A Few Memories of Pair Go


Thomas Hsiang (USA)

The first time I encountered Pair Go was during the 1991 US Go Congress held at my hometown ? Rochester, New York. That Congress was a historical event in American Go. We the organizers secured for the first time significant external sponsorships that started the North America Ing Cup, unified the Go equipment, brought in a large number of strong players, and greatly expanded professional participation in the Congress. Dave Weimer, the Congress Director, conjured up the fanciful awards that later became standard for the Go Congress.

Pair Go tournament was another new feature. At the time it was a small event participated by only about a dozen pairs. But notably, it had the nicest prizes donated by the then-unfamiliar Japanese company NKB and it also attracted the largest crowd of spectators. A young blonde from Atlanta, Debbie Siemon, won the championship with her partner from New York, Zhi-li Peng. They and another eye-catching couple, a Canadian schoolboy Phil Waldron and his mother Jean, attracted most of the attention at the tournament.

After the Congress, we talked a lot about this new variation of Go, wondering if it would survive the test of time. As a Bridge aficionado, I was well aware of the adage that “Bridge and marriage do not mix”. On the other hand, I also wondered if perhaps this new form of playing would encourage a better gender balance in our favorite game.

Eighteen years have passed since that summer; we now celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the International Pair Go Championship. Pair Go has not only been accepted but flourished beyond anyone's imagination. Aside from frequent regional tournaments held worldwide, Pair Go was featured as the only mixed-gender mind-sport in the First World Mind Sport Games in 2008 and will be a medal event in the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games. At the US Go Congress, we now run two Pair Go tournaments, one for adult-youth pairs and one for open pairs. They occupy the largest playing rooms and are participated by over 100 pairs each year.

Surely not by coincidence, the US Go scene that was once almost exclusively male-dominated now sees a much greater participation by female players, especially among the young. My worries from Bridge turned out to be irrelevant: Pair Go has brought together many couples in US and Europe, and not a single couple has been broken up by it!

On the personal side, Pair Go has also been extremely generous to me. The year after the Rochester Go Congress, I paired with a bright young lady from Cleveland, Judy Schwabe, to win the US championship and went on to Tokyo for the third International Pair Go Tournament. There I met for the first time the inventors of Pair Go, Mr. and Mrs. Taki. This was the beginning of many more visits and exchanges with them that were invariably enjoyable and memorable. Mr. Taki and I occasionally played on the Internet, long before the prevalence of Internet Go playing. He shared with me his writings on life’s philosophy and aspirations, how he reasons that contributing to philanthropy is a basic human need and an essential part of our fulfillment in life. True to this belief, he and Mrs. Taki supported their foresight in Pair Go with enthusiasm and devotion that made the game what it is today.

During that Tournament in 1992, Judy and I were paired in the first round of the handicap section with Okamoto Nobuko and Harada Minoru.
They are, of course, two of the most famous amateur Go players in the world. (Mrs. Okamoto was for many years the female amateur champion in Japan; Mr. Harada won even more titles, became an amateur 8-dan in 2000, and was awarded the Okura Prize in 2008). They were a glamorous pair, with an exquisite mannerism that was warm and disarming. The nicety, however, quickly dissolved into fierce competiveness once the game started! We took two-stone handicap from them and Judy played a marvelous game that put us well ahead both on the board and on the clock. That was when we saw the fire of the champions! With barely a minute left on the clock to our five or six, they slapped stones, pounded the clock, staring and breathing as if in a fury! In the end, we actually lost on time... Mrs. Okamoto laughed hard afterwards and told us it was fun and they greatly enjoyed playing with us. That was the start of a long-time friendship. In later years, whenever I played international tournaments in Japan, Mrs. Okamoto was always in my corner cheering.

In 1996 I convinced Debbie Siemon to be my partner. We have now played together for over ten years, representing US on three occasions and sharing many memories. That young Canadian boy, Phil Waldron, has grown up to be an important contributor to North American Go. He paired with his mother, Jean, to represent Canada in the sixth International Tournament; there they won the championship in the handicap section!

But of all memories of Pair Go, I am most thankful that it allowed my wife Joy to look into the game that is a very important part of my life. Go never caught on with Joy until she played her first Pair Go games with the effable Saijo Masataka sensei as partner. Saijo sensei made it so much fun for her that she now looks forward to playing with me as a pair whenever we can.

It has been a great score of years for Pair Go; my gratitude and congratulations aside, let me express my sincerest wishes for the continued success of this marvelous game.

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