New year, new tricks

I’ve yet to wish happy new year for my readers, so here goes: Happy new year! I’m not sure if the topic’s “new year, new tricks” is actually used in English — I translated it directly from the Finnish saying. The meaning is still obvious enough, even if the saying didn’t originally exist in English!

I spent a two-week break from the Christmas up to new year not really playing go. An exception, I visited the Mimura dojo on December 26 in the middle of my break to give Mimura-sensei a Christmas present, two moomin-themed mugs and some Finnish chocolate. As usual, then, I did some tsumego there and played a few games, and that time got mercilessly defeated by the fellow insei. As a Finn, I was honestly surprised that the dojo was gathering even during what would normally be Christmas holiday. And it wasn’t only that; normally the dojo is open from around 4 PM to 9 PM, but since the children had a break form school, the dojo was open from all the way from 9 AM to 8 PM. I got around to thinking what would happen in western countries with a similar dojo: probably both the teacher and the students would go: “Oh, it’s holiday now, I’d rather just sit back and not do anything”, and then there would be nothing ventured and nothing gained. I don’t have anything against relaxing a bit here and there, but I find there’s something really wrong in the western countries’, at least Finland’s, attitude towards holidays, as if “being able not to have to do anything” was a state that people should strive for.

The next time I tried to go to the dojo on January 3, but found it surprisingly closed. It turns out Japanese people seem to value New year as a holiday more than Christmas, which isn’t such a surprise if we take into account all the cultural differences. It seems the Japanese go-playing community has a cute tradition relating to New year, too: go-playing initiates every year from the fifth day on, before that there is a break. The reason for the fifth day is that the number five is pronounced “go” in Japanese.

I’d gotten an invitation to participate in the Nihon Ki-in’s New year’s ceremony on January 5. The program consisted of some speeches by key Nihon Ki-in personnel, a very Japanese show of eight female professionals playing rengo in front of the audience with top professionals commenting the game (for some reason, the Nihon Ki-in really likes to show off its female pros), and after that of a banquet and some teaching games by stronger professionals. It appears my sensei, Mimura Tomoyasu 9 dan, was present and teaching as well (I just read about that from his blog).

Nihon Ki-in 2F, playing hall, go professionals' greeting, after chairman Ōtake Hideo's speech. From left to right: Ishida Yoshio, Rin Kaiho, Cho U, Yamashita Keigo, Xie Yi Min, Uchida Shuhei, Takao Shinji and Anzai Nobuaki.


January 6 was an even more special day, at least for me: I’d been invited by Aoki Shinichi 9 dan (a well-known go teacher at least in Europe) to visit his home and to receive some teaching from him. He lives outside of Tokyo, some 50 kilometres away from where I’m staying, so getting there by public transport took some 90 minutes. Of course, it was well worth every minute and even much more. I played first against Aoki-sensei, and then twice against his 10-year-old daughter, who was playing at a solid EGF 3-4 dan level. All games got reviewed by Aoki-sensei, of course. Aside from the games, we also did some harder tsumego from the 500-problem-collection I mentioned some months ago. Yes, I still haven’t finished with it! It was astonishing to watch Aoki-sensei’s daughter think about the problems, going like “I guess it must be here”, and repeatedly hitting the key shape points in the problems. I didn’t believe it back in Europe, but now I find it safe to say that doing tsumego is very, very important to keep (and improve) a solid level of play. Don’t do tsumego, and your play loses sharpness like a sword when not regularly honed.

Finally, last weekend (January 6-7) it was time to get back to insei training. I’d really missed it a lot! Saturday morning I found it difficult to play the insei games, having had the break from playing before visiting Aoki-sensei’s home the previous day, but by Sunday afternoon it felt like I was back in shape. My result was a nice solid 4 wins, 2 losses (the wins I got against insei #1-#3 are what count here!), but much more important than that, I really enjoyed all the games. C class insei #1, 坂室, constantly does peculiar joseki variations which I’ve never seen before, but instead of reacting like “Oh man, what is it this time?” I found myself to be more like “Oh yeah, bring it on!” I messed up in the early fights of the game big time, but was able to struggle myself back into the game, and finally killed a huge dragon in the centre. The game is such an entertaining lightshow that I’ll include the sgf here, however this time without comments (I’m accumulating too much text for this blog update already).

[sgfPrepared id=”0″]

As all the insei children were just getting back to studying from their holiday, on Saturday the atmosphere in the insei classroom was rather wild. Even the usually gentle Kamimura-sensei gave quite a harsh speech at the end of the day about how the insei are supposed to do serious studying and not play around. I also found I’d missed Ōbuchi-sensei, the stricter insei instructor: when he was present on Sunday, suddenly everybody was very collected and serious, the way it should be. Right away on Sunday morning when I was arriving in the classroom along with some other insei, he pointed out to us that insei should go out of their way to formally greet all the instructors present the first thing they arrive. The moment I heard him explain that, I thought “I’m back home”.

Things are looking up here in other words, even more so than normally. Today’s another busy day (in a good way): soon it’s lunchtime, then I’ll go buy a copy of Weekly go and look it over, and after that it’s time to move to the Mimura dojo to do some serious studying!

11 thoughts on “New year, new tricks”

  1. Does the “wins against insei #1-#3 are what count here!” imply that you played all three during the first weekend and won, or did you mean it in the sense that in current situation, those are the wins that matter? :)

  2. hmph… just keep sharpening the sword and never learn to actually sword-fight, that’s no winning recipe either.

    Personally, I like go because of its elegant rules; that only presuppose an undirected graph of certain kind, two players and nodes that can be black, white, or empty. Heck, you could almost trivially expand it to digraphs and multigraphs and any kind of agents and discrete systems, and it would probably be interesting.

    Now tsumegos… cramming the patterns of this particular almost-4-graph (and mind you, defining a “grid” without defining directions or coordinates is harder than it seems, I wrote a seminar paper on that back in the days :-). Waste of life? Of course not. But it’s somehow the flipside of the ruleset; opposite of navigating the uncalculable, what I personally would call the game. Thinking about moyos and invasions is what I’d compare to the actual swordfight, two (wo)men facing each other in battle. Tsumegos are precisely sharpening the sword. I’d be happy to use a sword-sharpening machine, or perhaps trade the sword for a monte-carlo-shotgun.

    I guess that’s why I’ll never get very strong /:

    Good luck with beating the kids in C (:

    1. Sure enough, a good balance of all kinds of training is the winning recipe. Be a perfect strategist and you can still lose when you fail to kill the opponent’s invasion — on the other hand, only know how to live and kill locally, and of course you won’t win all the time either. It’s imperative to both know the moves and to be able to cut when your blade connects.

  3. Since 36 is a move I cannot explain technically, I would guess this is where you got yourself into trouble, but of course I’m likely off mark.

    Later, my feeling is that 145 & 147 are heavy. There was not much for Black to find at the right side or in the centre, so perhaps both these moves and even 143 could have been played more to the left at the top.

    Very interesting to see how Black wins two kos, apparently losing not much in exchange, but your “atsusa” has become really big and you cannot lose the third ko anymore.

    When games are decided by ko fights, surely one feels a professional quality in them.

    Thanks for posting!

    1. White 36 is definitely the correct shape, I think — if white doesn’t play it, black gets to play the forcing sequence starting with black d7, and suddenly white has some terrible shape. If white 36 has to be played, it’s also better not to play any atari against the black d9 stone.

      Up to 43, I feel that the game is still even. Starting with white 44, however, white gets some pretty bad shape on the left side, and the fighting becomes difficult.

      Black 145 and 147 are pretty heavy alright, but black’s problem was already earlier, with letting white connect with r12 and so on. Black’s gain on the right side was indeed very minute. When white is able to commence the attack on the upper side, the game is probably back to even, if not even good for white. There is also still an endgame ko on the left side with white a16.

      1. Could you explain what lead to losing the C16 group, or what was the compensation? I see you could keep the cutting stones and of course they were crucial in the end, but…

        1. Black 51 came as kind of a surprise, and completely destroyed my shape. There was no option but to fight back, so I chose the sequence up to white 70, when white threatens two different ko: the one with white a16, and the other one with white a2. White e12 isn’t completely worthless either, but the endgame ko white has in the upper left corner isn’t easily winnable, which was the main problem.

    1. I’d rather not disclose my location too publicly, even though it shouldn’t be that big a deal. Suffice to say that I live quite close to the centre of Tokyo, in Minato-ku.

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