[Dialogue] ‘It isn’t just stones that you play with – there’s strategy behind them’

The head of the Russia's Sakha Republic (Yakutia) Aysen Nikolayev. Photo: Yakutia's govt press service.

Pan Pacific Agency continues a series of publications about ancient oriental game Go on the eve of the World Amateur Go Championship (WAGC), which will be held in the city of Vladivostok in 2020. The press service of the championship interviews the key-note “Go people” in Russia. The first interview of the series was with a famous Russian businessman Vitaliy Nesis. The second interview Pan Pacific Agency publishes now. Aysen Nikolayev, a governor of the Russia’s one of the coldest and most exotic regions, the Sakha Republic (Yakutiya), told Mikhail Yemelyanov, the 41st WAGC Director, how Go experience allows him to make the right managerial decisions.

You learned about Go a long time ago. I remember the day you came to our school and learned the rules of the game. So I’ll start with a personal question. Does this game and its philosophy help you feel the culture code of the East?

Go is one of the oldest intellectual games known to mankind today. It came to us from afar, from China. Thanks to Go, being able to play it, if only a little, I can better understand people from China, Japan or Korea. This game teaches people to think globally and strategically. So when playing Go one can have a deeper understanding of people from Southeast Asia or other Asian countries. And all of it really helps, because it’s not just stones that you play with, there’s strategy behind them.

There are beautiful combinations here, when you seem to sacrifice something, your position seems to be a lot worse and yet with a single move you can change everything completely. Or sometimes you can follow your strategy diligently, step by step, gradually achieving the desired outcome.

Yes, you know, this aspect of diligence and hard work impressed me greatly too at some point. It was one of the reasons why I started studying the game more deeply. The next question is not about Go. International Mind Games were held last year in Yakutia. More than 70 children from all around the world, including Russia, participated in it. It was a scientific event, where children would compete against each other, showing their projects, communicating with each other. How do you estimate the results of these games?

Organizing the International Mind Games was no coincidence. The Republic has been consciously making efforts to work with gifted children, this policy was started by the first President of our Republic. We are creating a sort of ecosystem for working with talented children, this work being done in different directions. One of the decisions that we worked out was organizing Mind Games in the Republic.

This idea was implemented last year, the first games were quite successful, hundreds of children from Yakutia, from Russia, from many other countries came to participate. So we will definitely make this a regular event. Yes, it is mostly a scientific competition, and Go is an intellectual game, I think it is closer to an intellectual activity rather than sport (even more than chess in this respect).

Go can be presented at Mind Games, maybe first as a demonstration event and then, why not, it might be possible to connect the future and the past through a Go competition at the International Mind Games for school children.

Yes, let’s try that, this would be very interesting. You probably know some examples of practical implementation of some inventions made by the children. I read that one of the participants invented a micro-satellite that can fit into a tin can. That is so cool and so technologically useful, because we are going to use that in the future. There are probably some gifted kids in your Republic as well, who showed their talent already, right?

Of course there are multiple examples of big experts of a certain field growing up from these extracurricular activities or hobbies. That IT boom, that dominance in IT industry seen in Yakutia today (at least within the Far East) are due to the fact that math schools are traditionally strong in Yakutiya, math and physics direction is very thorough. I myself am a graduate of a rural school of physics and math, it was one of the first of its kind in the Soviet Union.

The head of the Russia’s Sakha Republic (Yakutia) Aysen Nikolayev. Photo: Yakutia’s govt press service.

Today this trend continues, we now have private IT schools, not just in Yakutsk, we are expanding this system to the whole Republic. And today we can clearly see the result of this education, many local companies start entering international markets.

We used to speak about InDriver, Mytona and now there are new emerging companies. For example, Fntastic is developing games that are preinstalled on all Apple devices everywhere in the world. Not only does it make Yakutsk IT industry proud, it makes all of Russian IT industry proud. We have many similar examples, so I‘m sure that engaging in these intellectual activities like math, programming or the game of Go helps build those qualities that can lead to a big success in the future.

What do you think of extrapolating that successful experience of developing Go in Yakutsk, which was shown by the local Go Federation?

You are right, we started this Go development activity fairly recently. The local Go federation was created with your support and with the support of Polymetal corporation. This structure helped our players to get self-organized quickly, take part in this major tournament. Our main achievement is by far the victory at the 5th Eastern Economic Forum Cup, we hadn’t really expected this ourselves from our players. It means that our players are very good, they study hard, they strive for victories. I’m sure that this success is merely the first one in the series.

Your idea about teaching Go to school kids as part of the curriculum is very interesting. Thanks to the first president of our Republic, we have a similar chess program in schools. I’m sure that there should be certain variety and if children start learning Go alongside chess, it can’t lead to anything bad, it can only be very, very good. So I accept your suggestion, we will talk it over with our Go federation and our educational institutions to make sure this sort of Go teaching programs can be started.

Are we going to see your amazing team at the Russian Go Congress, which will be held as part of the world festival at the Championship? And will you participate in the match of politicians and business people? Everyone in Asia who hears that there are Russian politicians who study Go, feels really amazed.

I think it’s a great achievement of our country that for the first time in history the Championship will be held outside of Southeast Asia, and it will take place in Russia, in Vladivostok — the capital of the Far East. We will do our best to make sure it will be held at a very high level.

Our team will certainly participate in it and I’m sure that artists from Yakutia will also take part in the cultural program of the festival in May. I think it’s all very important and necessary.

In one way or another I will take part in the event to make this wonderful ancient game more popular. If Go can bring our country closer to other countries in Southeast Asia, it would be great.

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