Insei report after the first weekend

Insei training isn’t light, I’ll give you that! The schedule is strict and incredibly full, and being an insei isn’t just about playing go. The school is, after all, meant for children who are potentially going to become professional go players. In addition to gaining playing strength, then, the teachers will do their utmost to also get the children to act like professional go players should. This also goes for wannabe-pro foreigners who find their way to the school. In a sense, it’s kind of like I’m back in elementary school, just the manners that are being taught are from a different culture. It is a relief that the teachers, while being strict, are also nice, and recognize that I’m to break the form at times, coming from a different culture myself.

Yes, it's just like in that one comic series!
My insei badge, and an insei cloth for cleaning the go board. Now I'm officially Anti Torumanen while in Japan!


I thought it interesting to make a list out of everything that I’ve been notified about in my manners. While trying my best to learn the form, I’m not taking the receiving of a scolding too hard. Just this first weekend, I was notified about:

  1. having my mobile phone out in the open — I was about to record my game when I had a short break. A bit later, I went to the Nihon Ki-in shop and bought a kifu book.
  2. using a fan (it’s incredibly hot inside, at least this time of the year!); only teachers are allowed to use fans. To prevent myself from getting a heat stroke, I keep a water bottle with me (on this part, I realized that it must be bad manners to drink anything in the classroom, so for drinking I have to leave the room).
  3. crossing my legs while sitting (on a chair), twice. Japanese people don’t find it good form to sit with their legs crossed, it seems.
  4. forgetting my insei badge on Sunday. I realized this too late after I left the apartment, so to avoid any bigger trouble, first thing Sunday morning I went to the teacher and formally apologized about it.
  5. walking with my hands in my pockets, on Sunday morning just as I went to apologize about forgetting the badge. Ouch.

Looking at this list, it’s obvious I’m going to receive many more notifications, still, but at this point of time, I find that to be more hilarious than dreadful.

I’m sure many people are interested in knowing how exactly the insei business works, so here goes:

  • Insei gather only on weekends, every Saturday and Sunday. During the Christmas, there’s a two-week pause (19 December to 6 January).
  • Right now, there are five different insei classes: A, B, C, D and E. Classes A and B have 10 insei, C has 12, D has 14 and E has all the rest (right now, 11). If E gets too small, it is combined with D. If the total number of insei got too low, they’d remake the system.
  • Insei from classes A and B use legged boards, while the groups C-E use table boards.
  • After every four weeks (“one month”), top four of classes B-E go up a class, and bottom four of classes A-D go down a class.
  • Class A, plus six outsiders decided by a preliminary tournament, play a round robin pro examination tournament twice a year. The examination lasts for almost two months, is played only during the weekends (one game a day), and only the winner of the league becomes professional. This autumn’s professional exam actually just started last Saturday, the same time I started as insei.
  • Classes A and B play two games a day, but three games at the beginning and the end of the month. C plays three games each day, D three games a day but four games at the beginning and the end of the month. E plays six games a day. There is a 45-minute lunch break in the middle of the day.
The 2011 autumn pro examination pairing table!


So, last weekend, I already played twelve games, with 30 minute absolute (no byo-yomi) time settings. Since E group has 11 insei right now, the remainder plays against a teacher. I did quite well this weekend, winning my five games on Saturday (and playing against a teacher, but we didn’t have enough time to conclude the game — I was probably losing by a bit), and winning four out of six on Sunday. With a 9-2 result, I have the best score in class E so far. Not surprisingly, I was quite tired after both days.

The other insei vary greatly in age. I think the youngest are about seven or eight years old, while the oldest are most likely just about at the age limit, which should be 17. So far, I have been able to communicate with them a bit, as well as with the teachers, but striking up a normal conversation is still rather difficult. Given a subject to talk about, however, I’m able to express my opinion, and to reply to whatever the other side of the conversation is saying. This means that I can fairly well review my games with the other insei.

Between games, it’s possible to ask for a teacher’s comments to one’s game. With six games a day and absolute time settings, however, I still didn’t get a chance to do this, myself. In addition to this kind of teaching, at the end of the day, a teacher will give a lecture about how insei should behave, and what insei need to be ready for in the future. Both on Saturday and Sunday, the teacher was also lecturing about how losing is not shameful, and how one should always give one’s utmost while playing. It must be due to this kind of teaching that I’ve found that it’s really difficult to get the insei opponents to resign, even when they’re clearly behind.

I got this collection of 500 problems the first thing as I enrolled as insei.
From the 500-problem collection. The problems really are quite challenging, and this spread is likely to give anyone enough headache for at least a day, no matter how strong.

I am likely forgetting a lot of things to write about, still, but I cannot think of anything more on this note right now. Instead, I’ll present you with the game I played against the teacher on Saturday, with quick comments! I’m of course black, and white has no komi. I don’t know the teacher’s exact strength, but he’s professional anyway.

EDIT, 4th October: If I remember right what I heard earlier today, the teacher was Kamimura 9 dan. I’m not completely sure about the name, but his ranking was definitely 9 dan.

[sgfPrepared id=”0″]

Move 22: My shidougo senses started tingling at around here. I was initially about to play something on the lower side, like m3, but I went for a more interesting line of play with k17 on.

Move 31: This is another experiment, or more like an open question. Practically I was seeing if I’ll get to try a lower-side moyo, or whether I’ll just make black’s left-side group stronger (which makes the upper left corner open for invasion, starting with b16).

Move 49: There was some bad potential in the corner with white b3, but this way of destroying the potential doesn’t seem good. B3 instead would be more solid. I wanted to defend more actively by being able to play black g4 later, but letting white get the connection of a5 is a loss.

Move 51: Still threatening white with a moyo, and preparing for a lower-side invasion. I was looking for a way to make the game more difficult for both, so as to make the deciding of the winner less dependent on endgame skills (at which the teacher would have an advantage).

Move 65: The fun starts! The rest of the game is one big fireworks display; I think it better if the reader just sees what happens next, and not care about any comments any longer.

Move 141: The plan was to risk it all on whether the upper-right black group can live or not. However, we were low on time at this point, as the next round was about to start, and so we ended up playing the corner out too quickly. After white 142, it feels like there is still a way for black to live — however, with what happened in the game, it appears black is dead, and if black invaded the upper left corner, white would still come out slightly ahead. In any case, it was a thrilling game! The teacher even complimented my fighting skills, afterwards.

I think that’s all for now, see you next time! Tomorrow I’ll be going to a lesson at the Nihon Ki-in, which is held in English, but with pro teachers. The concept will be that I’m teaching English to the professionals, and the professionals teaching go to me.

If you happen to come up with any further questions about anything related to the insei, don’t hesitate to ask!

18 thoughts on “Insei report after the first weekend”

  1. The problems that you posted seem to be from Kweon Kap-yong Baduk Academy Series Vol 2, which is a great series of tsumego books by the way. The problems are quite challenging, indeed, but fun :)

  2. I would realy like it to be more proffesionall players from europe. I think the number of people playing go and the level of our play will become bigger that way.

    Also it is inspiring to read about a person from europe travel the path of becoming a proffesional player. I wish you the best of luck, and I realy like this blog

  3. “with 30 minute absolute (no byo-yomi)” ?!

    Absolute time?! Is this how it is for all standard insei games? This seems bad, what’s the reasoning behind it?

    1. That’s the standard for class E, which is the only class that has six games each day. Class D already has only three or four games a day. Respectively, the class D and the classes up from there have more thinking time. I think all the other classes apart from E also have a byo-yomi. I don’t know the exact time settings yet, however.

      There might be some reasoning behind it, such as “they’re the lowest class, so of course they make the most mistakes, and with many mistakes, we get the most information out when as many games as possible are played, even if the time limits are shorter”. The stronger that a player is, the more use he can make out of his thinking time.

      1. Is it also due to the fact that the players in league E are probably quite young? Are the younger kids all playing super-fast like most children, or are they actually using their time?

        1. E certainly does have the youngest children alright, and they do play rather fast. I think in most of my games, the opponent has had at least 10 minutes left at the end. Maybe they’re not quite so super-fast however.

  4. This is without doubt one of the most informative and entertaining go blogs I have seen to date. Thank you so much for your detailed reports. I hope you are having a great time as an insei and not feeling too unsure of yourself due to the constant admonishments to behave appropriately. Quite amusing to hear about though. Keep up the great work and enjoy!

    1. Thank you for linking the profiles! Meeting would indeed be interesting, though Saturdays in general do tend to go kind of late for me. Some weekday would definitely be nice.

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