The final round of the pair go competition started promptly at 9:30 a.m. on December 19 with chief referee Hua Yigang presiding. Only three boards were set up in the playing room at the Beijing International Convention Center. Befitting pair go, each board was attended by either a female referee and schoolboy game recorder or a male referee and schoolgirl game recorder.
At board 1 the Chinese pair were playing the Korean pair for the gold and silver medals. Television cameras were set up to broadcast their game to a live television and YouTube audience around the world, with Michael Redmond and Chris Garlock providing commentary in English. Li He took a handful of white stones and Choi Jeong guessed even/odd correctly; the Korean pair would play black. At board 2, where the Japanese pair was playing the pair from Chinese Taipei for the bronze medal, Mukai Chiaki took a handful of white stones and Joanne Missingham guessed incorrectly, giving the Japanese pair the black stones. At board 3, where the Canadian and Russian pairs were playing for fifth place, Irene Sha’s wrong guess gave the Russian pair the black stones. Opinions are still divided as to whether playing black is an advantage or a disadvantage. Statistics seem to indicate that with the 3-3/4 stone (7.5-point) compensation the game is just about even, but at least black has the better chance to plan the opening.
On board 1, Choi Jeong’s and Choi Chulhan’s opening plan seemed to be to build a gigantic framework embracing the lower-right third of the board while leaving a weak group floating in the top left. No sooner had their framework been mapped out than white invaded it. Soon both sides had weak groups and the fighting was on.
On board 2 Mukai Chiaki and Murakawa Daisuke used the same Chinese opening with which they had come close to defeating the Chinese pair the previous day. After fifteen moves today’s game was off on a different course as white first let black into the bottom left corner in order to frame the left side, and then let black into the left side in order to take the initiative elsewhere.
On board 3, Natalia Kovaleva and Ilya Shikshin placed the first two black stones on the star points in the top right and bottom right corners. Following some skirmishing on the left side they occupied the third star point on the right side. White promptly invaded the right side, but black cut the invaders apart and then skillfully sacrificed three black stones to chase white to safety while amassing a huge amount of secure black territory.
The Russian’s main remaining problem was in the bottom left corner, where white started a ko. The ko was indirect for white, however, and although white eventually won it and removed the black corner group from the board, black’s ko threats were enough to win the game by 2-3/4 stones (5.5 points). The Russian pair takes fifth place, as Natalia Kovaleva had already done in the individual competition.
Meanwhile, on board 1 both sides were nipping away at each other’s weak groups. After assuring the safety of their top left group by linking it with the lower side, the Korean pair felt bold enough to invade the bottom left corner and form a new living black group there. In retaliation, the Chinese pair started a ko for the life of a black group on the upper side. To win this ko black had to let white kill the bottom left corner, but black then took seven stones in the center in return, and with this the game began to resolve itself into a win for the Koreans. The Chinese pair played on for nearly sixty more moves, exhausted the possibilities of the endgame, and then resigned, Li He adding a silver medal to her individual gold, Jiang Weijie winning his first SportAccord medal. Choi Jeong and Choi Chulhan added the gold medals to the gold and bronze medals that they had won in individual competitions.
The game between the pairs from Japan and Chinese Taipei was the last to finish, continuing for 316 moves and ending in victory for the Japanese pair by a bare 3/4 stone (1.5 points). It had been close all the way. ‘There were times at which we seemed to be a little behind,’ Murakawa Daisuke said afterward,’ but in the endgame my partner took risks to go for victory, and it worked out.’ Murakawa now has his first SportAccord bronze medal and Mukai Chiaki has her third, after winning two in the team and pair events last year. Joanne Missingham and Lin Chi-han receive an honorable mention for fourth place, and on all three boards, it was black that won.
The medals were awarded at an afternoon ceremony in the Beijing International Convention Center. Mr Zhang Fengchao, president of the Beijing Dynamic City Development Foundation, placed the bronze medals around the necks of Mukai Chiaki and Murakawa Daisuke, the silver medals around the necks of Li He and Jiang Weijie, and the gold medals around the necks of Choi Jeong and Choi Chulhan. The audience stood, the Korean national anthem was played, and the two Korean gold medalists put their hands on their hearts while the Korean, Chinese, and Japanese flags were raised.
Though smaller than the rewards for the individual competition, the monetary prizes in the pair competition are still substantial: $24,000 goes to the gold medal pair, $16,000 to the silver medal pair, and $8000 to the bronze medal pair. It should also be noted that in both the individual and pair events, prize money was set aside for all players, even for those who lost all their games. In pair go the 4th-place pair from Chinese Taipei will return richer by $6000, the 5th- and 6th-place pairs from Russia and Canada richer by $4000 per pair, and the 7th- and 8th-place pairs from Hungary and the European Union richer by $2000 per pair.
In the go competition at the 2012 SportAccord World Mind Games, whether you count prize money, number of medals, or number of golds, the Koreans came out on top overall, with China second. But if you look at the games as a whole, Chinese athletes won medals in bridge, chess, go, and xiangqi–every discipline except draughts. Not only does this incredible country deserve high praise for hosting this incredible event; they deserve equally high praise for their performance in it.
- James Davies