Thursday, March 30, 2006

BBC video on the Hikaru No Go effect

You might have missed it in the comments to one of my previous posts. Leonard Dragomir of the Warriors Go Academy provided a link to which featured a BBC video about the Hikaru No Go effect in Japan.

I thought that I should bring more attention to it with a dedicated post and embed the player into the blog. Clicking on the circular play button in the middle of the image will start the video. I hope it works for all of you. Obviously, it will work best with a broadband connection.

If the video doesn't seem to work, you can instead read the text article from the BBC's archive.

Leonard also put together a second personal production on Go. You can either watch it on the embedded player above or view it on YouTube. I had blogged about his first production back in December.

18k - Can I hold on to it?

A recent string of won matches pushed my KGS rank up to 18k but more battle-testing will be needed to see if my skills have truly improved and if I have the mental discipline to apply them properly.

On average, I've been investing more thought into my moves but I have still found myself lapsing into careless play; sometimes in the middle of the game.

I've also tried to review my games with a stronger player as often as possible. Chrono3450 has been most available to help me with recent reviews. He and fathwad introduced me to the fun of watching auto-played Shusaku games back in September.

In other news

ChiyoChan brought home straight 4s (the equivalent of straight As) in her report card so I'm alright with letting her buy a copy of Kingdom Hearts II when it releases this week. I thought it was supposed to be available by Tuesday, March 28th, but that seems to have slipped. Costco supposedly will be stocking it on Thursday and some other retail giants will not have them on the shelves until April 4th.

Our household was very late in acquiring a gaming console. We bought our first one, a Playstation 2, just a few months ago. It's not like ChiyoChan has been completely deprived of gaming opportunities though. She's long had her own PC although, these days, she uses it mostly to scan and digitally enhance her drawings with Photoshop.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Study hard. Go to college. Get a degree ... in Baduk?

VincentV blogs from Switzerland on Let's Go!. In the future, he might have the opportunity to attend Myongji University in Seoul, South Korea, where they offer a degree program in Baduk.

What's interesting is that one of VincentV's colleagues, Jens Henker (aka Tudorus on KGS), is already in the program and I was told that the classes are offered in English!

Update: As I later learned, the classes are taught in Korean.

The degree is conferred by the Department of Baduk Studies under the College of Arts & Physical Education. They have an English website so you can get an overview of the curriculum and descriptions of the courses.

Students there will be expected to have achieved a rank of 5-Dan upon graduation. Here's the introductory text from the department's web page.

The Department of Baduk Studies was established in 1997, for the first time in world history, to pursue an academic study of baduk. Although baduk has been regarded as a precious culture, it had not been studied by the scientific approach due to man's traditional adherence to its technique alone. The department will contribute to the development of baduk culture by providing a variety of knowledge based on a new paradigm beyond the technique-biased approach to Baduk.

As Korea has become the strongest and the most actively Baduk-playing country in the world, it is expected to play a leading role in a variety of activities of Baduk. In response to this trend, the Department of Baduk Studies has been set up with the following aims:

  1. To promote students Baduk strength above the 5 dan level
  2. To acquire a deeper knowledge of life from Baduk culture
  3. To develop and educate the leaders in the field of Baduk
  4. To teach necessary foreign languages to those who can introduce Baduk culture to the world.

The Department teaches Baduk theory and technique systematically, researches Baduk culture in depth, and acquires wide and various knowledge related to Baduk. The graduates will make proper Baduk leaders in Korea and also in foreign countries.

Ming Dynasty Yunzi

Pong Yen of Yellow Mountain Imports is still in China and he sent me some new photos of 500 year-old Yunzi stones. Just the same as today's Yunzi, these stones are single-convex and played with the flat side down.

As is somewhat noticeable in these two photos, the stones are translucent.

This close-up of the stones on a goban show notable differences in size. I don't know if these stones were from the same set or if the variations were typical.

Guangzhou Go street scene

Pong also sent me some photos of the Go street scenes in Guangzhou.

These images very much remind me of the park in San Francisco's Chinatown except that the folks there play Xiangqi instead of Weiqi. I sometimes think that a group of Weiqi players should start having more public games in Chinatown to see if it brings out some closeted players.

As is obvious from these two photos, the play's the thing and aesthetics take a back-seat. The boards are notably beat-up from continuous use. The board centers seem to take the most punishment.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What's that game you play? Sudoku?

Cartoon courtesy of KoFight Club


"What's that game you play? Sudoku?"
"No, it's Go."
"Well, you did say it was some Asian game and that it uses a grid. Sudoku was invented in Japan, you know."
"No. Magic Squares were, technically, invented by the Arabs centuries ago in a form know as wafq. The current form you play was invented by Dell in New York."

That conversation took place with a coworker at my office.

When my brother came to have me prepare his taxes, he referred to my goban as a "Sudoku board".

Go is so unknown outside of East Asia that many of us have had a difficult time explaining the game. I once chatted with a fellow who doesn't even risk bringing it up in light conversation unless the other person is Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Such is the obscurity that some of us humorously endure.

I've decided to explore your frustrations with my Spring 2006 Poll which is now posted to the right. Given the variety of experiences most people have, multiple responses are allowed for this poll and a results table is shown below it.

I've listed the more common games that people confuse Go with, but you may have your own bizarre story to share in the comments section.

Results of the Winter 2005 poll

The Winter 2005 Poll asked if you were planning on buying a goban in 2006. Here's a tabulation of your responses.

My thanks to everyone who responded. Roughly 63% of you are in the market for a new goban this year and it's likely that some of you have already acquired one. Another 23% don't need one while the remaining 14% have too many boards.

This chart helps show the breakout of the responses.

More Go videos on Google

Petronius found three teaching videos on Google Video (along with the video montage created by the Warriors Go Academy). You can follow the link to try them out.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Photos from the Yunnan Go Factory

What does a P-40 warbird have to do with Go? Read on!

Pong Yen from Yellow Mountain Imports is now in Shanghai after a long trip down to Southern China. He had promised me photos from the Yunnan Go Factory and he sent me several.

The Yunnan Go Factory is on the former airbase of Claire L. Chenault's Flying Tigers fighter squadron outside of Kunming in Yunnan province.

These are old Kaya trees; several hundred years old and from Burma. They are illegal to cut down in China but are allowed to be imported from other countries. Boards made from these are very expensive and highly prized in Japan. YMI does not currently carry boards from these woods.

The wood is dried in storage through convection for up to ten years depending on the thickness of the cut.

The standard thickness of a floor goban in China is 20cm. This is too large and heavy for YMI to import at this time. Pong had expressed concerns about how heavier gobans could sustain in-transit damage when I once suggested that YMI should carry a 22cm goban that I had seen online.

This is the shed where they make the fine cuts for the boards from blocks to actual board size.

Here, a worker is sanding off some boards.

This is the former bath house of the Flying Tigers. It is now used for carving go bowls, board legs and reliefs for decorative floor gobans.

This is a sample of one of the reliefs that are carved in the workshop.

The is the master sculpter and engraver. The carving is a time-consuming and highly-skilled craft.

This photo provides a close-up of a panel which will be added to a Chinese-styled floor board.

Here is another photo of the carving process using a broad array of chisels and a carvers' mallet.

Here's a close-up of a floorboard leg being carved.

This is the shop storage for floorboard legs after they have been carved.

That's an impressive stack of Go bowls. Anyone care to play Jenga?

Here's a close-up of the unfinished bowls. That seems to be a turning lathe in the background.

Although this photo is blurry, you can clearly see the tiles of the bath house.

After the boards are properly dried, they are ready to be painted.

This is where the table lines are drawn, and where the paint and finish are applied. This part of the compound is the former horse stable of the Flying Tigers.

Here, we see a stack of unfinished boards. They look like they were all cut from a single piece of wood.

A finish is applied to what look like Chinese chess boards. I can't quite make out those markings on the center.

Here is the line-drawing expert applying the lines and star points by hand. My understanding is that some modern Japanese goban manufacturers do use specialized drafting-style equipment to apply the ink for the lines. Contrast this to the traditional method of using a modified sword edge.

The former barracks of the Flying Tigers airmen now serves as the workers' on-site residences.

Here are stacks of finished boards which will be part of YMI's upcoming inventory. According to Pong, the Yunan Go Factory provides boards to The Go Gamestore as well.

Pong mentions that YMI is now inspecting its equipment in its China warehouse before it is shipped to the US; allowing them to reject unsatisfactory boards. With the packaging of the gobans, Pong says that YMI is now adding 4cm and 6cm heavy gauge styrofoam packing around all the sides to prevent damage in transit to their customers.

In addition to shopping at their site, YMI also sells some of their inventory at auction on eBay.

In the foreground is a decorative Chinese-styled goban.

That's a wrap for this special article courtesy of Pong! If you'd like to see the goban I had received from YMI back in December, you can head over to that previous post.

Pong continues to hint of some new items being added to their inventory in the upcoming months so I'll be checking their site every now and then. If he gives me a heads-up (and an authorization to release the info), you'll hear the latest on this blog.

In other news

Some of you have noticed my recent absence from KGS. One of my coworkers has gone on maternity leave and I need to help cover for her.

I suddenly have a lot less time for Go but you will occasionally catch me on the servers. I may be lurking and watching games rather than playing.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Board Game Go's new convertible

The board detaches from the pedestal.

Carol Dufour of Board Game Go just announced his latest creation this week: a goban that converts from a floor board to a table board. The board itself measures 18" by 18"3/4 and 1"3/4 thick. When on the pedestal, the surface measures 9" high from the floor.

Clean and simple look.

In a slight departure from his usual board designs, Carol opted for a solid honey-colored finish for the surface. You can see more photos and details of this board on its feature page.

I think it'll fill a good niche in the market. The first model is currently being auctioned on eBay with a Buy-It-Now price of $125 (stones not included).

I had seen convertible gobans before but most of these were table boards that had four screw-on legs. This design is certainly more contemporary and I like its clean looks.

Board Game Go also made ScatCat's beautiful PurpleHeart board and other contemporary styles.

Iceman inspires another homemade Demo Board

JMP's 19x19 magnetic demo board

The demo board that Iceman made for his elementary school Go classes inspired JMP to create one of his own; this one being a large 19x19. Most demo boards of this size sell for $300 and up. JMP created his for under $100. JMP notes that this is just version 1.0 of his demo board so he might further refine the design in the future.

Here's his materials list:
  1. One sheet 40"x60" Sturdy Board, from Office Max $15
  2. Two sheets 16"x36" steel duct work from Home Depot $10
  3. One roll of off-white contact paper 20" wide from Home Depot $6
  4. Four rolls of 1/4" wide black graphic art tape from Office Max $12
  5. Two 1"x120" magnetic rolls from Office Max $14
  6. One each vinyl letter and number pack from Office Max $5
  7. One each black and white posterboard from Jo-Ann's $1
  8. Posterboard laminating from Kinko's $29
The board measures 34" wide and 35" high (Kiseido's is 37"x37" so about the same size) and the pieces are 1.5" diameter. The star points were just drawn on with a template and a Sharpie. JMP use double sided tape on the back of the metal so it didn't slide around when the contact paper was placed over it.

In this close-up photo, you can barely see the metal plates behind the board.

This photo shows where the magnetic strips were applied to the back of the pieces.

On Deck: Drago with PDF export capability

Gilles Arcas has released his beta version of Drago with a PDF export function. This will be a very useful feature for sharing kifus and lessons. I'll be testing it this week to provide him with functionality feedback.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Play the Shell

Pick it up!

As a lower-kyu, playing Black is often more comfortable than playing White. Nevermind that there's a komi rule to even-out the game, and that you can still create a glorious mess as Black by your fourth move. It just feels better to know that you have the initiative by playing first.

I've noticed that a lot of beginners' Go books have a tendency to be Black-biased. I suppose that makes sense since beginners will often play against stronger players.

Playing White, however, supposedly teaches you to value moves that gain or keep sente. In handicap games, you also learn to make more aggressive plays and create complications.

Playing White also deepens your understanding of playing Black. It's great to know how to play the Chinese Opening to your advantage. It's even better to understand its weaknesses and how to demolish it.

On both IGS and KGS, my win ratio has increased and I'm growing confident that I will soon advance in rank. I noticed however that, in most of my recent matches, I had the opportunity to play Black. This leaves me with a gnawing feeling in the back of my head that my strength might be color-biased. I don't like that.

If I'm going to advance, I need to prove to myself that I can hold my rank with either color. I want to know that I've earned the rank and not been granted it by a mere confluence of fortunate opportunities and a rank-calculation float.

Review! Review!

I'm trying to make it a habit to review my games with stronger players as much as possible. I'm thankful that my friends on KGS like to drop-in to watch me play (or perhaps to watch me get plastered).

I now need to adjust the frequency of my play for quality rather than quantity. Reviews can take as long, if not longer, than the game itself. That leaves less time for games and forces me to find playing periods that are at least an hour long. It's a tad confining but I want to improve for my next matches and minimize my mistakes.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Learning patience from watching Krystal

Back on February 18th, I chanced upon Krystal (11k) playing a game on KGS. I had to go prepare and eat dinner but I left my desktop on.

Much to my surprise, her game was still going after I finished my meal. The middle game had just begun so I sat down to watch. I was treated to a very exciting running battle (SGF link) and an endgame that prompted her opponent to resign.

Now, Krystal is ranked by KGS as 11k and I'm currently fluctuating between 20k and 19k. From where I stand, I have no authority to judge the quality of her play. But what I did see revealed some of the qualities that I lack.

  1. Krystal played very slowly and it was clear that she was giving a lot of thought to each of her moves.
  2. She maintained connectivity between her most critical stones.
  3. Her shapes seemed rather efficient; giving her formations flexibility, liberties, and connectivity while, at times, creating discomfort for her opponent.

Combined with tetris's advice to do more tsumego, I've applied what I had learned from watching Krystal to my most recent games and have managed to win most of them (although often by a slim margin).

It's still too early to tell if I've improved but saiclone (aka frankiii) said that he noticed a change in my style. I would agree with him on that since I'm now rather wary of overplays and gambles.

Seigen's Tengen

Go Seigen (B, then 5P) versus Honinbo Shusai Meijin (W)
October 16th, 1933
White won by 2 moku.

This game was reference in the Nihon-Ki-in Small Encyclopedia of Fuseki under unusual openings. Honinbo Shusai Meijin had come out of retirement for this game sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun. Go Seigen (aka Wu Qingyuan) was testing his shin-fuseki (modern opening) and his third (tengen) move apparently caused an uproar. What follows are comments in the SGF that is stored in

Shusai was scathing of Go's opening: "Creative innovation in go is to be welcomed with sympathetic interest, but regrettably Black's opening plays, which are characteristic of the `New Fuseki', have already been found wanting and are falling into disuse."

His distaste was echoed by correspondents to the Yomiuri newspaper who alleged disrepect by Go towards the senior player. Go himself was later to dismiss 5 as a "straitjacket" move, being concerned only with influence - the best plays combine territory and influence. But he was adamant that his intention was not to annoy the Meijin. he wanted to test out his new concepts against the best player available and a play at the centre point (which is what provoked annoyance - not the other two black moves) was, he said, simply a result of his feeling at the time that it formed a logical symmetry with his two corner stones.

These days we tend to embrace shin-fuseki as vital for rapid development of our positions and balance. I'm not sure that I understand the game enough to effectively apply a play on the tengen. But don't be surprised if you see me trying it out someday.