… an interesting interview about GO education in China shortly being published (on 8th Nov) by http://www.eurogotv.com/ (Rec.: The official website is down for now being blocked by the provider because of unjustified spam-accusations.)
Daniel Tomé (DT): When did you first learn about Go?
Dongfang Li (DL): I started to learn Go when I was 7 years old.
I became interested in it when I was in school, and later, after studying, I went to Beijing to receive professional training.
DT: Did you know early on that you wanted to become a professional?
DL: No, I didn’t have any concept of what “professional” was at that time.
DT: So it was only later on, when you were already very strong, that you thought maybe you could become a professional.
Actually, even after becoming a stronger player, I still had to focus on school. But I still wanted to play Go, so in the free time of my school life I studied Go, and improved…
DT: Let’s talk a bit about the professional training system. How many kids were there in the Go school you went to?
DL: At that time, in my Go school (in Beijing), there were 100 kids studying Go, wanting to become professionals.
DT: What was the training schedule like?
DL: Every day, we would get up early in the morning, and do some life and death problems; usually we also had games, one in the morning and one in the afternoon; at night, a pro teacher reviewed the games.
DT: Did you study old (ancient) Chinese players (masters)?
DL: No, just contemporary.
DT: So, in the morning you did life and death problems…
DL: We had punishment if we couldn’t do it… Push-ups, we had to do it.
DT: Physical punishment!?
DL: Yes. That is why China became the best. Ha ha.
DT: Did you meet many famous players at your Go school?
DL: Yes, I met many good players when I was living in Beijing; for example, Mi Yuting (he is even younger than me) – we studied together for a year, and we are good friends. Now he became the top player in China.
DT: How were they like in person?
DL: That’s hard to say, different people have different personalities. What they had in common was, they all worked very hard…
DT: Did you study hard too?
DL: Yeah, of course.
DL: In Beijing we always trained together.
Top players, when they get together, they study many new variations, joseki…
DT: In Japan they study more by themselves, alone.
DL: Individual work, yes.
DT: But in China they study together.
DL: Yes, they study together. I think that is why they are doing better.
DT: In 2010 you passed the pro exam, and became a professional. Tell us about the decisive game – was it close?
DL: Yes. My opponent at that time was stronger than me.
DT: Passing the pro exam was a great achievement, right?
DL: Yeah, for me it’s a great achievement.
DT: Did you celebrate?
DL: Of course (as you can imagine).
DT: What do you think is the main difference between pros and amateurs?
DL: Professional players get more training, and are just eager to get better.
DT: Do you still study Go?
DL: Now I’m in medical school, so I just play on the Internet for fun… I watch some pro games on the Internet, and sometimes I do some life and death.
I don’t have much free time, so it’s harder for me to study.
DT: I’ve watched many of your games, but how would you describe your Go style? (Play for territory, fighting?)
DL: I think it’s a little bit more like… fighting? (What do you think?) I didn’t always play where I wanted to play, I didn’t think much about it…
DT: Let’s talk about the international Go scene. Which country is the strongest, China or Korea?
DL: I think China is now the best, but I can’t predict the future.
DT: But are there now more promising young Chinese players than Koreans?
DL: Of course.
DT: And who do you think is the strongest player today?
DL: Lee Sedol.
DT: What about in China?
DL: Chen Yaoye.
DT: And your favorite player?
DL: Gu Li.
DT: What do you most like about Gu Li? His fighting power, right?
DL: Yes, he is a “killer”. He always fights, and he has a strong sense of shape… he plays fast, with emotion (intuition).
DT: Did you follow the jubango between Gu Li and Lee Sedol?
DL: Yeah, I watched every game. At the time I was studying very hard for the college entrance examination, but still I didn’t miss any game of him.
DT: Was it a big event in China? Were there many people watching the games?
DL: All the games broadcasted on Tygem had more than 1000 people watching; that’s really a large number.
DT: What did you think, was Gu Li inferior, or was it just bad luck?
DL: I think for him, he has already been at the top for many years, so it’s easy for him to adjust and to come back…
DT: But was the result of the match fair? Lee Sedol deserved to win, right?
DL: I don’t know, I still… it’s unbelievable.
DT: Oh, you were expecting Gu Li to win?
DL: Of course.
DT: So you’re disappointed…
DL: No, it’s okay. It’s already past.
DT: Let me ask you about the West. You’ve been to both Europe and the US – what do you think are the main differences between Chinese and European/American players?
DL: In America or in Europe the strong amateur players, they didn’t get pro training, and they are eager to fight.
DT: You’re probably thinking of Ilya Shikshin (“roln111” on KGS), whom you’ve played with a few times before. Do you think he is close to professional strength?
DL: Hmm, not so close, because… actually, now I’m not so strong, and people who want to become professional players are just training hard, and maybe they are better than me. And when I played with him, I got more wins… He still has to make an effort, I think.
DT: You’ve played with other top European/American players. What did you think of Andy Liu?
DL: Yeah, he is strong. (I saw his games in the US Open, I think he got better.)
DT: He is a pro now, under a new system, in the US. You’ve also played against the first European pro, Pavol Lisy (“cheater” on KGS), but he lost quickly.
DF: I remember the game.
DT: So there is a big difference in level… Can we say that Europe is still really behind?
DL: I cannot say, because there might be others who are stronger.
DT: Do you think this new pro system will help improve the level of American/European Go?
DL: Yeah, of course. It just started, and they will get better.
DT: Here’s a question many people want to ask: what’s the best way to get stronger at Go?
DL: To improve, you have to study life and death, and tesuji.
For me, I just watch professional games, and just review, and try to find some new moves. But for the amateur player, as I said, I think it’s better to do some life and death problems, and tesuji, to learn tactics.
DT: You used to play on Tygem a lot, before I introduced you to KGS. But most players in China have never heard of KGS. Can you talk about the difference between these two Go servers?
DL: I don’t know if Tygem started earlier, but they have many top players (the top players in China, Korea, in the world), so they attract a bigger audience… And in China they have so many people already who know about Tygem, so they don’t want to go play on another server.
DT: What can KGS do to attract more players?
DL: Hmm… Can they get more top players?… For example, in Tygem, for important games, they invite pros to review the game during the live broadcast, and many people join… It’s also important for them to add more features, like on Tygem… I think they can do it to attract more people.
DT: You’ve played many times with “kghin” (Chan Chi-Hin) on KGS – do you think he is close to pro level?
DL: He is not so close. I think maybe he needs more training. He is still not that strong a player, he needs more effort to reach that level.
DT: Only a few people can turn pro each year. So I wanted to ask you about all the kids who spend their childhood studying in Go schools to become professionals, but who will never make it.
DL: Do you think it’s cruel?
DT: Maybe it will hurt them in the future. I mean, even for those who make it to pros, it’s hard to live just from Go. So is it worth it to spend so much time…
DL: I think it’s worth it.
DT: Even for the kids who can’t become professionals?
DL: That’s hard to say… For me, I would say that it was good. But the situation is not as bad as you think, because they can also make a living, for example, teaching Go.
And in the process of studying Go they make many friends and, even though they didn’t go to college, they still learn a lot from this process, and I think many of them get even more pay than normal people.
DT: Okay, that’s good. So, here’s a more philosophical question: what did you learn from Go?—Or, what attracts you in Go?
DL: What I learned… I learned a lot, and made many friends… Go is something I’m really interested in, and addicted to. It teaches me to be patient… I can stand, and just think, and not feel upset…. and I think even more important is that I really made many good friends like you.
DT: Ah, thanks (and likewise)! You know, there is a Chinese Go proverb that says, use Go to meet friends.
DT: Okay, I think we can end on that note. Any final advice for European/American players?
DL: I think for the good amateur players, it’s better for them to come to China or Korea…
DT: So if they want to become really strong, they have to go to Asia…
DL: I think so, because the system here is very good for them to become better. And I think in America or in Europe, they just study more on the Internet, I don’t think they have Go clubs and pro teachers for them to get strong?
DT: Maybe these recent changes, the new pro system, will help…
DL: Oh, but I think it’s a long process.
DT: Yes, it will take a long time, I agree… Okay, Dongfang, thanks for the interview.
DL: Thank you.
Daniel Tomé 3d
Three games of Dongfang Li as white he all won by resigning of his opponents…
Ilya is 7 Dan EG, and three times champion of Europe in 2007, 2010, 2011, and five times champion of Russia in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2012.
Pavol became professional in 2014 of the new European Pro GO league, and currently is studying Go in Beijing. (September 2014 to March 2015).
Chsan Chi-Hin was born in Hong Kong on Dec 1997 and has been learning GO since mid-October 2005. He is the representative player of Hong Kong/China for the coming 36th World Amateur GO Championship to be held in Thailand in 2015, he is winner of the 14th Hong Kong Amateur GO Championship which was held on 8-9 November 2014.