In 2003, the Mongolian Go Association became the 65th member of the International Go Association, and the following year, it participated in the World Amateur Go Championship. In our country, many players play Go board games. Among them is Ts.Sansar, who is the master of sports and has the fifth dan (Go ranks). He studied together with beginners under the leadership of Aketa Katsuyuki, a high-ranking Go teacher and coach who came from Japan in 2003 as part of JICA’s cooperation, which greatly influenced his later success. After learning from everything the teacher taught and improving his skills through his efforts, he headed to Kurashiki, Okayama to compete in the 25th World Amateur Go Championship. It is said that 68 Mongolian athletes competed in the tournament, which was an unprecedented number in the 30-year history of the sport. In today’s edition, I talked with him, who represented our country in the World Championships three times.
Athletes like to share their memories of playing sports. Can you tell an interesting story about Go to our readers?
In the fall of 2002, I became interested in learning Go and started studying it. The first teacher who taught me the game was the book. After reading the “Getting Started with Go” book, I learned how to play and the rules. At that time, my uncle used to study and play Go. I was very surprised that I beat my brother, even though I was not taught by anyone. And one day, he brought me to the Mongolian Go Association and put me in training. Next year, as part of the cooperation of JICA, Aketa Katsuyuki, a highly qualified teacher, came to our country to teach interested students, and he said that he would help an athlete to get the third dan. As a result of his two years of teaching, I was awarded the third dan. People spend time on things they are interested in. I am also one of those players who learned that way. That year, I won the first Go Tournament in Mongolia and strived to practice consistently.
You have the fifth dan. There is no other athlete in Mongolia who has reached such a high rank, right?
I am the only one of the Go players to have a fifth dan. At that time the teacher checked how much the students’ skills had improved during the process. Some of the children forget and teach again from the beginning. For me, I learned everything taught diligently and repeated non-stop every day, perhaps the teacher found it encouraging. One common weakness of Mongolians is jealousy. People used to say “The Japanese teacher teaches Sansar more than other children.” Thanks to my teacher and my efforts, I represented my country in many competitions. When I first studied Go, I wanted to study Japanese history and culture. The more I studied, the more I realized that Go has developed into a global sport, not just in Japan. The birthplace of Go is China. With a history of 4,000 years, Go is highly developed in Asia, including China, Japan, and South Korea. So it has famous athletes who compete in professional categories. The rapidly growing intellectual board game is called “Go” in Japan, “Wei chi” in China, and “Baduk” in South Korea. But Mongolians have been called “Migman”. There is a Go club with this name in our country. When I was a child, I remember telling my relatives, “I used to play mignon when I was a child.” I was very interested when the German exploration expedition brought it to the Mongolian Go Association and showed it to the teacher, saying that they had found Go in a 13th-century artifact. I was quick-tempered as a child. Playing Go made me sit calmly and make the right decisions.
What were your thoughts when you saw the best players in the World Go Championship?
For me, rather than winning a place in the World Championship, I try not to lose to athletes who are the same as me and have a lower title and rank. There is no set global standard. Any country can award individual titles to its athletes. The Mongolian Go Association has been following the principle that it should be internationally comparable. For example, an athlete who has the third dan from some countries loses to a Mongolian first-dan-ranked player. In major foreign competitions, the name of the country is not the name of the athlete. Therefore, if an international fifth-dan-ranked player loses to a lower-ranked player, it will be ridiculed and will not make a good impression on the audience. So, players need to prove the honor they have been given by their performance. When I went with my teacher to participate in the 2004 World Go Championship in Kurashiki, Japan, my friends were amused, saying, “When Mongolians thought they would go to border Erenhot first, but you skipped the country and went to the land of the Rising Sun.” When I set foot there, I was very amazed by Japan’s development, culture, and the hardworking attitude of its citizens. I was nervous because it was my first time participating. In the first World Championship, with three wins and five losses, I was in the middle of the ranking. At that time, even though the Go sport was developing in Europe, Asians ranked in the top 10, showing how advanced the sport was. That year, the athlete from South Korea won and became the champion. Since then, he has become a world-famous professional athlete.
Is it true that professional Go players have already achieved financial freedom?
There is no age limit for playing Go. The prize money of the competitions in which professional athletes participate is higher than others. They get a lot of attention because they guarantee their good life and reach the top of professional athletes. Professional athletes have high standards and competition. It is not easy to stand out from the best and be recognized in the world. Even if you are successful, it is difficult to maintain your degree for many years, so you learn and develop yourself every day. I lost to the computer in intellectual sports. In 2003, a large company in Thailand created a computer program and placed a bet on winning a professional Go player with a million dollars. But at that time, Go fans said that this would never happen in the next 10 years. Among South Korean professional athletes, the world champion Lee Sedol is the most famous. He won that competition more than once. At that time, there was no competitor to beat him who had risen in the world of Go. Finally, he won in 2016, and he became a legend with the advent of artificial intelligence. He topped the world rankings and won one of the five games he played against the program created by Google’s DeepMind Technologies Company. Lee Sedol won the computer program AlphaGo and ended his career as a professional athlete.
Go has become a highly-paid professional sport in Asian countries. People explain the reasons why it is not widely shared in many ways. What is your opinion on this?
Go games were used to develop war tactics, strategies, and plans only for kings, princes, officials, and military generals, and were played in the palace. There is a history of generals from two continents playing Go and solving war problems without bloodshed. Therefore, ordinary people were forbidden to play Go, so it was not widely distributed. Since the beginning of the 20th century, people have been interested in playing Go, and today it has developed into a sport. Asia developed it in terms of intellectual sports, while the Japanese developed it in terms of national heritage, culture, and outlook on life.
Go sport entered the category of intellectual sports at the “Hangzhou-2022” Asian Games.
For me, I think that chess and checkers are easier than Go. The more you lose in a game of chess, the more men of straw will decrease and it will be easy to make moves. Go is not bound by rules. When you start a room with black and white stones on an empty ship, you have no room to move in the mid-game. There are four basic rules of Go that beginners must learn and master. Learning anything is difficult at first, but the more you try, the more interesting it becomes. Athletes from China, Japan, and South Korea compete to fight a draw. The developed countries of the continent like to explain the development of their countries about the Go. That’s why they spend a lot of money on training professional athletes.
For example, the country exempts the companies that sponsor the continental and world tournaments of Go. Mongolians should also pay attention to the development of their national sports, which carries their heritage and culture and should not spend as much as foreigners. Investments will increase if organizations sponsoring major domestic sports competitions are exempted from taxes. I wish Mongolians would learn from other people’s strengths and implement what they need. Some academies and institutes train professional athletes in China and Japan. South Korea has an intellectual sports center. Children are trained in the category of amateurs and then step into the professional category. Many children are trained as professional athletes from childhood. I have some students. In the future, I plan to establish my own club and train athletes. My friends say, “If you open a club, I will let my child learn Go sport.”