Monday, March 26, 2007

What's that, mon Capitaine?!

Read this! And stop groveling!

Most folks on KGS know of TheCaptain. I first heard of him from yoyoma, who described him as "the fighting 4-Dan", way-back when I was still struggling to even get a rank. His games attract some of the largest crowds of spectators. You can read more about him in Sensei's Library.

In the English Game Room of KGS, TheCaptain said that "all kyus should read The Breakthrough to Shodan".

Gosh. Getting a message like that is akin to receiving directives from the archangel Gabriel.

The book, regretfully, has been long out of print. I got a copy in 2005 but never even cracked it open because I was still a struggling double-digit kyu and I thought it wouldn't help me; that I needed to first get closer to shodan. On top of that, the first sections looked like mere handicap Go guides.

I'll admit that I'm now curious and I'll probably give it a better reading this weekend. Is there something to this book that might help me understand my game better? Why this book?

ScatCat's new semi-precious Go stones

When I met ScatCat in person at the Berkeley beginners tournament, he had brought with him his custom-made Purpleheart board combined with Kuroki Goishi's Purple Clam stones. Pretty creative of him.

ScatCat is putting together an new custom set. He's asked Carol Dufour (owner of Board Game Go) to craft a unique slotted board. He's also gotten a set of Rose Quartz and Agate stones from Yutopian.

There currently are no photos of this set of stones on the Yutopian page, so I thought it would be helpful to share some of Scat's images with the Go community.

Here are the stones nestled in their box. Nice presentation.

ScatCat doesn't know of what wood the bowls are made of. The grain pattern reminds me of mulberry but ScatCat doesn't believe the wood is of that specie. Although the bowls may look shiny in this photo, they really are not.

ScatCat said that he finds the black agate stones most attractive on close inspection.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Not tonight

It's manga, so read right to left.
Poor Akira often has a perplexed look on his face, don't you think?

For the most part, I've managed to keep to a belated New Year's resolution that I quietly made to myself after a marathon game period.

"Play when I'm good."

"Good", in this case, is supposed to mean:
  • I've got a period of time wherein I'm almost guaranteed not to be disturbed.
  • I'm free of immediate obligations and tasks.
  • I've stuck to my (physical) workout routine.
  • I'm not physically or mentally stressed/exhausted.
  • I've taken time to study/research any puzzlements from my last game.

Counterproductive and frustrating
I used to play some of games as a form of escapism; to forget things that might have recently troubled me or to get my mind off an issue.

Imagine that I've just wrapped-up an exhausting day at work when things didn't go as planned and I was overstretched. "Hey! It's all over, ChiyoDad! Now let's play Go!"

BEEP! Wrong! It's probably one of the worst times for me to play Go. I'm tired and drained and even all my enthusiasm won't be enough to charge-up one tiny little brain-cell for a battle royal. Passive mental escapism might be the better alternative to active mental escapism. I should just fix myself a strawberry smoothie and unwind with a movie or, at worst, solve some very light tsumego.

It's an ironic fact that a lot of the times that I want to play Go are actually the most counterproductive times.
  • A brief unexpected lull at work? Not all high-priority tasks done?
    Bad time.
  • Overworked? Just finished a long morning of house-cleaning? Got a headache or even just a mild head-throb?
    Bad time.
  • Substituting your gym period for Go? Got a guilty feeling because you're supposed to be pumping iron and doing a 30-minute cardio?
    Bad time.
  • You didn't read-up on that joseki that you mis-played?
    Bad time.
If I insist on playing, then I'm likely to play a sub-optimal game, which increases my chances of losing thus leaving me slightly frustrated, ...

... which may cause me to drop in rank (I'll be honest. I try not to get hung-up about rank but I occasionally still do.), thus leaving me slightly more frustrated, ...

... which may induce me to play another game to try to redeem myself ("That wasn't me. It was just an anomaly. I'll be better focused in my next game.") ...


Holding to the conditions of my resolution often means playing only one game a day (on days that I can) or playing a handful of games infrequently. I'm playing fewer games than usual, but I'm finding myself enjoying my matches more.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The effect of rivals (real or imagined)

In the manga, Hikaru No Go, the rivalry between Hikaru and Akira is symbiotic. Akira's concerns for Hikaru's potential strength drive Akira onward to keep his lead. Hikaru's aspirations to surpass Akira make Hikaru work harder. In the process, both become stronger Go players.

Rivals then
I had a good number of "rivals" back when I started playing Go on KGS in 2005. Most were just other players of the same rank who had started playing the game about the same time that I did. I might have played a game or two with them but we really didn't know each other.

I guess you could instead describe them as randomly-selected benchmarks rather than rivals; but they served the same purpose.

Those first months were when I had the strongest desire to advance. I would often peek at the rank charts and game tables of my so-called rivals to see how their progress was going. I would then try to catch-up if I was being left behind; or experience a subtle glee if I managed to pull ahead.

However, many of these players disappeared quickly. The great majority were flash-in-the-pan beginners and they quit the game after hitting a wall near 22-kyu (on the old CGoban2 ranking system) or sooner. A small number were notably talented and quickly left me in the dust. Two, whose life profiles are similar to mine, needed to deprioritize Go and now play infrequently.

Rivals now

These days, I find myself just aspiring to play my next game better than my last (by thinking even just a little deeper). Obviously, as an amateur, I don't have a burning need to improve as quickly as possible. On top of that, I've probably come to accept that all folks have different life circumstances and that makes it hard to really compare one's progress to another's.

I still sometimes benchmark my advancement against other players that I've known for a while; a couple of these being Typhoon and aussiemate. I compare their progress to mine just to check if I'm "falling too far behind the pack". This gives a little impetus for me to improve; a gentle tug that helps ward-off complacency with my current quality of play.

I really hope that I don't develop some intense rivalry in Go. I'm not sure if I'd be able to handle it. I have enough competition to deal with at work.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Is your game off?


I had blogged about the effects of OGA (Online Go Anxiety). Some of you had also reported suffering from RLGA (Real-Life Go Anxiety). As you've probably suspected, any anxiety makes you play worse.

Research presented by Mark Ashcroft, a psychologist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, shows that Math Anxiety - feelings of dread and fear and avoiding math - can impair the brain's working capacity. Ergo, worrying about how you'll perform in a math test can undermine your performance.

Try to keep that in mind (or not) the next time you play a match.

Stay Fit
I've known for a long time that exercise can lift one's mood and suspected that it can boost brainpower. Now a new study shows that it builds new brain cells in a region linked with memory and memory loss.

Yet another good reason to maintain balance in one's life; playing Go and staying fit.

Speaking of fitness

I changed my workout at the beginning of the year to add a regular squat routine.

No, not the leg-press machines but real "bar-on-your-back-with-the-potential-to-crush-you" squats. Squats with heavy weights that make you break into a sweat on the second repetition. Squats that make you feel your heart thump.

Michael Mejia and John Berardi, fitness trainers who write for Men's Health, strongly recommend squat routines as the best way to induce overall muscle development. As they describe it, a squat puts stress on the entire body, treating it as a whole organism. Machines by contrast, isolate specific muscles.

I stopped doing squats back in late high school after the gym acquired a leg-press machine. Sure, it was safer and I could do heavier weights; but in retrospect, the switch did less for promoting muscle development.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Misconceptions about the decline of real-life Go clubs

"I hate Go."

- Cho Chikun, replying to a Dutch TV question as to why he liked Go so much.

That phrase, "I hate Go", was half-jokingly spoken to me seven times over the last three weeks by friends on KGS.

Admittedly, there are times when I too "hate" Go. The phrase encompasses my frustrations. Maybe I lost a game. Maybe I'm not advancing in rank as fast as I think I should be. Maybe I'm unhappy for not having read a move just one stone deeper, or for having found the ideal move three stones after it should have been played.

Given that "love" and "hate" are supposedly two sides of the same coin, one would come to expect similar frustrations in just about any fervent pursuit.

Interestingly though, I can't recall having felt as much frustration at any time when I practiced fencing or kendo. One possible explanation is that the intense physical activity released enough endorphins to lift my mood.

Another explanation might be the camaraderie of the salle or the dojo. Everybody acted as a fun social distraction, a cheering squad, or a mutual support group. And honestly, how can your mood not be lifted when occasionally, after two hours of practice, the gang either steps out for beer and pasta at Original Joe's or sits down for a tasty home-style Japanese meal?

Virtual vs. Real-Life
Now, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that I probably spend at least a third of my time on KGS just socializing. There's a lot of online chat that goes on in the rooms of that server and, coupled with KGS's rather well-designed game-review capabilities, I once speculated about the ultimate demise of real-life Go clubs as virtual clubs would take their place.

I probably couldn't have been more wrong.

Face it, it's a different experience to be sharing a drink, a light conversation, and a game in person than it is to be sipping tea by yourself as you play on a server. You can throw-in all the tools at one's disposal - internet telephony, webcams, and virtual worlds like Second Life - but what you get is still a substitute that falls notably short of the broad social enjoyment that comes with a club.

These days, I'm more convinced that online social interaction will always remain merely an extension of real-life social interaction; a convenient way to get together when time constraints or distance conspire to keep us separated. Online Go is enjoyable and educational, but I'd really prefer to be playing at The Berkeley Go Club, The Sunnyvale Go Club, or join the LLNL Club for it's once-a-month off-campus meets at the Panama Bay Coffee Company.

I speculate that many of us would also rather be at a club if one were nearby. The pleasure of just getting together with people who share the same interest is difficult to replicate.