Opportunities for average club players to meet and learn from real experts are few and far between. When asked by the International Department of Nihon Ki-in (the Japanese Go Association) whether we could host an event at the Edinburgh Go Club as part of a European ‘tour’ in October by a professional Go teacher, we jumped at the opportunity. When we learned that the teacher was to be Cătălin Țăranu, the most highly-ranked active professional Go player in Europe, the opportunity was compelling.
The first step in making this all possible was to submit a formal programme to the sponsors in Tokyo, who were generously paying for Cătălin’s time and travel. The visit coincided with the Northern Tournament held at Cheadle Hulme School just outside Manchester and after talking to tournament organiser Chris Kirkham and Martin and Helen Harvey, who work extensively with the school, a four-day plan emerged. We would hold teaching events on the Thursday and Sunday, consisting of lectures, game reviews and simultaneous displays. Friday was reserved for travel down from Scotland and Cătălin made various contributions to the tournament on Saturday including a lunchtime lecture and game reviews for some of the 42 competitors who came from all parts of the UK.
Getting to know each other
The two club events (each with audiences of more than 20) began with Question and Answer sessions which provided audiences with an unique insight into Cătălin’s experience of studying Go in Japan for 9 years and the competitive go scene in the Far East. This included a fascinating discussion of how he became a Go professional and his life in Nagoya before returning to live and teach go in northern Romania The lively sessions included contributions from the youngest to the “most experienced”.
Hot topic (1) – Alpha Go
Audiences were particularly keen to hear Cătălin’s views on the impact that Alpha Go has had on Go players and the way they are being forced to rethink their approach to the game. He gave several examples of areas in which ‘conventional wisdom’ has been fundamentally challenged and where leading players are beginning to apply new and innovative techniques. He also cited Lee Sedol’s comment after the Alpha Go series, that human Go players will have to stop acting on instinct playing against these AI machines and learn to read deeply before making even the most straightforward move. He presented a wonderful example of Alpha Go’s use of sacrificial stones and territory in order to build influence (Master versus Chang Hao).
Hot topic (2) – Teaching and Development
As a teacher, Cătălin stressed the importance of finding innovative ways of retaining a young beginner’s interest and demonstrated this when working with some of the young players from the school Go Club (23kyu and upwards). He showed them various responses to a standard shape (a contact-play against a one space extension) that can occur in various parts of the board. He encouraged analysis and debate on how to respond. In the simultaneous games the following day, the four youngest teamed up and after each of Cătălin’s moves they argued vehemently before choosing their considered response. After an hour of play, Cătălin had conceded only one game. The youngsters were victorious!
Cătălin delivered several lectures over the three days, on a range of topics and always challenging. His explanations were at once crystal clear, interesting and motivational to all. This was quite a feat considering the audience ranged from 3Dan to around 24Kyu.
Where possible, he drew on material from the games submitted for review or games he had followed during the tournament. He gave an enlightening lecture on invasion theory during the tournament’s lunch interval, for example, using one of the morning’s first round games he had been watching to illustrate the presentation.
One of the themes for the lectures was about the importance of understanding the value of stones on the board, which he calls the ‘weight’ of a stone. One comment that recurred frequently in reviews was the inefficiency of using more than four stones to kill just one enemy stone.
The last session looked at how strategic factors like direction of play affect the choice of fuseki. His first example focused on the mini-Chinese opening and in particular demonstrated the effect of the exact placement of Black’s final move, completing the line of three stones. High or low? 4 spaces from the corner stone or 5? He went on to talk about how such innovations can be applied in other familiar settings like the san-ren-sai opening and the avalanche joseki. encouraging the audience to experiment in their own games.
Everyone had been looking forward to the opportunity of playing Cătălin in a round of simultaneous games. None of these fifteen games were played through to their conclusion due to time pressure but he was able to pinpoint some key weaknesses he saw in the players’ approach to the game as well as making specific comments about each game. Five of the seven games played in Edinburgh, for example, quickly erupted into large-scale fights before the players had been able to establish solid bases. He saw this as symptomatic of a weakness in the European approach to Fuseki. He felt that only one board would have ‘probably’ ended with a black victory. Players on the Sunday fared no better.
Altogether Cătălin’s UK visit was a great attraction for more than 70 players, ranging from novice to dan-level including children as well as adults ten times their age. On their behalf, we offer our sincere thanks to our guest and to the Nihon Ki-in for their kindness and generosity in making this series of events possible.
Richard Moulds, Neil Sandford
 Cătălin Țăranu started learning Go at the age of 16. He won all eight games in his first tournament as a 6 kyu, moved up to amateur 1 dan in a year, and reached 4 dan a year later. He was invited to study with Saijo Masataka in 1995 at the Nagoya branch of the Nihon-Kiin. Two years later, at the age of 24, he became only the second European to pass the professional examination. From that point, it took Cătălin just 4 years to reach his current grade of 5p (5-dan professional). He won the European Go Championship in 2008.