Monday, February 27, 2012

Professional Profiles: Naiwei Rui

From now on, every Monday, we'll have a new section called "Professional Profiles" where I'll introduce a new professional Go player, briefly detailing interesting things about their life and who they are.  Hopefully this will be a good way to introduce the world of professional Go to those of you who do not yet know too much about the game.  Professional Go players spend their lives studying the game so that they can face off in do or die battles on television.  They started training at a really young age, sometimes as young as three, so it's not exactly something you can pick up in an afternoon.  Really good Go players can earn quite a pretty penny playing in tournaments; Changho Lee brought in over $1,000,000 one year.  Of course, there is a pretty big gulf between what Li Gu and a new 1 dan pro can pull down, but if you're good, Go is not a bad profession.  Alright, without further ado our first pro is my favorite professional player of all time:

Naiwei Rui

Naiwei Rui (left) vs. Changhyuk Yu

When I first started to play Go I studied three professional players: Honinbo Shuusaku, Chikun Cho, and Naiwei Rui.  Of course, I was like 25 kyu, so I never came close to understanding their games, but they were the first Go professionals I was exposed to.  They were that big in the Go world.  Naiwei is known to her Korean fans as the "Iron Lady" for her hard nosed fighting style.  Her games usually feature a huge capturing race where either she or her opponent are left in shambles.  Naiwei Rui currently plays in Korea, however, she was born in Shanghai, China on December 28th, 1963.  She became a professional in 1985.  She is one of the strongest female players in the world, and one of only a handful who can claim to have earned the highest rank in Go: 9 dan.  Naiwei has been all over the world playing Go.  She originally played in China, then left when she thought that there was no future for her there, and went to Japan.  There, she became a disciple of Go Seigen, a man many consider to be one of the best Go players in all history.  While in Japan, Rui did not play as a professional, and was not invited to be one at the Japanese Go Federation.  She married Jiang Zhujiu, another professional 9 dan and moved to San Francisco for a stint, until traveling to Korea to play as a "Guest Professional."  She and Jiang Zhujiu are often jokingly called the "18 dan couple." Naiwei has dominated women's Go in Korea, earning title after title with her razor sharp style, including the Women's Kuksu and the Maxim Cup.  She even held a positive record against Changho Lee, confounding his calm, cool, collected Go style with her unpredictably aggressive play.  Her very presence has spurned on the growth of women's Go in Korea.  It comes as no surprise that many of the other female 9 dans also come from Korea, as Naiwei has encouraged them to work harder and try to outdo her phenomenal success.  Naiwei's games are great to look at if you want to sharpen your senses at attack and defense. 


Friday, February 24, 2012

Game Review Part Deux

Alright, so technical difficulties have been vanquished (huzzah!) and we can now continue on with the game review.  So, we left off with the epic struggle between Dave and his opponent.  White just played a good move, mayhaps a bit slow, but still, pretty shape.  What happens next?

Black 39 is the correct direction, and Dave should pat himself on the bat.  I might have preferred a one space jump, but for 5-10 kyus, if you're playing in the right area of the board I will feel satisfied.  If you don't play 39, then white will reduce from this side and your right side stones will feel useless and have low self-esteem.  White 40 is also pretty good.  The idea is to halt Black's advance into the center while threatening to create your own territorial framework, so I can applaud this move.  White 44 is also an okay idea, but it doesn't mesh with the moves he plays later.  Now, if I were White...
We need to go for maximum pain here kids.  Black's bottom right group is very weak and we need to exploit that.  White 1 is a good way to doing it, depriving Black of a vital point on the right and then using White 3 to start building the center, and in sente!  Building territorial frameworks is fun, but building territorial frameworks while attacking is even more fun!  White has a chance to take the lead, but instead he tried to capture Black's reduction stone...which is impossible.  In fact, in forcing Black to build a wall, he's made one of his previous moves bad.

Case in point, Black just grabbed a good fifteen points or so (maybe even more depending how the endgame plays out) of points with a simple push and cut, not sacrificing anything in the process.  White plays 62...and I'm not sure what Dave is defending against with 63.  Black concedes quite a few points here without putting up a fight, when it might have been better to fight back.  Black 71 is very big.  Dave later went on to win this match by killing his opponent's big group in the center, so congratulations to him!  What's the moral to the story?

1. Be careful which direction you make a wall.  If your opponent can play a stone that cannot be killed to reduce your influence, it's probably not the right direction.
2. If your opponent reduces your center and you can't kill his stone, don't attack him. Making him stronger doesn't help you.
3. If your opponent refuses to defend themselves, show them why it might be a good idea.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Technical Difficulties

So I was supposed to continue the review of Dave's game today, but GoWrite screwed up on me and I can't use my diagram creator to well....make diagrams!  This is the second time that GoWrite has crashed on me and I have no idea why.  I haven't done anything special with this computer at all.  In any case, I'll be researching how to put up something similar and then continue with the game review as promised :) 


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chicago Tournament Game Review

Now for that game review I promised!  My friend, David, played in the Chicago tournament last week and won all of his games as a 4 kyu (I believe).  I taught Dave how to play Go, and he has both loved and hated it ever since.  I was happy to hear he did so well.  I went through his games, and picked out a good one that has a lot of teachable mistakes.  As far as Dave's style, you'll find he enjoys killing groups as much as I do, but tends not to make the correct large scale tactical decisions.  Hey, if you kill your opponent's fifty stone group, it doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to work.  I'll do the review in separate parts, and continue Wednesday and Friday.  All right let's roll up our sleeves!

David is Black.  The first mistake we come to is Black 13.  It's the wrong direction.  This is an easy mistake to make.  You want to build a wall in this direction because of the star point stone at Black 1.  The thing is, this joseki ends with Black gote.  This means that the right side is wide open.  White played 18, which is not the way to make use of this mistake.  Instead, White should have played at "A" to reduce Black's thickness.  Reducing thickness is not glamorous, but there's nothing worse than having five inefficient stones. 
Black 19 is also not so great.  The upper left Black stones are low, so building influence here to make a moyo is inefficient because part of our moyo can be pressed down and reduced.  This also makes White too strong.  Black should have pincered.  White 26...I can understand.  I really can.  When I review kyu games I'm pretty lenient.  He probably felt he could've been attacked.  If it were me though, since my upper right group is so strong, I might have gone on the offense and make Black pay for his bad direction by attacking with B or somewhere around there.  Black 27 is good, and White 28 is correct.  White needs to guard against the pincer at A.  Moves like Black 37...I wish I knew what went on in Dave's head when he plays stuff like this.  I know he knows the right shape, it's just his unconscious spits out something random when the time comes to play a move.  White 38 is really beautiful and the correct shape, but he really could've foregone defense here and tried to attack Black, especially since he has sente and White 26 already in place.  

Seriously Dave, Black 37?

I'll continue on Wednesday with more of this game!  Stay tuned!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The "I Sing the Body Electric" Go Tournament in Chicago

Just this past Saturday in Chicago, Illinois over 42 Go players locked horns in do or die board game combat at the Arlington Heights Go Center.  Robert Barber, the tournament director, has been running this tournament since 1992.  A friend of Robert's, Roger White, had encouraged Robert to host the tournament, and it has been a tradition since.  I do not know the story behind the name, "I Sing the Body Electric," but with a moniker like that, you know the story will be good.  The tournament had been held at the University of Illinois, but now there is an Arlington Go Center, and it exciting that so many players turned out to play.  Really.  42 Go players is really a lot of people for an event outside the U.S. Go Congress, so it must have been a lot of fun to have that many people who love the game in one room.  Plus, three of the participants are engaged to be married: Laura Kolb and Lisa Scott (both of whom I've met at Go Congress), and Karoline Burral. In even more good news, my friend Dave Muskovitz won all four of his games, and later on this week I'll review one of them for your Go playing pleasure.  If there is a Go tournament going on near you, I urge you to visit the AGA tournament page and make plans!  They're great fun, and it doesn't matter if you can't tell Go from a hole in the ground.


Friday, February 10, 2012

U.S. Go Congress 2012

So I saw in this AGA E-Journal this afternoon that signup for the U.S. Go Congress is already underway, and I'm excited!  I have no idea if I'll be able to make it this year, as I haven't been able to go the last two times unfortunately, but the three times I went (2006-2008) were some of the most memorable and enjoyable weeks of my life!  Go Congress is a Go-themed heaven on earth.  I can not be more emphatic about the fact you should make it if you can afford to and have the time.  Attendance has risen steadily over the past couple years, so you'll be joined by hundreds of other Go players from around the U.S., Europe, and Asia.  Each morning starts off with the U.S. Open tournament.  You'll play one round per morning in your strength bracket, and the winner gets prizes, usually a cash prize or some sort of trinket.  The prize is irrelevant, however, because you get to play serious games and get them reviewed by a professional. Each year, there is always a group of professionals who come to teach, give lectures, and review games.  Teachers like Guo Juan and Jennie Shen, who are regulars and well known among American Go players, usually come, as well as a contingent of professionals from the Japanese or Korean Go Federations. Outside of the U.S. Open, there are plenty of other activities where you can play variations of Go, like magnetic Go or lightning Go, and there's also a blitz tournament.  You also can get a chance to play a real live professional in a simultaneous game and see how well you do against someone who plays the game for a living!  Go congress is plain spectacular.  I met a lot of people who I now consider to be good friends while at Go Congress, and I also fondly remember 2007 where I won first place in the 1 dan division with a record of 6-0.  Go Congress will be held in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and if you're interested in further information you can go here.  Hope to see you there!


Monday, February 6, 2012

Professional Go Players and their nervous ticks

I've been on a Baduk TV kick, and I've noticed something really interesting: each professional player has their own unique nervous tick.  Some professionals rattle their Go stones, while others rock back and forth.  It's really an interesting phenomenon to watch.  Go has a specific etiquette to it.  You are supposed to sit quietly and control yourself, only reaching into your  bowl when you're ready to make your move, and fully concentrating on the board in front of you.  At least, that's the etiquette I was taught, and it's supposed to instill discipline, etc.  However, after having been to a lot of tournaments and watching professionals play, they each break the rules in their own unique way.

Cho Hunhyun

Cho is a rather awesome guy.  He still plays Go well into his sixties when most professionals retire before their forties.  He's a ball of nervous ticks.  He digs into his bowl and rattles the stones, he groans out loud if his opponent plays a good move, and even sometime sings and hums to himself.  You're not supposed to create a ruckus so as not to break your opponent's concentration, but Cho doesn't really seem to care all that much about that.  One thing Cho does that is a big no-no is to hover your hand over the board when you're playing a move.  Sometimes you want to play a stone on a certain spot, then you back off, and then hover the stone over the spot to help you visualize what the board looks like.  It's a bit annoying, and Cho does it all the time. 

Cho Chikun

Cho Chikun is another winner in the nervous habits hall of fame!  It must have something to do with being named Cho.  Cho Chikun doesn't sing while playing, but he did have a habit of scratching his head and ruffling his hair when the game got to be complex.  I mean, nothing says "I'm thinking as hard as I can" more than someone practically scratching their scalp clean off their head.  Cho Chikun is another professional with a lot of constitution.  He is still playing Go well into his fifties, and winning title matches to boot!  I don't think he does the hair scratching thing as often anymore.  His hair, though, is crazy enough as it is.

Lee Sedol
The boy genius is no stranger to nervous ticks himself, although his aren't as obvious.  I have to say one thing though, Lee Sedol kind of disappointed me when I first heard him speak.   I pictured him as having a deep, manly voice because his style is so violent.  Then he opened his mouth, and he sounded like a girl.  In any case, Lee tends to rock back and forth and put his hands to his lips when the going gets rough.  The rocking habit was really noticeable in his recent battles with Gu Li in the BC Card Cup, when Sedol lost a huge group and had to come from behind.

Do you have any weird habits when you play Go?  Do you have any strange ticks, or any rituals you have when you play?  When I read out long sequences, I look like I'm working a calculator with my right hand.  I also did the hair scratching thing back in the day.  Perhaps I'll one day be as strong as Cho Chikun, or be left without a scalp. 


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lee Sedol vs. Gu Li - Sedol Dies Big: Can he make it?

I'm kind of in awe at the daring of Lee Sedol sometimes.  He's one of my favorite professional Go players for a reason.  He fights hard in difficult situations and comes out on top because he uses unorthodox strategies, something I enjoy.  However, in today's game, I was taken aback by how he clearly felt he could win despite taking a huge loss towards the end of the middle game.  I've seen sacrifice strategies before where one player makes a huge territorial framework by letting a big group die.  This strategy can work if you get a ton of forcing moves and endgame moves to whittle down the big group you've lost while maintaining a big framework yourself somewhere else on the board.  The downside to this strategy is that if your opponent still can make territory while reducing your main area, you can easily lose control over the balance of the game.  Take a look at this:

                                                             Gu Li vs. Lee Sedol (Black)

This is an intense game for both players.  You can tell from their body language.  Both players are hovering over the board and look ready to pounce.  Black lost seventeen stones, making the top worth at least forty five to fifty points.  This resulted from a trade.  Black's upper left group is alive, but at the cost of the upper right group.  White happily cut the two apart and traded the left, which had previously been under his control.  There is nothing worse than losing a game after killing a large group.  There's also nothing like trying to maximize your territory after a huge loss and converting every remaining intersection into points.  You can feel the weight of each move poignantly because the situation has become clear.  Sedol's bottom right is comparable to Gu's top half, and the left side areas of the board almost cancel each other out. The fight will have to be over the left-middle area of the board and whether or not White can turn that area into territory.  I really don't feel that Black is winning.  I know the bottom right looks big, but when you get down to brass tacks, it's at most sixty five points, seventy on a good day.  White's territory at the top easily matches that.  If we look at what happens next...

Black has to solidify his holdings in the lower right.  He snags seventy points of territory, but now White's center is starting to look out of control.  Even if White were to just make fifteen points there, it'd be enough.  Talk about a nail biter.  Looks like I'll be up tonight :P