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.    


Blogger Nyiti (Gabor) said...

"Buy what makes you happy."

That's probably the best advice you can give :D
I think there's a lot of shibumi in that!
Why buy something if it doesn't make you happy?

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some good advice, but lots of strange comments too. Here's my favourite:

"Thick boards make stones hard to see on tall tables, though."

You use tables at eye-level or something?

9:55 PM  

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