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Solution on Japanese players in World Go Championships

 2012-03-03           Expert: Alexander Dinerchtein
Source: Lifein19X19 Go forum, March, 3
Author: "lemmata"

Let us attempt an informal intellectual exercise based on the following assumptions, which might be conservative.

  • All of the best players in China and Korea are participating in international tournaments and almost no Japanese players show up for international tournaments.
  • The strength of the player pool in China, Japan, and Korea are equal.
  • It is twice as hard to win an international title than it is to win a domestic title because twice as many top players compete.
  • Players believe that their chance of winning a given domestic tournament is double that of winning an international tournament. Therefore, when considering the decision to participate in international tournaments, players halve the prize money in their heads.

Under those assumptions, here is how the pros in the three countries would rank the various tournaments (based on outdated data from Wikipedia).

  • Domestic titles in plain style = prize money
  • International titles in bold = $4K ($2K = prize money X 1/2)
  • Minor titles in italics = $3K

What Japanese pros see:
  • Kisei = $505K
  • Meijin = $400K
  • Honinbo = $350K
  • Ing Cup = $500K (<$250K)
  • Judan = $164K
  • Tengen = $153K
  • Oza = $153K
  • BC Card Cup = $300K (<$150K)
  • LG Cup = $250K (<$125K)
  • Samsung Cup = $250K (<$125K)
  • Chunlan Cup = $170K (<$85K)
  • Gosei = $84K
  • Fujitsu Cup = $141K (<$70K defunct)

What Korean pros see:
  • Ing Cup = $500K (<$250K)
  • BC Card Cup = $300K (<$150K)
  • LG Cup = $250K (<$125K)
  • Samsung Cup = $250K (<$125K)
  • Chunlan Cup = $170K (<$85K)
  • Fujitsu Cup = $141K (<$70K defunct)
  • GS Caltex = $51K
  • Guksu = $42.5K
  • Myungin = ?
  • Sibdan = $26K
  • Prices Info. = $23K
  • Chunwon = $17K
  • Maxim = $16K

What Chinese pros see:
  • Ing Cup = $500K (<$250K)
  • BC Card Cup = $300K (<$150K)
  • LG Cup = $250K (<$125K)
  • Samsung Cup = $250K (<$125K)
  • Chunlan Cup = $170K (<$85K)
  • Fujitsu Cup = $141K (<$70K defunct)
  • Chang-ki Cup = $50K
  • NEC Cup = $24K
  • Lanke Cup = $19K
  • Liguang Cup = $10K
  • CCTV Cup = $10K
  • Tianyuan = $6K
  • Mingren = $3K

Is it any wonder that the top Chinese pros are so fierce in international competition? Winning the BC Card Cup could earn a player as much money as he would by winning the Tianyuan (a major title) 50 years in a row. Is it any wonder that the top Korean pros focus on international competition? Even accounting for the reduced probability of winning, international titles yield much greater expected prize money than domestic titles do.

Similarly, it makes perfect sense that the top Japanese pros focus on domestic titles. Not only do the domestic titles have prizes comparable to or greater than the international titles, you only have to face 10 top players instead of 20. Plus, winning in the domestic title leagues alone yields extra income and future benefits (easier path to the domestic titles and promotion) whereas participation in international preliminaries does not.

I get the feeling that top Chinese pros and top Korean pros are slightly stronger than top Japanese pros (for pros a "slight" difference in strength makes a huge difference in results). However, I believe that the reason for the difference is not because either country has a superior system or natural talent.

My personal theory is that top Chinese pros are stronger because they get to play top Korean pros often in international tournaments (and top Korean pros are stronger because they get to play top Chinese pros often in international tournaments). They simply get to play serious games more often (perhaps twice as often) against top level competition than Japanese pros do.

Of course, this would worsen the problem of Japanese non-participation in international tournaments. Dynamics of the conjectured system reinforce the existing disparities. We might need to have $1 million+ prizes in international tournaments for a couple of years in order to properly incentivize the top Japanese pros to compete. 

I propose the following modest and economic solution for making the top Japanese pros competitive in international competition:

Cut the prize money for Japanese domestic titles by 50 percent or more.

If this happens, I bet the top Japanese pros would become competitive internationally within 2 or 3 years.


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