Two of the players were Americans, that much Shimizu could gather from the way they spoke, drawing out their vowels in the same way his English teacher did. The third, another foreigner, was a middle-aged man with fair hair and side-burns, who spoke English with a different accent; a European, perhaps? The last of his opponents was a Chinese ex-champion he had heard of, but only via his game records. All four seemed to know one another already.
Shimizu tried to keep still but found himself fiddling with the folds of his fan. He couldn't wait for the game to start. Facing these players from across the globe, he quivered in anticipation of the four-fronted battle.
"Nervous?" asked one of the Americans, a large man with a broad chin and red hair. "Your teacher is sure putting a lot of pressure on you, having you face us all at once!" Shimizu smiled back and nodded politely. He'd never faced any of them before and was anxious to begin, to see the strategies they would use. Throughout the hall there was the click of stones, concentrated faces and murmured conversations. The competition games hadn't started yet and, for Shimizu, this room was filled with an electricity of anticipation; the world of Go - the love of his life - was here.
"It's the first time I've been in Japan since the last convention here, you remember, Doug?" the first man asked his friend.
"Had a blast, but we didn't find Sai." His companion seemed amused. Looking at Shimizu he said: "You heard of 'Sai', son?"
Shimizu nodded again and managed, in hesitant English, "I study all the masters." He felt inwardly proud; though whether it was of his study or the fact that these strangers knew of Sai, he couldn't say.
"Sai led the Go world a merry dance, I can tell you," added the blond man. "He defeated each of us in turn on the net, but no one ever knew who he was."
"He was as clever at hiding as he was at the game," said his Chinese opponent. "I wonder what became of him."
Shimizu felt such longing to start playing that he could feel his heart racing and he began to imagine the stones themselves growing restless in the Gokes. This friendly chat was the calm before the storm, but Shimizu was too polite to hurry them. He tossed back his hair and focused on the first Goban, trying not to seem impatient.
"And when Sai played Touya Meijin..."
Shimizu smiled a secret smile to himself, then concentrated himself on clearing his mind for the games. He shook back his sleeves and sat poised at the ready.
"Do you know Touya Meijin, son?"
"Yes, I know Touya-sensei," Shimizu replied, relaxing for an instant and picturing the man who had discovered him; thinking of his teaching, his kindness.
"You've studied with Touya Meijin? I think we are in for a hard battle here." The man grinned.
"But this kid can't have been born when Touya Meijin played Sai. Don't you think. When was that?"
"2001, Spring 2001."
"I'm fourteen years old." Shimizu said, pointing at himself. "Born in 2001."
"Ah-ha, but I bet you weren't playing Go back then."
"I've always played Go," he said simply, as indeed he always had. There was laughter all round.
"Never too young to start with Go, or with mind games, eh?" Doug looked at his three companions. "Let's get these games on the road before he's got us all running scared."
The fair man paused. "Wait, I remember now. It was in April, the same April my sister got married. I'll never forget it - someone rang me in the night to tell me that Sai was playing Touya Meijin on internet. What a game that was..."
"I wasn't there," Shimizu said, giving a slight shrug of his shoulders and lifting the first of the Goke lids. "I was born in May!"