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October 3rd, 2006

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SA Champs 2006: insider’s report (or: who’s who in SA Go)

The weekend before last saw the completion of this year’s South African Championship, the flagship event on the SA go calendar. I thought I’d write a summary of the event, giving my personal perspective on the tournament and our current go scene. Enjoy!

The annual championship starts with four players pre-qualified for the final stage – this year they were Victor Chow (6d, defending champion) and Ben Gale (3d), Welile Gogotshe (1d) and myself (1d), who finished in joint second place last year. Everyone else had to qualify from scratch, including the very strong Cheng Lai, who finished joint first with Ben and myself in 2004, when he was still at the start of his learning curve, but had to withdraw at short notice from last year’s event due to an academic commitment. (Before the championship he was still rated at a laughable 2d – Ben judges him closer to 4d and I agree.)

The initial qualification stage of the championship is currently under review, as it depends rather strongly on ranks. However, the existing system does force players to participate in at least one regional tournament even if the result of that tournament doesn’t count all too heavily. This rules out our strong overseas players, notably Clive Hunt 2d and Chris Visser 1d (who won our most recent internet tournament in convincing style). It also happened to rule out Andre Connell (underrated at 2k – having lost to him in the recent Stellenbosch Open I predict that he will mount a strong challenge to qualify for the final stage next year), who got a fine result in the SA Open but was unable to play in any of the regional events. At least it meant that we had a fine non-playing arbiter for both the Candidates and Contenders stages.

On to the Candidates – 12 players go in, they play on the internet at fairly fast time limits, only 4 come out. This is always a real cutthroat competition, and getting more so every year as the quality of our players improve. This year we had Cheng Lai (2d), Julius Paulu (1d), Paul Edwards (1d), Tristen Taylor (1d), Andrew Davies (underrated at 1k) and Sipho Mampe (underrated at 2k) all taking serious shots at the four top spots. In the end, Cheng and Julius qualified as expected, Sipho stormed in to join them, Tristen didn’t make it, and Paul managed to win a tense game against Andrew for the final spot. Tough luck to Tristen and Andrew (who has now come within a hair’s breadth of qualifying for 3 years running) – both of them can consider themselves very unlucky to miss out.

Finally, we get to the Contenders – this is the actual championship, played as a round robin event with comfortably slow time limits (1 hour thinking time plus 15 mins / 10 stones byo yomi – enough to be able to play out the endgame without terrible blunders, although it does tend to lead to 4 hour games when you pair up the slowpokes (i.e. me and Ben), especially when the endgame turns out to be a half point affair…) When Victor is playing it’s always easy to predict the winner (no one in this field can make him break a sweat), but second place is usually tightly fought, not to mention the question of which four players get to qualify for next year. Despite not having played enough rated games to get off his official rank of 2d, Cheng had to be the favourite for second place, especially when considering his recent record against Ben. As for me, while I’ve managed the odd win against both Cheng and Ben in the past, the rate of improvement of the Soweto trio meant that I would be quite happy with a 4th place showing – one slip and I’ll have to try making my way through the Candidates meat grinder.

The first round (Friday night) saw the top seeds win their games easily (Cheng showing that he hasn’t stood still over the last two years by making me look like I needed a handicap), while Paul and Julius embarked on an epic battle – when I looked at the board I saw 4 stones in the corners and a solid 4×7 block of black and white stones tangled in the centre, all of them alive (for the moment). Paul obtained what looked like a winning position but lost his way, after which both players treated us to a prolonged display of fireworks. When the smoke cleared it was Julius who had won.

Saturday and Sunday both had 3 rounds. Round 2 saw the critical game of Ben vs Cheng, with Ben scoring a great result as he got one back, having lost a number of previous games against Cheng. I managed to beat Sipho in a longish endgame; Victor and Welile won; Julius and Paul lost. Highlight of the round was a venue mix-up causing us to get kicked out of the room in mid-byo-yomi – here I am waiting with 12 seconds on the clock to make my next move and instead of moving Sipho calmly asks how to stop the clock so we can go in search of another room…

In round 3, the crunch game was me vs Ben – we were both reasonably satisfied with the opening, although Victor afterwards said it was good for me. At any rate, the game escalated into a series of middle game battles with much see-sawing going on. Going into the endgame, Victor’s opinion was that it should be my game (“territorially even but more potential”) – but after some mistakes on my side it was too close to call. In the end it came down to Ben omitting a defensive move and me having to find the appropriate punishment – I thought I did well to find a neat sequence, but saw a defense and had to be content with a two-point push-in, which left me short of victory by …drum-roll… half a point. After which Victor pointed out the simple refutation for the “defense” I had spotted. Oh well, I guess it was karma getting back at me after I beat Cheng by the same score two years ago…

Round 4 was a quicker affair – like everyone else I failed to trouble Victor, and Cheng and the Soweto trio all finished early. When I left Ben was still playing against Paul, but without any more real problems remaining on the board.

Sunday morning, and round 5 faced me with another tough one. My game against Welile looked to be the decider for who gets to qualify for next year. Last year I lost to Welile, and this year he again had me on my knees with his trademark start at tengen followed by direct attack at all costs, to the sound of prolonged, loud and enthusiastic praising of the Lord from the church service next door (that’s the Westdene Recreation Centre for you). Not much strategic depth here, but if you’ve got the fighting strength to pull it off that’s all you need – before I knew it I was scramble to save two separated groups while he was solidifying territory in the course of the attack. When my groups were finally out of danger I had to “try bogus invasion” (in-joke for those who played with the many faces of go program in the 90s) or concede a 30-point loss. My bogus invasion turned out to be just that, but Welile fell for a trick that allowed me to pull out my invading stones and the game was close. As we proceeded to play out a long ko-fight, followed by another half-point ko at the end just for good measure, I kept wondering what all the spectators were finding amusing. It turns out (I think) they were just amused at the ridiculously full board and the prospect of counting a game where both players end up with negative scores. But no, in the end I had 3 points to Welile’s 4, which with komi made for a comfortable enough victory. Phew! I was completely unaware of the other games in this round – but no big surprises anyway.

Round 6, no surprises either. Julius found himself having to kill a large group to stay in the game against me, but the proverb (“large groups don’t die”) proved as reliable as ever. Ben and Victor both remained unbeaten, leaving everything to play for in the last round. Round 7 started early with most players suffering from go fatigue and playing quick games to end the tournament. Ben had a decent start against Victor, but the result was never in doubt. Still, his 2nd place is an excellent result – despite a scare against me his results against everyone else show that he clearly deserves his 3 dan rank. By the time I had won my game against Paul the playing hall was empty and another SA Championship was concluded – the strongest Contenders thus far. Neither Paul nor Julius managed to win any since their exciting first round game (Paul suffering a demotion to 1kyu which in my opinion is more indicative of deflation in our rating system than a decrease in his playing strength), with Sipho doing well to beat both of them – hopefully he’ll get his promotion to 1 dan soon, he’s certainly playing at the required level. My pick for the most dangerous up-and-coming player is Welile – his fighting strength is impressive and I was lucky to survive my game against him – this is backed up by his results against the rest of the field – he’ll almost certainly be back for revenge next year. Cheng is probably slightly disappointed with 3rd place, but at least he finally got promoted to 3 dan, not a moment too soon. And though I narrowly missed another joint 2-4th place I’m happy to have qualified to fight on next year.

Finally, a massive thanks to Andre Connell, who organised both the Candidates and the Contenders and ensured that everything ran smoothly – an excellent job! (Plus he took the photos which should make their way onto the gallery soon…)

Sorry for blabbing on but at least the historians will have something to file away…until next year.

Konrad Scheffler

Posted by konrad in Articles, SAGA, Tournaments

5 Comments »

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006 at 3:32 pm and is filed under Articles, SAGA, Tournaments. You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Responses to “SA Champs 2006: insider’s report (or: who’s who in SA Go)”

  1. Steve says:

    Great report, and thanks for taking the trouble to compile it.

    Last year there was mention of a competition to see who could use up the most of Victor’s time – anything come of that this year?

  2. konrad says:

    Dunno, I didn’t manage to make him use even close to 10 minutes this time, and quite possibly no one else did either…Ben, perhaps?

  3. Rory says:

    Nice report konrad, but you cant make victor use 10min if your playing normally , need to make some obscure moves 😛

  4. konrad says:

    Obscure moves = weaker moves = lose more quickly 🙂

  5. Steve says:

    Pictures added to gallery, as well as Chris Visser’s pics from the pair go tournament.

    Check out the tournament galleries.

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