Thursday, August 04

Martin Stiassny: EGC has reached a new level of development

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Saint Petersburg was chosen as the venue for the 60th anniversary European Go Congress and the president of the European Go Federation, Martin Stiassny, has to get credit for that. He was there supporting his Russian colleagues every step of the way. He shared his opinion about many things, including why it was important to hold the EGC 2016 in Russia which will also host big European go tournaments for the next three years.

- Martin, what is your impression of the EGC 2016? What do you think of the way it was organized? Anything that stands out in particular?

The impression is a very positive one. I received a lot of feedback from the participants, everyone is satisfied with organization, service and its location. It is downtown; historic places, shops, museums – everything is within reach. Our playing hall on the 18th floor is especially impressive; it has such a fantastic view of the whole city – we have never had anything like this before! I would also like to say thanks to some people whose everyday work stays behind the scenes but we can see its results – simultaneous games, game broadcasts, press center, info desk. Everything works smoothly, all of us are satisfied.

And of course the opening ceremony deserves a special mention. I was speechless with amazement when I came on stage. Great food at the banquet, live music, some culture elements – it was all done on a very high level which has set up a new standard for European tournaments. I visited a few similar events in China so I can confidently say that this ceremony was not worse and in some aspects even better than theirs.

- It is no secret that some people were against holding the Congress in Saint Petersburg when this matter was discussed. Do you think they changed their opinion now?

The people who came are sure that those who stayed, missed a lot. I agree with that and I believe that those people who came, even if they were initially against it, have changed their opinion.

- As far as I know you voted for Russia. Do you remember which arguments you used to convince people to hold the Congress in Saint Petersburg?

The key factor was a powerful sponsor like Polymetal. In 2003 we held a Go Congress near Peterhof and that was very far from what we are doing now. The Championship took place on the base of the University and had a rather low budget. Now the Russian Go Federation has the sponsor which is ready to take on organization of an international large-scale event. It was unprecedented in European countries – as you know only Asian Go has some formidable sponsors. Also I did not have any doubts in terms of organization – I’ve been in working cooperation with Natalia Kovaleva (editor: member of the EGF Executive Board) for some years so I am certain of her organizational skills. Besides I’ve been in Russia several times and I know that Saint Petersburg is perfect for holding the EGC. Europeans can enjoy low prices, good service and many things to see in the city. It was very important to hold the Congress in Russia because there are many strong players here - Ilya Shikshin, Alexander Dinerchtein, Elvina Kalsberg and many others who participate in European tournaments and help us to strengthen ties with Russia.

- Every new European Go Congress brings something new both to organization and traditions. Can you list the innovations of this Congress, which can be used further?

Many guests appreciated the transport by shuttle buses between airport and the hotel. It's a high level of service which is desirable to use in the future. But it is first and foremost the matter of finance and we managed to organize the transfer only due to Polymetal Company's support.

We were the first in EGC history to use a new format of on-line commentaries. Usually it is a broadcast to KGS, when a person is sitting and typing. But now we arranged a parallel video broadcast. We tested it at the tournament in February, all went well and now we use it at the Congress.

And, of course, fundamentally new for us was the mobile app where you can quickly see constantly updated information - schedule, news, pairings, results. We'd like to use this experience in the future.

- There was a match with chess GM Alexandr Morozevich within the Congress and it was also a new experience for us. Alexander Georgiev, the world champion on draughts said that it would have been interesting to hold these joint events. Probably, it can also become traditional, because the idea is obviously not bad.

It was really an unusual match for us and this is the direction I support, but I am not sure we can organize the tournaments of this kind. There is the organization of smart games including bridge, go, chess and draughts and probably it would be interesting to include these sports as side events. But finally in the end depends on funds. In order to organize such a tournament you need huge financial support – for some additional rooms, fees for organizers and broadcasters. I’d be glad to support future joint Go/Chess matches if there are any powerful sponsors.

- One of the purposes of the Go Congress was to popularize Go in Russia. Do you suppose the EGC must become a locomotive of Go progress in our country and is this even possible? And what helps people learn about Go and come to us?

- The dynamic increase of new players in Russia is impressive. Behind this success are considerable amount of work carried out by the Russian Go Federation and sponsor support. Even within a year's time before the Congress there were some big city events aimed at attracting massive amounts of people – the Simultaneous game world record, participation in festivals and events for children. Of course such events produce a perfect splash, people get interested in Go. Now we see that Petersburg citizens are very much interested in the Go Congress, mass media publish articles and run TV reports about us. Still Europe is lagging behind Russia in terms of growth but this situation is gradually changing for good because we are conducting a huge amount of work to make new partnerships. We established good connections with China, it allows us to send our strong players to study Go in Beijing.

- DeepMind’s AlphaGo contributed much to recognition and popularization of Go. It does not even matter if we get this program or not. The famous match against Lee Sedol became the best advertisement for us. Now when we come to some school we don’t have to explain to the Head why it is important to teach pupils to play Go. They already know it – because of the history and the scientific research on Go benefits.

The EGF Meeting was held not long ago and it is interesting to know about the important decisions made there.

It started with the voting for our Executive Committee not to be changed every year.

The main issue was the European Go Congress 2017 which is scheduled to be held in Turkey. Before the meeting we conducted a survey asking the EGC participants whether they want to go to Turkey for the EGC 2017. 60% said they would like to change the Congress location.

- Is it due to well-known reasons?

Yes, the latest events in Turkey notably demoralized our people. Now we are faced with the fact that 60% of participants just won’t come to the next Go Congress. People from about 20 countries took part in the meeting. We asked each one to vocalize their opinion and describe how their countrymen react to events in Turkey.

- If it is not a secret, did you vote “for” or “against” holding the EGC 2017 in Turkey?

I placed a “for” vote. Of course I am aware of all the risks. It is not even the case of any incidents happening, the political atmosphere itself has bad influence on people. But the majority of the meeting said they would come to EGC in Turkey and hoped that their compatriots would join them. As a result, we came to the conclusion that we should be ready that there would be less participants then usually. If the average number of participants is about 700-800 people, we predict about 300 people to come for now. Likely the situation will be the same as here in Russia – the major part of participants consists of people who live in the hosting country. Turkey has about 300 Go players, probably half of them will come to the Congress. The rest are European and Asian players.

- When will the final decision on the Turkey matter be made? Are there any other options for hosting the EGC 2017?

The Congress will be held in Turkey. That is decided. Another thing is that all planning is deferred for now, especially the budget planning. The main issue now is if we can manage the budget of the Congress considering the possible number of participants. As I’ve already said there will be considerably less people then because of all these events.

I’d like to add that at this meeting we also have determined the location of the EGC 2019 – it will be held in Belgium, in the center of Brussels. Now we’re already considering two venues. Ukraine was also hoping to be the host of the EGC 2019. It received 21 votes versus 26 votes for Belgium. Meanwhile Ukraine got the right to host two of our other big tournaments – the Women Championship in Odessa in 2017 and the Youth Championship in Kiev in 2018.

- Just a few years ago the countries which would host a Go Congress signed up for 4 years in advance, now we are witnessing a situation in which the location matter is decided with 2-3years perspective at maximum. Why is this the case? Is it possible that now we have less countries eager to host the EGC?

Yes, I have a feeling that this is a growing trend: less countries want to hold the EGC. It might be connected to money matters somewhat – with organization process. To organize an event of this scale is a very challenging task. It takes a lot of experience and professionalism. Generally, the countries which have already hosted the EGC can afford it, though.

Probably there will be some kind of core group formed by several countries which will hold the EGC – Russia, Germany, France, Netherlands, Czech Republic, probably Romania and Italy. So the situation is that we come up to German representatives and say “Let’s have a Go Congress” and they answer: “Yes, we agree, but we don’t have any organizers”. The UK for example had their last Congress in 1993. Despite having 500 players, there are no bids for hosting a Congress from them. Obviously they have no one to deal with it.

As far as can see, the financial matter is primary. Maybe we should somehow stimulate the countries which are taking active part in Go activities, start some fundraising, sponsor search? For example, some German company can give financial support to hosting a Go Congress outside of Germany?

Yes, the financial aspect is vital and we have some opportunities to attract new sponsors. But first of all, we need enthusiastic, talented people who are ready to take charge of the organization of a Go Congress but with no possibility to play there. Now about 100 people are working at the EGC, most of them are strong Go players. They had to make a difficult decision of not taking part in the tournament though they want to very badly. That is why I won’t even be slightly surprised if Russia refuses to wait for 13 years until the next Congress and makes another one in, let’s say, some 8 years. 

By Ekaterina Evchenko. Translaters: Vadim Efimenko, Daria Koshkina