Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Patreon Campaign: Go Video Production

Hello all! I'm updating today to announce that I am started a Patreon campaign to ask those of you who in the Go community to help support me as I continue to create Go videos.  The reason I am turning to Patreon is because I want to expand my video offerings.  With all of the buzz surrounding Alpha Go, I thought the time is ripe to really push to expose more people outside of Asia to Go.  Currently, I'm doing the "10 Minute Go" series, which is turning into a big hit.  I am working on translating it into other languages (German and Spanish first off), as well as producing more and more videos to provide the Go community with more English language Go materials.

I do a lot to help build the Go community.  I already have around 30 some odd videos produced, and I am constantly improving my video skills and learning how to make the videos more accessible and exciting.  I translate for the AGA E-Journal.  My goal has always been to make Go exciting, to make it friendly, and to make it something that Americans can relate to and integrate into the culture.  In many ways I have been successful, but will continue to refine my  technique.

Of course I will continue to push to make more videos and more materials to learn Go.  I had a plan for a small handout or brochure clubs can use to recruit people.  For my supporters, I offer game reviews and lessons online, as well as special requests for content.  By supporting me, you'll be helping to truly create great content for would-be players.  If you'd like to support me in my endeavors, please click below:


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What a roller coaster ride!

Final thoughts on Alpha Go

So the 5 game match that will rock the ages is over. Lee Sedol went down in defeat, 4-1 to Alpha Go. I was truly hoping that Lee Sedol would be able to pick up his game today and pull it out for humanity, but alas, that was not in the cards. Instead of rehashing the final game, I wanted to give my final thoughts on my impressions of Alpha Go and what this match means for the game of Go.

Go has a long history and there have been hundreds of people that have dedicated their lives to solving its mysteries. The game becomes like a job and after a certain point; people improve only in subtle, small ways. Picture this: you start learning something at the age of three or four. Most people become professional in their early teens, the youngest being 11. At best, you spend 7-10 years studying the game constantly. You do hundreds of problems and battle it out with other professional hopefuls playing game after game. I studied at a Go Dojo where children studied 12-14 hours a day, with only breaks for food. Lee Sedol did all that to become professional, and then to reach the top, he had to beat out other people who worked just as hard, if not harder. He did this year after year, from one tournament to the next. Lee Sedol and others like him can see far into a games future and can judge variations even with small differences. Lee Sedol's mind, his skill at Go, is the physical manifestation of years of concentrated effort, emotional turmoil, and perseverance.

Alpha Go rose above all that.

I won't rehash the argument that people still run races even though we have cars. I never for once thought that someday a computer program could not be built to beat a human at Go. I got the impression Alpha Go was stronger than Lee Sedol. It saw further into the game. Its moves had far reaching consequences. It understood the territorial balance clearly.  Lee Sedol was the one that had to fight Alpha Go for control of the game, for control of the territorial balance, not the other way around.  It was Lee Sedol who had to sweat to find brilliant move after brilliant move, who had to maintain his level of play despite fatigue and exertion.

How do I think the Go world will change?

No one can say for sure.  But Alpha Go has shown a high level of play, and already there have been some moves that people have commented on that are not "human."  I can't predict the future, but there ARE some changes I think that are on the horizon.

1. People will play less for territory and more for thickness.  Alpha Go let Lee Sedol have territory.  By the middle game, the second phase, Lee Sedol had to fight hard against White's powerful thickness.  Professional players like Takemiya Masaki play this style naturally.  Takemiya was unbeatable several decades ago for playing a center oriented style.  We may see a resurgence, against the current trend of super territorial play.
2. Use Alpha Go to analyze joseki.  I think it would be great to use Alpha Go's algorithm to run joseki through it and see if it agrees.  In the second game, we saw how Alpha Go veered away from joseki early on, and even though it looked strange, turned out to be extremely good.  How many other josekis might be changed around if Alpha Go has a hand at them?
3. A commercial version of Alpha Go.  The Go world would love nothing more than a computer program that could answer questions about various positions or act as a training partner.  I'm sure Google doesn't want to make some of its technology commercial just yet, or at least so widespread that it gets in the wrong hands, but I think a high dan version of Alpha Go would be great for people to train.  It can help show weaker players where the important parts of the board are, and even show variations.
4. Higher level professional play.  If Go Dojos get their hands on it then it could lead to a Renaissance of new moves and new research by young players.  No one would feel constrained by what is currently thought of as being "good" or "bad."  There will just be what works and what doesn't.
5. Komi might be too much.  It occurred to me that since Lee Sedol was having such a hard time beating Alpha Go as Black, it may have been because the burden of komi is just too big. Since Black goes first, White gets compensation for going second, since it is a clear disadvantage.  How much compensation has changed over the years, and I think professional associations have been looking at the win rate over the years to adjust it.  If Alpha Go is unbeatable as White, but only within a few points, it MAY mean komi is a bit too high.
6. Increased interest in Go.  One of my videos got 15,000 hits on Youtube within the space of two days.  There are people trying the game out for the first time.  Everyone and their mom knows that this game went on.  The people in my Korean class in China, my mother at home, and a friend of mine in Germany all knew it was happening.  The entire Go community has been flooding Facebook with memes and funny videos.  It felt like a coming together of a family whose members had all gone off to far flung cities and countries.  With new people, and renewed interest, the Go community of the world will only get larger and more interesting.  

Already I'm changing my own style and my own way of thinking to match Alpha Go.  In a way, we've tread upon new territory, and I think for all Go players, it's too exciting for words.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lee Sedol the come back kid!

Lee Sedol: Last Hope for Humanity

So sure Lee Sedol did not win best out of 5, but today, he scored one for humanity by brilliantly defeating Alpha Go, forcing the computer to resign after 180 moves.  The game was a nail biter in the end.  Alpha Go had a commanding lead in the opening, and it looked like it was going to just be a repeat of the third game, but Lee Sedol broke Alpha Go's programming with a brilliant middle game play that defied imagination.  By playing Alpha Go, perhaps Lee Sedol himself has risen in skill. This game we saw a side of the player that we all know and love.

Shoulder Hit of Death
Here is where I originally thought it would be the beginning of the end.  Alpha Go seems to prioritize the center in the opening, which already might shake up a bit of how professionals will play in the future.  I personally think Alpha Go just has a better way of calculating how much center stones will be worth in the future.  Lee Sedol took a lot of territory in the beginning, but Black looked like globally he would be the victor.

White seriously looks like he's in deep trouble.  Black's territorial framework in the middle is deep.  All of his investment at the top looks to be lost, and although White on the right side is big, it could be reduced heavily later.  I was nearly 100% confident that we'd be seeing Alpha Go go 4-0 into the next game, but Lee Sedol proved that honestly, he was the best candidate to test Alpha Go.

For those of you who do not play Go, I want you to understand one thing: This is not a move that normal people think of.  I had no idea what was going on when I first saw it.  White MUST find a way to invade or reduce Black's middle territorial framework, or the game WILL be lost.  Black has tiny weaknesses scattered throughout the area, and Lee Sedol found a way to tie them ALL together for his own advantage.  Lee Sedol sees possibilities within the shapes that other players may miss.  

It's gone.  All of it.  Lee sent in his army to ransack Black's area and he destroyed upwards of 40 points.  Through one display of brilliance he brought down the hammer and tipped the scales ever so slightly in his favor.  

This game shows that human intuition and reasoning ability is still an awesome thing.  For a brief moment, Lee Sedol transcended a computer with impressive processing power and the ability to effortlessly sift through trees and trees of different variations, all while calculating the outcome of success.  In the end, Lee Sedol vanquished the metallic monstrosity to bring hope to humanity once again.  So just for today, we fight off the machines for just one more day:


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Punching a Brick Wall

Playing Alpha Go is like punching a brick wall.  I know that many people watching perhaps do not play Go and are having a hard time appreciating what's going on, but my feeling watching Alpha Go play over the past 3 matches is that it is just like punching a brick wall.  It has no feelings.  In Go, you can use your emotions to guide you on how to play.  Most Go players will tell you it's intuition, or a feeling that draws you to certain parts of the board.  Emotions have a huge effect on the game.  Some moves look dangerous, where your stones will be easily captured and you would automatically lose. You can intimidate your opponent, and if you don't maintain mental concentration, you could slip easily and miss an easy move.

Alpha Go doesn't feel.  Playing Alpha Go is like punching a brick wall.

The commentators sometimes would say "Alpha Go doesn't seemed bothered here," for example, and I thought to myself "It isn't possible for it to be bothered."  It already knows which parts of the board are important, and can select sequences with extreme precision.  Lee Sedol had such a difficult time in the opening.  It's like watching Michael Jordan unable to get the ball in the hoop no matter how much he sweats, or Mike Tyson punching his opponent but getting no reaction.

The beginning of the game was astounding.  Lee Sedol started off on his back foot.  Alpha Go's groups were always stronger.  Even when it looked like the two were struggling, Alpha Go was always relatively stronger.  You can think of White's group at A like a team.  All those stones live and die together.  So does Black B.  Neither Black nor White can say their group is 100% safe, but White's group is somehow safer.  An attack never materializes against him the whole game!

Punching a brick wall.

Then, the game starts to get super exciting.  A lot of times in Go, you're fighting with your opponent. It's like boxing.  Both players are throwing jabs and uppercuts, and both men are trying to go for the knockout blow.  There is bobbing and weaving, but when the opportunity presents itself, Evander Holyfield just lays his opponent on the floor with his jab.  Not Alpha Go.

White A is like giving your opponent a pat on the head and telling him to not forget his lunch as he's getting on the school bus, then going to work at a high powered Wall Street firm.  White A could have been a number of moves that could have aimed to attack Black at the top, White could have tried to land that knock out blow, but instead, White's aim was the very large, very valuable box of territory on the other side of the board.  This shows the computer has no greed, and confirms one of the timeless lessons of the game of Go, that greed will eventually destroy you, and that patience and global thinking are rewarded.

Punching a brick wall.

I'm glad I'm alive to witness this history. A computer program has defeated one of the greatest grand masters of Go.  Plus, it might mean that Google could develop a commercial program that people could play.  I'd love to use a Go program to help me improve my game.  Even though I'm no where even close to Lee Sedol, it would be so invaluable.  Congrats to the Google team!


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

AlphaGo vs. Lee Sedol Matchup

Yesterday in Seoul, South Korea, Lee Sedol 9p lost to Alpha Go by resignation.  I have to say I'm still floored.  I'm sure the Google engineers are all popping champagne corks tonight.  When I first started playing Go around 2003, computers had already beaten chess, but Go was still far too complicated for a computer to master.  There were several attempts to create Go playing programs in the past, but usually the computer was easy enough for a weak amateur, such as myself at the time, to play it and confuse it with strange moves to win.  Many top amateurs and professionals were sometimes slightly derisive of a computer's chance at winning the game, because for many, playing Go required the use of what we consider to be uniquely human qualities such as intuition and "feeling."

For those of you who know very little about Go and are having a hard time visualizing why this game is so complicated and why it presented such a challenge to programmers, let me explain a bit.  Go is played on a 19x19 board.  You are allowed to play wherever you want.  There is no element of chance, so there are no dice, no spinners, no cards, nothing random.  A friend of mine said that Go is a game of "pure, unadulterated strategy" and she was right.  The first few moves in Go are played in the corner, and then from there, players will play in the corners to decide what shape they want.

Think about this.  It is Black's turn.  He gets to put down a stone pretty much anywhere on the board he likes.  I marked down possible moves for Black that are common and make sense.  Already there are 8 choices of what are considered "reasonable" moves.  You might ask "Well what about the other spaces on the board?"  Many of those spaces might be good to play later in the game, but for the moment, they're small potatoes.  After Black plays...

Now White has plenty of moves that he can choose from, all of which make sense in different ways, or reflect different strategies.  Some players are aggressive, some are quiet, some are patient and calculating.  Your moves reflect your strategy and your style, but there are so many moves that make sense, the opening of the game is filled with possibilities.  To sort through the moves that "make sense" and separate them from the moves that don't make sense or are not worth a lot, a human player uses a set of principles, like heuristics, to sort through the moves and then pick one he or she thinks is best.  You'll hear Go players call it "intuition" or "sense."  The thing that separates the more skilled players from the rest of the pack is the ability to properly apply these principles.  The other part of the game is to understand and visualize shapes before they're played out on the board, and then evaluate their value.  The principles help guide you towards moves that make logical sense.

For example, at this point in the game, Black attacks White with 2.  Now a human player would identify the nearby White stone as being "in danger" and "surrounded."  This is a judgement based on experience, but also on the principle that stones need to surround points in order to "live," or not be captured.  There are a lot of empty spaces there, but if you follow certain guidelines, a human player would be able to find which moves to start off with, and then use reason and logic to figure out the resulting sequence.  After looking at several different possible sequences, the human player would then decide which one was the best.  To find the initial move that sets everything in motion requires human intuition and experience as to what works and what doesn't.  Computers had never been very good at this kind of abstract decision making, but it looks like Alpha Go has made great strides.  

I do of course want to give my total support to our future silicon overlords as they take over humanity :)  I think that this is really a momentous occasion because in programming Alpha Go, the Google team has probably learned so much that could be used to solve problems in other contexts.  A program that can learn and change from experience and analyze problems by starting from a logical starting point has far reaching applications.  Future is looking bright indeed!


Monday, June 22, 2015

Twitch Channel!

I'm back!

After a long hiatus, I'm back into teaching and playing Go.  You may ask why I left in the first place.  I went to Korea, studied at a professional dojo, wrote 4 books on Go, and looked like I was going to be playing and teaching Go for awhile.

I miss the books.

Well, life got in the way.

Honestly, I dropped the game because it was more like a job than a game.  I'm never going to be professional, nor would I want to be honestly.  So when the game felt like a chore, when studying was no longer exciting, I just plain stopped.  I had gotten a position as a middle school Math/Science teacher, and I just dropped Go.  I knew it was time to do something else when losing started to feel excessively bad.  What made me come back?

I'm leaving for China in August.

Korea was a blats and I'm sure China will be too.

There's no way I'm going to be in China and not play.  So I decided I needed to get back in shape before I go.  Also, it's summer vacation, and Go is always an excellent hobby.  So, I decided to start a Twitch account and stream.  I'll play teaching games, do game reviews, go over joseki, and try to get back into the game in general.  I haven't seen to have gone down in skill, so this should be interesting.

My twitch channel is:

I will archive my exploits on Youtube here:

You can catch me playing on Tygem or KGS on my handle which is, you guessed it, yithril. comments

Friday, September 27, 2013

Journey to the Middle Kingdom set for October 8th on Kickstarter! 

Journey to the Middle Kingdom is my next project and I am very excited for it!  The story basically goes like this: Three young kids are sent back in time to ancient China to take part in Chinese fairy tales to make sure they happen the way they should.  To aid them in their journey, the Jade Emperor of Chinese heaven grants them three magic calligraphy brushes.  Whenever someone writes a Chinese character with the calligraphy brush, whatever you write, becomes real.  

I got the idea back when I was studying Chinese and I used to imagine the characters becoming real and jumping off the page.  From there, I simply added brushes.  The idea to use Chinese fairy tales as the backdrop came from the face I love fantasy stories in general from any country, but I especially like Chinese ones, so the two seemed to meld together perfectly.  

The first story arc, which I plan to take 6-8 books if my outline holds, will be based on the "Legend of the White Snake Maiden" or "Bai She Zhuan" in Chinese.  The tale is about a White snake demon who falls in love with a mortal man named "Xu Xian."  Their love is forbidden, but heaven remains silent. Eventually, a Buddhist monk named Fa Hai captures the White Snake Maiden in a tower and breaks up the two lovers forever. Eventually, the White snake maiden is freed by her best friend, the Green snake maiden.  

Of course I'm going to have my own unique twist to the tale itself, so you'll have to see how it all turns out.  I'm using Kickstarter to help me with the artist fees and printing the book.  I've got a lot of nice perks for anyone who wants to help make this project a reality, including Kickstarter ONLY artwork, T-shirts, a digital copy of the book, and even your own calligraphy brush (magic not included).  It all gets started October 8th!  It's going to be one heck of a ride.  If you want to stay posted on updates, visit the "Journey to the Middle Kingdom" Facebook page or website.

Twitter: @yithril