Minhang seniors put their go skills to test

Yang Yang Su Mingshan
Shanghai Daily interviewed members of a seniors go team in Minhang District who finished runner-up at a recent Senior Citizens Go League.
Yang Yang Su Mingshan

Editor's note:

The Shanghai Senior Citizens Go League, which was held at the Seniors University of Minhang District, ended on December 27. The university has been holding the tournament for three straight years. After intense competition among 12 senior go teams, the university team finished second to the Baoshan District Go Association team from north Shanghai. Shanghai Daily interviewed its three members, coach and logistics manager to learn about Minhang seniors' interest in sports and their views on go.

Minhang seniors put their go skills to test
Ti Gong

The Seniors University of Minhang District go team (left line) compete with the delegation from the Pudong New Area at the Shanghai Senior Citizens Go League held in Minhang on December 27. The Minhang team finished second in the competition.

Zhang Jihua from Lanzhou City in northwest Gansu Province joined the university's go team shortly after retirement.

"My interest in go began in the early 1980s, when Nie Weiping, a Chinese go master, defeated his Japanese opponents for three years in a row, sparking widespread enthusiasm for the sport among Chinese people," Zhang said.

Initially employed as a mechanics engineer at a tap-water company, he was exposed to go by an amateur go-dan (Level 5) player. They then played eight-on-eight with employees from other state-owned enterprises, such as Lanzhou's energy firm.

"After I married and had children, I had little time to pursue my interest. It was forgotten until I was sent to work in Shanghai and eventually retired. At the senior university here, we learn both theories and codified series of moves, but previously, I played the game extremely boldly and innocently," Zhang said.

"Go is about logically increasing the efficiency of a move. And our tutor guides us in this at the seniors' university club," he said.

Another senior is in his late 60s now and has coached Ding Hao, the 2023 Samsung Cup World Baduk Masters champion.

"I joined up for the course for no worldly reasons right now. I appreciate the comfortable and energetic atmosphere of the go class here," He Jianmin, who is from Datong City in north Shanxi Province, remarked.

His homeland, near the capital Beijing City, used to be a second home for many Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) royal family members, with go being treated as a beautiful and somewhat obligatory form of royal entertainment.

"The royal descendants and I worked together as colleagues, bosses and subordinates. In the late 1980s, they suggested we start a local go group," he said.

"They left in the 1990s. I accepted the job of coaching and managing the club.

"The world champion Ding Hao earned his amateur san-dan (Level 3) certificate from our tutorship."

He eventually relocated to Shanghai after his son, also a go player, settled there.

Zhang, He, and, most notably, Zhang Lirong, a retired lady whose preference for go is merely to play the game with her grandchild, attend their go class once a week at the district's seniors university, where they are coached by Xiao Min, a retired university professor and a go player.

"Go can improve your outlook. Its victory criteria are not how many pieces you capture from your opponent, but how much space you occupy on a go board," Xiao explained.

"When we play the game, we tend to occupy the corners at first and then compete for the central area. As we gain more space, we will feel more secure and less threatened by attacks," he explained.

The professor characterizes the recent 2023 Shanghai Seniors Go League as intense.

"If we had lost one game in the first round, we would have dropped out of the top four on a scoreboard.

"I was both a competitor and a coach. I felt challenged when confronted with a former provincial team member from south Yunnan Province. Our team's logistics manager greeted me with a cheer, and my students stood by with hopeful eyes on me. I was encouraged and eventually won the game," Xiao said.

"After winning a spot in the championship, the seniors were overjoyed. They changed their senior citizen expression and regained their youthful cheer and confidence at the pinnacle point of their retired lives," Wen Shunhao, the logistics manager in charge of planning the event, stated.

The go chess game is popular mostly in East Asian countries such as China, Japan and South Korea. In 2016 and 2017, a computer machine AlphaGo defeated South Korea's Lee Sedol and Ke Jie of China.

The seniors are optimistic about the AlphaGo computer player.

"Go features 19 horizontal and 19 vertical grids. That means it has the potential to provide a wide range of results at an exponential rate of the 19th power of 19.

"And the machine has achieved that power," Zhang Jihua said.

"The peak period for a go master's talent lasts approximately 10–20 years. Then we await the birth of the next generation of human go masters. AlphaGo can be a useful advancement that goes beyond the limits of human power," Xiao said.

Over the past years, the Seniors University of Minhang District made progress, according to the university's headmaster, Zhang Weihong.

Its campus has expanded, with two branches on Jinggu Road and Lanping Road, respectively.

The timetable now includes eight new classes, including theater performance, fashion show performance, belly dancing, aerial photography, saxophone and floral arrangement.

Special Reports