“Mom, am I still getting that globe if I win today?” I asked mom in a low voice, thinking I didn’t want any second opinion from Dad or Jane. Not that I thought they would be against it, but I didn’t want to risk it anyway.
“The one from the bookstore? Sure.” Mom was busy scrambling eggs and toasting bread for our breakfast, but fortunately she didn’t seem to mind my interruption.
About a week ago, Mom and I stopped by the neighborhood mall on the way home after my baduk school. Mom needed to pick up some dry-cleaned clothes. In that mall, there is a small bookstore, which we happened to walk by that day. There, I saw a large globe surrounded by newly published picture books. The way the globe was hanging on the golden stand looked so beautiful and graceful. I stopped walking as I spotted it, and mom looked at me. At the moment, I knew exactly what was about to happen: mom would say we should keep going. I could rarely persuade her to buy something that we hadn’t planned on or agreed to buy in advance. So, I said, “Would you buy me this globe if I win the tournament next week?” She must have thought that was a reasonable request. She said, “That globe? Hmmm. Okay.”
After breakfast, we all got in the car and headed to the convention hall at a local university campus. At the main gate of the university, we could already see banners announcing the Daejeon Mayor’s Cup annual baduk tournament. In the car, Jane was excited that we were going somewhere other than the usual church. Although we arrived a bit early, the convention hall was already crowded with contestants and families like us.
This was my fourth Daejeon Mayor’s Cup tournament. The first time I played here was when I was five years old. It was my first tournament, and I won first place in the preschoolers division. The following year I won the first-graders division, and again last year the second-graders division. This year, however, my teacher recommended that I play in the girls division rather than the third-graders division. He said I might not win the tournament, since any girl enrolled in an elementary school could enter. This meant some girls in the tournament could be more than 3 years older than me. He explained that it was more important to challenge myself than to win the tournament, and I agreed to follow his recommendation. I really wanted to get the big golden trophy that this tournament usually offered for the first place winners, but I didn’t want to look like I cared about it too much.
While my dad confirmed my registration and collected my name tag, Mom talked on the phone with my baduk teacher, who showed up with Colin soon after the phone call.
“Thank you, teacher, for taking care of Hajin. Call us when she is done,” Mom said with a smile. I was a bit jealous that my parents and Jane were going to have fun without me around the campus, but on the other hand I couldn’t wait to play my games.
In the preliminary round, all contestants were assigned to groups of three or four players. Inside each group, the players played each other, and the top two players would advance to the main round. Soon, the MC of the tournament began asking everyone to find their seats. I was already sitting at my place at this point, hoping the opening ceremony would be brief. I had been to several tournaments, and they all had the same opening ceremony. Distinguished guests would be introduced, and they would give a speech, already printed out in the tournament handbook. Then, the chief referee would come out to the stage to announce tournament rules, also already printed in the tournament handbook. While all this was happening as I expected, I thought about which corner positions I wanted to take if I got black or white.
“Are you Lee Hajin?”
As soon as the opening ceremony was over, a girl who had been sitting in front of me inquired. I thought it was obvious since my name was marked on the table and on my name tag, but I nodded without showing any annoyance.
“How old are you?”
“Eight. What about you?”
“I am ten,” the girl replied, as she was grabbing the bowl with white stones. We did the nigiri – the odd/even guessing game for choosing color – and I got black.
The game ended quickly, in less than 30 minutes. My opponent played fast, and died carelessly in several places. The next game was not too hard either. I didn’t need to play the third game because another player in my group also had two wins, and we were both going to the main round. While waiting for the main round to begin, I went to the boys division to see how Colin was doing. He had one win and one loss, and was playing the last round. I got nervous at some point because Colin seemed behind, but he managed to destroy his opponent’s large territory by stubbornly poking on its weaknesses. When Colin was done, we congratulated each other, and our teacher playfully said, “I would have been surprised if either of you didn’t make it.”
The main tournament was single elimination of the top 16 players. When I started the first round, I was feeling a bit hungry. The lunch break was after this round. Earlier I had seen some food trucks selling gimbap and tteok-bokki just outside the tournament venue. Seeing the black and white stones on the board, I thought it looked like an exploded gimbap. As we played on, the game became quite complicated with several battles, and a gigantic capturing race appeared out of this chaotic situation. I was totally immersed in the game, rather enjoying the thrill of the situation, but then I noticed that my opponent’s hand was shaking visibly as she was making her moves. For some reason, seeing this made me take a deep breath, and calmly I found a way to win the capturing race. The game was over.
Once I had gimbap and tteok-bokki for lunch with the teacher and Colin, I felt invincible. Sadly, Colin lost in the next round, the quarter-final, but I won round after round, and advanced to the final match.
Judging from her height, my opponent was a few years older than me. She was somewhat pale and wearing a pair of purple glasses. I was feeling quite satisfied with all the wins I already earned, and confidently played out memorized moves against my opponent’s low Chinese opening. As we entered the midgame, I suddenly noticed my dad was watching us play. I could also see Mom and Jane sitting on a bench nearby. They waved at me when I turned my head towards them. The game seemed to be going okay for me. I started thinking about what my parents would say if I won this tournament. What would Jane say? She would like the trophy too. I could also read the different country names with her on our new beautiful globe. I also wanted to make sure to show my globe and trophy to Mina. When would she be available to come to our place? In the meantime, my opponent was thinking for a long time. What was she thinking? My teacher often told me not to look at my opponent. He said it was not a good manner. But sometimes I was really curious what my opponent was thinking and I would look at their face to find a clue. This moment was like that. I looked up, and saw she was moving her head rhythmically as if she was counting points. Then she shook her head lightly as if she thought things were bad for her.
In a minute or so, she played an aggressive move, attacking my group. This group was not completely alive yet, but it had a good eye shape. I would have tenukied in a casual game. Thinking I was ahead, however, that felt too risky now. So, I responded. My opponent played another attacking move towards this group, and I responded again. The group looked fairly safe now, although my opponent got two moves that were enlarging her moyo from the other side. The game moved on, and when it approached the endgame, I decided to take some time to count as accurately as I could. Then, I realized that I was behind, beyond the point where I could hope to turn the game around. My heart was sinking inside me. Everything was gone. The large trophy, the new globe, the feeling of achievement from winning the tournament. I felt sad and I could feel my eyes were tearing up.
I managed not to cry, played on, and lost by 6.5 points. When the tournament staff confirmed the result and took the winner’s name, my dad came to me and asked, “Hajin, why were you playing so safe when you were behind?” This question made me feel even sadder.
“I thought I was winning.” I said in a low voice.
“Well, you were playing too quickly, too.” My dad seemed very disappointed. My teacher came to me from the other side, and tapped my shoulder comfortingly.
“You did well. She is 11 years old, and actually stronger than you.” Maybe my teacher was telling the truth. But I was sad and upset at myself. Why didn’t I think harder in the midgame when I still had a chance? I tried to swallow the emotions, but soon burst into tears. In front of my teacher, dad, mom, Jane, and everyone else. I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t control myself, but somehow I couldn’t stop. Jane quietly approached me and gave me a hug. Then I could finally calm down again.