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Subject: A visit to a very strong go club rss

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For years my nearest go club has been annoying located and scheduled: two hours travel away, every Saturday night. That being the case, my go playing has been mostly confined to online gaming. While surfing around the computerised intarwebs during a bout of said gaming, I noticed that the club had moved conveniently in both time and space, Dr Who stylee. Now it was on at 5pm Friday, at a location not too far from my office. Figuring that there might be a couple of 10k players I could get some endgame pointers from, I decided to pay the club a visit after work.

The club turned out to be located in an office building in the middle of the gay nightclub district, sandwiched between a Japanese restaurant (cheap) and a parking station (expensive). Since I only had the street address of the offices, I wandered from floor to floor of the building, trying each door handle in turn. Eventually I found an unlocked door on the third floor, and poked my head around the corner. Inside was a darkened conference room, containing a pair of very long tables running the length of the building. A single set of fluoro lights at the eastern end illuminated an ancient and battered goban, at which a young Chinese man was playing white against an older Aussie guy. Could these two people be a club unto themselves?

I wandered into the room, said hello, and encountered a Chinese woman who appeared to be at a loose end. I offered to play a game with her, but she indicated in broken English that she was the supportive wife of the younger player, and had little interest in the rich gaming heritage that was her birthright. "I don't play...", she said. "...yet", chorused the menfolk.

They had a little pile of club newsletters sitting near the door, so I flipped through one while I waited for more players to turn up. Inside were game records for Cho U's latest Meijin matches, and some fairly advanced articles by some guy called David on handicap play ("white will intimidate") and shodan game analysis.

After about an hour of this I was wondering whether I should leave, when another player finally showed up. It was a David, but not the author of the articles I'd been reading. We sat by another ancient goban (blackened by countless slate marks) and got ready to have a game. "I don't have an official rank, but I reckon I'm about 18 kyu", I said. "I'm 4 dan", he replied, "so you'll probably want to put down some stones."

Game 1: Phil (18k) vs David (2d), 9 stone handicap, -50.5 komi(!), "and a lot of help".
I fished a bunch of black stones out of my bowl (a regulation Nihon Ki-in square plastic job) and plonked them on the board. No-one laughed, so I guess I've been holding the stones properly thanks to imitating the covers of Hikaru no Go manga. (The stones were just as battered and ancient as the board and bowls, by the way; a mixture of chipped glass and plastic of every thickness). David offered me more stones, but I said that it wouldn't really be go then, so he took -50.5 komi instead.

I don't remember much of this game except that I was really intimidated by playing a 4 dan. I played splitting moves in the opening to try and put pressure on his groups, but I felt like Monopoly going up against Dominate the States: overwhelmed. While we played we discussed Australian tournament rules, which are apparently "draconian, but rarely enforced". I compared this to Woody Allen's restaurant gag ("terrible food, and such small portions"), but my borrowed wit went unappreciated... I was appropriately nervous, but lacked the glasses and Jewish heritage to pull it off. The opinion was also offered that holding a stone whilst thinking was bad form, especially in a draconian tourney where they'd disqualify you if it slipped from your sweaty fingers.

Keeping anything alive at all in this game was a struggle, and I fell for a couple of obvious snapbacks. The highlight of the game for me was capturing three stones and making a couple of eyes, and in the end I lost by about 30 points (really 80, if you don't count the komi). Ouch. I would've resigned earlier, but it's my endgame that needs the most work.

On reflection, I did learn a fair bit from David's brutal tutelage. It was a bit like reading Kageyama, except that it's not quite so funny when you're the one on the receiving end! Anyway, the gist of it was that in kyu vs dan games, black should defend the corners, then tenuki as soon as he or she makes life. The trick is knowing when you've made life versus a 2 dan...

After our game, David went off to get some food, so I had a game with Robert, who was the older gent I'd seen playing when I first arrived. Turns out the guy he was playing had a 4d rank in China, which translates to about 6 or 7 dan here, so Robert was wearing the same ashen face as me.

Game 2: Phil (18k) vs Robert (1k), 9 stone handicap, 0.5 komi.
I've found that, if the players are close enough in skill (say within 15 ranks), anything over a 6 stone handicap is pretty much an auto-win for black. Robert had mentioned that he took 4 stones from David, so I thought that, with 9 stones, I had a decent shot at not embarassing myself in game 2.

Since my splitting plays were the only thing that garnered any praise in the last game, I alternated between those and shimaris in the opening, and I played as agressively as possible, going for placements, nets, ladders, snapbacks etc. I made a few mistakes ("those stones are on their way to Rookwood*" said David, returning with a Subway bag), but eventually I got one past Robert and captured a bunch of his stones. We played a few more moves, but he couldn't recover from the loss and resigned. I was surprised by this, and had a sneaking suspicion that he was going easy on me after my drubbing at the hands of David, but it was encouraging nonetheless.

It was about 9pm at this stage, so I bade them farewell and went off in search of dinner. As I was leaving a couple of 4k players that I could've had a decent 6 stone game with arrived. Ah well, I can play them next week I guess.

* Rookwood Cemetary
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J Boyes
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Great session report, at least as much for the well captured 'awkward new arrival' stuff as the game reports.

I want to read the follow up!
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Nick Bentley
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"...but I felt like Monopoly going up against Dominate the States: overwhelmed"

hah! hee! hoo!
 
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Panagiotis Zinoviadis
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Nice article and a very appropriate GeekBadge BTW.
 
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Mark Crane
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"I fished a bunch of black stones out of my bowl (a regulation Nihon Ki-in square plastic job) and plonked them on the board. No-one laughed, so I guess I've been holding the stones properly thanks to imitating the covers of Hikaru no Go manga."

I love the sense of immersion in a completely freakish cult that this session conveys. It is both strangely attractive and frightening at the same time. There seems to be a level of obsession that far exceeds that of even hardcore eurogamers. Now I both want to learn Go and yet I am afraid of entering that strange place.
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Panagiotis Zinoviadis
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You are welcome anytime!

Actually, for some unknown reason, every Go player seems very eager to help any newcomer to understand the game and give him the basics and one game or two. Just visit a Go club and you will see.

Just be prepared though for a lot of people sitting over the board and looking intently over it without a word.
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By popular demand (well, one guy seemed keen), here's what happened the next week.

Now that I knew exactly where everything was, I headed directly from work to the go club and managed to get there by 5:30pm. When I stuck my head through the door this time, everything had changed. The boards had been moved to a different part of the room, and were now set up near the window, in natural light. Some cupboards against the wall were open, and inside I could see about ten sets of stones and table boards, plus a bunch of books in English and Nihongo, and some back issues of Go World magazine. Clearly this used to be a bigger club before the move. Hopefully it will be again, because it's such a great resource for the go enthusiast.

Robert was the only person there when I arrived, and he was sitting at a board replaying a recent title match. When he saw me walk in he cleared the board and set up a nine stone game. "You're the guy who claims to be 18 kyu but is actually stronger", he said. My heart was warmed briefly, then cooled off a bit when he charged me three bucks admission.

Game One: Phil (>18k) vs Robert (1k), 9 stone handicap, 0.5 komi
In our return match, Robert avoided contact plays and just made peaceful moves, reducing plays, and placements. I kept him confined and was doing well, when one of his fiendish placements wrecked my eye shape in the top right corner.

At this point David 4d and Max 5k arrived with a sheaf of printed out email from the Go Association. The President wanted the club to have a table at the forthcoming Games Expo. "What sort of games will be at this Expo -- wargames?", asked Robert. "It's mostly Euros", I said, trying to appear knowledgeable.

"You mean bridge and backgammon?"

Much to my surprise, David and Max then held forth on Carcassonne, Settlers, and Puerto Rico! I guess they're more popular than I thought. After about ten minutes of this I was almost relieved when Max said, "...but I don't play those any more, because a beginner has a chance to win. I only play games with no random elements." Reminded me of our very own Clearclaw... I wonder if he plays go?

Max shuffled off to play Tim the Chinese 4d while David kibbutzed, so Robert and I returned to our game. After another half an hour of peaceful moves, Robert leapt into action, firing off eye-stealing tesujis all over the place and putting me under pressure. Soon my largest group was left eyeless and I resigned. "You should've done that before we started chatting, back back when I killed your corner", he said.

Tim and Max were done by this point, so I set up a new game with Max (who, at 5 kyu, appears to be the club's weakest player after me). Robert and David stayed by the board and argued about whether the club should allow jigo (drawn games) or insist on fractional komi for rated games.

Game Two: Phil (>18k) vs Max (5k), 9 stone handicap, 0.5 komi (no jigo here), and some help
This was a relaxed game for me, as Max was a bit closer to my level, and also swore a lot, but demurely ("these stones appear to be, uh, fucked"). My opening was a bit dodgy shapewise (at one point I completed a standard shape only to realise that Max already had a stone on the vital point), but I got a quite impressive wall along the top left and a lot of influence.

In the bottom left a complex capturing race developed. "You should try not to create complexity", said Max, killing my largest group, "because complexity favours white's superior reading." He then generously insisted I take back a gote move that I had thought could rescue my group. At this point David appeared to quiz me on where I should've played, and why. I pointed confidently at the board and rattled off some Kageyama, and they seemed pleased. Max and David then got into a debate about whether the white stones near my mega wall were dead or not. They played out a couple of variations, decided the stones were dead, then returned the game to its previous state. Max still wasn't convinced the stones were dead, so we played it out. In the end I killed half of them while a couple escaped, so we agreed they'd be dead against a strong player.

I really had to make life for my wall now, so I used the aji in my dead group to net some cutting stones and claw back some eye space. We were equal on prisoners, and I had was ahead on territory, so it looked good for me from here on. Max made about ten points in the endgame, but the final score turned out out to be a +6.5 win for me. Max also thought that I was stronger than 18k and suggested that 14k was more accurate. My heart was warmed again.

Max replayed the first fifty moves or so from memory, critiquing my fuseki. Some eyebrows were raised when he denied the validity of the 'handicap joseki'[1], saying that black was weak after white 3. We decided to avoid the controversy by playing an even game.

Game Three: Phil (~14k) vs Max (5k), even game, 6.5 komi
I took black in this game, and went with a star point opening, with a facing 3-4 stone in the lower right corner. I followed Otake's basic formula of shimari / kakari - extend - split - cap. Max wasn't convinced about the value of capping an enemy stone on the side hoshi, but I see it a lot in fuseki problems, so greater players than I must find it reasonable. This is probably a good time to mention that most of the strong players I've encountered place little faith in any established joseki or fuseki... they all read out every move.

While I was pondering opening theory, a vigorous debate broke out on the neighbouring table. As pretty much everyone there was a mathematician, physicist, or computer scientist, the debate was naturally about the Newton-Raphson method of numerically approximating an analytically difficult definite integral[2]. Succinctly: the Newton-Raphson method -- is it good or is it shit? This led into some discussion of the $3 admission fee... surely a bunch of gainfully employed maths nerds could afford an increase $4 to cover costs? And so on.

This discussion of maths then segued into the perennial debate about Chinese versus Japanese counting (for determining game scores). As a distant outpost of the Nihon Ki-in we were honour bound to stick up for Japan, but Tim from China seemed to think Chinese counting had some merit. I'd never used it in a real game before, so Max said he'd give me a demo after we wrapped up our game.

After what seemed like a close middlegame, Max again surged ahead with some yose moves. Tim was also doing well in yose at the next table, firing off reverse monkey jumps (from the first line!) and the like. In fact, he was doing so well that his opponent's lid was upside down... ouch.

In the final reckoning Max beat me by 26.5 or thereabouts, which I was pretty happy with for an even game against a 5k. The important lesson I took from this game was that Chinese scoring really sucks, as it took an extra ten minutes of really fiddly stone wrangling to figure out what Japanese scoring would've told us pretty much instantly.

It was 9:30 by now, so we packed up while Robert invited us to a lightning tournament in January (15 minutes per player per game, no byo-yomi). If I make it to the tourney I'll write that up also.

[1] http://senseis.xmp.net/?44PointDiagonalAttachmentJoseki
[2] f(x_n+1) ~ x_n - f(x_n)/f'(x_n), iterate to taste
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Brad Engels
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Thank you for posting these engaging stories. I like your style! If you keep writing them I'll keep reading them.
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Eric Brosius
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Yes, thanks for posting, Phil. You're getting a lot of thumbs on this thread!
 
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And another one...

Last Friday was my first session at go club for the year. I'd had some xmas holidays in Brisbane (and tried to visit the club there -- AuGA headquarters -- to no avail) so I'd missed a few weeks and expected some changes, new faces etc.

When I wandered in, the tables were back in the larger and dimmer part of the meeting room. Robert looked up from some gadgets he was tinkering with and seemed happy to see me. The reasons for all of the above soon became apparent: it was lightning tournament night!

The tourney was already under way, with a Billy Bunter[1] looking guy (4d) dominating. Before my very eyes, his shodan opponent fell for a Crane's Nest tesuji (see Bill Shubert's animated avatar for a demo). Clearly playing on a fifteen minute clock was a stressful experience.

Robert charged me five bucks this time (having finally done the maths to keep the club afloat), handed me a chess clock, and ushered me to a goban.

Game 1: Phil (14k) vs Devon (1d), 9 stone handicap, 0.5 komi, 15 minutes, no byo-yomi
My opponent for my first tournament game (of anything, ever) was Devon, a laid back gent with a stylish purple shirt and a grey moustache. I'd spoken to him at one of the previous sessions and knew he'd be gentle with me while I learnt the tournament ropes. Said gentleness was soon required as I set off my clock accidentally, a la Hikaru no Go.

While Devon reset the clock, I put down nine stones and tried to come up with a game plan. A full game of go normally takes about 75-90 minutes, so with fifteen minutes on each player's clock, our tournament game would be over in one third of the usual time. That being the case, I resolved to play moves that I didn't have to think about: textbook stuff where possible, sente moves to gain time otherwise. I also resolved to avoid ko and capturing races where possible and just play peacefully.

Devon started off the game with a low knight approach, so I went straight into the standard high handicap joseki (attach - extend - shimari - jump) so that I could play quickly. I was already freaking out and slammed the clock in my excitement, but Devon didn't seem to mind.

After the joseki I moved on to Richard Bozulich's nine stone handicap strategy, again playing by pattern recognition rather than analysis. "Someone's been reading books", said Devon, but having read the same books he knew there wasn't much he could do versus this fuseki.

Into the middlegame we went, and I soon self destructed in the time honoured fashion. After a bad net where I missed the knight's move, Devon hit me with a push-and-cut[2] and killed my largest group. I tried to strike back by attacking some of his other groups, but my time was running out and I was in trouble.

We started the endgame, but I was way behind and only had a tiny sliver of time on the clock, so I did the right thing and resigned rather than timing out. Devon complimented me on my opening then moved on to his round two game.

So ended my tournament adventure: knocked out in round one. But I'll be back, now that I know how to work one of those clock thingies.

Game 2: June (23k) vs Phil (14k), 9 stone handicap, 0.5 komi
There were a couple of casual players floating around who weren't participating in the tournament, so I started a game with my buddy June. She's a small girl of indeterminate age. She could be anywhere from 8 to 15 years old, but I like to think of her as being ten because a) I'm crap at estimating these things, and b) she's tiny. Anyhoo, her big brother is a dan player who's been teaching her a few tricks here and there, so she's pretty strong for her age by Australian standards.

We played a fairly basic opening, but after about 50 moves it looked like I was going to kill the board and win by some spirit-crushing margin. There was one group that a dan player might have saved, maybe, but the rest of her stuff was in trouble. (Actually a bunch of dan players came and took photos of the aforementioned group, entering it into their camera phones with the caption 'black to play and live'. Hopefully the solution will show up in the next club newsletter.)

With black mostly dead, I thought back to a conversation I'd had with Robert last year, where he related the following pearl o' wisdom: "Play the meijin, lose by one point. Play the meijin's challenger, lose by one point. Play the meijin's challenger's disciple, lose by one point." And so forth. The basic gist being that it's bad manners to crush people's spirits.


June ponders her next move
from l to r, back to front: headless Max, June, Phil, Devon, Robert

So, I decided to play the rest of the game as a Japanese-style teaching game. The idea behind this (as opposed to Western instruction), is that the teacher, without speaking, nudges the game in a direction that encourages the student to discover good play. In that spirit I set up the head of two in the hope that June would hane, launched a bunch of easy to kill invasions, and left her a couple of monkey jump opportunities (perhaps a bit advanced for 23k, but she could crawl in yose as an alternative).

The hane and the monkey jumps were left untaken, but my invasions were soon killed (with a bit of help from Robert), and June started the endgame with a couple of brutal horseneck reducing plays, evening the score. I played a few hane and connects, ending in gote, then we discussed the remaining plays, ordering them by reverse sente, sente, and gote. We played them out and filled in the dame, then scored the game Japanese style. June won by half a point and dashed off to tell her brother. There were happy faces all round.

Game 3: Phil (14k) vs Max (3k), 8 stone handicap, 0.5 komi
I was on my way out of the door when Max (recently promoted to 3k) asked me for a game. He's a font of go wisdom, so I could not refuse.

Max and I have an ongoing debate about the virtue of the 4-4 low knight shimari versus the one point high shimari. I take the low road, he takes the high road, and presumably he'll reach Scotland afore me. I stubbornly played low in the opening anyway and it seemed to work okay. But alas, the game was pretty much a replay of my tourney match, with my middlegame disintegrating under a barrage of arcane tesuji.

As we went into the endgame, I could see Max going into teaching mode, as I had with June. The topic of the lesson was everyone's favourite yose tesuji, the monkey jump. While Robert looked on, I struggled to limit the damage caused by each jump. Although there are two textbook responses to the monkey jump (one ending in gote, and one in requiring a sacrifice but ending in sente), the board rarely looks like the pages of a book, and I ended up reading each one out manually with Robert's help. I still lost by a large margin, but it was useful stuff.

After the game the Robert went through some interesting positional play stuff, with a fervour that bordered on psychological abuse. In the midst of my cowering and apologising I managed to glean a useful thing. I will now share this thing with you so that you don't have to go through the suffering bit to hear it.

Okay. Just say you're playing black, and attacking a white group. The objective is, of course, to prevent white from either forming two eyes or connecting. In making your attacks you'll usually have several options available, some more peaceful, and some more aggressive. The useful thing is this: it doesn't matter how aggressive, or fast, or severe your attack is. Ignore the relationship between your attacking stone and the white group. Think instead of the relationship between your attacking stone and its neighbours. If your net is looking good, white will counterattack with cuts and tesuji, so it's important that your attacking stones make shape as they go, even if this means that your attack is slow, or even if it means that that white can escape in the end. Make shape and territory while attacking, basically. Fundamental stuff, but easy to forget in the heat of the moment.

So, feeling a bit battered, I borrowed a Japanese go magazine from the club library and went to the bus stop. I'm trying to learn to read Japanese, so I figured that a real world example would be useful. And indeed it was. With the aid of my trusty kanji dictionary I was soon reading useful phrases like 'white to play', 'black to kill', and 'tune in to NEC Midday SuPa Igo on NHK TV'. If all goes to plan, I'll be able to read the 15 issues of Hikaru no Go they haven't gotten around to translating yet, ne?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Bunter
[2] See dia. 3 here: http://senseis.xmp.net/?KnightsMoveNet (I should've played dia. 2)
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Brad Engels
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Wewt! Another great "episode" in this interesting story. I live vicariously through your club experiences...I live in the Midwest USA, where mention of the game of go prompts replies such as, "...go where?"

Until Indianapolis gets a club, I'll settle for living through your mysterious and well-told stories. Thanks again, Phil.
 
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And another one...

I arrived a bit later than usual, and found a small crowd clustered around a goban watching Barry (3d) play David M (4d). Barry had killed one of David's groups in the centre, linking up his own weak groups and giving him the lead. But wait! With an intricate ballet of aji, misdirection, and push-and-cuts, David's group broke out of the black net and came back to life. Now Barry's groups were all separated and eyeless. "You bastard", he said. "Everyone picks up the Japanese terminology eventually", said Devon from the sidelines. Black resigned a short while later, and the result was recorded using The Bofinger Method[1], named after a mathematically inclined BGGer (davidbofinger).

While Barry and David M were playing some variations of the main battles, Max turned up. But before I could invite him to our weekly game, the spectators had paired off and started playing. When I looked back at the board in front of me I realised that somewhere in this process I had ended up playing Barry in a teaching game. "What do you need to work on?", he said. "Paying attention", quoth I.

Phil (14k) vs Barry (3d), 9 stones, 0.5 komi
We had a fairly straightforward nine stone opening, except for the bit where I responded to the large knight approach by attaching on the hoshi side, then followed up with a 5-5 play, making a sort of horsehead extension[2], but at a 45 degree angle. The whole thing looked really weird and ugly.

"That's not in any book", said Barry, "but I think I saw a professional play it once, and lose by a large margin." The vibe I was getting was the mutant horsehead thingo was not recommended by the dan community... and later in the game I found out why.

Barry launched an invasion in the opposite corner, but I was able to live in gote thanks to a deft application of miai. I was filled with confidence! Of course, in the process of supporting his invasion from without, Barry had built a sturdy moyo.

To make a long story short, the game eventually came down to a capturing race involving the mutant horsehead group from earlier. This terrible shape was too thin to be of much use, and said race was won by Barry. He then ended the game -- apparently I had resigned! -- and we reviewed alternatives to the dodgy horseneck. He also gave me some really good pointers on splitting and running, which I shall now share with you:

Splitting: imagine a straight line connecting two weak enemy groups, and play on the midpoint of the that line for maximum splittage. If you have to deviate from the line to make shape, the splittage will probably fail and should be reconsidered.

Running: rather than running with your weakest or strongest group (in terms of shape, size etc), run with the group that has the fewest places to go. The idea is not to get caught in a net... you can make life later.

Once we were done reviewing the game, Devon invited me to an untimed rematch of our tournament game from the previous week. I made a cup of green tea then put down my stones.

Phil (14k) vs Devon (1d), 9 stones, 0.5 komi
Since my fuseki was the one redeeming feature of my tourney match with Devon, I played a similar opening, but modified slightly to include Barry's wisdom. Then I just tried to make peaceful moves and pay attention through the middlegame. My scheme paid off, and thanks to some small captures we were fairly even going into the endgame.

Devon started in sente and I was afraid he was going to get ahead with a straightforward hane-and-connect endgame. I recalled Kageyama's method for counteracting this, which is to just ignore the first hane and make a sente move of your own elsewhere. Repeat as necessary, and when the time comes to start cutting and capturing, you'll only be one move behind instead of being in gote through the whole endgame.

After a few of these moves, Devon changed his plan and decided to go for a definite win with a complex squeeze-and-ko attack on my weakest group. We both spent a few silent minutes trying to read it out, then I saw a way of giving up two stones to make an eye and prevent the squeeze.

We played out the last obvious moves, filled the dame, and counted up the score. It was +6.5 for me, yay!

At this juncture, circa 9pm, an American man appeared. He was a wandering 3 dan, in Australia for a Linux conference. Further nosy questions revealed him to be O'Reilly author Bert Bates[3]. Bert sat down for a game with Barry, and IT related shop talk ensued. It turned out that Barry was an academic at my university. Small world, eh?

I had to dash off for some reason -- too long without booze and anime maybe? -- so I didn't get to see the result of this game. Perhaps some eidetically gifted person will replay the good bits for me when next I visit.

[1] http://www.geocities.com/davidbofinger/go.htm
[2] http://senseis.xmp.net/?HorseHead
[3] http://www.headfirstlabs.com/bert.php
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No more!?

 
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I've had to miss a whole bunch of them due to life intruding, but I hope to go this Friday and type it up thereafter.
 
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After a difficult maths test, what better way to relax than by playing some handicap go? What's that you say? Drink a beer and watch El Hazard? You may be on to something there.

Anyway, after doing poorly in said test (curse you, stochastic methods)[1], I had a few glasses of wine at work then met up with the girlfriend for dinner. We went to a Japanese place in Pitt St which was really nice, except that one of the waitresses had these horrifying boils on her hands! Don't handle my edamame with those things! And dude, she touched the cup my green tea was in! But as luck would have it, two weeks later I'm showing no symptoms.

We finished as much dinner as our waning appetites would allow, then then went off to pursue our respective hobbies of go and buying unattractive furniture.

This time the boards were set up near the windows, the way I like it. A good omen. It was getting late by this time, as I'd squandered the evening on wine and dinner, but I figured I could fit one or two games in. I paid my dues, avoided the terrifying 3+ dan table, and sat down for a game with Robert, who is a sort of minor go nemesis of mine, at least while I'm learning. A miniboss of the goban, if you will. He's a shodan, as I've mentioned before, but I think he got ranked in the eighties -- possibly by the drummer from The Vapours -- so he's perhaps not as strong as a freshly minted shodan circa 2007, when the game has a larger Aussie player base. But he's stronger than Devon, and certainly more than 9 stones stronger than me.

Game One: Phil (14k) vs Robert (1d), 9 stone handicap, 0.5 komi
Robert's always telling me that I tenuki too early, and that as black I need to 'finish the job' (i.e., make shape or defend a cutting point) before moving on. This sits well with the proverb 'urgent moves before big moves', so I have been trying to take note of it lately. That being the case, I was keen to see if I could defeat Robert, or at least not lose by resignation like I have the last few times.

David Bofinger (3d?) sat with us to eat a sandwich, give us the benefit of his two cents, and crack jokes. Though he makes a habit of disparaging the moves of others, i.e. me, I can't help but like the guy. He's surly yet pure of heart, like a Sanrio character. Between bites of sandwich, the conversation turned to the club website. Robert was hoping that the Go Association would host it for us, but they didn't seem terribly keen. "Get one of these guys to host it", I said, gesturing regally, "David's got his Bofinger Method site, and Barry's a professor of computer science". They didn't touch their forelocks and say "my liege" as I had hoped, but David seemed happy to host the thing and disaster was averted.

So, the game. Robert opened with the ever popular low knight approach. I attached, as you do, he extended iron pillar stylee, as per the joseki. At this point, the wisdom is that black plays high kakari and white tenukis or invades the corner. Since I fear the corner invasion (I need that corner to live), I often leave the joseki and play low knight kakari, and Robert seems to encourage this, on the basis that low knight 'finishes' the corner. But, I've since studied the joseki further[2], and next time I'll fearlessly play high kakari.

David interjected at this point to describe Robert's 'finish the corner' scheme as 'The Hungarian Fuseki' (Robert being of Hungarian origin). We had a bit of schoolyard fun with this -- never drop your guard to a Hungarian, or he'll grab your stones, ha ha, etc -- and then we were into the middlegame.

My opening had been fairly standard (apart from the joeski deviations), so the middlegame consisted mostly of me running a group out from the side to try and live. In the end I did so, thanks to some fiendish cutting, but, as usual, white had built a strong wall in the process of attacking. I should've just let the stones go when the group was small. Ah well.

Robert soon employed the aforementioned wall to attack both of my lower corners at once, leaving the left with only one real eye. It looked like a resignation was in my future yet again. But wait! My keen mind spotted a squeeze and ladder sequence on the right side (laddering back towards the centre), and I soon had an eye to expand from. Left side dead, but right side looking good. I was able to claw a few more points of territory using the latter as a base, but I was still behind maybe 20 points going into the endgame. Robert kept sente for the most part, but, using my low cunning, I was able to set up a snapback in gote and make up 17 points! Now things were a bit closer, and Robert thought deeply about his final yose moves. These were simple yet effective hane-and-connects, and he made up another 6 or so points.

We scored the game Japanese style, and Robert won with +11.5. I was quite happy with this for a 9 stone game, and Robert credited my progress to The Hungarian Fuseki. Over at the three dan table, Barry's ear pricked up. After we put the stones back in their bowls, he took my seat and insisted on seeing this homebrewed fuseki in action. "I'll give you nine stones", he said to Robert, "but you must stick unswervingly to The Hungarian." As my regular opponents (Max, Devon, and June) weren't about, and as said fuseki analysis was largely for my benefit, I stuck around, asking dumb questions where appropriate.

Game Two: Robert (1d) vs Barry (3d), 9 stone handicap, 0.5 komi
An interesting difference between the kyu and the dan rankings is that there seems to be a greater skill gap between ranks. Even with a handicap, the 4 dans always beat the 3 dans at our club. So, despite the nine stone handicap, I thought that this would be a close game.

Something that weaker players often overlook about the nine stone handicap is that it is optimised for influence play, i.e. centre territory rather than corner territory. There also seems (from my perspective) to be a lack of well known nine stone joseki, just because players taking nine stones usually aren't playing at a level where they punish white for joseki deviations. Think about the basic handicap joseki -- do you know what to do if white leaves the joseki and invades after you attach? I certainly don't. What was my point again? Right, right, nine stones is not quite the free ride that it seems to be, unless you're up to speed on handicap play and converting influence into points.[3]

Barry on the above topic: "it looks like white is just whizzing around at random, but somewhere around 20k the penny drops and black can see what is happening... these are all nets and splitting moves". So, in response to white whizzing around, what should black do? Well, according to The Hungarian Fuseki, black should secure the corner with two stones (added to the handicap stone) before playing elsewhere. Robert did so, while white netted a stone on the side. Barry seemed sceptical of The Hungarian right from the outset, saying that while it's tempting to give up a couple of your handicap stones to reinforce the others, you really need to hold on to them to keep the pressure on white.

Using his 'finished' corner as a base, Robert then went on to attack a white group caught between his corner and the side handicap stone. He ended up pushing from behind, making two adjacent walls, the white one a little longer at the centre, and the black at little longer at the edge. The white group had no eyes or territory, but Barry seemed confident, and played a few contact moves on the black wall. Robert completed the bottom right corner, then Barry launched a squeeze and ko attack on the lower left corner, using cuts on the black wall as ko threats. I pointed out what I thought were good ko threats for black, but but the dan players shot these down with with quick point estimates. In the end, black gave up the corner to make eyes for the (heavier) wall, then they played out the endgame. White won by a decent margin, casting doubt on the validity of The Hungarian Fuseki.

[1]Happy postscript: My maths lecturer took pity on us all and decided only to mark the easy questions, so I live to fight another day.
[2]Using this amazing thing: http://guojuan.demon.nl/goschool/gls/info.php?i=lessons&n=25...
[3]Bear in mind when reading this that I'm 14k and thus have no idea what I'm talking about. Consult your sensei for actual advice.
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Alvaro Sarria
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Love your stories man...as a go player (13Kyu if you believe KGS, more like 15Kyu) I've really liked 'em, it make me remember my first time there at the go club in madrid ^ ^

Keep on writin'!
 
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Ashfield
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After a lengthy absence to get stuck into my stochastics exams[1], I finally returned to the club last Friday. In a strange twist of fate, the joint was full of 30 kyu players, and I was quickly roped into teaching same. Robert sat with the beginners to help them out, which meant I had to focus on the fundamentals instead of setting up weird tesuji.

Game One: Oz (30k) vs Phil (10k), 13x13, even teaching game, no komi
Oz had only played four games to date, so I suggested playing some 9x9 to give him some practice with the basics. Robert was against this and pushed for him to jump right into 19x19, so we compromised by digging out a 13x13 board. We played a few opening moves, and I immediately saw Robert's point: Oz played on the hoshi (which traditionally aims at central influnce) but there wasn't much centre to claim at 13x13. We took a break from the game and discussed the various opening points: 4-4 (central influence), 3-3 (corner territory), 4-3 (bit of the corner, bit of the side). After about twelve moves we stopped again to compare moyo, discuss the value of moves, and so forth. Robert suggested that white had won at this point, but we added some dan players to the black team and forged ahead to demonstrate some basic shape, double atari, tesuji, fighting ko, and so forth. In the end the dan crew fought back pretty hard and the result was jigo.

Game Two: Peng (30k) vs Phil (10k), 13x13, even teaching game, no komi
Next I played Oz's dad, Peng. This time Robert helped out from the first move, and I was soon in trouble (I normally take 9 stones from Robert at 19x19). Going into the endgame, I was about 25 points behind, when David (4d) appeared. He gestured at the board with a pencil, looking for all the world like Fujiwara-no-Sai in a business suit. Team slate fought back, but in the end they had to resign. It was an impressive display, but I wondered whether these beginners would actually get to play a proper game or not. "Our play was masterful", said Peng.

Game Three: Phil (10k) vs Robert (1d), 6 stones, 0.5 komi
Oz and Peng departed, so I had a full-sized game with Robert. Since KGS reckoned I had gotten stronger, I played as a 10k, taking six stones from Robert (since I've lost the bulk of our previous games at 14k with nine stones). I've been reading Otake every day, so I felt ready to take Robert on without resorting to my usual weird tesuji. The opening went fairly well, and I managed to confine Robert to the top and bottom sides, where I didn't have any handicap stones. I invaded at the bottom to give me some options later, and Robert tenukied to attack my left side handicap stone. I managed to covert it into a ponnuki, but it didn't last. Robert collapsed it into a dead dango shape, but I used the aji to seal him in and grab a chunk of the left.

I finally had sente, so I went on the offensive, attacking his group at the top and forcing him to run out while I made a large side territory. The canny Hungarian ran to the left, squeezing my corner stones between his running group and his ponnuki-killing stones. Now I had to run out, and he grabbed some of the centre while I hurriedly made an eye. I spotted a chance to connect my centre group to the lower left, but I had have to win a ko to do so. My first thought was to write off the centre, but I remembered "if you don't like ko, don't play go", so I read it out and then went for it. Somehow I won the thing, and now everything except my dango was alive! From this happy position I fired off a monkey jump and a few hane-and-connects, and got a good start on the endgame. Robert responded with some nasty placements, chipping away at 15 points or so of my corner, but I held on, and in the end I won, +7.5. Yatta! It's so nice to finally be improving at this frustrating game.

On the way out I grabbed another 80s issue of Igo Warado (Go World) to read on the train. I love the ads in these things: robotic gobans, Burberry suits, sake, 'air scrubbers' for absorbing the cigarette smoke in your go club, Suntory whisky, etc. If you can read a bit of katakana they're hilarious. Anyway, this issue featured a great nine stone game between Cho Chikun 9p (in a business suit) and the schoolgirl champion of the day (in a sailor suit). She won by 0.5, so Cho must have been in a generous mood. Or she may have been the Magic Girl of her day, who knows.

[1] As a reward for passing these -- and generally bringing up the tone of the joint -- the course co-ordinator is now letting me take Nihongo 101 instead of advanced calculus. "I like Leibnitz and Newton", she said, "but I prefer Spike and Faye".

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Jeffrey Nolin
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Nakamachi, Hiroshima
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Quote:
I've found that, if the players are close enough in skill (say within 15 ranks), anything over a 6 stone handicap is pretty much an auto-win for black.

Handicapping is the method by which we determine rank, so this really doesn't make sense. A nine stone handicap is given when there is a nine or greater difference in ranks. As soon as black wins 3 matches in a row, the handicap gets reduced to 8 stones, as you are now within 8 ranks. If you lose 3 in a row, you go back to 9 stones, as your opponent has improved his game relative to yours. The longer you play the more stable your rank becomes relative to the other players.
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Drew Heath
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Quote:
"I don't have an official rank, but I reckon I'm about 18 kyu", I said. "I'm 4 dan", he replied, "so you'll probably want to put down some stones."


Did he then spit into a spittoon whilst a tiny tumbleweed blew across the board?

Great reading, thank you!
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