Short History of Go in Alberta

Chuck Elliott,  June 2008

There are only 2 main Go centres in Alberta. They are of course Calgary and Edmonton. In Edmonton, the first Go club was established at the University of Alberta while I was a physics graduate student. I’m sure I spent more time playing more Go than studying physics. It was necessary because Go is much more difficult than physics. ( I am not speaking just of the rules of course).

The Japanese not only sent us gifts of Go sets and 400 introductory books but sent us delegations of professionals, the first of which consisted of Ichigen Okubo, 9d, Yoshiaki Nagahara, 4d and Stuart Dowsey, the interpreter. This was a great time. This was about 1970.

My friend, Professor Jim Fisher in mathematics moved to the Lethbridge area to farm and so GO flourished there to a small degree. There were many visits back and forth.

The GO group in Calgary was unstable until more recently. The reason for this was the federal NEP policy which devasted the oil industry in the 80’s and because many key people in that club were scattered and lost their jobs the Calgary Go Club declined. The people I remember most were Dennis Bierstedt, Roy MacBeath and a fellow Gary Wolf.

In Edmonton, we outgrew the University. We liked the free rent but not the restrictions and summer disruptions so we moved out. This of course meant we had to start charging meaningful fees to cover expenses. This was a good thing because it taught us to make good business decisions and treat our customers (GO players) well.

In 1984 we hosted the CGA national tournament in Edmonton. We went all out and hosted it at the Shaw Centre, which is the equivalent of the Toronto Convention Centre. For a little Go club this was a stretch and opinions on our sanity were divided. There was a professional from Japan (Kawamura, 6d). It was a great success. At that time we were greatly opposed to a Swiss McMahon style because of the tie possibility and the objection to SOS as a tie breaker. There was much opposition from other parts of the country so we compromised by using the Swiss M. format to select the top 4 and then we held a semi final round and a single playoff which everyone could watch. I believe June Ki Beck from Toronto defeated Song from Toronto in that final.

In those days, we had a mixture of players including Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Canadian. Today the picture has strangely changed.

Many years ago, maybe 10 or more we moved our meeting place to the EJCA where we are today. This is the Edmonton Japanese Cultural Association. So you would think we would have many Japanese players, right? Not so, not even one today. We are welcomed there because GO is important in Japanese culture and any promotion is important. Our relation is excellent.

Several years ago, the Calgary Go Club revived led by a group of strong Chinese players and a dedicated group of Canadians who were considerably weaker in playing strength but not in leadership. Today that club is well organized and teaches regular classes to beginners. It parallels the revival of the oil patch which is probably not coincidental. The Chinese leader is Liang Yu, 5d and Steve Leung and Vincent Van Der Ploeg lead the new comers. Two years ago Liang proposed an annual team match. Of course we accepted. We were then defeated in our home city. This year we sent a stronger team to Calgary and we lost again. It didn’t help that one of their former players Wei (Tiger) Cheng, 6d moved to Edmonton and played for our team this year. We still lost. This is great fun and provides challenge for our players.

Last year we started a beginner program, targeting kids and we used a separate church location on Saturday afternoons. It was good. We learned a lot. It will start up again next September. As I get older I enjoy teaching beginners more rather than taxing my remaining brain cells.

The president of the Edmonton Korean Go Association contacted me a week ago. They want to begin a Go club in their Korean Association building in the downtown location (bordering on China town). They represent several thousand Koreans and of course many Go players. This will further the growth of Go in Edmonton considerably. Watch for this club to appear on the CGA club list shortly.

As the younger Go players take over, we hope they keep their focus and watch the big picture, not get caught up in the local struggles. If you come to Edmonton look me up. I may be down at the Korean Go Association teaching kids about Go.

June, 2008