Saturday November 3, 2012
Weiqi group hopes to increase game's popularity among youths
By MICHELLE TAM
The age-old mental sport of weiqi hones both mind and character.
LEGEND has it that when the god of war, Guan Yu, needed Hua Tuo to remove a poison arrow’s toxic residue from his wound, he survived the excruciatingly painful operation without the use of anaesthetic.
While the physician’s able hands must be credited for preventing Guan Yu’s retreat from battle, the day was actually saved by the simple yet absorbing game of weiqi.
Moving white pieces against another player’s black stones on a board helped the legendary general maintain a calm state of mind during the torturous procedure – such is the wonder of weiqi.
Getting to know Go
The ancient game, which pits players against each other in a bid to conquer more territory, has captivated players around the world.
It is known as Go in Japan – the country responsible for the game’s great popularity – while Koreans, who lead in international standings, call it Baduk.
Apart from the different names, much remains the same. Only two essential rules govern the game, which takes 30 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.
According to online sources the first, Rule of Liberty, states that every stone on the board must have at least one open point – an intersection called a “liberty” – right next to it in any direction, or be part of a connected group with at least one such liberty next to it.
If stones – whether solo or in a group – lose this last liberty, they are removed from the board.
The second, Rule of Ko, states that stones on the board must never repeat a previous position already made by another stone. Moves that enable this are not allowed, and the stone must instead be placed elsewhere on the board.
Think of it as a sophisticated and more intellectual version of Kepong (Surround). The childhood game had us using pens – one colour per player – to create dots at intersections of squares in our mathematics exercise books, and linking said points to surround the other’s territories.
Of course, there is much more to weiqi itself, and you can learn how to play the game here: http://www.gokgs.com/.
Bring on the Baduk
Over the past few years, the simple yet strategy-rich game has made slow and steady inroads in Malaysia.
I visited the local heartland of weiqi, Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC), during the recent Malaysia Weiqi Open Championship 2012 on Oct 7.
Malaysia Weiqi Association (MWA) president and co-founder Tiong Kee Soon (pic) learnt the game over 20 years ago from TARC senior and fellow pioneer Chow Chee Wen, who now serves as MWA secretary.
How fitting then that the MWA-organised championship – the second of its kind, with more annual editions in the works – has come full circle to be based at the Setapak campus.
Game etiquette deems it bad form to set down your pieces noisily, so players both young and old conduct themselves with much decorum.
“We are the third in South-East Asia after Thailand and Singapore,” said Tiong, who noted that this year’s tournament drew 98 people, compared to last year’s 80.
Since the MWA was founded in 2003, the local weiqi scene has grown by leaps and bounds, with the game being taught as a co-curricular activity in TARC since 2011.
Club sessions, which include an hour of lectures on game techniques and principles, have been well received. The second hour is dedicated to practice play, with MWA committee members helping students to review their moves.
Players undergo both practical and theoretical tests to rise through ranks known as kyu – beginners start at 30 kyu, with numbers decreasing as they improve towards attaining the high 1 kyu – and proceed to dan.
Our local players are nothing to sneeze at either. In 2010, Tiong and his team qualified for a “once in a lifetime” Asian Games experience in Guangzhou, China.
“We are all amateurs. In the Asian Games, many entrants are professional, full-time weiqi players. We have day jobs, but they earn money from weiqi tournaments and teach the game,” he said. All four MWA founders – Tiong, Chow, treasurer Billy Chia and vice-president Lee Chun Huat – hold day jobs in various industries.
“We are just satisfied and proud to play weiqi with them. Normally, we’d have no chance to compete with them, but we managed to qualify and finished seventh out of eight teams,” he added.
Still, the game’s general lack of exposure in Malaysia has led to many mistaking it for Othello, which is a common misconception that they hope to dispel.
But limitations such as insufficient funding and low player numbers in Malaysia are no deterrent for the passionate bunch, who hope more young people will learn to love the game.
“Not many know that weiqi is a very good sport to cultivate in people of all ages as it’s a lifelong game,” said the 47-year-old Tiong, who added that the oldest player locally is over 80 years old and the youngest, just four.
“Everything you learn from weiqi can be applied to your own life, and vice versa. It is life itself.”
■ An enhanced version of this story came out in the Oct 18 edition of The Star Editor’s Choice, which is a free downloadable app available for tablet devices.
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