&#91FOUNTAIN&#93A woman on the go

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&#91FOUNTAIN&#93A woman on the go

The game of go, or baduk in Korean, is considered an art, and the best players of the game are characterized as having entered the "realm of the gods."

That characterization originated 1,500 years ago with the Liang Dynasty emperor Wudi. The emperor, a big fan of the game, sorted the ranks of go players into nine levels, according to mastery. The terms that describe the different classes of players describe their mastery. The first, lowest level, or 1-dan, as the level is classified in the game's language, is known to be "Just able to defend oneself." The 2-dan is defined as "Half-witted but knows enough to move around the board." The 3-dan is "Equipped with power." The 4-dan "Displays some finesse." The 5-dan "Knows to use wisdom." The 6-dan has the ability to "Achieve serenity in his play." The 7-dan "Has all the structure needed." The 8-dan is "Able to see far ahead, even sitting." And the 9-dan, the highest level, has "Entered the realm of the gods."

There are just 21 players in Korea who have entered that last realm. The competition in which the 21 masters come together to vie for supremacy is called the Maxim Cup. The final match in the fourth annual competition, held Sunday, set several records. It was the first matchup of the sexes, the first between spouses, the first between foreigners. Rui Naiwei, a 9-dan, lost to her husband, Jiang Zhujiu, also a 9-dan.

Ms. Rui learned to play go not for fun but to survive. Under the storm of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution in 1973, Ms. Rui's parents taught her the game as a lifelong trade. She rose to become a member of the Chinese national team. But she was barred from competition after being caught playing go in a male dormitory.

She looked overseas for the freedom to play the game. In 1990, she tried her fortune in Japan, but was continuously kept out of competitions. Then she followed Mr. Jiang, her boyfriend at the time, to the United States, but she couldn't make a living there. It was South Korea that gave Ms. Rui and Mr. Jiang the freedom to play the game.

In 1999, the Korea Baduk Association guaranteed their right to play here, and she began an active playing career, including a win in a national competition in 2000.

"Where I can play go, it is heaven; it is hell where I can't play," Ms. Rui says. She clearly has found a heaven here.

by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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