December 17 dawned clear and cold in Beijing, excellent weather for a group of World Mind Games players and officials from China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea, and North America to pay an afternoon visit to the Shuang Huayuan campus of the Beijing Chaoyang Fangcaodi International school to take on thirty-three primary schoolchildren in simultaneous games. Upon arrival, the visitors were ushered into the gymnasium, where 33 young opponents, uniformed in blue and white trainers, were seated at go boards waiting for them. Ms Mu Ying, the school’s principal, welcomed the group with a brisk speech in which she explained that the school had 450 teachers and 4400 students, including 800 foreign students from countries all over the world. The students are distributed over eight campuses so that almost all of them can walk to school. Since 2003 the school has had a sports club program that includes chess, xiangqi, and go. The go club boasts nearly 100 members, who meet to study and play go four days a week. They also play online and participate in provincial tournaments, including an annual Fangcao Cup that is attended by 600 primary school players.
Play began immediately after the welcoming speech. The schoolchildren, dressed in blue and white trainers, put nine stones down on their boards. Sixteen World Mind Games players and officials, including vice tournament director Michael Redmond and women’s gold medalist Li He, set to work. While they were playing, Ms Xie Yujuan, who leads the youth club program at the school, explained that the strongest of the school players were a pair of 2-dan boys, who were taking on China’s Tianyuan Chen Yaoye and Chinese Taipei’s bronze medalist Lin Chi-han.
Both of these boys played well but lost large groups of stones. The three boys who played Li He found their groups getting into similar trouble. ‘We’re totally outclassed,’ one said to another. On other boards the story was generally the same, but Japan’s Mukai Chiaki saved the day for the home team by making sure that one of her two opponents won his game. Win or lose, it was clear that, as Ms Xie said, these kids love to play go, and their enthusiasm was infectious; the visiting players were having a good time too.
Most of the players had finished their games by the time the end of the match was announced. The visitors presented the home team with souvenirs, which were received by two of the shoolchildren, and Ms Mu presented the visiting officials and organizers with letters of thanks. And then the visitors bundled themselves onto the buses that took them back to the Beijing Continental Grand Hotel in plenty of time for dinner.
- James Davies