Out-of-ordinary insei training and a go party

Today marked a slightly more special insei training day. Out of the blue during the day, the insei instructors came up with the idea of switching the classroom to the sixth floor from the normal seventh. That means that today, I played two of my three games in a traditional tatami room, which the professionals normally use for their games! Of course, it wasn’t my first time in a tatami room, as I’d participated in two kenkyuukai before. Still, it was a welcome change.

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One week to go!

As the topic also states, I’m now only one week off from going to Japan! My period as insei starts right away on October 1, so I will only have some three days of time to get used to the new surroundings before I start with the real deal. As far as I know, I will be starting from the lowest insei group, so it may take a while before I start getting reasonably difficult games — yet I’m sure that if I don’t take my initial opponents seriously, as well, I may get some surprising losses! Most of the insei kids are most likely serious enough about what they’re doing.

My travel preparations are by now practically done, travel insurance included. For past several days I’ve been heavily concentrating on improving my Japanese language skills, to the extent of studying my university’s Japanese courses’ material without actually attending to the courses. I’ve also been reading a Japanese go theory book (Kihon Senryaku, “Basic strategy”: while claiming it is basic, most of its content I’ve never heard about before!) and Hikaru no Go in Japanese — while there are plenty of kanji that I need to check from the dictionary, I do understand most of the language after I get the hiragana versions of the words. It is probably not impossible for me, then, to survive in Japan with my current language skills. Some of the Japanese grammar still puts me off, however: for instance, it seems quite ridiculous that Japanese doesn’t have an equivalent for the English auxiliary verbs of “must” or “have to”. Instead, when in Japanese you indicate a compulsion to do something, you have to twist the whole sentence into a double negation! “You have to pay” would actually be something like “Speaking of you, not paying is not allowed”. These kinds of details are like to confuse me for a long time.

Questions and answers, part four

I figured it’s about time to continue the questions and answers post series, the last one having been posted almost two months ago. And the whole blog has been up and going for almost three months already! Nice.

As usual, please write new questions and inquiries as comments to this post – I’ll try to address them faster, this time! Some of the latest questions I covered in my earlier posts.

This time I’ve got questions about time and space:

Do you like to play fast games? Do you use a special strategy when playing a blitz or does it just look like you’re playing a few stones weaker in the game record? It seems that professional games are getting ever faster with new tournaments fitted for TV. Is this good for professional go? Some say that in the old days when games lasted a lot longer, go was more harmonious and beautiful. Are people more focused on winning these days?

My second question is about the size of the board. Do you think that the 19×19 board is somehow special or more balanced than other board sizes? What about smaller boards? Is it good for your go to play some 9×9 now and then? How about giant boards? You can play games on a board up to 38×38 on KGS. Does it add any new aspects to go when playing on such a huge field of war?

I do like to play fast games at times, but generally I tend to favor slower games – about 60-90 minutes per game feels the best to me, personally. Fast games make for a good change of pace, however – whenever it begins to feel like my reading is getting too slow, I play some faster games to improve my reading speed. If it’s a casual game, I’ll try to play as I normally do – probably it means I cannot assess the whole board situation quite as well, and neither is my reading quite as accurate as in slower games. In a tournament, I might deliberately try to make complicated fights. The actual level difference to my normal playing speed is a bit difficult to approximate, maybe 1-2 stones is close enough.

As for the professional games, I believe the reason the games are getting faster is to attract spectators for go as a sport; five-hour games are not nearly as interesting as one-hour games, especially if there are many rounds. This should make go more interesting to the general public, which is surely a good thing, but I personally prefer the “go as art” way of thinking. In the sports-approach, winning is quite definitely the main focus. I won’t commit myself further on the question about beauty, as the question is completely subjective.

I looked up some information regarding the board sizes that have been used – 17×17, for example, used to be common some centuries ago. Having never tried for example 17×17, 15×15 or 21×21 myself, I’m not really one to judge if 19×19 is the absolute best board size. 19×19, however, does produce games that aren’t too short but neither too long, and leaves chances for many different kinds of strategies and tactics. If the board is smaller, the importance of good strategy will diminish. On the other hand, if the boards get much bigger than 21×21, the games will get increasingly longer.

Some reasoning says that 19×19 is the optimal board size because the third line and the fourth line are very much in balance: whole-board third-line edge territory and fourth-line centre territory create territories of similar class (136 versus 121). One historic explanation is that the 361 intersections of the go board represent the days of a lunar year. There seem to be dozens more of explanations for the 19×19 board size, but really no certainty about which ones are precise and which are not – who knows what people were thinking several hundred years ago about the board sizes? I’m fairly sure they weren’t performing scientific or mathematical optimization back then. I myself am ready to go with the 19×19 size because it provides interesting and reasonably long games, and because it is the standard. 9×9 and 13×13 boards provide a nice change, sometimes, but they mostly function as reading exercise for me. 38×38 games I think I will never play seriously – they’re way too long-winded! Every board definitely has its own optimal way of play; the difference between 9×9 and 19×19 may well be similar to the difference between 19×19 and 38×38.

Who is your favorite Hikaru No Go character? Has he/she changed during your go career?

Nice question there! When I started reading Hikaru no Go, my favourite for some time was, suprise surprise, Sai. Must be something about that godly level of play. Later I changed my favourite to Touya Akira, though – it was really interesting to follow his progress (both in go skill, and otherwise) throughout the series!