22 November 2005

Even when I win, I lose

So I'm trying to deal with anxiety over my rank. I opened a second account, an anonymous one, and I've been thinking about putting the woodard account as no rank and using the second account to determine my rank. After all, I'm not attached to it, so I shouldn't choke under pressure, right?

It seems like a good plan, until the new account goes undefeated for two days straight. Now I'm anxious because I don't want to blow my winning streak.

I'm a mess...

The following board position happened in a game tonight against a Gnugo3(16k)(bot)on KGS. I tried to end the game and the progam went nuts, repeatedly marking its stones dead, alive, dead, alive. After ten minutes of beating my head against the keyboard in frustration, an observer pointed out the problem and I was finally able to end the game. Black to move.

16 November 2005

Progress, and a Plan

You’d never guess it from my KGS rank, but I do seem to be making progress.

Typically, on club night, I play two or three games. I play a game at the “kid’s table” with fellow beginners, another game with 9 stones against a double-digit kyu that I’m trying to win, and another game against a single-digit kyu with 9 stones that is a teaching game.

Last night, I finally pulled out a win against the double-digit kyu player, by 20 points! What a great feeling. Two more in a row and I might get to drop a handicap stone for the first time.

My games with other beginners seem to be petering out, though, as I continue to improve. A couple of the players have been in the club longer than I have and now need to take a stone or two from me, which is uncomfortable. Another player I had to give five stones to a month ago is now almost even with me, which I actually feel great about. I’d like to think I helped him get there in some way.

I’ve noticed that 20+ kyu games tend to be fairly consistent in nature. Few players at this level play well in the opening, middle game and endgame. Most are good at one; the better ones, two. Tesuji rarely show up, and they tend to avoid fighting as much as possible. They also tend to play unreasonable moves and sometimes play inefficient moves out of fear. (Note that these are all habits learned from playing handicap games). Most tend to develop from a distance and then maneuver to gain a few extra points where black and white borders clash. Reductions and invasions tend to happen only when one side or the other has a clear advantage.

So, how can I use this information to improve?

First of all, use my strengths against their weaknesses. Everyone who’s played against me knows my opening is my strong point; I don’t believe I’ve ever lost a game against a player who was weak in the opening. I get killed in the middle game, so games where I lead for the first 50 moves then lose should be looked at very carefully.

Also, great strategy at this level is probably not terribly important. Both players, by and large, are ignoring important moves no single-digit kyu would miss.

I’m guessing that ignoring the fancy stuff and instead focusing on strong fundamentals would be the way to go. At this level, the game probably belongs to the player that makes the least newbie errors rather than the player with a better understanding of joseki.

I’m thinking about creating a set of “cue cards” for myself, laying out the steps of proper thinking for each stage of the game. When I play online, before I get all cute and try something new, I can then check to see if I’ve obeyed the fundamentals first. Then, once they’ve become habit, I can build on them by adding tesuji and other techniques.

I think this approach will bring me more success than, for example, studying joseki at this point, since most joseki moves should come naturally once you know the fundamentals.

Here’s the first one, for life and death situations:



Remember, a potentially live group has 6+ open spaces. More than 8 means almost impossible to kill.

2.Attacking or Defending?

i.Can you kill outright?
ii. If not, can you destroy eye space?
iii. If not, can you reduce the opponent’s area, starting with the most open side?

b. Defending:
i. Can you make 2 eyes?
ii. If not, can you separate your area into two potential eye areas?
iii. If not, can you expand your area?


15 November 2005

Choosing Go Equipment

I have seen a lot of information over the years on the topic of Go equipment. Having bought five boards and four sets of stones, I thought I should "weigh in" on the subject myself.

You read a lot of information on websites that leads you to think that any dan-level player should have a Kaya board and 10mm Snow Grade Stones. But is that really the case?

First of all, we should mention the Japanese concept of "Shibumi." My limited understanding of shibumi is finding beauty in the simple, the understated, the unexpressed. This standard of beauty seems to dictate a lot of decisions in the buying process. But as a westerner, my grasp of this ideal is going to be limited. Is buying a Kaya board with shibumi really worth the $850 over the cost of a shin-kaya board?

I was recently at a Go event, and guess what? My $50 Hiba board got more compliments than another guy's Kaya board.

Remember, you're paying for the rarity of the wood, its color and its tonal qualities, not its value as an heirloom piece. Kaya is a soft pine wood, after all.

Americans can appreciate the tonal qualities of the right piece of wood. We're baseball fans, after all. But slamming $400 clamshell stones down on a $750 board to intentionally dent it just seems to go against the grain, so to speak. Most Americans I know hardly make a sound when they place their stones.

In buying a board, in my opinion, the most important criteria should be the color of the board, its thickness, and what you intend to use it for. If you play online all the time and don't know any players in the real world, a magnetic set would probably be fine. Better still would be the magnetic set with a 9x9/13x13 board for doing life or death problems. Slotted or folding boards can be considered if you actually plan on playing on a board in a cafe or on vacation with a real person; if it's just you practicing, your laptop works just fine.

In choosing a color, don't just think in terms of interior design. One of the reasons pros like Kaya is that they spend eight hours a day or more staring at the board. Trust me, after two hours of staring at an Ing "Optic Yellow" board, you can see the stones in reverse color on the inside of your eyelids. Choose a color or wood tone that is easy on your eyes.

Furthermore, unless you have a large house with oriental decor or eat in a hibachi restaurant at least once a week, I would stay away from floor boards. They're difficult to find a place for in the house, and non-players rarely appreciate them as art objects. One guy I know has two floor boards in storage and plays on a table board all the time.

The thicker the board, the more impressive it is and the less likely it is to warp. Thick boards make stones hard to see on tall tables, though.

Now, after spending all this time speaking out against expensive boards, I'm going to do an about face and tell you to buy nice stones. Having played with glass stones, Plastic Ing Stones and slate and shell, there is a lot to be said for slate and shell stones. They feel great in the hand and look great on the table. Jitsuyo stones are fine, though-- very reasonable shibumi. Just choose them wisely. I have seen Jitsuyo stones that were barely distinguishable from glass stones. My 9.2mm Samarkand Jitsuyo stones have a distinctive, visible irregular grain that gives each stone unique character.

Again, with bowls, I would match cheap with cheap, moderate to moderate, expensive to expensive. I may not know shibumi, but I know that leather seats in a Hyundai is just plain silly. If you have nicer glass stones or slate and shell, go with wood bowls.

A lot of Japanese mystique exists in Go. It's what brought a lot of people to the game, including myself. But Go is becoming an international game. The Chinese and Koreans have their own traditions on equipment etiquette. There's no reason why the rest of us can't as well.

Buy what makes you happy.    

Back on KGS

Well, I played a few more games on KGS last night, with mixed results. I'm playing four stones stronger against robots but barely holding my own against humans. I am still falling into the trap of playing way too fast.

I'm still not entirely sure why this happens. I play at a nice, even pace in person, but against a person on the Internet I get caught up and start making instinctive moves instead of reading. This would not be a problem if my instincts were good...

I intend to keep playing games and hope that with time, I will normalize out. I have also been thinking about opening a second, anonymous account on KGS to see if that makes a difference.