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Notes of a Tournament Newbie

A shortened version of this article appeared in the British Go Journal in the first quarter of 2003.

When Paul Callaghan emailed the Durham club to ask if anyone was interested in going to the Three Peaks Tournament, my initial reaction was, regretfully, "not a chance". Barring the term's batch of beginners, I'm pretty much Durham's weakest player and I assumed tournaments were for much stronger players.

I wistfully said to Edwin that I wished I could go but it seemed very silly. He said he'd been doing some looking and actually, there were usually people around my strength (which he estimated to be around 16 kyu) and sometimes some people very much weaker. I started to think that it might be possible to go.

the bar at the Marton Arms.

The bar at the Marton Arms. (Incidentally, the person tactfully ducking so as not to block the full view is Pete, from the Teesside club.)

Then Paul told Edwin that the Marton Arms, where the Three Peaks is held, serves 15 Real Ales and 200 malt whiskies, and obviously no further discussion was required.

In a weird coincidence, which turned out to be the first of several such, I looked at the web address Paul had sent us with information and realised that I recognised it. Toby Manning, the tournament organiser, had been partying the night away with my parents long before I was born. I had known him all my life, and never known he played Go. Looking at the BGA records, I think he must have been President (or Chairman?) of the BGA at the same time as getting drunk at my parents' house. I rang my mother, who said "Oh, yes, I knew Toby played Go a bit. Didn't I say?" A bit? That's what I call modesty!

Durham was able to send a small delegation; as well as Paul, Edwin and I, our strongest players Hu (2 dan, from China), and Choi (4 dan, from Korea) came along. We filled two cars, giving Klaas Roever (5 kyu, and German in spite of an apparently Dutch name) from the Newcastle club a lift as well, and with Paul's fiancée along to drive the second car and laugh at us.

I first played a 16 kyu player called Jonathan Englefield. Jonathan was the youngest player present; I guessed (and later confirmed) that he was 14, and he had played at tournaments before. When he gave me a good thrashing I thought about feeling humiliated but decided it was too much like hard work; I hadn't expected to win any games, and it had been an interesting game.

Embarrassingly, we had managed to take only 40 minutes - of something like two and a half hours allowable game time - and we'd also managed to start before many of the other matches. Accordingly, we went off to the bar for a Coke and left the serious players to the silence. Jonathan was extremely friendly and we whiled away a pleasant hour discussing the merits of Douglas Adams, and the problems incumbent upon an addiction to Sid Meier's "Civilisation" games.

At this point a second, and not-unexpected, coincidence occurred. The "grown-ups" (there's nothing like having a teenage-ish conversation about Douglas Adams for making you feel seriously un-grown-up) were starting to filter back into the bar for post-game discussions and drinks, and I looked up and saw a familiar face. Granted the version of the face that I'm familiar with is a generation younger, but none-the-less there was no mistaking Andrew Marshall's father. Andrew is a Durham undergrad and a student of Paul's; he rarely plays Go in Durham but we did know that his parents and brother were going to be at the tournament. I was able to fluster Edward, in any case, by saying "Ah, you must be Andrew's father!"

I was about to go to look at the draw for the second match when I heard someone further down the long table saying he needed to find Jenny Radcliffe. He was Simon Schaffer, my second opponent, and since he rates at around 25 kyu I had to give him a 9-stone handicap. Although I've played against a lot of beginners at that sort of handicap, I hadn't previously done so on a 19x19 board, and I was petrified. Simon, however, hasn't had the practice he needs, and I realised that I was making an easy win. It may be that what I did next wasn't "cricket", I'm not sure, but I do know that it was morally right. While at no point did I tell Simon where to play or turn it into a teaching game, I did give him the same bits of advice as I'd give some of the stronger beginners in Durham - odds and ends like "don't forget to ask yourself whether any of your stones are in danger" or even "there's somewhere on the board where you can take advantage of a weakness I've left".

This, of course, was taking some time, and since we'd stayed in the bar to play other people began to emerge. Most notably Jonathan appeared, which was just as well when Simon's time ran out and he started in byoyomi as we were playing the endgame. Neither Simon nor I knew how to deal with the overtime rules, so Jonathan's appearance was fortuitous. He "tut-tut"ted once or twice over my hopefully helpful remarks to Simon, but I didn't get the feeling he seriously disapproved of what I was doing.

I didn't want Simon to lose on time, which he was about to do, so I suggested that since he was in a rush and had sente, he could pass if he didn't know where to play, and then follow my lead. I won by about 140 points, I think. Did I do the wrong thing? Should I have stayed silent? I think Simon learnt more from what I did, and since the outcome wasn't affected - nor indeed particularly important - I think I was right to provide advice. If someone was beating me that thoroughly, I think I'd be glad of the advice even in a formal setting. Trying to discuss it with people since has been like talking to brick walls - no one's ever told me I did the wrong thing, but no one's ever actually agreed I was right, either. Even so, I don't think I'd have any hesitation in doing the same again.

My third game was against Al Nixon of Chester, ranked at 20 kyu but in my opinion (and Edwin's, who he played later) he's a good few stones stronger than that. He beat me with a fair margin on a 5 stone handicap, and I'm confident I was playing reasonably well that game. It was, certainly, a very enjoyable match.

Since the Three Peaks is a 5-game tournament, with each game lasting up to two and a half hours[1], it stretches over two days. Whether this is a consequence of being based at the Marton Arms, or whether the Marton Arms was chosen for the comfort it would provide for an evening, I'm not sure! Either way, it's certainly a perfect location to spend such an evening.

Apart from the beers and whiskies - since I partake of neither I can only say that Edwin was truly delighted and it was clearly a place for connoisseurs - they served good food and as good a scrumpy as you'd hope to find in the West Country, let alone in Yorkshire. Leigh spoke very highly of the hot chocolate, too. Gustatorial tendencies aside the atmosphere was lovely. The clientèle aside from Go players seem to be mostly walkers, climbers and cavers; all groups which in my experience share friendly characteristics with Go players.

This was when the next coincidences came thick and fast. While eating dinner, I found myself in conversation with a player called Stephen Streater who had earlier beaten Edwin. He remarked that he knew some Durham undergrads. Now there are more than 10,000 students at Durham, so there was no reason to assume we'd know the same people. But we did. Not only had he been in a string quartet with one of my oldest friends from Durham, and in a choir with that friend's ex-girlfriend who I'd also known quite well, Stephen actually employs during University vacation my academic grandson Jeremy James, President of the Computing Society which Edwin and I had been on the Exec of the previous year!

people playing Pits

Neil Ghani, Francis Rhodes, Edwin and some other people playing Pits

Not long after this, another player called Neil Ghani came over. This was not a surprise - he works in broadly the same academic field as Edwin and Paul, and he and Edwin had discovered a mutual fandom of Newcastle United at a conference some months earlier. Now he wanted Edwin to make a fifth player in games of Pits.

Pits has the reputation of being "the other game that's played at Go tournaments", and Edwin duly went and played his part in tradition. I spent the rest of the evening talking to a wide range of people - including another coincidence so small as to be almost unworthy of the name. The husband of the BGA Membership Secretary was chatting to us at one point and it transpires he's a Durham grad, too - a Castleman of an earlier generation. Too long ago for us to have any mutual acquaintances, at any rate! In itself, though, this isn't really that surprising. Go players have to be reasonably intelligent, of course, and more than that, it's a game that appeals to intellectuals. And you can hardly be surprised if, in a room full of intellectuals, there are a few Durham graduates! It did make me smile, though.

There were two related things that really stood out for me about that evening in which I talked to a vast number of people about innumerable different things. The first thing Edwin and I summarised when walking - possibly in a slightly inebriated fashion - back to our B&B as "they're all just like us ..." Several terms might be used to clarify this: "boffins", "intellectuals", "beardy-real-ale-folk-music types", depending on how insulting you feel. Or you could cite Francis Rhodes' article on the BGA Website where he describes setting up a Go club and remarks that science research departments - in universities or in industry - make ideal nuclei for clubs. But while these things might make it more articulate, I cannot summarise my feelings any better than "they're all just like us ..." The second thing shouldn't have surprised me, given the first. A few days later I was looking up members of the BGA Council and realised just how many "eminent" members of British Go-playing society I had met - and was startled to recall just how friendly and normal, welcoming and frankly nice these "big cheese" of Go had been. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. There can't be many amateur organisations where a rank beginner of my (lack of) stature could find herself in casual friendly conversation about anything and everything with the finest minds in the field!

Another coincidence popped up, too. Leigh and I were talking to Pete and Gary who are members of the Teesside club when Pete plucked up the courage to ask Leigh where she was from. Turns out they were at the same school a few years apart.

The next morning I found that I was playing Stephen Streater, which I still think has a certain poetic something about it given he's my grandson's boss[2]. Although I was beaten, this was the game I enjoyed most, I think. It was the most challenging and interesting game of the weekend, for me, although Stephen's taste for Ko fights stretched me to the limits. I've learnt to find ko threats, but I'm not very good at judging the size of them, so I tend to play them in the wrong order. That lost me at least one of the three fights that Stephen picked.


Jin Yoon playing the tournament-deciding game against Choi.

While that game was going on, our own Choi was playing what turned out to be the tournament decider, and the next coincidence of the tournament had occured. Some seven or eight years ago in Korea, Choi had been beaten in a game by a fairly famous figure in Korean Go, Jin-hoon Yoon. Jin, as he is known in English, is not a professional player, although he has made his living at one time as a TV commentator for Go. Quite where his job change came in I'm not sure, but by November of 2002 he was in Cambridge, ranked at approximately 6 dan by the British system and winning tournaments up and down Britain. Choi was somewhat astonished to find himself facing Jin once again - and very disappointed to very narrowly lose the game.

They were kind enough to let me take a couple of photographs of the game, one of which you see here. (Incidentally, it's Edward Marshall on Jin's left). The other picture is the one from which the picture of Choi on the People Page was taken. Both pictures appeared with the shortened version of this article which I submitted to the British Go Journal, much to Choi's delight.

After that, my final game was a bit of an anti-climax. I was playing Celia Marshall, as she and I had guessed I would the previous day. Losing that game irritated me because I knew it was foolish and avoidable mistakes which I could have foreseen - indeed, I had foreseen one of them - which lost me a game I think I could have won. "Even a moron connects against a peep" is a famous Go proverb, and one of which I am certainly aware, but I didn't act on it this time! I did have a rather productive conversation with Celia afterwards, though, where she was encouraging me to organise a tournament in Durham. At the time, while I listened, I was thinking "don't be daft!", but afterwards the idea stuck in my mind. After reading Paul's History of Go in Durham, I had the idea of trying to hold a tournament for the 10th anniversary of Go in Durham. So maybe, just maybe ...

The prize-giving was no surprise to anyone when the gorgeous trophy was awarded to Jin-hoon Yoon. Choi was delighted, though, to be awarded a prize for the four games he'd won - and the letter rack made of Yorkshire slate seems appropriate on many levels and certainly delighted him. He's still talking about how he enjoyed the experience, even with the disappointment of losing that one game.

I don't know when I last enjoyed a weekend more. I know people told me that the Three Peaks is a particularly friendly tournament (and as such it must be an excellent place to start), but I was so inspired by it that you needn't be surprised to see me again at others, even if they are less welcoming.

Indeed, discovering that Choi's research visit was over in March, I determined that we should take him to another tournament to show him off while he's here, and to show him that British Go is at a good level. Accordingly, he, Edwin, Chris and I, and hopefully some other Durham players, will be at the Cambridge Trigantius tournament on the 2nd March!

And the final coincidence. Edwin has a close friend called Steve, who now lives and works in Oxford. Steve is a keen hill-walker and has a friend who remarked in idle conversation in November: "you know, I was in this lovely pub in Yorkshire the other day and the place was swarming with people playing this weird board game." A few days later when Edwin told Steve about the Marton Arms he realised that yet another coincidence had not quite happened while we were there. Spooky?

1. Each player has one hour to play in to start with, using the same clocks as used in Chess. If you use up that time, you have 10 minutes on the clock and 30 stones which you have to play in those 10 minutes. Then you have a further 20 stones and 5 minutes on the clock. If you fail to use the thirty in ten minutes or the twenty in five, you lose on time. So in fact two and a half hours is the outside limit.

2. For people who don't know Durham, or are from colleges without this practice: each first year will be assigned a volunteer studying the same subject a year or more ahead of them as an "academic parent", to be mentored by, to ask about homework, to buy books from, etc. Naturally one's academic parent's academic parent is one's grandparent. For people who don't know me: I take this particularly seriously, especially in the case of my daughter Catherine and her son Jeremy, because we have lots in common and I like them.

This article was written by Jenny Radcliffe. The Three Peaks tournament is still an annual event (although sadly no longer at the Marton Arms), and Durham players are usually there.

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