influence towards the centre. Unfortunately for Nakamaru, his moyo-oriented strategy failed and Song won by a margin of 29.5 points, confirming himself as the strongest player in the elite group.

The bulk of the 80 or so players, however, took part in a 9x9 tournament. Since there were more than double that number of people, counting all the escorts and volunteers, it made for a lively and pleasant atmosphere, even though there were relatively few children and even fewer women (though the children did tend to be among the stronger players). But one possibly surprising thing was the almost total absence of guide dogs. Mr Morimoto Yoshitaka, a volunteer from the university staff confirmed this to us: "There was one guide dog this year- as you say not that much. Last year there was only one guide dog too." Although NHK television has a regular beef about a lack of guide dogs in Japan (only 3rd place in the world!), the probable reason was that so many people had travelled a long way by train and had human escorts.

The 9x9 players were divided in three groups based on their strength. They had to play Nakamaru Hitoshi four games. No clocks were used. Mr Morimoto explained, "We do not use game clocks. This goes for the 19x19 tournament too. This, however, did not cause any delays to the flow of the tournament, I think. As far as I can tell there is no easy-to-use clock for sale specially for the visual impaired anywhere in Japan. Indeed, I was surprised when I heard that such a clock does exist overseas!"

The finalists in the 19x19 tournament had to meet again in the top (Meijin) 9x9 group. This time Nakamaru Hitoshi, left, from Kumamoto, won and went on to play the final against Ohama Yochu from Okinawa.

That game was graced by a live commentary from Morino Setsuo, professional 9-dan at the Kansai Ki-in but also a representative of the Japan Go Society for the Visually Impaired. He was aided by Shigeno Yuki 2-dan, who has introduced blind go to the west, and of course Prof. Nam from Korea is also a professional player.

This game is also available here . According to Morino's commentary, move 37 is the losing one. With a simple connection Ohama could win. The game ended with a margin of 1.5 points in favour of Nakamaru.

Commentary team, left to right, Shigeno Yuki, Tanioka Ichiro, Morino Setsuo

The board used for this 9x9 tournament was quite different from the one used in the 19x19 event. Unlike its big brother, this board is produced in large numbers. It is made of metal, heavy and stable, and is oversized. It represents the main equipment in the activity of the Japan Go Society for the Visually Impaired. The Society is successfully continuing its activity and the recently started cooperation with the Osaka University Of Commerce is somehow confirming this success and looks very promising. Of course it helps that President of the Osaka University of Commerce, Tanioka Ichiro, is a go player!

The next page contains a selction of more photos by Ivan from the event.

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