The History of Go in Russia, 2003

Published under the permission of the author – Alexey Lazarev. About the author: Alexey Lazarev is 11-time Russian champion, 2-time European champion.

Perhaps, the first literary mentioning about Go in Russia appeared in the beginning of the XX-th century (1902 – Encyclopaedia edited by F. Brockhaus and I. Efron). Go was named “oblavnie shashki” (battue draughts) then. In 1914 an unknown author published a brochure with the game rules description. From that time and until the early sixties nobody noticed any significant mentions about Go activity in Russia.

In 1962 Postnikov M.M. – a Russian Academician and some others mathematicians from Moscow published an article about Go in the journal “Yuniy technik” (“Young technician” in English). This journal was extremely popular among senior schoolchildren. However we can state that the real birth of Go in Russia happened in 1965. At that very time a Go enthusiast Youriy Filatov created the first Go club in Leningrad (the old name of Saint-Petersburg). The Go club was under patronage of the Central Leningrad Chess Club. There were quite favorable conditions for Go promotion then. A year later the number of Go circles and Go clubs in Leningrad increased immensely. Many big Go tournaments were organized. Few hundreds of participants took part in some of them. The results of Go activities were so great that it made impossible for local authorities to ignore it. In 1968 Leningrad Sport Committee even planned to support some of Go events.

Unfortunately, because of some circumstances, Youri Filatov had to stop his activities in Go promotion. The Go movement did not manage to find an equally talented person to replace the previous ideological leader. The consequence was that the Go society was disintegrated. However a few persistent followers of their teacher stayed there. They set a goal to improve their playing skills first. They believed that this step is a necessary one to attract more admirers of this ancient game.

In 1975 Filatov’s disciples Valery Astashkin and George Nilov published a series of articles about Go in twelve issues of a very popular journal “Nauka i Zhizn” (“Science and Life” in English). This turned out to be a crucial moment in the history of Russian Go. There was also a contest for the best results in solving Go problems among the readers. More than 2500 people from very different parts of the Soviet Union took part in it. As a result of this Go activity more than 85 Go clubs were founded in about 30 cities of the country. This activity was the most valuable and massive action for Go popularization in Russia ever since.

In 1976-1979 Go life in the Soviet Union was quite eventful. A great number of Go enthusiasts were ready to study the game. Just at that very time the biggest Go clubs that played a great role on the Russian Go scene were founded:

  • Leningrad Go Club (the leader – Valery Astashkin);
  • Moscow Go Club (the leader – Tizik A.);
  • Kazan Go Club (the leader – Alexey Vasiliev);
  • Petrozavodsk Go Club (the leader – Vladimir Kouznetsov).

Significant Go tournaments were held in Leningrad, Kazan, Sochi and Moscow. In 1977 the first tournament for the title of the strongest Go player of the Soviet Union was held. This competition can be considered as the first unofficial championship of the Soviet Union. The winner was Valery Astashkin. The level of his Go strength was about 3 dan then. The same year Valery Astashkin made his first appearance at the European Go Championship.  He took the 6th place. It was the first international Go tournament with a Russian participant.

In 1980 Go lovers decided to create a Go organization that could co-ordinate all Go activities in the Soviet Union. Valery Astashkin, Pavel Ignatiev and Vladimir Pushihin were at the head of the organization. They made an attempt to arrange the management on the professional basis. The headquarters of the organization located at the Youth Palace in Leningrad. Go activities in the Soviet Union at this period reached the highest level.

Some of Japanese organizations and companies provided a great support for Go promotion in the Soviet Union during 1974 – 1990.

From 1979 till 1990 the Japanese touristic company “Nippon Express” organized visits of 12 touristic groups to the Soviet Union. Every touristic group consisted of strong amateur players from Japan. Besides, a couple of professional Go players from Nihon Ki-in joined them. Maki Shimoda (6 dan amateur player), Masayuki Tsutsui (6 dan amateur player) and the agent of Nippon Express Yasuhiro Koiso contributed a lot to arrival of these touristic groups. The atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding during these Go meetings will be forever remembered by Russian Go veterans. Maki Shimoda and Masayuki Tsutsui were much “undisciplined” tourists among the others in the group. They often refused to visit any excursions and concerts. They just played Go all day long. Maki Shimoda had a great will to raise the level of understanding of the ancient oriental game in the Soviet Union. Each visit he brought big boxes with Go sets and literature. Nowadays Maki Shimoda is the honored member of the Russian Go Federation.

Japanese professional Go Associations (Nihon Kiin, Kansai Kiin) sent Go delegations to the Soviet Union quite often too. Even the famous professional Go players – Hashimoto Shoji (9 dan) and Koyama Yasuo (9 dan) conducted Go lessons in our country.

The efforts of Russian Go enthusiasts and mentioned circumstances resulted in the second crucial point in the history Go in Russia. The Russian Circle of Go was founded in 1985 under the supervision of the Sports Committee of the Russian Federation. It was the first Go organization that was recognized by authorities. Baturenko V. was elected the President of the Russian Go Circle. For the first time Russian Go lovers got the state support. The official Russian Go Championships have held regularly since this year. In 1985 Ivan Detkov (6 dan) won the first title of the Russian Go Champion. Due to the fact that Go activity was recognized by authorities the Russian Team could take part in the European and World Go Championships ( in the days of the Soviet Union it was extremely difficult to go abroad). In 1986 the representative of the Russian Go Federation Ivan Detkov took part for the first time in World Amateur Go Championship and took the 16th place. The same year the first official Russian Go team for the European Go Championship (Budapest, Hungary) was formed. Go players Vasily Erohin (5 dan), Alexey Lazarev (6 dan), George Nilov (6 dan) and Alexandre Popov (5 dan) were the members of that team. The final results of the European Championship were not bright for Russian participants though. The best player among the team-mates was Alexey Lazarev who took the 6th place.

Favorable conditions resulted in general rise of Go skill of Russian Go players. The first failures on the international scene gave them a reason to accept the challenge. Deep comprehension and hard work led to new achievements. In 1987 Alexey Lazarev won the second place in European Go Championship (Grenoble, France). In 1988 the Russian team (Victor Bogdanov, Alexey Lazarev, George Nilov, Valery Solovyev) won the first place in the European Team Go Championship. A group of the strongest Russian players were very successful on the European Go stage in the end of eighties and in the early nineties (Victor Bogdanov, Ivan Detkov, Alexey Lazarev, Valery Solovyev, Roustam Sahabutdinov).

In 1985 – 1989 the periodical Russian Go magazines Moscow Go magazine “Obozrenie Go” (“Go review” in English) and bulletin of the Russian Circle of Go “Go-club USSR” were published for the first time (edited by Andrey Khmyrov, Andrey Gomeniuk, Alexandre Popov). At that time these authors also published a number of articles about Go in “Science and Life” journal which was mentioned above.

A unique Go tournament devoted to the Day of Osaka in Leningrad (Osaka is a twin-city of Leningrad) was held in Leningrad in 1989. There were only four participants:  9 dan professional Go players from Japan – Hashimoto Shoji and Koyama Yasuo – as well as Russian Go players Alexey Lazarev and George Nilov. The tournament was very unusual because professionals played against amateurs on even terms. The chief organizer Valery Astashkin managed to hold this tournament on a very high level.

In 1990 the USSR Go Federation was founded. Valery Astashkin was elected the President of the Go Federation of USSR. In 1991 the Go Federation of USSR was reorganized in the Russian Go Federation because of disintegration of the Soviet Union.

A lot of Go activities in Russia are closely connected with the name of Alexey Vasiliev who became by the President of Russian Go Federation in 1992. He was a permanent President of Kazan Go Club since the day of its foundation. Alexey Vasiliev was a talented organizer. He conducted the first large international Go tournaments in Russia.

It was Alexey Vasiliev who suggested the idea of holding Go tournaments during touristic ship cruises. He managed to turn his plans into reality. Every year from 1989 till 1993 Alexey Vasiliev organized Go cruises on the Volga. A famous professional Go player from China Ma Xiaochun (9 dan) was an honorary guest at the cruise Go tournament in 1991.

In 1992 Alexey Vasiliev organized a Go tournament with prizes sponsored by the Korean Baduk Association. The tournament was held in Moscow at hotel complex “Izmailovo” (it is one of the biggest hotel complexes in Russia). A great number of Go lovers took part in it. The prize fund and conditions of accommodation were extraordinary and could not be compared with any previous Russian Go tournaments. To a great extent this tournament was held thanks to personal support of professional Baduk players from Korea Kim In (9 dan) and Chun Sam Jho (7 dan). Russian Go fans remember Go lessons given by a strong Korean amateur player Lee Hyuk (7 dan).

I would like to tell some words about Valery Kotchetov. He was the Executive Director of the Russian Go Federation and devoted all his energy to settle organization matters connected with Go tournaments. Valery Kotchetov and Alexey Vasiliev were brothers-in-arms. Unfortunately, Alexey Vasiliev and Valery Kotchetov died prematurely. They did not have enough time to convert all their plans into reality. The memory of them will be in our hearts forever.

In the early nineties the strongest Russian Go players succeeded in European Go tournaments. Alexey Lazarev became the European Go Champion in 1991 and 1992. Russian Go teams won the European Team Go Championship in 1990 and 1992. The top Russian Go players were qualified to represent the European continent in some prestige professional international Go tournaments: the World Go Championship – The Fujitsu Cup  (1991 – Victor Bogdanov, 1992 and 1993 – Alexey Lazarev) and  the World Baduk Championship – the Tong Yang Securities Cup  (1994 – Alexey Lazarev).

A unique event of the Go world stage took place in Russia in 1993. The top Korean professional Baduk players Cho Hun Hyun and Lee Chang Ho played a professional title game in our country. They played the game on the board of a ship during a cruise Saint-Petersburg – Petrozavodsk – Moscow.

During the Election Conference of the Russian Go Federation in 1994 Valery Solovyev was elected the President of the Russian Go Federation. The most important directions of activity of the Russian Go Federation at that time were children’s Go support and the restoration of cooperation with official sport authorities. It is important to mention that in the period 1985 – 1989 the Sport Committee of Russia significantly supported the activities of the Russian Go Federation. Unfortunately, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was stopped.

In 1995 Go was included in the official sports list that could be  recommended for placing in the state educational plans of physical education and which are advisable for promotion in the Russian Federation (The Decree of the State Sport Committee of the Russian Federation  N 116, 03.05.1995). In December 1995 the State Sport Committee and the Russian Go Federation signed a treaty of cooperation in the field of spreading Go in Russia. The consequence was that in 1996, after a long break, the state Sport Committee financed the Russian Children Go Championship. It was an event of great importance.

In 1996 the qualification system of the Russian Go Federation was brought in correspondence with the common standards of the state sports qualification system (The Decree of the State Sport Committee of the Russian Federation N 108, 29.03.1996). It became possible to achieve sport ranks “Grandmaster of Russia”, “Sports Master of Russia”. In 1997 Victor Bogdanov, Alexey Lazarev, Andrey Gomeniuk and Roustam Sahabutdinov were awarded by Grandmaster rank.

In the early nineties a group of Go lovers started to teach children Go on a professional basis. A serious training approach resulted in excellent outcome some years later.

A Go veteran from Kazan – Valery Shikshin achieved the most significant results in training children. In 2002 the Korean Baduk Association honored his students Alexandre Dinerchtein and Svetlana Shikshina by the first professional dan. His another young student Andrey Koulkov won the European Go Championship in 2001. Valery Shikshin received the title “Honored trainer of Russia” for the excellent achievements of his students.

Students of children Go trainer Evgeny Paniukov from Chelyabinsk won the Youth Go Championships of Russia as well as the European Youth Go Championships. In spite of their young age they even succeeded to win the Russian Women Go Championship.

Evgeny Paniukov’s editorial work greatly pushed forward the Russian Go movement. Since 1993 to 2008 he has been editing a regular Go journal “Go game in Russia” – the official bulletin of the Russian Go Federation. He was in charge of the rating system of the Russian Go Federation as well.

During 1997 – 2002 Sergey Uspensky was the President of the Russian GO Federation. Being an enthusiast and a great lover of the ancient game at the bottom of his heart, he exerted all his powers and assigned large sums for popularization of Go in Russia. The serial Tournaments “Uspensky Sobor”, organized by Sergey Uspensky, were unforgettable events for all Go fans.

Chun Sam Jho, a professional Baduk player from Korea, have always given his invaluable assistance for Go movement in Russia. In 1997 he invited young Russian Go players Alexandre Dinerchtein and Svetlana Shikshina to Korea and organized Baduk studies for them there. Five years later the dream of Russian Go lovers of having Russian Go professionals came true. In 2002 the Korean Baduk Association honored Alexandre Dinerchtein and Svetlana Shikshina with the first professional dan.

In 1998 the negotiations about Baduk support in Russia between Chun Sam Jho and the representatives of the Korean company LG led to success. LG company decided to support a number of Baduk tournaments in Russia and Ukraine. These tournaments were called “LG Grand-Prix of the Commonwealth of Independent States”. The system was similar to the Grand-Prix system of Go tournaments in Europe but the total prize fund was larger (10000 $). The Russian Go Federation and LG signed a treaty about cooperation. Besides supporting of the Grand-Prix system, it was planned to grant the best children trainers and to support participation of young Go players in the tournaments.

In 1999 the Grand-Prix system was changed. In 1999 – 2001 LG company sponsored the annual Baduk tournament “LG Cup” in Moscow. It was a four days Baduk festival. Every participant of the event got free hotel accommodation and a partial compensation of traveling expenses. Go fans from the countries of the former USSR had a chance to meet together. There were some hundreds of participants at this Baduk forum every year.

The Honored member of the Russian Go Federation Takechi Harumi is one of the good friends of Russian Go fans. Living in Japan but she managed to take part in a many Russian Go tournaments. Takechi Harumi is aware about the situation on the Russian Go scene. She made a valuable contribution to our Go movement. Due to Takechi Harumi the project of the annual Russian Go Congresses was realized. The first Russian Go Congress was organized in 1998. The Japanese company “Konishi” was a permanent sponsor of the Russian Go Congresses for many years.    Send article as PDF