Arrival at Estes Park, Colorado
One year ago, the U.S. was exiting one of the longest and bleakest stretches in recent history because of the COVID pandemic and lockdown.
So when I received an email from the American Go Association about the official announcement of the 2022 U.S. Go Congress, I signed up without hesitation.
Admittedly, it was a hasty decision, considering I’d only been playing about a year at that point, but it sounded like a potentially amazing experience.
Four months later, I stepped off the plane at the Denver International Airport. I quickly found the Estes Park shuttle with dozens of Go players waiting to embark on their adventure.
I didn’t have any prior expectations of the other Go Congress attendees. I’d hardly ever met another Go player before. A man, about my age, sat down next to me. I remember thinking, “Oh my god, I’m going to have to carry on a two-hour conversation?”
Even for an extrovert, that task seemed daunting, but after chatting about Go, our jobs and hobbies, those two hours flew by in seemingly only seconds.
The 2022 U.S. Go Congress took place in Estes Park, Colorado. Estes Park is a breathtakingly beautiful place with hiking, basketball courts, tennis courts, mini-golf courses, archery, rock-climbing, and much more. It was like a private resort for Go hungry hellions.
The only stressful part of the check-in process was when they tested us for COVID. A positive test meant a quick quarantine and being sent home.
Luckily, I did not test positive.
The sheer talent and experience of the players attending were incredible. Professionals that I’d only previously heard or read about nonchalantly wandered around in Birkenstocks and jeans. In fact, some of the best North American players, amateur and pro, were attending the event.
My “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moment happened when I watched a six-year-old teach one of my friends all the different variations of the 3-3 invasion. She even knew all the trick moves!
Go, Go, and More Go!
Once registration finished, the U.S. Go Congress officially began that Sunday, July 30th. I felt like a middle schooler at summer camp all over again. Every morning we ate breakfast, and then played a round of the U.S. Open. Afterwards, we’d eat lunch before splitting up amongst the various day’s events.
Participants went to the main hall to buy items, books, boards, and other Go related items from the vendors, or had a professional review their game, or attended lectures on various topics.
The evenings were filled with “fun” tournaments like blitz Go, pair Go, or even blind Go. By the end of the week I’d watched live lectures from Ryan Li, I’d had a game reviewed by North American professional Andy Liu, I’d watched Stephanie Yin dismantle ten players (including me) in simultaneous games, I’d played five intense rounds in the U.S. Open, and I’d cheered on my new friend and roommate Harrison Sun as he placed fourth in the U.S. Masters Tournament.
My U.S. Open Experience
One part of the U.S. Go Congress I’d eagerly awaited was the U.S. Open. The U.S. Open is an “open” tournament for all participants at the Congress. There were approximately 240 players ranging from 30 kyu to 6 Dan. Players were paired according to their abilities and moved up and down depending on their win/loss record.
Coming into the tournament, I hadn’t played many “competitive” Go matches. In fact, I’d only played in person a handful of times. So, I was excited to play in the biggest U.S. tournament.
For the first few rounds, I felt like a rambunctious toddler who’d just climbed behind the wheel of a NASCAR stock car.
I don’t know who was more terrified. Me? The toddler, flooring it 100 miles an hour. Or my opponents, forced to play against my wild butchery of general strategy.
Playing in the U.S. Open allowed me to meet new people and learn from each opponent. Each opponent was incredibly respectful and helpful.
The 2022 U.S. Masters Recap
The U.S. Masters tournament is the event for the top amateurs and professionals attending the Congress. Professional participants were Han Han 5P of China, Andy Liu 1P of North America, and Alexander Qi 1P of North America. The tournament also featured top amateur players Alan Huang, Xiaodi Huang, Jeremy Chiu, Zhaonian Chen, Albert Yen, Yongfei Ge, Hugh Zhang, Xinyu Tu, Matthew Burrall, Jeremiah Donley, King Bi, Yixian Zhou, Edward Zhang, James Sedgwick, Eric Yoder, Chris Sagner, and Harrison Sun.
Masters players competed in a separate location than the U.S. Open, and the AGA broadcast the games for Twitch viewers.
The Masters and Open were played at the same time until the Open concluded. Then, the Masters broadcast was projected in the main playing hall on huge screens for players to watch.
It felt like watching a live sporting event. All of us congregated in the hall, playing Go and watching the broadcast. It was especially memorable for me because my roommate Harrison Sun was in the running for a top five finish.
Two matches of note took place between Chinese 5P Han and North American 1P’s Liu and Qi. Liu is the first North American professional, and Qi is the newest North American professional, so viewers were intrigued by the matchups with Han.
Round 5: Han Han 5P ⚪ vs. Alexander Qi 1P ⚫
The round five match up between Qi and Han was a decisive victory for Han, and also the most controversial match of the tournament.
Mid-match Han asked tournament directors to inspect Qi’s glasses, as he suspected AI cheating. The tournament director and Han both inspected the glasses and found no evidence of cheating.
This was an unusual sequence that had the entire Go Congress buzzing with curiosity. Renowned 9P Michael Redmond, during his round six commentary, noted that it was well within Han’s rights to check for cheating if he suspected it might be taking place. Ryan Li, on the other hand, stated during his round seven commentary that it might have been a form of “gamesmanship” to distract the young professional from playing his best Go.
Gamesmanship or not, it was a convincing victory for Han, with white commanding a 90% or higher win-percentage for the last 90 moves.
Move 81 prompted Han to call over the tournament director to inspect Qi’s glasses.
Game recorder Keith Arnold’s running commentary is highly entertaining and included detailed description of the competitors’ clothing, beverage choices, stretching habits, and sneezing techniques. Take a look:
Round 7: Andy Liu 1P ⚪ vs. Han Han 5P ⚫
The round seven matchup between Liu and Han served as the de facto final of the tournament. Liu was 5-1 coming into the round, and Han 6-0. The winner of the match would place first overall in the tournament.
Liu grabbed big points on the board and territory early, before attempting to reduce Han’s potential.
Liu (white) grabs early territory.
Using AI Sensei to analyze the game found that Liu had a 78% win-percentage before moves 106-111 caused his win-percentage to drop from 78% in favor of white to 66% in favor of black. The game ended when Han killed Liu’s eye space in the top right corner, and Liu resigned after move 131.
U.S. Masters Final Results
- Han Han 7-0
- Alan Huang 5-2
- Jeremy Chiu 5-2
- Harrison Sun 5-2
- Andy Liu 5-2
- Zhaonian Chen 4-3
Extra Time to Explore
There was lots of time between Go events, and I took advantage of the opportunity to interview a few people from the community. I interviewed Will Lockhart about his film, “The Surrounding Game,” and Devin Fraze of Baduk Club for articles. Click here for the article on “The Surrounding Game,” and keep an eye out for the article on Baduk Club, coming later this month.
There was an off day planned into the schedule. I started my off-day by taking a cable car ride up Prospect Mountain.
Afterwards, we saw the haunted Stanley Hotel, which is Stephen King’s inspiration behind writing The Shining. Last, I went on a brewery tour with my friends and searched for Go books at the local bookstores before grabbing dinner.
The Highlight of My Trip
The highlight of my trip came when two of my friends and I hiked down to a creek running outside the camp.. We hopped from rock to rock and played a game on a boulder in the middle of the river. It was an incredible memory I’ll cherish for a lifetime.
By the last day, it felt like the 2022 U.S. Go Congress had flown by in a matter of seconds.
The closing ceremony on the last night was truly memorable. Everyone came dressed up and ready to finish the week off in style. There was a Game of Thrones inspired introduction video, followed by awards and acknowledgements, before an auction wrapped up the night.
I went to bed late that night, wishing it would never end. The next morning, as I got up at 5 AM for my shuttle to the Denver International Airport, I felt like I was leaving a long and wonderful dream.
So many times in our lives, we’re caught up in the craziness of everyday life. Moments come and go. Days, weeks, months, even years pass in the blink of an eye. But for one week in Estes Park, everything slowed down. We had fun. We all just played Go. Need I say more?
2023 U.S. Go Congress
According to the American Go Association’s website, the 2023 U.S. Go Congress is being held at Kent State University in Ohio. They’re expecting professionals Yilun Yang, MingJiu Jiang, Hai Li, Guo Juan, Ryan Li, Eric Lui, Chin Shih, Stephanie Yin, and renowned teacher Inseong Hwang to attend.
There are thirteen tournaments currently planned for the 2023 Congress including the U.S. Open, the U.S. Masters, 9×9, 13×13, U.S. Women’s Tournament, Pair Go, Redmond Cup, and more.
I’ll be there, will you?