Questions and answers, insei edition

I’ve had a short break from the insei studies now; next week, the April league, and my final month as insei for now, begins. How time flies!

How many of the readers remember the questions and answers blog post series? I’ve gotten some really interesting questions that I’d rather answer in a blog post rather than just in the comments section, so today I’m doing an insei edition of the series.

Hi, first of all thank you for this blog and the time you spent with it; it is well written and I enjoy to reading it.

Are you allowed to watch professional games, like Oteai matches or something similar?

Thank you!

It appears that insei are allowed to watch the games. Usually the professionals play on Thursdays: I’ve several times donned my insei badge and went to watch some games on the spot. On Thursdays, many games are also relayed on the Yuugen no Ma server (Japanese version of wbaduk), but seeing the players as well as the games makes for a much more interesting experience.

You mentioned ōteai matches — in fact, the ōteai system no longer exists. It was a ranking tournament that was in use from 1927 to 2003, after which it was replaced with a promotion system that was based on winning a set amount of games, receiving the most prize money from professionals of a given rank, or performing well in important key tournaments (for example, winning the Kisei, Meijin or Honinbo gives a promotion to 9 dan straight away). For more information about the new promotion system, check this Senseis’ library page out.

Are you going to watch the Kisei match between Cho and Takao together with other inseis live, maybe in a similar tv room as it was in hng?

I didn’t end up watching the Kisei match with other insei — the Kisei games were actually played on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and normal insei had to be at school at the time of the games. I did go see the Kisei final being played out in Kofu, as you may remember. That was a very fun day trip!

Is there a big difference between young and old pros, maybe in their behavior and their commitment to tradition. Are there any contemporary professionals who still wear traditional ceremonial clothing at their matches? Etc.

Professional players seem to get more serious in general as they age, but that shouldn’t be such a surprise. All professionals seem to get equally serious when it’s time to play a game, however! I’m afraid I don’t have much to share on the tradition aspect of the question here. If it’s about playing attire, I’ve seen Yoda clad in a kimono several times when he’s teaching the insei on weekends, but other pros I’ve seen are usually wearing a suit or something similar formal.

How does it feel to play a strong professional in an even (or without komi) game?

Lately there’s some interesting development here; it feels like nowadays, I can understand pro (or insei) opponents’ ideas and plans much better than I can understand other opponents’, eg. when playing on the internet. Of course, if I’m playing a strong professional, they’ll still catch me unawares with their superior positional judgment, and their reading would be sharper as well. Pardon the metaphor, but playing against your regular strong amateur feels like fighting against a whirlwind, while playing against a strong professional feels like fighting against a strong current.

Are professionals really as amazing in reading as the rest of the world maybe thinks, or do they sometimes overlook easy things (maybe in one of your english classes, when they argue about your game)?

When for instance discussing the game at the English class, they do sometimes overlook some “simple things”, though of course still not any fundamentally easy things. Such overlooks are just natural when you’re going through different ideas on a few seconds’ thought. When having more time and for example playing a game, while reading far ahead, they’ll also make sure that their reading is correct. If there’s limited time, they’ll read as far as they can, and if they’re not sure of the read-out line of play’s safety, they’ll pick a simpler way. I’d definitely say that the professionals’ reading abilities are amazing.

Have you become friends with some players that you’ve met several times, or are the Japanese keeping their distance to foreigners?

In insei training, there’s little time to socialize; I’ll be either playing, recording a game, having one of my games reviewed by an instructor, or watching an instructor review somebody else’s game. In fact, regular socializing during insei training is even forbidden, and will cause a scolding. For this reason, I’m not all too familiar with the insei, even now. At the Ichikawa dojo, I’ve had more of a chance to chat normally with Kenta and Ayato, who are B and C class insei respectively, and also with Sayaka, Mizuki and Hana, E class insei each.

The English class has been a good way to get to know some professional players, and I feel I’ve become better friends with the young professionals there than with any of the insei. The professionals there are a very friendly and open-minded lot, and it doesn’t feel like they’re being reserved around foreigners, as one could imagine from your average Japanese person.

You at some point mentioned an “archenemy”: have you faced her again since then, or made new archenemies?

The archenemy I mentioned earlier was named Fujiwara: she promoted to B class after January, and has been staying there since then. In other words I haven’t had the chance to play her lately, unfortunately. Since I’ve been stuck in class C now, I’ve more or less played the same insei all over, with a few exceptions of course (the insei who drop to C class from B, and the insei who rise to C class from D). None of my latest rivals have gotten suddenly stronger like Fujiwara did back in January, so it hasn’t felt like I’ve made any new archenemies lately.

Are there any other foreign insei at the moment; if so, how are they doing?

There was a French insei who quit just before I became insei last October. During the while I’ve been insei, however, there have been no other westerners apart from me.

There are, however, currently four insei from Taiwan, and they are all currently in the A class. I figure that the most promising professional students are sent from Taiwan to Japan to study. There are many Taiwanese players who became professional at the Nihon Ki-in too, for example Ō Rissei 9 dan, and Yū Hō 6 dan who attends the weekly English class.

 Is it so that once every month or two, a new insei pops in and sprints right away to A class, or is it the same faces moving between the classes every month?

New insei are admitted only on four occasions each year: the beginnings of January, April, July and October (meaning that this next weekend, there’ll probably be a good number of new insei starting in the E class). After I started in October, so far none of the newer insei have passed by me (indeed, I think all of the new insei since then are still in E class), so I’ve yet to see a similar case like Hikaru was in Hikaru no Go. Usually it’s more or less the same insei who are balancing on the borders of any two classes.

That’ll be all for questions and answers today — if you can think of any more queries, feel free to add them as questions to this blog post! I’ll do my best to answer them in due time!

Level up!

Although there’s one week of October left, the October Nihon Ki-in insei league is now over, and we’ll already start with November’s league this weekend. Since this way, one “month” only has 28 days, we’re running a little bit fast — this is compensated by the insei getting a Christmas holiday of two weeks, right after the December league stops at December 18. My final score in class E was 40 wins to three losses, easily giving me the first place of the class. From next weekend on, then, I’ll be starting at class D with a significantly smaller amount of games to be played, but with slower time settings. The exact settings are described here (in the first paragraph), in case somebody missed them.

Yesterday we had the fourth installment of the English lesson for professionals. The lesson went otherwise as normal, me presenting my insei games and the professionals commenting them in English, but there were two surprise factors. First was that Tom, my friend from the Nihon Ki-in, had through some contacts gotten us two new western participants: Andreas from Italy and Gediminas from Lithuania. Of them, Andreas had played a little bit some fifteen years ago, and Gediminas was new to the game. The reviewing part of the English lesson, then, likely wasn’t very useful or interesting to the newcomers, but after two game reviews, we had the professionals teach Andreas and Gediminas some basic rules of the game — again in English, of course! I helped a bit, but the professionals did very well on their own part. The second surprise factor was that Takemiya-sensei also attended the lesson! He was present for the first 45 minutes, commenting one of the insei games that I lost, and then went on to his weekly dancing lesson. Could I say, then, that I have taught Takemiya? Maybe best not to.

Continue reading “Level up!”

Questions and answers, part five

Here goes part five! As usual, new questions and inquiries are to be written as comments to this post.

Hi Ten, I wanted to do some questions for the next series of questions and answers:

First i really want to know your age only because i’m curious (Cause i readed that you wanted to go to korea to study and i thougth that to be insei you have to be younger than 18).
Next: I had the doubt of what do you prefer when you study pro games, have the kifu printed or in a computer, also if is better commented matches or regular tournament matches without comments to study.
About this also i want to know which database do you use to study games.

Also How many time do you use to study or practice go at the week.
And Which part of the game you think that is more valuable in concept of improving.

Last One: I have been said that i don’t use the time to pressure the opponent in tournaments, i wanted to know if you do some kind of things to put time pressure to your opponents in the tournaments like playing really slow or some kind of thing like i don’t know think a lot a move to make your rival doubt about his next move.

I was born in the summer of 1989, making me now 21 years old. I have thought about becoming a go professional student (insei) alright, but my plans concern Japan, not Korea or China. According to the information I’ve gotten, it’s possible in Japan for westerners up to 25 years of age.

For the studying pro games part, I usually see the games from my computer or iPhone, depending on if I’m on the move or not. Commented games are nice, but I don’t see a lot of them – mostly I analyze games, tournament or otherwise, without comments. I either get the records from different tournaments’ web sites, Igo kisen, or SmartGo Pro‘s database. I spend time for go almost every day – either playing, watching games, or reading books. Recently I haven’t studied very intensively, but I’m sure I’ll get around to that soon, again.

The question about which part of the game is the most important one seems a bit funny to me – it seems really difficult to improve at the game just by getting good at a few parts of it! If you’re good at the opening but not very good at the middle and end games, you’ll end up losing won games. On the other hand, good middle game skills may save you from a lost game. And skills at the endgame can turn the tide of a great deal of games, too. I’d much rather advise you to divide your effort on improving every aspect of the game evenly!

For the time pressure part, I normally don’t concern myself much with things like that – I’m more interested in what happens on the board. Of course, psychology affects the game a lot, too, and time usage affects psychology – I might do well to learn a thing or two on this part as well. The only time-related tricks I might use during a tournament game, now, would be playing really complicated moves at points when the opponent is low on time. I usually use less time than my opponents, so I sometimes can get some real profit out of that.

What do you think about the necessity of getting a good teacher in order to get better? Is it necessary and at what rank? I often see 10 kyu players in kgs that are having regular lessons from professional players. That’s sick! Isn’t it enough to get somebody 5 stones stronger to tell you where to improve? What is your own teacher history like?

I also want to know your opinion on the balance between “studying” time and playing time. If a go player wants to improve, is a massive amount of games a must or should one pay more attention to studying different aspects of go? How do you use your time?

I myself made my way up to Finnish 5 dan before starting to get more guidance – I believe I’ve got some fairly valid opinions to share on this part. It’s safe to say that you can improve whether you have a teacher or not – the important thing is, that you are all the time getting new things to think about and to experiment on in your game. If you are simply doing the same old thing, you will learn nothing new. With good self-leading skills, this is certainly possible to do just by yourself – otherwise (and actually, even with the self-leading skills), a good teacher can really help on this part. I myself have relearned a great many things during the last two years, getting guidance from the Experience Go trip’s teachers, especially Jeff. It’s probably mostly thanks to them that I’m still able to improve at a steady pace.

It certainly would be pretty easy if somebody could just tell you what to improve on – however, every player is different, and teachers (or players themselves) aren’t all-knowing – a good teacher will spend effort on getting to understand the student’s style, and according to that tell the student what to do.

Concerning the studying time and playing time, I like to divide things as I laid out above: you need new things to think about, and to experiment on them. Books, lessons and pro games, for example, are places to get new ideas. Games and go problems are the frontiers to experiment on. I find it incredibly difficult to state an absolute ratio between the two, since learning speed depends on the individual – readers are advised to try out for themselves how much experimenting is needed for new ideas to sink in!

Irish go congress report

Long time no write! I’m now back from one month of quite intensive university studying, and also from a six-day trip to Dublin. Ireland was a completely new experience to me, and also a really nice one: I very much liked the feel to Dublin as well as the architecture, not to mention the natural sights. The tournament went reasonably well: I got a 4-1 result, beating Wang Wei after a lucky turn in the game, but lost to Ondrej Silt in quite a similar fashion. In the end, we had a completely even score with Wei, and so ended up sharing the first place!

Continue reading “Irish go congress report”

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!

3-3 strategy; Pandanet European Team Championships, round three

Today’s post’s theme revolves around strategy based on the 3-3 point, as per Joachim’s inquiry. The example game in question was played yesterday in the Pandanet European Team Championships: I defeated Catalin Taranu of Romania by resignation, getting revenge for my loss to him in the European Go Congress 2010. The game this time was very good, with few apparent mistakes for both sides. I received commentary for the game by An Younggil 8 dan professional right after the game; some bits of what I write here come from there. I play black.

More sharp-eyed readers might notice that I differentiate between writing about black in first person and in third person: when I write in first person, I am reflecting on my thoughts during the game, and when in third person I’m looking at the position now, after the game.
Continue reading “3-3 strategy; Pandanet European Team Championships, round three”

Christmas update

Merry Christmas! It’s been incredibly difficult to muster some energy to write here, when I’ve finally been able to simply relax and have a good time with my family and friends. There’s a good number of questions I’ve yet to answer, as well as the game review I promised – however, with the trip to London being such a short time off, I’ll probably reserve this day as well for relaxation.

The plan for close future is as follows: on December 27 (that is, tomorrow) I travel to London, the tournament being held on the four following days after that. If I can get access to internet, I’ll try my best to post some tournament games here with my own comments. Then there’s two days of free time on London, and I arrive back on January 3. I’ll get back to working on the questions and the promised game review then.

I’ve no clear picture of the London Open Go Congress’s organization, but I would guess they are relaying some games on IGS. If that’s the case, please do come and cheer on me, again!

Questions and answers, part three; the 6-4 point

Hello world! Now I finally found the time to answer to Michi’s query regarding the 6-4 point. Like with normally with the questions and answers series, please write new questions as comments to this blog post!

First off, I compiled an sgf file (updated on 10 November 2011!) with some more normal variations along with my comments. The eidogo plugin in this blog doesn’t show comments for now, so please download the file (the download link is just below the plugin) for the comments.

[sgfPrepared id=”0″]

The following, here, is for whole-board fuseki. Please check the joseki file first!

If black played double 6-4 points, for example like this, I feel that white 8 is a really feasible counter. After white 8, black can practically no longer have a big right side,  which makes black 3 kind of useless. Later, if white gets the chance, he’ll take A. Black can surely make a game out of this, but it shouldn’t be so out of ordinary for white anymore.

If white plays double 6-4 points, black is simple to play as well. There are a few moves I would consider: black A is one, making white 2 rather useless again (black B later, then, given the chance). Black C instead would split the left side, not giving white 4 much to work for. Or, black could also just play his own game with D – there’s really no hurry in making the white stones useless.

As a summary, I do consider the 6-4 point playable, but it is making a player’s intentions painfully obvious (white 2 in the last figure clearly aims for the upper side, and white 4 for the left side). Personally I favor the 4-4, 3-3 and 3-4 points, which give a lot more flexibility to the follow-ups.

Continue reading “Questions and answers, part three; the 6-4 point”

Questions and answers, part two

Long time no see! I got a nice amount of questions in the first part of this blog post series, and will now address them. Once you think of new questions, please write them as comments for this post!

Phew, this is one long entry! Please do try to overcome the “too long, didn’t read” feeling – I feel like I wrote a lot of useful and important text for all go players!

Continue reading “Questions and answers, part two”

Questions and answers, part one

Hi everyone!

To get even more activity to this blog, I’m now introducing a questions and answers blog post series. The idea is, that readers can get answers to go-related questions from an experienced player, and in exchange I’ll get ideas for subjects to write new blog posts about. Thus, you are welcome to ask me anything about go in this post’s comment section, be it about difficult board positions, go philosophy, or anything else! If many questions appear, I’m afraid I might not have the capacity to answer every single one, but I’ll try my best!