Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thursday Go Tip: Ranking Up and How to Keep It

So recently I upgraded to 3 dan on my blitz account.  This is a big deal for me, because whenever I go up in rank on my blitz account, it means that my Go has gotten better overall.  For me, my level at blitz is indicative of how much of the game is under my belt.  You do not know a tsumego problem unless you can do it effortlessly in less than 30 seconds, and I usually think of the entire game as one, large tsumego problem.  It always feels good to go up a rank, but if you're just strong enough to keep it, it can feel tenuous.  I know, you're not supposed to care about your rank.  If I were an enlightened master I'd be objective and just play Go for fun.  However, I like going up ranks, it makes me feel good.  Who doesn't like to munch on the carrot at the end of the stick?  The thing is though, being obsessed with rank can make the process of getting better at Go especially painful.  Winning streaks are great, but you don't want your losing streaks to send you into the doldrums.  Here is some practical advice to keep yourself in gear when you've just gone up a rank.

1. Cool your jets.  Your first instinct may be to play people of the next higher rank one on one to prove just how much of an expert you've become.  When I hit 3 dan, I wanted to take on the 4 dans at blitz right away, because I imagined myself speeding all the way up to 5 dan in a flash.  This isn't realistic.  Try to play even ranked people or play against people one rank below you to see if you really are where you think you are.

2. Take a break from Go.  This helps put things into perspective, especially if you've been on a training regimen.  While I was studying at the dojo, I took a break from studying Go for an entire month.  I didn't look at a board, touch stone, or watch Baduk TV at all.  It helped me get my mind off the game, and when I came back, I was a lot stronger.

3. Don't struggle to get back your rank if you lose it.  If you rank up and then lose it, don't try to play game after game after game to try and reclaim your lost rank.  It'll just end up making you frustrated, and you'll dig a huge hole for yourself eventually.  

Hopefully this will provide some guidance, so that you can keep ranking up and feeling the wonderful sense of satisfaction at becoming the next latest and greatest Go master!


Monday, March 26, 2012

Professional Profiles: Changho Lee

Changho Lee 9p

The "Stone Buddha" himself, Changho Lee was once hailed as the strongest Go player in the world.  Born on the 29th of July, 1975, he hails from Jeonju, South Korea.  Changho has an impressive resume, winning top international titles such as the Chunlan Cup, the LG Cup, and the Nongshim Cup, as well as dominating the domestic tournament scene.  During the 1990s, Changho was unrivaled in skill.  His style is both solid and deep.  His master was Hunhyun Cho, and it is believed that Changho's solid, deep style was born out of the need to defeat Hunhyun's natural ability to find brilliant moves to control the game.  Changho can outlast the most aggressive opponent with his precise calculations and never is perturbed, even if his opponent tries to create chaos and confusion on the board.  Changho seeks to control the game, with measured, careful moves that can help him predict outcomes, rather than trying to butt heads with his opponents.  During the peak of his career, he was nearly unstoppable.  It took a player with an amazingly aggressive style, like Naiwei Rui for example, to be able to beat him.  Changho is not as dominant as he once was in international tournaments, as Li Gu Sedol Lee, and even Yuuta Iyama have come on the scene and have challenged the "era of Changho Lee."  During his off hours, Changho enjoys playing tennis, and is enjoying married life to his new bride, Doyun Lee.  Doyun is a reporter for a Go magazine in China, and that's how the two met.  Changho had always been a bit introverted and shy, but the two hit it off and now they're enjoying married life.  If you study professional games, then Changho's games from the 90s are on your "must replay" list!


Fantasy Book Cover

So I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I was able to churn out a 56,000 word story in about a month.  It was an adrenaline pumping experience to say the least.  After many sleepless nights and twisted metaphors later, I had a primordial novel in my hands.  I am hoping to release it sometime this year, but with so many twists and turns to getting a novel out, I'm not sure exactly when it will be done.  However, I did have a breakthrough recently: the artist I hired to draw the cover is just about done, and I wanted to have you guys look at it and tell me what you think.  I know, it has nothing to do with Go, but hey, I didn't think you would mind.

Cool eh?  The book is aimed at young adults and I thought featuring the four main characters on the cover would make it eye catching.  The text on the right needs to be darker so you can read it, but other than that, I really like this.  The story is based off a Dungeons and Dragons campaign I played with a group of friends some summers back.  Four adventurers embark on a journey to the isle of Arenfel, a newly opened colony of the kingdom of Alterone, after receiving a letter from the mayor of the colony.  There, they are flung in the middle of an ancient conflict and uncover the origins of their own civilization.  It was a lot of fun to write and I think the story overall is fairly good, at least good enough for a lazy afternoon.  I may expand the story or I may not, but at least I have a cover so I can start getting the word out that the book will be ready.  So, what do you think?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday Go Tips!

Today's Go tip will seem a little funny, but it's well worth the laughs, trust me!  This has to be done in real life with a real board, because I don't know of any online Go server that will allow this.  Grab a friend, and play a game like you normally would for the first 30 moves or so.  Then, switch!  Yes, that's right, switch roles.  If you're Black, take White, and vice-verse, and take over for your opponent.  Leave the stones exactly as they are.  If your opponent was in the superior position, well then congratulations, you're the one whose winning now!  Then, play into the middle game until move 65 or so, then switch again!  Every 30 moves, switch sides, and continue the game as if you are trying to win.  Of course, you finish the game like you normally would, and neither you nor your opponent are technically the winner.  What this exercise does is get you into the habit of thinking about the board from your opponent's perspective.  All too often we make plans and develop strategies that are dependent on our opponent doing exactly what we want them to do, only to watch on in horror as our opponent does what's best for him, not for ourselves.  This is a great exercise if your opponent is at least three stones stronger than you, so you can see how they salvage a bad situation or what their ideas/moves would be and how they stack up to your own. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Professional Profiles: Xihe Luo

Xihe Luo 9p

Xihe Luo is a 9 dan professional with the Chinese Go Federation. He has a very interesting style of Go.  He always plays his own moves, and challenges conventional wisdom, coming up with new moves and strategies which leave his opponents scratching their heads.  Xihe was born November 23, 1977 and became a professional in 1989.  His accolades include winning the 10th Samsung Cup by defeating Changho Lee in a nail-biter of a game as well as winning the CCTV Cup and other tournaments.  Xihe is known as the "King of Ko," because he always knows how to use kos to his advantage and also can find sequences to turn a position into a ko where others might not.  Sometimes Xihe's style can blow up in his face.  There have been games where his free mindedness has handed him a loss, but that never deters him in the slightest.  If you want to study excellent examples of sabaki (playing lightly in area where you are greatly outnumbered), then Xihe's games are a great place to start.  He plays for territory and keeps his stones low, so he is excellent at dealing with large moyos.  If invading large moyos is a problem you find yourself having in your games, then reviewing his matches will offer you some tips.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thursday Go Tips!

There is this fantastic novel called "First Kyu" which is a must read for any Go player or anyone interested in learning about Go culture in South Korea.  It's been several years since I read it.  A friend at Go club lent it to me, and I devoured the book that night.  It's about a man who is first introduced to the game of Go at a young age.  I believe he goes to a Go club and starts playing after reading a few books.  His description of Korean Go clubs is spot on, as well as the allure of the game.  In South Korea, there was the kyu system for amateurs (30-1 kyu) and dan level was reserved for professionals.  That means, while the spread from 30-2 kyu was an accurate depiction of someone's playing level, 1 kyu was a group where anyone who had not yet made professional was stuck.  A "1 kyu" matchup could be between two five dans, or between an actual 1 kyu and a seven dan!  The book takes you through the journey of the main character as he first tries to get to 1 kyu and then later attempt to become a professional Go player.  What does this have to do with today's Go tip?  Glad you asked!  The main character hits 1 kyu, and then has a hard time getting strong enough to play against the top players.  He plays plenty of games and does Go problems, so he has to find some other way of reaching the top dan ranks.  He asks his girlfriend's father to loan him some cash so he can journey to a Buddhist temple and spend several months focusing solely on Go: day in and day out.
A one night stay at one of these places is going to cost you a pretty penny!

The main character recluses himself and spends every waking hour studying the games of Wu Qingyuan, better known as Go Seigen, the man who is regarded as the top Go player of the 20th century.  He would take out a board and stones, and replay all of Go Seigen's games one by one, five times each.  Go Seigen played a ton of games, so the process of replaying all of his games took several months.  Now, I don't want you to lock yourself in your room with a Go board and emerge with a hermit's beard.  I do want you to pick a single professional player, someone with a style you like, and focus on replaying their games (on a real board!) as many times as you can.  I know many of you cannot devote an entire day to this pursuit, so try for an hour or two a day.  My favorite professional player to replay is Koichi Kobayashi.  I remember going over about 50 of his games, and then going on a super winning streak.  Pick any professional player you want, and get to playing!


Monday, March 12, 2012

Professional Profiles: Yuuta Iyama

Yuuta Iyama

Yuuta Iyama is a Japanese professional and the latest sensation in professional Japanese Go.  Yuuta Iyama was born May 24, 1989 and became a professional in 2002, becoming one of the youngest people to make professional in Japan (Chikun Cho still holds that title).  In fact, Yuuta would later earn a lot of new "firsts" throughout his career.  Yuuta went on to take the Agon cup at the age of 16, making him the youngest Japanese ever to hold a professional title.  Yuuta would then go on to win more titles and more matches, defeating Xu Zhang 4-1 in the Meijin match and becoming the youngest Meijin titleholder at 20 years old.   He became a 9 dan in eight years and one month.  In an era where Japan's international performance has been lackluster at best, Yuuta Iyama is the best chance his country has at mounting a resurgence against the strong players coming out of China and Korea.  He has defeated two giants of Chinese and Korean Go, Li Gu and Sedol Lee, and received third place in the 2011 Fujitsu cup.  Yuuta Iyama's style is not terribly aggressive, but he does not miss the tactically relevant points and is known to allow his opponent to make thickness while waiting to eke out more points by the end.  Yuuta's future in the Go world is quite bright, and if he can lead Japan back from its decade long slump, it'll make professional Go that much more exciting!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thursday Go Tips!

Last week we touched on one-color Go, and I hope you had fun trying it out.  It can be a bit of a headache, but once you get it down, it does a lot to boost your confidence.  What are some other ways we can enhance our Go playing skills?  Tsumego (Go puzzles) is of course the tried and true way of increasing your skill at Go.  It's been said so many times I won't go over all of the benefits of doing Go problems, but I will offer a new way of doing them that might make it more fun and help out with learning shapes.  I used to do a mountain of tsumego problems.  When I was trying to move up the dan ranks, I actually sat down one weekend and did about 3,000 some odd problems.  It didn't result in a big boost in my playing strength.  In fact, I ended up being really, really bored.  Doing a TON of tsumego problems is really the way to go, but you have to make the process fun or else you'll be in the doldrums.  Here's a neat idea the next time you crack open that tsumego book.

Get 10-20 tsumego together that are moderately difficult for you, and time yourself while you do it.  Repeat this process with another set of 10-20, and then another.  Now, wait a week.  Doing the same tsumego problems back to back doesn't really help you put the shapes in long term memory.  You have to do the same shapes and problems over a period of time so that it sticks in your head.  Take the same sets of problems and do them again, but this time, try to do them faster.  Waiting a week will help you in forgetting the solution so you don't just memorize it.  Try to do the same set, minus 10-15 seconds.  If you mess up, that's fine!  Just take the problems you couldn't finish on time, and set them aside for next week; they'll be at the top of the pile!  Doing tsumego problems accurately and fast will help your game, and since we have a week's worth of down time in between, you won't just be mindlessly picking the same spot without instinctively understanding why move A works and move B does not.  Try it out!  It's strenuous, but if you're serious, it's a new way to do tsumego that is both rewarding and fun.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Wait, what is Go? Should I try it out?"

Go might appear daunting at first.  To newcomers it can seem like it would take a lot of effort just to master the basics of the game.  It's estimated that there are 10^174 number of possible board configurations; a staggering number.  Go has a few simple rules, so it is easy to learn how to play, and plus, there are a great many reasons to pick it up as a hobby.  MRI scans have revealed that playing Go stimulates both the left and right sides of the brain, unlike chess which simply stimulates one side.  The left side is associated with processing logic and reason, while the right side of the brain is linked to abstract and visual reasoning.  Go works out both parts of your brain, as you will need to have excellent visual reasoning skill coupled with intuitive reasoning.  Playing Go might also help guard against Alzheimer's disease and dementia, as people who play strategy games regularly have a lower occurrence of these illnesses. 

Go is a wonderful hobby for children to develop their intellect and gain discipline.  Dr. Akira Tano, a Japanese educational researcher, once said that playing Go was "the best way for children to develop their innate intellectual abilities."  Children who play Go tend to do better in the sciences and math.  In Japan, studies have shown that children who play Go have better powers of concentration and excel in a variety of subjects, possibly attributable to the fact that Go uses many different parts of the brain.  Besides all this, though, Go is a rewarding activity for children and good clean fun.  Go is being integrated into school systems across the U.S. in the form of after school clubs and classes.  What about adults?  Go strategy is applicable in many situations and there have been several books written about how the tactics you learn in the game apply to the board room.  Even if you are not looking to climb to the top of the business world, Go is great to make new acquaintances and tap into a diverse world of people from all over the world.  There are players in almost every country, so that you'll be able to find a Go club that speaks your language! 


Monday, March 5, 2012

Professional Profiles: Hunhyun Cho

Hunhyun Cho 9p

Hunhyun Cho is another legend in the professional Go world.  He is a 9 dan from South Korea and held the record for the youngest person ever to become a professional (he earned his 1 dan at the tender age of 9).  Hunhyun has earned the most titles of any professional ever, over 150 to his name, and has racked up over 1,000 wins in professional matches. He still plays professional Go well into his fifties when other Go players retire before forty.  He is a fighter much like Naiwei Rui.  His games are filled with wonderful tesujis and he is known to create confusion on the board, and then grasp victory through the fog of war.  He was Chango Lee's teacher and mentor, molding Changho into one of the strongest Go players in the modern age.  Hunhyun has been a staple of Korean Go for decades and is the author of many books.  What makes Hunhyun Cho special is that he led the way for Korean Go to take off.  Japan had been the strongest country in terms of professional Go for decades.  Professional Korean Go didn't really get going until after the Korean war, and China had to deal with the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution.  Hunhyun Cho was one of the strongest Korean players and did a great deal of work to bring up the level of Korean Go and popularize the game.  Now that Hunhyun is older, he plays fewer games.  He says he just doesn't have the energy to put into a game like he did back when he was in his twenties and would play Go all night.  Still, Hunhyun has shown no signs of stopping and will continue to be a fixture on the Korean and international professional Go scene. 


Friday, March 2, 2012

"I want to try out my first game of Go..."

"...but no one I know plays and there is no one around!"  This is a big problem for new players who are just getting started with the game and want to get playing.  Go is not as well known of a game, especially in the West, but all hope is not lost!  The internet is magic, and you can play Go to your heart's content and find an opponent night or day.  There are lots of Chinese/Japanese/Korean servers like Tygem or Oro Baduk that have English language web clients, but the best English language Go server is KGS, which you can visit here.  KGS is user friendly, and you can be up and playing within a few minutes.  It might take awhile for a beginner to find another beginner, but there are usually hundreds of people logged in, making it a snap to find a partner.  Also, it's perfectly all right to ask someone who is much better than you for a game.  A lot of people on KGS love to teach, and love to have new Go players in the fold.  Don't be discouraged if you do not find someone immediately; it can take time, and if you don't have a solid rank, some people won't play you.

Online Go can reach it's limit, though, because of the lack of personal interaction.  I much prefer to play face to face with a real board, but that can be a luxury.  If you visit the American Go Association website, you can look and see if there is a club nearby.  It'll most likely be somewhere near a university, as many Go players are young college students.  Another great resource is a nifty website called Igo Local Net which you can use to find a partner.  You give your general location, and the computer will see if there are any Go players somewhere in your area, and alert you to new tournaments or functions.  It's usually interesting to find other Go players this way, and a great way to meet new friends that you already have a lot in common with. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thursday Go Tips!

So we're going to start yet another tradition on this blog!  On Mondays, I'll introduce you to a new professional player, and on Thursdays, we'll discuss some ways you can get better at Go.  I'm no professional, but I've been playing Go for over 9 years and have been teaching on and off for awhile, so I could offer some helpful hints.  Some tips are rank specifics, while others are applicable to just about anybody.  Let's roll up our sleeves and get to it!

One-Color Go
Today's tip will present a bit of a challenge for you.  I'd like you to grab a partner and try out a game of "One-Color Go."  It's exactly as the name suggests: you would play as normal, except both players play with the same color stones.  How do you keep track?  You'll have to memorize where each move is, or else you'll mess up.  You play as normal, but you automatically lose if you forget where your stones are.  At first, it takes a great amount of concentration.  I was able to partly do it when I was 12 kyu, but got really confused once we got to the endgame.  It became more of a test of wills than anything else.  What one-color Go is good for, though, is to help you concentrate on memorizing your shapes.  "But I play bad shapes all the time!  How is memorizing that going to help me?"  It'll help you when you go to study standard shapes (joseki) or do tsumego problems and find it easier to visualize moves or memorize sequences.  Playing Go relies on the strength of your visualization muscles, so you should give them a workout.  Plus, once you become good at one-color Go, you'll be able to impress your friends and possibly defeat stronger players evenly if they don't have your powers of memorization!