A brief history of go in Belgium
History of Go in Belgium
Origin & pre-history of the Belgian Go
Nobody can lay claim to having first introduced the game in Belgium. We know that there were some players in the 60's.
Some contact addresses already existed in the late 70's (it can be found in some books), and we know a club was founded in Liège, but we have no further information.
The first confirmed club has been located since 1980 in Brussels at the café "Le Greenwich". It was more a cafe than a real club where a dozen players used to meet to play go. No official infrastructure as such, but rather an environment where players could benefit from the help of a few strong Asian players. These pioneers were part of two different groups, each of them having its master, M. Nanto (5-dan) on the one hand and M. Tchang (3-dan) on the other hand.
This was the so-called "romantic players" period: most of them were musicians, writers, great travellers, philosophers, ... There were no or little scientists, physicists, mathematicians. These were to come later. All of these "romantic players" disappeared quickly from the go scene, most of them after 2 - 3 years.
The official birth of Go in Belgium dates back to October 1981, when the Belgian Go Federation was founded with about 15 members. Its first president and the driving force behind it was Michel Gilbert.
However, this did not have any direct positive effects on a practical level. At the contrary: during 1983, the only Belgian club "Greenwich" was slowly dying due to the disappearance of the "romantic players", threatening the existence of any organized go life in our country !
In 1984 Michel Gilbert decided to start the first official club in a very famous place near Brussels, Waterloo. This turned out to be the best thing ever for Belgian Go. This club, the only one in Belgium, grew rapidly successful: 20 players, mostly young students, went regularly, initiated by two young players who had discovered the "Greenwich" just before it disappeared: Marc Ginoux and Jean-Denis Hennebert.
At that time, Michel Gilbert as 2-kyu (!) was by far the strongest Belgian player. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to have met M. Tsuda, a Japanese sho-dan, who was kind enough to play teaching games, nearly always with 9 stones handicap, week after week, till he had to return home in 1986. The Belgian players are very indebted to him, as he could be seen as our 1st sensei of Belgian Go.
Three months later, two other (university) clubs were founded, one in Brussels (ULB) by Jean-Denis Hennebert, and one in Louvain-la-Neuve by Pierre Sevenants.
1985 was really an auspicious year for the Belgian go:
The year 1986 saw the birth of two new clubs beside the existing trio, thanks to the efforts of the editor of Belgo, Joël Saucin. Both Le Palais du Midi and Bruxelles-AEZ (AEZ = Ministery of Economy) were located in Brussels.
It was high time to set up the first interclub competition, which was won overwhelmingly by Waterloo.
The second edition of the Belgian Championship saw the triumph of a young player who had just learned to play just some months before: Vincent Lemaître (then 4-kyu). He won this title four times in seven editions before stopping playing competitive go. Up till now, his progression in 1985, from learning the rules to 4-kyu in 10 months, is still one of the fastest ones in Belgium (without the help of Internet at that time !).
1987 was a calmer year during which the number of members increased slowly but regularly, unfortunately only in the French-speaking part of Belgium (end 1987, there was only one Flemish member !). Belgian players began to play tournaments abroad, with a very favourable winning percentage. Numerous promotions followed.
End 1987, there were about 45 members. Best players were then Marc Ginoux and Alain Wettach (both 1-kyu).
In 1988, Ron Polak, a 4-d Dutch player came regularly to Belgium to set up a series of lectures and simultaneous games to raise the level of play. He can be considered as our 2nd sensei. He was successful: some weeks later, we had the pleasure to greet the emergence of our first local sho-dan, Marc Ginoux.
Moreover, Go began to flourish also in Flanders thanks to the impulse of Frank Segers who founded a club in the old University town of Leuven.
1989 was a less favourable year. The university club in Brussels had to close because its driving force was no longer made up of students. A worse blow was the retreat of Michel Gilbert, the founder of the BGF. This initiated a period of uncertainty and of managerial troubles. As a result, for the first time, the total membership (60) did not grow and the publication of "Belgo" was suspended from September 1988 to October 1989.
The BGF totally recovered the following year under the dynamic guidance of Pierre Sevenants, the new President of the BGA. That year, the administration council mainly concentrated on the organization of the European Go Congress, a very heavy task for such a small country as far as Go is concerned !
For a few months, the best Belgian players could benefit from the help of a strong Korean player, M. Dong Wook Lee (4-dan), who kindly invited them home once a week to play teaching games.
In October 1990, the Brussels tournament became the first important tournament in the history of European Go won by a female player, namely Guo Juan, ex-Chinese professional player, for whom Brussels was the first tournament since she had left professional play.
1991 was a crucial year for Belgian Go as our country had the great honour and heavy responsibility to organize the European Congress. It took place in Namur and attracted 220 people. The Chinese Zhang Shutai 7-dan emerged as Open European Champion and the Russian Alexei Lazarev 6-dan (who ended 2nd behind Zhang) as European champion (as best European).
A club was founded in the second town of Belgium: Antwerpen and that a 3rd Belgian tournament (beside the Championship of Belgium and the Brussels tournament) was set up by the club of Leuven (the first tournament organised by a club and not by the BGF).
1992 was the right year for establishing the balance sheet of the European Go Congress. Among the positive results: we were able to buy enough go boards, sets of stones and clocks to equip all 5 Belgian clubs. We also printed 5000 pamphlets in both national languages (French and Dutch). The disappointing side was that the Congress did not bring us many new contacts despite the big press campaign that accompanied the Congress (at least one article was published in every important Belgian newspaper and the president of BGF was interviewed in the TV news on the RTBF (the French national TV channel).
The most important events in 1993 were various visits made by well-known professionals: Nagahara-sensei (6-p), author of some famous go best-sellers; later on, five (!) professionals among three of high rank: Kano (9-p), Abe (9-p) and Ms. Sugiuchi (8-p, the highest-ranked woman pro in Japan) and finally the Chinese Master Jiang Ming-jiu (7-p)
1993 also saw a revival of the interclub competition, seven years after the first edition (winner among the 4 participating clubs was Brussels - Pantin). Last but not least, a 4th Belgian tournament, organised by the club of Louvain-la-Neuve, was born.
The club of Liège was founded by Vincent Croisier and the club in Ghent by Dieter Verhofstadt and Stefan Verstraeten.
Another fact worth mentioning: the first victory by a Belgian player in an international tournament: Jan Bogaerts (then 1-dan) won the tournament of Tilburg despite opposition of two Dutch 3-dan and six 2-dan.
After five years (1990-1994) of doing a terrific job (in particular organizing the European Go Congress in Namur in 1991), president Pierre Sevenants decided to resign because of other personal commitments. During his brilliant presidency, the number of members had increased from 50 (in 1990) to 80 (in 1994), our federation has got a solid financial foundation and enough game sets to equip all the clubs. The new elected president was Jan Bogaerts, a strong chess player (about 2350 ELO).
One of Bogaerts' first big success was the definitive revival of the interclubs in which six clubs (for a total of 46 players) took part. The winner was once again the Brussels club Le Pantin.
End 1995, the Belgian Go Federation counted 85 members among whom one 2-dan (Alain Wettach) and nine 1-d (7 Belgian players).
In May 1996, the BGF organized for the first time a special week-end go congress. The purpose was to enable people to improve their strength, to have fun, and to become acquainted with players from other clubs. This go week-end took place in a lodge in the middle of a great natural park near the Dutch border and met with a big success with 30 participants.
Another important event in 1996 was the visit of a Japanese delegation to the club of Ghent (thanks to cultural agreements existing between the towns of Ghent and Kanazawa) among who Master Honda Kunihisha (9-p).
Thanks to the emergence of a group of about 20 young go-players - friends just graduated from the University of Brussels - the go-club of the Brussels University (which had closed in 1989) re-opened. These members were called les Brasseurs (from the name of a flat located "rue de la Brasserie" where many of them had learned to game in the years since the beginning of the 90's).
Partly due to the opening of this new club, the membership outnumbered for the first time the fatidic number of 100 !
A big decision was taken in the Annual General Meeting in December 1997: the constitution of the BGF was reformed so that all the Belgian clubs could/should become financially autonomous from the BGF. Practically, this meant that only the so-called "federal activities" (organisation of the Belgian Championship, publication of "Belgo", organization of the week-end congress, organization of the Brussels tournament, the regular publication of a classification, ...) would stay in the hands of the BGF (the finance coming from a "federal" membership-fee), whereas all the other activities and the needed material would be organised (and financed) by the clubs theirselves (the clubs could purchase the material they needed from the BGF at a "symbolic" price for the first wave of acquisition). The clubs would finance this with a specific membership-fee, to be set by clubs individually.
In 1998, Nicolas Dandois was elected President to succeed Jan Bogaerts.
In October 1998, we welcomed two Japanese professionals, Yasuda-sensei (9-p) and Miss Yuki Shigeno (2-p) whose purpose was to come and illustrate how to teach go to children. They paid a visit to two schools in and near Bruges. And in April 2000, other professionals (Miyakawa Goro (9-p), Chizu Kobayashi (5-p) and Inoue Hatsue (1-p) came to Brussels, ...
In 2000, regular go-lessons all along the year were set up in most Belgian clubs, with the objective of improving the level of all the Belgian players of whatever level (depending on the level, the participants received lessons by Guo Juan (7-dan), or by Jan Bogaerts (4-dan) / Alain Wettach (3-dan) or by some strong kyu players. These lessons met a great success, except for the courses for the "double-digit" kyu players.
In 2001, Dieter Verhofstadt succeeded Nicolas Dandois as President.
2001-2002 were starting years of an période of quick developpment with a rapid growth in the number of members and many innovations.
We welcomed the birth of 3 new (still tiny) clubs, in 2 small towns: one in Ath, the other in Hasselt, followed the next year by Charleroi. End 2002, the BGA counted with 115 members.
And as innovation we decided to create a new function: the national coach", whose role was to support and train local (club) coaches, to write technical articles for "Belgo" and to coach directly 4 promising "young stars". 1st holder was Jan Bogaerts. Our Web site was totally reviewed and updated, and a specific internet newsgroup was launched. We finally also launched a new yearly trofee, the "Iwamoto Cup", whose purpose was to incitate more players to take part in the Belgian tournament. Points were given on basis of the number of victories accumulated in all Belgian tournaments along the year...(Leuven, Belgian championship, Gent, Louvain-la-Neuve, Brussels)
We organised some lectures given by a strong and sympathtic young Japanese amateur, Koji Watanabe (6-d), who then stayed in the Netherlands for a few months.
And the Club of Liège won the Rhein-Maas liga (a interregio interclubs competition in which german and dutch clubs of this region participated).
2003 was another "good milesime" with a strong growth and many innovations:
Jean-Denis Hennebert succeeded Dieter Verhofstadt as President.
The growth went on ! The number of members increased to an unprecedented 140, thanks to the succes of the manga "Hikaru no Go" and thanks to the developpement of Go on Internet, on "KGS" in particular wherin a specific "Belgian Room" is created; two more clubs (!) opened their doors: Bruges and Namur.
Two new competitions were initated: the Belgian Championship of quick games (blitz games) and the Belgian Internet Championship (on "KGS").
On the other hand, a source of desappointement was the fact that despite of the growth in the membership, the number of players effectively present in the clubs remains more or less unchanged, and that still less and less members participated in tournaments or events (f.i. there were only 9 participants in the Belgian championship and only 10 attended the yearly lecture given by Guo Juan !). Perhaps, this was a negative effect of the quick development of Go on Internet (?)
2004 will remain as a historic year: for the 1st time in its history, the BGF counts with 200 members . Moreover, the BGF goes on introducing innovations to the benefit of its members...
Given the poorly attendance in the "live" lecture given by Guo Juan in 2003, we organised for the 1st time a lecture on an "e-version", via the "Belgium Room" of KGS in which there were 8 active participants and 15 observers.
The interclubs meet with a great success (10 clubs, 110 participants !), so as did the go week-end (33 participants),
But not everything was so pinky:
some events disapeared f.i. the Iwamoto trofee, which actually had never really started, the Gent Tournament and the Belgian Internet Championship,
In 2005, 2 new competitions were created:
We also opened a official “Belgian Go Room” on the internet go server “KGS”.
Cédric Declerfayt was elected President and succeeded Jean-Denis Hennebert.
Given the great devoppment of go among the young generation, it was time to organize a Belgian championship for young players (< 18 years old) and Belgian championship for students (< 30 years old) (winner of each of the 2 competitions represent Belgium in the European Championship).
But unfortunatelly, 2006 was also the start of the agony of “Belgo”, our official national quaterly magazine (whose 1st issue had been published begin 1985). “Belgo” slowly stopped to be published due to the lack of volunteer writers (2 issues were still published in 2007 and one last issue – nr. 83 - in 2008).
Just for the record: here is the details of the membership by club:
2007 was a poor year for the BGA: the Board was reduced to 4 people so that no much innovation could be expected by such a small team. Moreover, the BGA was hit by a disastrous event: on 18 of April, for some unknown reason, our website (of which we had no backup) crashed and disappeared. This was a severe blow, because we then not only lost the website but also the whole database of our members (their address, e-mail,…), which was linked to it!
Unfortunately, the membership did go on with its decline: 126 (which means a loss on a third of members in 3 years !). After the closings of ULB-Brussels and Brugge, there were then only 9 clubs left in Belgium (and moreover Liège was held only formally alive).
2008 marked a recovering compared with “anus horribilis” 2007: we started some innovations and the Belgian go life was more active (more clubs tournaments, new clubs, new members,…); last but not least, a young generation of new players begins to his way to the top...
The highlights of 2008 are numerous:
the most important event of the year was the 3 months stay in Belgium of young (17 years old) ex-insei Kim Jung-Hyeup, 7-d, who visited various clubs to give lectures and play simultaneous games. Kim would have liked to stay in Belgium for longer but had to come back to Korean because of visa problem.
Another gift from Korea: thanks to the effort of some Korean sponsors (and in particulary of Dr. Hahn), Belgium could sent a national representative to a new world competition held in Korea, the Korean Prime Minister Cup (KPMC). So that we organized a KPC qualifying tournament reserved to the 16 best ranked Belgian players, with a double knout-out formula; during this event, we were honoured by the visit of the Korean pro Kang Seung-Hee (2-p) who commented games and played simultaneous games.
Another "grande première" was the participation of a team of 5 Belgian players in the 1st World Mind Sport Game in Beijin (Thomas Connor, 3-d; Benjamin Gigot, 1-d; Kristof Bossee, 1-d; Renaud Braye, 1-k and Michael Meeschaert, 1-k).
We have also chosen the best player living in Europe, the Chinese professional Fan Hui, as main instructor for our traditionnal goWE (which was organized for the 1st time in another place and gathered 43 participants, a record) (as Kim 7-d was also present, we could actually benefit of a strong teaching staff !).
BGA decided to give financial support for its members who followed lectures on the go server “KGS +”, so that the real prize they pay was only 50 % of the “normal” prize. 10 members seized this opportunity.
No less than 3 new clubs tournaments appeared on the Belgian calendar (it was high time: there was only the tournament of Leuven left !): clubs of Louvain-la-Neuve and of Ghent reactivated their tournaments after an interruption of respectively 3 and 6 years...and Antwerpen organized its 1st tournament. They were all successful: 56 participants in Leuven (a record), 32 in Antwerpen, 38 in Ghent and 14 in LLN.
The agonizing club of Liège revived again, and a new club was founded in Roeselare, thanks to Ivan Cloostermans (who would tragically die in a traffic accident some months later).
Last but not least, a new generation of young and talented players, all of them round 20 years old, reached dan-level (Thomas Connor, Lucas Neyrinck, François Gonze, Simon Fain, Alexis Gottcheiner, Kristof Bossée,….).
And to end this long list of positive elements: the membership finally started to go up again: 140 members (+15 compared with 2007)!
2009 and 2010 were mitiged years, with good and bad events.
The good ones:
The bad ones:
In 2010, Marie Jemine succeeded Cedric Declerfay as BGA President.
That year, we reactivated the concept of coaching for kyu players (after an interruption of 10 years). The coaching consists in the sending of 4 games a months to a national coach, Nelis Vets (2-d), for comments. Three members effectively started the coaching...but the project faded away after some months...
Also worth mentionning: the tournament of Brussels moves from suburb to downtown...
Years 2011-2012 show an alarming decline not only in the membership, but also in the participation in the activities proposed by the BGA.
The decline of the membership, which had begun in 2009, goes on and even becomes worrying: in 2012, we count only with about 100 members, which is the figure of...15 years ago !
Also the participation in the events organised by the BGA drops dramatically: hereunder a few examples:
Another bad news was the disparition of "BelgoNet", the e-bulletin which has succeeded the quarterly review "Belgo". Actually, more than a sudden death, "BelgoNet" had progressively faded away: the 1st year (2006), 9 issues had been published; in 2007, 6; in 2008, 5; in 2009, 3 and in 2010,...2.
Nevertheless, there were still also some positive news, such as:
(updated in October 2012)
Annex: list of all-times players of dan-strenght in Belgium
|Jan Ramon||4-d||François Gonze||4-d|
|Say Boon Ng (Singapore)||4-d|
|Olivier Drouot (France)||3-d|
|Benjamin Gigot||3-d||Chen Qi (China)||3-d|
|Zihang Ruan (China)||2-d|
|Yong-Sen Huang (China)||2-d|
|Seung-Hee Hong (Korea)||2-d||Y-Cheng Li||2-d|
|Eric Paré (France)||1-d|
|Kristof Bossée||1-d||Takahisa Kikuchi (Japan)||1-d|