Belgian Go Federation / History

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Origin and prehistory of the Belgian Go

Nobody can lay claim to having first introduced the game in Belgium. We know that some of our current members (Antoine Mechelynck and Omer Mogensen for instance) already played go in the 60's.

It seems that a few contact addresses already existed in the late 70's (it can be found in some books) and that even a club was founded in Liège, but we have no further information on this subject.

The first real club whose existence is known and confirmed was established in Brussels at the historic pub Le Greenwich[1]. It was more a meeting place than a real club. A dozen or so players used to meet there to play go. There was no official infrastructure as such, but rather an environment where players of that time 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 one hand and M. Tchang (3-dan) on the other.

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 only 2 or 3 years.

1981: founding of the Belgian Go Federation

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. To 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.

1984: opening of a go club in Waterloo - students discover the game

In 1984 Michel Gilbert as the founding president 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. The 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 was by far the strongest Belgian player but was only ... 2 kyu. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to have met M. Tsuda, a Japanese shodan, 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 the 1st sensei of Belgian Go.

Three months later, two other (university) clubs were founded, one in Brussels (ULB) and one in Louvain-la-Neuve (LLN).

1985: the beginning of organized go life in Belgium

1985 was really an auspicious year for the Belgian go:

Firstly, the first Belgian Championship took place with 15 participants. The favourite, Michel Gilbert, was then surprisingly beaten by the outsider, Guy Dusausoy, who became the first Belgian Champion. Secondly, the BGF began the publication of its quarterly magazine BELGO. Thirdly, the BGF organized its first international tournament in Brussels which met a great success (86 participants). Finally, in the summer of 1985 we welcomed, for a whole week, two Chinese professionals. One of them was Guo Juan who lives now in the Netherlands and who is still one of strongest player in Europe.

The year 1986 saw the birth of two new clubs next to the existing trio, thanks to the efforts of the editor of Belgo, Joël Saucin. Both Le Palais du Midi and Bruxelles-AEZ (AEZ = Ministry of Economy) were located in Brussels.

It was high time to set up the first interclub competition. It was won overwhelmingly by the Waterloo club.

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 (and this without the help of the Internet).

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 !). The experimented players systematically began to play tournaments abroad with a very favourable winning percentage. Numerous promotions followed.

End 1987, there were about 45 members, the best players being Marc Ginoux and Alain Wettach (both 1-kyu).

1988: the first Belgian shodan - go begins his growth in Flanders

In 1988, Ron Polak, a strong 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: a few weeks later, we had the pleasure to greet the emergence of our first local shodan, Marc Ginoux.

Moreover, Go began to flourish also in Flanders, the Dutch speaking area of Belgium, mainly thanks to the impulse of Frank Segers who founded a club in the old university town of Leuven.

1989: a year of doubts

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, which initiated a period of uncertainty and of managerial troubles. As a result, for the first time, the total membership remained unchanged (about 60) and the publication of Belgo was suspended from September 1988 to October 1989.

1990: like Phoenix...

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 go country.

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 great tournament since she had left professional play.

1991: Belgium organises the European Go Congress

1991 was a crucial year for Belgian Go as our country had the great honour and the 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).

It is worth noting that that year 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.

End 1991, the Belgian Go Federation counted about 65 members, among which eight 1d (5 of them Belgian players).

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 five 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 Belgian national French TV channel). The number of members remained more or less unchanged.

The most important events in 1993 were various visits made by well-known professionals: Nagahara Yoshiaki (6-p), author of some famous go best-sellers; later on, five (!) professionals among three of high rank: Kano Yoshinori (9-p), Abe Yoshiteru (9-p) and Ms. Sugiuchi Kazuko (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.

1994: Foundation of two new clubs: Liège and Ghent

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.

1995: a year of changes

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 got a solid financial foundation and bought 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).

1996: the 1st Belgian go week-end "Congress"

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 Kunihisa (9-p).

1997: the milestone of 100 members is reached !

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 magic number of 100 !

1998: the clubs become independent from the BGF

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 themselves (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 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 Brugge. And in April 2000, other professionals (Miyakawa Goro? (9-p), Chizu Kobayashi (5-p) and Inoue Hatsue (1-p) came to Brussels, ...

In 2000, partly due to the non replacement of the responsible for the biggest go club in Belgium, Le Pantin, the membership declined for the first time in the short history of our Federation.

Nevertheless, that same year, our Federation showed its dynamism by setting up regular go-lessons all along the year in most Belgian clubs, with the objective of improving the level of all the Belgian players of whatever level they play (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.

2001 - 2002: beginning of a quick development

2001-2002 were starting years of a period of quick development with a rapid growth in the number of members and many innovations.

We welcomed the birth of 3 new clubs, in 2 small towns: one in Ath, the other in Hasselt (now defunct), followed the next year by Charleroi (also defunct). End 2002, the BGA counted 115 members.

And as innovation we decided to create a new function: the national coach", whose role is 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 website was totally reviewed and updated, and a specific internet newsgroup was launched. We finally also launched a new yearly trophy, the "Iwamoto Cup", whose purpose was to incite more players to take part in the Belgian tournament. Points are 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 sympathetic young Japanese amateur, Koji Watanabe? (6-d), who was then staying in the Netherlands for a few months.

And the Club of Liège won the Rhein-Maas liga (a international regional interclub competition in which German and Dutch clubs of this region participated).

2003: an auspicious year

2003 was another good millésime with a strong growth and many innovations:

The number of members increased to an unprecedented 140, thanks to the success of the manga Hikaru no Go and thanks to the development of Go on Internet, on KGS in particular where a specific "Belgian Room" had been created; two more clubs opened their doors: Brugge (Brughes) and Namur.

Two new competitions were initiated: the Belgian Championship of blitz games and the Belgian Internet Championship (on "KGS"). We also created a database of the members, directly linked to our website, with variable "access rights" depending on the status: member/club responsible/administrator), a very clever and flexible way to handle the management of the members, even if the absence of backup caused a severe blow in 2007, as you will read further.

On the other hand, a source of disappointment was the fact that despite of the growth in the membership, the number of players effectively present in the clubs remained more or less unchanged, and that still less and less members participated in tournaments or events (e.g. 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: a historic peak - 200 members !

2004 will remain as a historic year: for the 1st time in its history, the BGF counted 200 members . Moreover, the BGF went 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. Not a fantastic success but still satisfying. We also organized a new specific Belgium championship for beginners (max 12-k). But 2004 will probably remain as an historic year due to visits by delegations of strong Asian players:

In February, we welcomed Okada? sensei, 8-p accompanied with 12 high-dan Japanese amateurs. In Augustus, a group of 4 high level Korean amateurs led by Prof. Hahn Sang-Dae?, 6-d, paid a visit to Belgium. They were accompanied by a journalist and a cameraman of "Sky Baduk TV" (also strong players). In November, another Korean delegation, composed of 2 female professionals: Yoon Young-Seong?, 4-p (currently living in Germany) and Kang Seung-Hee, 2-p, and by some 6-d amateur players. The interclubs met with a great success (10 clubs, 110 participants), and so did the go week-end (33 participants),

But not everything was so pinky: e.g. the Iwamoto trophy, which actually had never really started, the disappearance of the Gent Tournament and of the Belgian Internet Championship. A source of worry was the fact that most new created clubs remained still tiny.

2005: a year of consolidation

In 2005, 2 new competitions were created:

  • the Belgium pair championship, which met directly a great success with 9 pairs (not obligatory one male and one female)
  • the match Belgium-China, on the model of the NEC Cup (a player goes on to play till he is defeated), with 9 players in each team (China won 9-7). (This remained unfortunately a one-shot edition).

We also opened a official Belgian Go Room on KGS and we welcomed some strong Korean amateurs (ex-insei): Cho Seok Bin, soon followed by the couple Kim Se-Hyun? (maybe the strongest amateur woman) & Kim Hanwul?. End 2005, BGA federated 13 clubs for 192 members.

2006: death of Belgo, birth of BelgoNet? Given the great development 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 unfortunately, 2006 was also the start of the agony of Belgo, our official national quarterly 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). "Belgo" was soon replaced by a digital newsletter BelgoNet?, which is published every 2 months. The Go week-end (40 participants) was extended to 3 days (with Cho Seok-bin 7-d as main instructor). End 2006, the membership amounted 164 for 11 clubs (closing of Hasselt and Charleroi).

2007: a year to forget - the website crashed and the membership further declined

2007 was a poor year for the BGF: 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! This caused, as you can imagine, much trouble in communicating with the members and organizing federal events.

It took various months before the administration of the BGA recovered from this loss. The good part of this misfortune is that we took the opportunity to create an entirely new website, more based on a “web 2.0” approach, which was nearly totally functional before the end of the year. There were some other positive events such as the visit by 4 strong Korean players: Prof. Sang-Dae Hahn? (6-d, leader of the group), An Young-Gil (6-p, former world amateur champion), Kang-Wook Lee (3-p, also former world amateur champion - in 2004) and Kyung-Nang Kang? (7-d, insei girl, 17 years old). And our go-WE met once again with a big success with 40 participants (Motoki Noguchi 7-d as main instructor)

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: a year of recovery - stay of Kim Jung-Hyeup

2008 marked a recovery compared with “anus horribilis” 2007: we enjoyed some innovations and the Belgian go life was much more active (more clubs tournaments, new clubs, new members,…). Last but not least, a young generation of new players found its way to the top.

The highlights of 2008 are numerous:

  • probably 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 much longer but had to come back to Korea because of a visa problem.
  • Another gift from Korea: thanks to the effort of some Korean sponsors (and particularly of Dr. Hahn), Belgium earned the right to sent a national representative to a new world competition held in Korea, the Korea Prime Minister Cup (KPMC). That is why we organized a new tournament, the "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 Beijing (Thomas Connor, 3-d; Benjamin Gigot, 1-d; Kristof Bossee, 1-d; Renaud Braye, 1-k and Michael Meeschaert, 1-k).

Another highlight was the presence of no less than the best player living in Europe, the Chinese professional Fan Hui, as main instructor for our traditional go weekend (which was organized for the 1st time in another place and gathered 43 participants, a record) (as Kim was also present, we could benefit of a very strong teaching staff !).

BGF decided to give financial support for its members who followed lectures on the go server KGS plus, so that the real price they payed was only 50 % of the normal price. 10 members seized this opportunity.

No less than 3 new clubs tournaments appeared on the Belgian calendar. It was high time, as there was only the tournament of Leuven left. The clubs of Louvain-la-Neuve and Ghent reactivated their tournaments after an interruption of respectively 3 and 6 years. Antwerpen organized its 1st tournament. Moreover, they all met with a big success: 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 a few 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)!

2009-2010: mitigated years

2009 and 2010 were mitiged years, with good and bad events.

The good ones:

  • confirmation of the talent of a "youngster": Lucas Neyrinck becomes new Belgian champion
  • the ("Hikaru") wave of young new players goes on
  • three clubs organise their own tournament: Leuven (43 players), Gent (39) and Antwerpen (27)
  • birth of a new club, in "Erasmus", the faculty of Medecine of Brussels

The bad ones:

  • "definitive" death of the quarterly review Belgo after 23 years and 83 issues
  • the tournament of Louvain-la-Neuve disappears after just one year revival
  • even if the "Hikaru" wave goes on, it clearly starts to slow down

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 mentioning: the tournament of Brussels moves from suburb to downtown...

2011-2012: alarming decline of the membership...and of the participation

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:

  • in 2012, a few 20 people attended the go week-end (in comparison to a traditional 40 audience) despite the presence of the sympathic In-Seong Hwang, 7-d, who is just as strong as good teacher, as main instructor,
  • just 3 clubs still compete in the seasons 2011 and 2012 of the interclubs,
  • a mere 8 participants in the 2011 and 2012 Belgian Championships of quick games ("blitz")
  • and, even worse, respectively 4 and 1 (!) in the 2011 and 2012 young & student Belgian championships !

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:

  • the confirmation of the talent of Lucas Neyrinck - who became once again Belgian champion and the 1st Belgian 5-dan ever !
  • the opening of 3 new clubs (Baelen - near Liège, Geel and one - more - in Brussels), even if all still tiny
  • the organisation, in November 2011, of a workshop of 2 days in Brussels animated by Hwang-In Seong (7-d) with an audience of 15 people
  • numerous participation in the 3 traditional clubs tournaments (Leuven, Ghent and Antwerpen)
  • participation of Belgium in the Pandanet Go European Team Championship (in B league)
  • birth of a new federal competition: a Belgian team championship, a one-day competition for teams of 3 players

overview tournament participation Belgium


For some numbers, see also [ext] and [ext] You may also find the national magazine interesting, its archives are here: [ext]

[1]: The pub has recently reopened and completely renovated in belle epoque style. [ext]

Belgian Go Federation / History last edited by bugcat on May 30, 2023 - 09:52
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