The competition wasn't exactly fierce, but then again, it wasn't meant to be.
Approximately 120 students from Floris and Fox Mill elementary schools gathered April 23 in the Floris gym for the first annual tri-school Gomoku Narabe tournament. Great Falls Elementary had a last-minute scheduling conflict and could not attend. The three schools are the only ones in Fairfax County Public Schools which offer the Japanese immersion program; however, the tournament was open to all students who wanted to play.
"It's sort-of an extended versions of tic-tac-toe," said Koji Otani, Japanese teacher at Floris. "It's very easy to learn."
THE OBJECT OF THE GAME is to lay down five chips in a row, either vertically, horizontally or diagonally, on a grid playing board. The chips are placed in the intersecting lines of the grid rather than in the squares that are formed by those lines. Since it was the first tournament between the schools, the only rule was to create the five-chip-unbroken chain. Otani said as players become more experienced in playing the game, the game itself becomes more complex as various strategies are bought into play.
"The more you know about the game, the deeper it gets. Sometimes, it's just like chess," Otani said. "A player needs to read two, three steps ahead. A good GO player needs geometric thinking."
The students in Floris' immersion program have been staging in-house school tournaments for five years now. The Fox Mill students picked up the game two years ago.
The competition was broken up into grade levels — first and second, third ad fourth, and fifth and sixth — with an overall champion crowned for each level. Every player received a certificate of participation, and medals and plaques were awarded to the various winners. A larger trophy, engraved with each champion, will be housed at the winning school until next year's tournament.
In addition, there was a Japanese market so students could purchase Japanese goods and a free origami activity table. Delegates from the Japanese Embassy also stopped by to watch the action.
"I LEARNED THE GAME two months ago," said Sean Liesegang, 9, a third-grader at Floris. "Now I play at home."
Allison Carone, 8, also in third grade at Floris, said she learned to play when she was 6 years old and likes the strategy part of playing. "No, it's not hard to learn," she said.
The tournament began at Floris, said parent volunteer Shari Bermen, as a way to promote Japanese culture. When the in-house tournament proved successful, it was suggested to invite the other immersion schools.
"We're happy our friends from Fox Mill are joining us and hopefully we'll have Great Falls joining us next year," said Floris principal Karen Siple.
Rachel Takahashi, a sixth-grader at Floris, learned to play GO in second grade.
"I like using strategy to win. I like using my brain a lot," Rachel said. "I play at home. I've taught at least one other person to play."