Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Philosophy of Go: Good and Bad Behaviors

One of the things I've gained an appreciation for is how Go relates to real life.  I'm going to start a new series where I talk about Go strategy and how I personally apply it to my everyday life.  I already spoke a bit about how playing Go is like meditation, I wanted to talk more about how I use the tactics of the game to help me navigate life.

Humans have difficulty predicting the future with accuracy.  You go through life making dozens of decisions.  It's hard to tell just how impactful a decision is until you see its fruition, and by then, it may be too late to do anything about it.  We take the information we have and try to do our best with it.  In the game of Go, there are sometimes dozens of possibilities.  The difference between one move and another can be the difference between a peaceful game where both players haggle over a handful of points, to an all-out life or death struggle.

Good Go players have a variety of tools at their disposal to handle this problem.  The first is past experience.  Strong Go players just avoid certain moves because in the past they did not yield a good result.  They may not know what the BEST result in a given situation is, but they definitely do not spend their time going down rabbit holes.  People do this in real life.  You want to have money to buy things.  Shelter and food are always nice.  You go to work.  You earn money, but you have a habit of being late.  You don't put forth enough effort at work.  You call off when you would rather stay home and play video games.  Eventually, you get fired.  You have money problems.  The next job you get, you are there on time and you learn how to perform your job better.  By making mistakes and observing outcomes, you prune away behaviors and ideas that do not serve your purpose.

Punctuality, self discipline, and industriousness are qualities that serve you well for getting a job and keeping it.  Keeping your stones connected, making good shape, and keeping your options open are qualities that serve you well for playing a good game of Go.  Good Go players have learned to forget certain moves because the outcome is always bad.  They also learn to make certain shapes or play certain moves because they know there will be a payoff.

Take the shape above, for example.  It's classic.  Black slides at 1 and then comes back to make a framework at the bottom with 3.  Black has already damaged himself by making thin shape.  We tend to think that when our opponent makes a mistake, there must be some magic move we can play to automatically destroy him. That is not always so.  In this case, Black has left a gaping hole.  White simply needs to continue playing the game, always keeping an eye on Black's weakness at A.

To appreciate Black's plight, imagine this: Black has a hole in his roof.  The hole in his roof is at A.  When it's sunny outside, he can putter around the house and not notice.  When it storms, he has a problem!  That's the way it works in Go.  If you make weak, brittle shapes, you might be forced to pay a price later.

Let's say the game progresses.  Black thinks all is well.  Now, White invades with the circle marked stone.  It's raining and Black's house is about to be flooded.  His two square marked stones are in trouble!  Black will be able to save them, but the cost will be that White gets to destroy a lot of Black's potential territory.

Throughout my life I try to inspect my own habits and behaviors.  I try to draw a direct causal line between behaviors that help me and behaviors that inhibit me.  Going to the gym results in a bit of pain the next day, but helps my energy and focus levels immensely.  Taking the extra time at work to make sure a project is done correctly helps me build a better rapport with my co-workers, who may be more inclined to help me when I need it down the line.  Good trees bear good fruit! Take stock of your own behaviors, and see which ones bear you good fruit.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

Go as Meditation

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going to the Midwest Go Open in Delaware, Ohio.  I was shocked by how many people turned out!  Finding 40 some odd Go players, let alone getting them in the same room, is quite the feat.  I got to see other Go players I hadn’t seen for years.  Towards the end of the week, I headed to the bar with a friend of mine, Ben.  I find that during Go tournaments, I have the best philosophical conversations.  Ben and I talked about what is the actual distinction between a 3 dan, 5 dan, 7 dan player.  Part of it is attitude.  Ben made a great observation.  He said that lower ranked dan players have less focus than higher ranked players.  He noted this when he saw a 1 dan Japanese professional play in the U.S. Open, she had laser like focus on the game.  When she played, she poured herself into every move.  I thought I would try it myself the next day. 

The next morning, I sat down to play my third game of the tournament.  I decided that I would make it a goal to remain utterly focused on my game.  I immediately recognized that my attention would wander.  When waiting for my opponent to play, I would look at my neighbor's board and see how things were going. My eyes would wander.  I would remember the lyrics to a rap battle I had listened to earlier in the week.  I’d fidget and think about how cold the room was.  

I realized that my lack of attention was wasting precious time.  Did I really have the game so well in hand I could afford to not pay attention? Instead of letting my mind wander to the next extraneous object, I instead gently pushed myself back to the game.  Every second I spent looking at my neighbor's board position, watching the ceiling, or humming a tune in my head, was one second I was not spending on the here and now, the board in front of me.   

I decided to just gently bring my mind back to the game every time my eyes would wander.  It shocked me just how unfocused on the game I was!  It was hard at first, but I started to force myself to use my time wisely.  If my opponent was taking a long time to think about their move, I forced myself to read out variations.  If I felt that I had the variations read out to the best of my ability, I counted territory.  If I felt I had a handle on the balance of territory, I read out end game moves and tried to find good tesujis.  Where were the sente, double sente, and gote moves in the end game going to be?  What order should I play them?   
I felt the game took on a new dimension for me.  It was like meditation.  I’ve done mindfulness meditation before.  It relies on focusing on your breath, letting your wild brain wander, and then refocusing it on a focal point in the physical world.  To keep your brain on the straight and narrow, you usually have a focus, usually counting forwards or backwards from 1 to 10.  Playing a game of Go where I focused all my attention on the game was no different.   

My level of play went up.  My opponent didn’t surprise me with moves I hadn’t considered.  I could make better tactical decisions because I counted constantly.  I won 3 out of the 4 games at the Midwest Open.  The second I started focusing completely on my game, the more I was able to bring my knowledge of the game to bear.  I also noticed my emotional state was better during the game.  I didn’t feel anxious, nervous, or fearful of losing.  Focus brought me a feeling of objectivity.  I think in the future I will take this lesson and apply it to life, and focus on the board in front me of me, wherever I happen to be.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Wanna Play Go?

My dream has finally been realized and I'm just not sure how to handle it.  Years ago, I wanted to create a website where you could get guided lessons on the game of Go.  I learned the game by reading books in Chinese and Japanese (back when I didn't speak a word of either language).  This was fun, but difficult.  Frustrating might be a better word.  I wanted for others to have an easier time studying the game.  Life happened, and the project got side tracked, but now, Sunday Go Lessons is live!

My aim was to create a "Go Teacher in Your Pocket." Studying Go involves three things: Doing Go problems, learning about new strategies, and getting your games reviewed.  I wanted Sunday Go Lessons to be a place where you can do all three.

The site is for any player from 30 kyu (absolute beginner) to 4 dan.  If you subscribe, you'll get access to tools that will help you get better at Go.  Depending on your level, I break down the different skills you need to master to move up the rankings.  I developed the list of skills from my experience teaching Go players over the years as well as looking at games and asking myself "What is the difference between a 5 kyu and a 10 kyu?"  Subscribers get access to a dashboard that looks a little something like this:

The best way to test your knowledge of the various skills is to solve tsumego problems. Subscribers get access to an online problem solver.  You'll solve Go problems that test your skills, and you'll be able to see in what areas you are strong and where you may need work.

You'll also get video recommendations based on your strengths and weaknesses.  The videos are geared towards boosting your skills in different areas.  The recommended videos are a great way to focus on your own special needs as a Go player. I cover a variety of different topics, and as a subscriber, you get access to the full library of videos, so feel free to learn about what interests you the most.

Best of all, subscribers can get 3 of your games reviewed by yours truly every month. Pick 3 games, upload them, and then I'll give you personalized commentary.  I learned best from the various people who taught me Go over the years, and I know how important it is someone looks at your style and gives you honest feedback on what you need to do. 

As I said earlier, for me, this is the culmination of my dream: a place where newcomers to Go can get a gentle introduction in the game and help when they need it.  I wrote the "So You Want to Play Go?" series, but this feels like it's going even further.  If this sounds like fun to you, go ahead and mosey on over to  A subscription costs $10 a month, or, if you pay 3 months up front, only $8 month. I hope it helps you reach for new heights in the game of Go.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Go Congress Tune Up

Go Congress is August 4th this year in sunny San Diego, California, and I am planning on making my way there.  Last year, I went 3-3 in the 4 dan division.  In China, I played 4 dans comfortably and could occasionally beat a Chinese 5 dan if the stars aligned.  I know that once you get up to the dan level ranks, then progress becomes a lot slower.  Also, the training regimen tends to get a bit dull.  It's basically "play games and do L&D."  I learned early on in my Go career that half the battle is putting your nose to the grindstone and doing the boring, unexciting work.  After all, it works and leads to improvement.

I joined the BIBA league this month so I would be able to play some serious games, have them reviewed, and do life and death problems.  I work quite a bit each week so I only have so much time I can devote to serious Go study, and the schedule seemed about right.  One thing about Go, is it's a lot like riding a bike.  I haven't played in months, but picking it back up is not too difficult.  I just have to make sure I play regularly enough so that I'm not rusty.

My current record in the BIBA league is 1-1.  The second game I lost in spectacular fashion because of a single tactical misread.  I have to take more time to do the intricate reading necessary to make the game work.  My style of Go is inherently complicated.  I lost my last game because I didn't properly read out the life and death situation of my group and thought it was unconditionally alive, when in fact it was a ko.  The ko was unwinnable for me because I had made a weak group nearby live, but in doing so left a lot of ko threats.  This constantly happens in my games, where one misread causes an avalanche.

I'm entering Go Congress as a 4d, even though my rank is like 3.7 dan.  The games at high level are a lot harder because my opponents are usually more tenacious and the games grind on.  No one accepts defeat and they hang on to the last stone.  In a way it helps me to be stronger, to be mentally tougher. I've been getting in shape for the past month, weightlifting and doing cardio, and it has remarkably improved my concentration, which is a skill I hope to bring into my game.  I'd like to think I'm a strong Go player, but I'm still human and make dumb mistakes (like missing simple nets).  I need to stop thinking every loss is a disaster and every win is a ticket to 7 dan.  You just do the work, and when you don't know what to do, follow the advice of my Korean Go instructor Yi Jae Il: Do more. comments

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: