The Finals of the World Championship, 1999

By Ants Soosõrv, 1999 (Translated by Maris Tuvikene)

Talking about the finals I would like to emphasize two matters:
1) It was the most even stuff up to now (the general harmony was only damaged by Ando Meritee by his excessive domination)
2) The domination of Europeans over Asians (read: the Japanese) was just depressingly big.

I would like to hope that the first matter would remain in the future and there would not be another 1991 year, when the interval between the first and the last place was 9.5 points. But this time the interval between the 2nd and the 11th place was only 3 points.
As for the domination of Europeans, then probably this WC was the first and last in this matter, because the offensive of Chinese seems to be really powerful.
Of course, everybody is waiting for the participation of Nakamura in Kyoto WC with excitement. This time we missed him the most. Other great players from earlier world championships like Kawamura, Reims and Ilyin were also absent, but it is doubtful that at this moment they could have competed for the first places.
As we come back to the uncustomary weak performance of Japanese, I'm sorry that there was no totalisator on the tournament. I would have liked to see if anyone would have had the courage to leave the Japanese out of the top there!

Europeans already dominated in the final results of the WC of 1993, but actually Nara led the whole tournament. Up to now not one of the Japanese players had a result under 50% on the World Championships, but this time 3 out of four had that kind of result! Asians collected 12.5 points against Europeans out of 35. And the most successful were first-time participants Hayakawa and Zhang with respectively 4 and 3.5 points. But why am I boasting, every European will soon lose his spirits knowing that on next qualification tournament five chinese players full of theory will be waiting.
Now I would like to analyse the performance of every player separately, coming from the behind to front.

Takashi Sagara
For me he is a living legend of renju. When I as a beginner learned theory after the materials he put together, I for some reason thought that Sagara was a really old player. When I saw him in 1993, it became evident that he was quite strong, but it naturally never decreased the respect for this man. He is not only a famous theorist, but really good in practice. Unfortunately he had lost his job before the tournament and there was some talk about other problems in his life. Although here and there it was possible to feel the power of the last WC in his game, he made too much mistakes and was too inexact. Until now on world championships 3 points have guaranteed at least 10th or 11th place, but in such equal competition as in Beijing, Sagara couldn't escape from the last place. I would really like to hope that he would succeed to prepare himself well for the WC in Kyoto and show his real capabilities.

Pavel Makarov
If someone would have bet two years ago that Pavel Makarov would play in Beijing WC finals, I would have lost my money, because for me the forthcoming of Pavel was rather unexpected. But I have to admit he has done a jump in his development. Belonging to the group of average players in Moscow for years, he was able to break into the group of Russia's leading players this spring and he also didn't get beaten on the WC at all. Probably this kind of course of things was rather unexpected for him also and he needs time to get additional self-confidence. He began the finals very well, with 2 points out of 3 (he subdued Hasegawa and Kozhin), but in the end he fell quietly but surely to the back of the chart. We will see of Pavel can squeeze himself into Russia's association for Kyoto WC. In any case good luck to him!

Norio Nishizono
I had the opportunity to meet this open and friendly person for the first time in Beijing. I analysed the games of the qualification tournament with him and became assured that I was dealing with a very strong renjuplayer. Unfortunately his treatment of openings next to the rational acting of Europeans was a little bit feeble. Obviously he couldn't prepare for the tournament really seriously. Maybe he wasn't used to playing against strong Europeans. Norio and Stefan recalled how they met in Stockholm a long time ago. Stefan was a beginner at that time and when they asked Norio what rank Stefan should be given, he answered, "Three kyu!". But this time Norio had to go through a lot of trouble to play out a draw against mature Karlsson.
I hear that also Nakamura values Nishizono highly and considers him a worthy competitor. Hopefully he can come to Europe more often in the future, because I think that renjuplayers here know him relatively little (as they unfortunately know a lot of famous Japanese players).

Zhang Jin Yu
Several participants in the finals thought or at least hoped that the Chinese player is not a serious competitor on this WC and that he quite surely would get the last place. True, his start didn't succeed in the best way; after he did not realise his good position against Sagara (the game ended with draw), he lost to Karlsson, Hasegawa, Nishizono and Kozhin. But a powerful series followed - a successful trap against Sinyov, a draw against Ando himself and in addition wins against Makarov and Sushkov. So two rounds before the end Zhang shared places 6.-8., contending for the top seven. At the last round but one he didn't succeed in finding a right plan against me, but a win against Hayakawa in the last round would have still given him the 7th place. But Hayakawa struggled out a draw.
Zhang is surely a very talented player. Considering his little experience on international tournaments (true, on the Internet he beats me constantly) his performance was just wonderful. Unfortunately he can't dedicate much time to renju due to his tense job. That might be the only reason that doesn't allow him to achieve medals on title tournaments.

Yoshimi Hayakawa
Hayakawa was a player whose performance on the WC was a little confuding for me. He was able to subdue the owners of the 1st, the 3rd and the 5th places, but at the same time he played several games quickly and badly. I think the main reason why Ando, Stefan and I lost to Hayakawa, was a certain underestimation of the opponent and insufficient concentration. Such experienced player as Yoshimi took advantage of this quickly. Experience is his main weapon, it would be quite funny to imagine him sitting somewhere for hours and preparing carefully like European players. At the same time I sense that he's an uncomfortable opponent for me and I wouldn't like to meet him on the second table on team championship.

Vladimir Sushkov
The youngest participant of the tournament (he was followed by Meritee, Zhang and Karlsson in this respect, but generally there was the oldest staff of all times in the finals). Sushkov, like Makarov, has sprung up only last year, but unlike Pavel, his forthcoming has been expected for a long time. After all, he is a talented, hard-working and persistent young man. If financial possibilities allow it, then I think that Sushkov could play in WC finals for several times.
Vladmimir began the tournament rather unsuccessfully. In the first round he accepted a draw from Stefan Karlsson at the moment when he himself had a VCF with two moves. After that he continued insecurely, getting his first win into the tournament table only in the seventh round after three draws and 3 losses. True, out of the top six players Vladimir played with five in the first six rounds. In the final phase of the tournament he received only one loss (from Zhang) and when Hayakawa and Zhang made a draw in the last round it appeared that a draw with Sagara would be enough for Sushkov to achieve the seventh place.

Mihail Kozhin
I had this kind of feeling before the tournament that Misha would finally get a medal this time. Several other people also thought that he had got rid of fetters and could at last realise his skills on a big tournament. Unfortunately, Misha's start failed completely. Probably the unlucky loss to Igor Sinyov in the first round is to be blamed for that. Namely, there was a rule at this WC that if a player touches the board with a stone, even if he hasn't released it, the move is considered done. It's clear that a lot of players, including Misha, weren't used to this rule and so he couldn't close Sinyov's threat...
Kozhin didn't have any time to recover either, because in the next round his opponent was Meritee. As in St.Petersburg, Misha couldn't show any serious resistance. And because in the third round followed a loss to Makarov and in the fourth a draw with Sushkov, his chances to get medal became blurred. Still, everything wasn't lost yet - onwards Misha won 5 games out of six, but lost a crucial game to Stefan. Nevertheless he had foggy chances for medal before the last round. Of course, he had to beat me and hope that Makarov would subdue Karlsson and Meritee would do the same with Hasegawa. Unfortunately the first two games ended with a contrary result and so the multiple Russian champion had to accept the sixth place. After our game I wanted to comfort Misha and told him that he would take a medal in Kyoto after two years. But Misha sadly shook his head and said the he couldn't even dream of going to Japan, because he would be paying his debts of the China-trip at that time. Of course it's too bad if a player like this stays aside of the next WC due to the lack of money.

Ants Soosõrv
I think I was quite ready for the WC what concerns the games. At least better than in finals up to now. But the physical side let me down. I couldn't play one game (with Makarov) at all due to illness. And so after 8 rounds I shared the last place with Takashi Sagara. But onwards I had a lot of luck - my opponents played insecurely one after another, letting me rise to the brilliant fifth place after three last rounds.

Kazuto Hasegawa
Lets recall Hasegawa's places on world championships:
1989 - 4th
1991 - 5th
1993 - 5th
1995 - didn't play in the finals, 5th on BT
1997 - 1st
1999 - 4th
If we leave out the title of the world champion in St.Petersburg, then everything seems to be in order. he got a customary place. But the win in 1997 put a heavy burden of being the favourite on Hasegawa's shoulders. Let Kazuto forgive me if I'm wrong, but it seems that the role of the leader doesn't suit him. Of course, he is an excellent player and up until last moment Hasegawa had realistic chances to get medal. But this time he lacked of a good sustaining variant variant. D11, which helped Kazuto to be world champion last time, didn't suffice this time, because he let himself to be surprised too much in other openings. Ando just crushed Hasegawa's position with black in D3, Stefan found a good trap also with black in I5. Kozhin and I with white endured Kazuto's pressure and later on won respectively in D5 and D10.
By the way, when Ando Meritee asked Takashi Sagara before the tournament about his opinion on the chances of the Japanese on this WC, then Sagara answered that the Japanese team was weak this year. But when I investigated Takashi's prognosis regarding the top three, he answered Meritee, Hasegawa, Soosõrv (the latter naturally because of the Japanese politeness for the one who asked the question), which shows that he did believe in Hasegawa. Kazuto with his 36 years belongs to the group of "young players" in Japan, but if he lives to be as old as Shoseki Honda, he will have time to play on 28 WCs in the future.

Stefan Karlsson
The third place - Hurrah! My friend! Finally a great success thanks to persistent work. I would like to hope that Stefan owes a part of that success to his Estonian girlfriend Irene (like greedy Estonians would have little success of their own, they want to grab some of the others' too :-) ). As it suits the true fighter the success came in a very difficult way. Exactly like two years ago, Stefan guaranteed his place in the finals thanks to a win in the last round on the qualification tournament. The beginning of the finals didn't predict a super-success either - with luck draw with Sushkov, a win over a presumable outsider Zhang and loss to Hayakawa. But onwards Stefan succeeded in subduing Sagara, Soosõrv and Hasegawa. After Nishizono's weak opening-treatment he had good chances to win, but he probably didn't have enough strength at the moment and the game calmed down to a draw. But at that moment Stefan was on the 2nd place and after subduing Kozhin, Ando had only a lead of half point over him. In a crucial game with Sinyov he didn't succeed, Sinyov won and Stefan fell to the third place. He was obviously too tired to think out something new and so he received another loss in his game with Ando. Before the game with Makarov in the last round Karlsson still had chances for the second and third place. Because he was ill at the time of playing, he had to swallow 3 pills of pain killers and after that win Makarov. It didn't give him more than the third place, but in conclusion it was a brilliant success. Stefan's places on WCs until now:
1993 - 10th
1995 - 11th
1997 - 10th
1999 - 3rd

Igor Sinyov
He has got into the finals twice before - in 1991 he performed completely his abilities, being 11th and in 1997 he was 9th. Igor cannot show special results from recent times either - 10th place in European Championship in 1998, 7th place in Russian Championship and 5th place in Russian Qualification to WC. Sinyov could play on WC Qualification Tournament thanks to the fact that Bobkov and Peskov gave up their places in Russia's association. He didn't shine on the qualification tournament either - a draw with Li Shih-Wen, a loss to Sushkov, a quick draw with Kozhin in the last but one round (he, Misha, look what kind of snake you let into finals :-) ) and also a quick draw with Makarov in the last round. With the proceeding I don't want to claim that Igor would be a relatively weak player for WC finals. Not at all. He is a player that belongs to the absolute top of the world without no doubt, and mainly fails because of psychological reasons. So in my opinion Igor's second place was well deserved.
Coming back to the qualification-sieve of getting into WC, I would like to say that RIF's innovation, thanks to what 20 players with the highest rating in the world can play on qualification tournament in any case, is very fair. (It is clear that even a top player in the world has more trouble getting into the associations of Japan and Russia than for example the association of Estonia. If the Soviet Union hadn't fallen to pieces, then maybe I would have been limited to play only on B tournament of WC).
Sinyov began the tournament with an undeserved point against Kozhin. In the second round he was able to keep the initiative against me for almost the whole game and take half point. In his game with Ando, Igor decided to play a variant that was announced trustworthy by the theorists of the magazine "Moscow Almanac", but which unfortunately loses in a forced way. Igor didn't let himself to be bothered by the momentary failure and subdued Makarov and Sushkov quickly and elegantly.
After a painful loss to Zhang Jin Yu (Sinyov couldn't recall a forced win) Igor continued with wins over Hayakawa and Sagara at first and after that he succeeded in subduing his main rival Karlsson. A loss to Hasegawa in the last but one round didn't in essence change anything, in the last game with Nishizono a draw would have been enough for Sinyov in case that Zhang wouldn't beat Hayakawa. In case of Zhang's win Stefan's coefficient would have been higher than Igor's. But Hayakawa struggled out a draw and so it happened that Sinyov got the best place out of "common people".

Ando Meritee
Sinyov said a very beautiful thing after Ando's loss to Hayakawa, "if he, the Great One was mistaken, then we common people can do what we want (behind a renju board)".
Ando was the main favourite of the competition with no doubt. I think the lead of 2.5 points over the others reflects the real difference between levels quite accurately. Ando was clearly better than the other players in the finals as for the capability to read the variants and]for the theoretical preparation. And finally he had achieved the psychological and tactical maturity. There were no more of those silly games like with Kawamura (1995) and Nara (1997), where Ando played doubtful positions without inspecting them decently and it appeared that the opponents knew how to win. If there could be a doubt about the other players deserving their places then in Ando's case it definitely won't appear.
True, he had a little moment of weakness. After losing to Hayakawa in the 8th round Ando had difficulties in his next game against Sagara. I might be wrong but I think that subconciously Ando's thoughts headed for next games with Karlsson and Hasegawa. Still I'm sure that even if Meritee had lost to Sagara, it would have not changed anything. Ando prepared himself against both Stefan and Kazuto until three o'clock at night (although the game Meritee-Hasegawa was a matter of honor + rating to Ando, he already had the first place). By the way in mini-match Asia-Europe, Meritee was only the third man with 3.5 points concerning the usefulness. (The first was Misha Kozhin who won all five games with Asians, at the same time gathering only 0.5 point against Europeans. So we could say that his own "brothers" killed Misha.) But I'm sure that the matter of him giving his points to Asians was just a coincidence.
Right now renjuplayers are more interested in the question about who is stronger, Nakamura or Meritee. Nakamura achieved his wins on WCs at the time when the competition was thinner. But speculations on this matter can only be ended by a game between them.

So, the next WC will be held in 2001 in Kyoto. Those, who have the places in the finals, are:
Ando Meritee (Estonia)
3 players from Russia
1 player from Japan
1 player from Sweden
1 player from Estonia