Memorial tournament to honor Microsoft employee who died
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
December 29, 2010 · 11:26 AM
Jin Chen defied classification.
He possessed traits most would find contradictory. A gifted employee at Microsoft and an accomplished athlete in several sports. A gregarious and social person, and a near master of one of the most complex strategy games in the world.
But Chen’s story was over before it even had a chance to begin. Chen fell to his death while sitting on a balcony of the 28th floor of the Lincoln Square office complex in January 2009. The death, which was thought to be a suicide at first and later officially ruled a workplace accident by the state Department of Labor, touched people from Bellevue to China, where Chen lived until the age of 9.
Approaching the two-year anniversary of the young man's death, local organizers of the game of Go, a 2,000-year-old Chinese strategy game, will hold a memorial tournament on Jan. 2, the day before what would be Chen's 24th birthday.
"We believe this will offer some comfort to everyone who loves this young man," said his father, Shan Chen.
Chen seemed to be destined for greatness from a very young age. Upon his arrival from China to Michigan when he was nine years old, he excelled in the classroom and in athletics. He was the captain of his high school’s track, soccer and swim teams and was named one of the top 10 scholar athletes by the Detroit Free Press.
Despite his full schedule and laundry list of achievements, Chen had another love, which he also excelled at: Go
This game resembles a more complex version of chess. Players have black or white pieces and place them on a large board with a 19-by-19 space grid. Once placed on the board, stones cannot be moved elsewhere, unless they are surrounded and captured by the opponent's stones. The object of the game is to control (surround) a larger portion of the board than the opponent.
Because you can’t move your stones you really get the sense you’re making decisions,” said Jon Boley, head teacher at the Seattle Go Center. “Once you put that stone on the board it has to be well–placed or you are going to suffer consequences of that poor play later on.”
Chen became very skilled in the game, attending camps, known as the Go Congress. He competed all over the nation and reached one of the highest levels an amateur can.
Boley met at Chen at a Go camp and the two bonded. He tapped Chen to teach the game to young players on the West Coast well before he came to Washington for a job with Microsoft.
Chen continued to perfect his game at the University of Michigan. He studied computer engineering and worked a productive internship at Microsoft in 2007. Following his graduation in 2008, he was hired by Microsoft. Soon after getting the job he got together with his colleague, Boley, and became very involved at the Seattle Go Center.
Chen’s exploits in Go were all the more enhanced by his personality. Playing such a competitive and strategic game so often can make it easy to withdraw from others. But that wasn’t Chen’s way.
“Go isn't about winning and losing,” Chen said during an amateur tournament in 2006. “Rather, it's about two players working together doing their best to create a beautiful piece of artwork, and each game should be played to that purpose."
He taught the game willingly, participated in camps all over the world and was never afraid to put on a show.
Boley said Chen would always lead skits at the camps and try to get the other campers involved.
Chen continued to succeed in the game but his professional life was taking off as well. He was receiving high marks and praise from his co workers at Microsoft, his father said. Around the time of Jin Chen’s death, Shan Chan said, he was making presentations involving new programs to some of the higher ups at Microsoft.
He worked there for half a year, and his colleagues commented that his skills were similar to someone who worked there 5 to 6 years,” his father said. “He was commended by team leaders. The team felt it could not work without him.”
Chen has been memorialized, and honored by the state’s Department of Labor, his former employer Microsoft and his closest friends and family. But Sunday’s tournament will allow the game that has spanned generations and centuries to pay tribute to a man who dedicated a great part of his life to it.
The tournament will take place on Chen’s birthday, Jan. 2, beginning at 11 a.m. at the Seattle Go Center, 700 NE 45th St. Both Shan Chen and Boley will play in honor of Jin Chen.
“We're doing what we know he would like to be doing if he was still with us, and we’re doing it on his behalf,” Boley said.
Nat Levy can be reached at 425-453-4290.Contact Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer Nat Levy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-453-4290.