Entry #16 – May 23, 1997 / Friday

I didn’t have any ice cream or candy after school today, and the lunch at the grandparents’ place had nothing unusual. But, for some reason I was feeling a subtle stomach ache. I would have skipped baduk school for this, except that I had already almost arrived. Plus, I had an important game today.

Our baduk school has a league where everyone plays everyone else in the same division twice. In lower divisions the league results were used for ratings, but the top division, where I belonged, had no ratings. We just played even games. When people asked me how strong I was, I often said I needed four stones against my teacher, who is a strong amateur player. Today, I had the final game of the current league against my new rival, Brad. Because I had one win and one loss against Colin, and Colin and Brad were also one and one, I was about to win the league if I won the second game against Brad. There were more people in the league other than the three of us, but they rarely won against us. I won my baduk school’s league before, and the nicest thing about it was to have my name at the top of the league board – the order of the names on the league board reflected the results of the previous season. But this season was different. When it started a few weeks ago, our teacher showed us a beautiful wooden fan from the Nihon-kiin, the Japanese Go Association. He said he got it as a winner’s prize for the league. I had seen pictures of top professional players playing matches with these fans, and the idea of having one thrilled me. Now, I was just one game away from actually getting it!

 

“Hey, are you ready for the final game today?”

My teacher welcomed me as I entered the baduk school. He was organizing handout prints for today’s lesson.

“I am feeling a bit of a stomach ache, but I should be okay.”

“Are you nervous about the game?”

“Somewhat.”

“I’ve seen many students who get a stomach ache before important games. You will be okay.”

It comforted me to know that it was just my feeling making me sick and it was not unusual.

 

The teacher gave us a lesson about how to choose better joseki, and soon paired me with Brad for the final game of the league. I felt some tension when the teacher called our names, as everyone knew that I would either win the league or make a three-way tie depending on the result of this game. I thought about the last game Brad and I played. I was white, and I won a critical Ko fight because I had more Ko threats. I didn’t know how to replicate this, though. I thought I would just play as usual. I was black this time, and I always felt more confident with black. Komi was supposed to be a good equalizer, but I liked the feeling of having sente in the opening. I started the game with the low Chinese opening. There were no surprises in the opening, and I enclosed a large territory on the lower side while white had good potential on the upper side. As we entered mid-game, I debated between enlarging my own and reducing white’s potential. My strength was in complicated fights and I wasn’t particularly good at endgame. I decided to make a deep invasion into white’s upper side.

 

The game was going into the endgame. My invasion succeeded, and white was behind in territory. Outside the board, there was a big crowd surrounding our game. I saw Colin closely following this game as soon as he finished his own. After a long pause, white attached to one of my border stones. It looked like an overplay, but it wasn’t obvious how I should respond. I could take a step back, let him reduce my territory a bit, or find the strongest possible move to punish his overplay. ‘Probably hane at the top is the way to go’, I thought. I wanted to prove in front of everyone that I had good reading and I was strong. But on the other hand I really wanted the Japanese fan and didn’t want to risk a tie situation where I will have to face both Brad and Colin again. I took a deep breath and counted all the territories very carefully. In my calculation, I was still ahead even if I let him get away with his overplay. I descended, defending my territory, and when white ran away I claimed the largest endgame  spot on the board.

 

“Kids, take a seat. We will do a quick award ceremony before we finish today.”

It was almost 5:30 already. Most students were all packed and eager to leave the classroom. The teacher had a long and narrow envelope with a red ribbon in his hand.

“Hajin won the top division today, and here is the prize I promised. Hajin, come out!”

I approached the teacher and received the envelope. I couldn’t believe I made it. Other students applauded to congratulate me.

“Are you going to be using it?” Someone asked me.

“No, I am going to keep it new until I become a pro player.” I said, picturing myself in professional matches with the fan.