Online European Youth Go Championship Brings Together 131 ParticipantsOct 25, 2021
The European Youth Go Championship (EYGC) is an annual competition organized as separate tournaments for three different age categories: U12, U16 and U20. It’s also used for the selection of European representatives for participation in global youth go events, such as the World Youth Go Championship, held in U12 and U16 categories, and the GLOBIS Cup – the world championship for players younger than 20.
It was unclear for much of this year, as with many other tournaments, when or how the EYGC would take place. When it was still unknown how the COVID-19 pandemic would develop, the tournament was scheduled to be played at the European Go Congress (EGC) this summer in Ukraine. However, in spring it became clear that the situation with traveling restrictions was unlikely to improve very much, so the EGC was canceled along with the EYGC. As a side note, the EGC in Ukraine has now been rescheduled for 2023, with Romania taking over the 2022 edition.
This summer, Cătălin Țăranu 5p came up with an initiative to organize the EYGC online instead. After successful preparation, the tournament took place online from the 15th until the 17th of October. The format was the same as the face-to-face EYGC, with the difference that the games were played online and the usual anti-cheating measures were applied. A total of 131 participants signed up for the event. For comparison, the previous EYGC was held in Croatia and gathered 162 young go players. The biggest ever EYGC was organized in 2019 in Moscow, Russia: the total number of participants was 281, albeit with 220 of them being Russian players.
After six rounds of intense and dramatic struggle, the winners were: Vjacheslav Shpakovskij 1d from Russia (U12), fellow Russian Alexandr Muromcev 5d (U16) and Oscar Vazquez 6d from Spain (U20). You can see their photos below – as listed, from left to right.
On the following pages you will find commentary on this year’s EYGC written by Cătălin Țăranu and Damir Medak – the main organizer and chief referee, respectively. Cătălin and Damir demonstrate a great spirit of cooperation: with united effort they run another project dedicated to youth go in Europe – a series of tournaments called the “SEYGO Tour”.
Commentary on the EYGC by Cătălin Țăranu 5p
Since I returned from Japan in 2004, I attended any EYGC I could and have been involved in teaching at schools and setting up training events for youth. In summer 2018 I decided to put 15 years of experience to good use and at the annual general meeting of the EGF, which took place at the European Go Congress in Pisa, I was accepted to the EGF executive board as a youth go promoter. Since then, I have launched such projects as the SEYGO tour, the European Youth Yearbook and the European Youth Elite Team.Cătălin Țăranu with his kids Gruia (left) and Toma (right). Photo by Mihaela Țăranu
As of this summer I serve as the main coordinator of youth go activities in Europe. In my new role, the first and most urgent concern was the status of the EYGC 2021. Initially scheduled to happen during the European Go Congress in Ukraine, both were unfortunately canceled. I felt that skipping EYGC this year would be a great shame, and I knew many people shared my opinion, so I decided to change the official decision and try to organize it online.
The first step was to secure the cooperation of Damir Medak, who I know to be a very capable organizer and referee. Without him I would not have found the courage to embark on this quest. Indeed, the general opinion was that an online youth event would be rife with cheating and it seemed very challenging to organize it.
The second step I did provided me with great inspiration: I started a group discussion involving representatives from countries with known youth activities. At the start we all had different ideas and I realized that my own vision of who could participate was rather restrictive. The hot topic was of course how to deal with the dark shadow of cheating online. We were given the great suggestion from Artem Kachanovskyi 2p of using Skype for a video connection between opponents during games. I was very happy that in the end the discussion led us naturally to organize the event in a format as close as possible to the live EYGC.
From that point on, everything was rather straightforward, with a collective focus on preparations, advertising the event and finding solutions to each unique challenge, like collecting entry fees. Here we had great support from the national go federations, most notably Russia and Ukraine who fielded half of the participants.
I would like to mention entry fees, since I heard it said on some forums that until now the EYGC had been free of charge to participate. There is a common misconception in Europe that go is free or should be free; it is a mentality that has slowed down development of go for the last half of the century. Go in Europe has never been free, but events have mostly been paid for by sponsors instead of the players. As I see it, naturally the time comes when you have to stand on your own feet.
The sponsors for this event provided non-monetary backing in the form of prizes and we are grateful for the continuous support we receive from popular go schools in Europe such as Guo Juan’s Go School and Hwang In-Seong’s Yunguseng Dojang. Additionally, the European Go Journal provided great prizes and AI Sensei allowed all participants to use their stored knowledge for the two weeks after the tournament ended. A word of thanks goes to the World Pair Go Association for their unwavering support of pair go events all over the world. Last but not least, thanks are owed also to the Online Go Server (OGS) that was the host of EYGC 2021. Even though the EGF can’t be counted as sponsor, since it was the official organizer, nevertheless it was simply brilliant to have our European professional players commenting games from the tournament on Twitch. It wasn’t that long ago they were feeling the emotions of this tournament themselves, and it was a pleasure to hear them saying more than once that youth go in Europe has nowadays reached an astoundingly high level of play.
All in all, that’s the short story of how we organized the EYGC 2021. The rest was visible to all the participants and observers. Even if for most people it was not obvious at all how to set up a Skype meeting and where to place the camera, it took little time for everyone to adapt.
Damir Medak had the extra burden of being the pairing master and chief referee, but this didn’t stop him from organizing yet another event during our EYGC: a youth pair go tournament. Such a competition was organized for the first time last year, during the EYGC 2020 in Croatia. In my opinion this is a great idea and, after having it for two years in a row, it might quickly become a tradition and a very popular mini event.
I have to mention that I greatly appreciated the feeling of international cooperation during EYGC 2021. We received great support and advice from Natalia Kovaleva 5d from Russia and Artem Kachanovskyi 2p from Ukraine, and Antti Törmänen 1p took very seriously his job of analyzing games that were reported as suspicious for cheating. The EGF was always at our side and I exchanged many emails with the president and treasurer. The European pro players commenting games on Twitch was a treat for all and a much more meaningful insight for me: I felt that the stones started connecting and we were all headed in the correct direction.
This tournament was a feat achieved by everyone who was involved: youth players, parents, coaches, federations, the tournament committee, the fair play committee, European pros and our sponsors. It is our shared victory over Covid in this difficult time and I am really proud of it. We smashed to pieces the misconception that a youth event would be ruined by cheating. Yet, no matter how well we managed the online EYGC 2021, I am really looking forward to a live event next year in Prague!Impression of the EYGC 2018 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Dmytro Kataiev
Commentary on the EYGC by Damir Medak 2k
In August 2012, my seven-year-old son Robert asked me “What is go?”. In March 2013, a couple of months after we found out that there seemed to be no kids playing go in Croatia, my family went to our first serious go tournament: European Youth Go Championships in Budapest. We were so pleasantly surprised with the wonderful atmosphere created by the Hungarian organizers and so many cheerful children enjoying go that we decided to dive into the world of go: our family has participated in each EYGC since then. A couple of years later we started a “Go for schools” project supported by the Croatian Ministry of Education. The real “game changer” happened in Tokyo during the World Amateur Pair Go Championship in December 2015, where my daughter Mirta and myself received the “Best Dressed Award”: our Japanese friend suggested we should ask the Nihon Ki-in to send a professional player to help us in development of the project. A few months later, Cătălin Țăranu 5p landed in Zagreb, capital of Croatia – a small go-playing country. The rest is history.Damir and his daughter Mirta reading an oath at the World Amateur Pair Go Championship in Tokyo in 2015
Croatia had the chance to organize the 24th EYGC in March 2020. Two weeks before the opening of the tournament, the Croatian Go Association became the youngest member of the Croatian Olympic Committee. On the 14th of March we had a nice prize-giving ceremony, which would become the last over-the-board go tournament in Europe before the pandemic. The next day, the 15th of March, the borders of European countries wer closed. One week later, an earthquake seriously damaged most of the historical buildings in downtown Zagreb.
What happened during the first two months of the global lockdown prepared the foundation for the methodology that was successfully applied at the EYGC 2021. First of all, we learned from the Corona Cup organized by Lukas Podpera 7d that Google Sheets can be used for bi- directional communication with players. Secondly, in order to continue working with young go players in Croatia, I translated OGS to Croatian in one week. Then I learned how to prepare a nice OGS guide from Matt Marsh of the British Go Association. This “tiger mouth” of three key stones were enough to continue with a successful online SEYGO Tour 2020.
In summer 2021, we had two successful live SEYGO Tour events in Zaostrog, Croatia and in Vatra Dornei, Romania. Cătălin Țăranu then proposed that European youth go players deserve their championship in 2021. But the black stone of a “fear of cheating” jumped into our “tiger mouth”. After a constructive discussion, Artem Kachanovsky 2p proposed Skype as a simple way to have a video connection between opponents and provide recordings in the case of suspicious play. This transformed the tiger mouth into a ponnuki.
The rest was easy. Lorenz Trippel provided a webpage and we put the information together. All the online tournament guides, such as how to use the OGS, were prepared well in advance, raising the trust of all European young players. Although we always appreciated the usage of the video-connection as a socializing tool rather than a spying mechanism, we invited Antti Törmänen 1p to carefully check all suspicious games. Six weeks before the opening ceremony, European go players knew exactly what kind of tournament was coming. Two weeks before the tournament, we closed the first round of registration with more than 120 players signed up, a big surprise for many. In the end, 131 players from 18 countries participated, with the total number of dan players matching the previous EYGC held in Croatia.
The big test came in the morning of the 15th of October, the first day of the tournament. Although 99% of players had prepared OGS accounts with real names, which was an important point, but it was still unclear if every player with a green “online” status on their profile were really present. Then the round started and we felt huge relief when results and links to the games started appearing in the Google Sheets of each tournament. The secret of success is in “crowd-sourcing”: the mutual trust of participants who build the tournament database and the pairing master who carefully inputs results into the pairing program. I must admit that I have never used the MacMahon program before; Natalia Kovaleva 5d, who has a lot of experience with it, checked the pairings before publishing and helped to solve many other situations.
With each round, all of us together behaved as a self-learning neural network: by the end of the tournament every game started exactly on time and all results were flawlessly published online. At that point we realized that the entire endeavor was a success.
There are two more things to note. The first one is about the live broadcast on the EGF Twitch channel: the expert commentaries, the style and the humor of European professional players left us speechless. I believe that the recorded material is going to serve generations of young go players. It fitted so well with the online EYGC, the maximum of effect with the minimum of cost, since the games for analysis are available in real time and the professional players did not have to travel to the playing site.
The second one is about the side pair go event played on the Pandanet go server. We wanted to continue the tradition started at the previous EYGC 2020 in Croatia, so we tested the environment and produced a short playing guide for young pairs. Eight pairs registered, providing the perfect setup for two age categories, U12 and U16, with semi-final games on Friday evening and finals on Saturday evening.Impression of the EYGC 2018 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Dmytro Kataiev
Finally, there is no doubt that a live youth event is better than an online one in almost every aspect. Nevertheless, if these online championships made children from distant regions feel a part of otherwise inaccessible tournaments, we will have achieved an additional benefit with our online edition of the EYGC.