Sente gains nothing, part 2: Fair exhanges

When estimating the score of an unfinished game, it is useful to know how to value unfinished territories fairly. Many amateur players prefer not to go through the effort, and instead spend their time in locating the largest move on the board. I would however argue that without evaluating the board position at all, the largest move will be challenging to find.

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Sente gains nothing: An endgame view

This text begins a series of blog posts with a common theme: that of explaining what the proverb “sente gains nothing” means. My design is to start the explanation from easier, endgame-technical examples and little by little work towards more difficult concepts. If everything goes according to plan, at the end of the series I should have conveyed the idea of the proverb without (hopefully) having to explain it in abstract terms at all! (Having read essays on the art of human rationality on LessWrong, I wanted to try a similar concept on Go.)

At the same time, through the series I hope to improve on my writing skills. If the blog posts turn out well, I will probably refine them further into a part of an endgame theory book I have been planning for some time.

For readers unfamiliar with the terminology: please bear with me! I will also explain the technical meanings of sente and its opposite, gote in following posts.

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First week in class D

Another insei week is now done with, this one having been my first week in the D class. My result was another 7/7 (seven wins out of seven games), meaning that if there was a playing level difference to the E class, it’s still not quite decisive. I only played the insei ranked from place 5 to 12 (myself being ranked 11), so I didn’t get to play the insei who were in class C last month. I’m hoping they’ll be of different caliber than the rest — at least in class E, there was a notable difference between the previously-D-class insei and previously-not. The difference is mostly in technique relating to the opening game and to shape, so when playing a peaceful game, even class D insei can give me some hard time.

Indeed, having moved up a class, the first thing this weekend I wanted to probe out the level of my new opponents. The very first game I played peacefully, which actually led me to being a little bit behind in terms of points sometime in the middle game. Some manoeuvres later I did get the lead, however, and finally won the game by 6.5 points. Thanks to these games having byo-yomi, the opponents no longer make such blatant mistakes (well, myself included of course) as in the E class. My reaction to the first game was something along the lines of “Phew, that was close, better make sure I don’t get more games as close as this one”, and the six following games were more fighting-oriented. The same six I also won by resignation.

Some people have expressed interest in speculating the level of my future adversaries, so I went out of my way on Sunday’s lunch break to take photos of the C and D class results sheets:

I can append the results a bit from my memory: I, and the insei numbered 1-4, all got two more wins.

Just to get the number of Japan-related photos up, here’s also one from the Nihon Ki-in’s entrance hall:

The entrance hall of the Nihon Ki-in: doors are behind the photographer, and on the left side, out of the photo, we have shelves with copies of Hikaru no Go, free to read. The people here are following a go instruction television programme, which are shown through most of the day — unless there is an important professional game going on, in which case the game is relayed. In the very back, there are the elevators which I usually take to the insei classroom.

Of course, an insei related blog post is nothing without a game record, so here’s the second-most-peaceful game that I played this weekend. I was looking to fight in this one, but the opponent wouldn’t let me.

[sgfPrepared id=”0″]

I somehow got the impression that my opponent here (insei number 8 in the results sheet) is a fan of Lee Changho, due to his steady and simple way of playing.

At move 14, I had the sequence of black 1, white 2, black 3, white 4 and black 5 in mind, but for some reason I chose the inferior way of playing, seen in the game record. However…

…move 24 seems like an incredibly slow white move, even if there was some potential threat at d9 or e9 to try to cut the white stones apart. I would have played k3 as white without thinking.

At move 29, the game already feels good to black.

Move 38: this move, even if today sometimes seen in professional games, was the one that struck me as the most Lee Chango -like move in the game. It works effectively at getting a base for the white stone, prioritizing territory over influence since the centre area looks like dame anyway. I planned the answer of black 39 so that I’d have the chance to exploit white’s shape weakness of l18 later.

Moves 47-66: this sequence somehow worked incredibly smoothly for black; even though the corner died, black got a fair profit while reserving sente.

The game quickly proceeds to the endgame after the upper side sequence, starting with black l18, is carried out. Eventually, white resigns because of the point difference.

Since the D class has an even number of 14 insei, I’ll unfortunately no longer get teaching games with the instructors. However, it’s still possible to get a review if a game ends quickly enough, and if the teacher is free at the time, as long as I’m able to ask for the review in Japanese.

This week, on Thursday, I’m finally doing some vital Japanese go-related activity that I missed out on my last trip here, two years ago: I’m visiting the island of Innoshima, the birthplace of Honinbō Shuusaku (1829-1862), up to date one of the most famous (and strongest) go players ever. Innoshima is a good 700 kilometres away from Tokyo, so a two-day trip is necessary. Points of interest while in Innoshima will be Shusaku’s grave and the Shusaku museum, which includes go equipment used by the legend himself. Expect to read a report on this trip in approximately one week!

Second English study session

Yesteday we had the second session of the concept of “professionals learn English and Ten learns go”. Practically the setting is that I am presenting some of my (insei or otherwise) games on a board in a classroom in the Nihon Ki-in, with about six or seven professionals present on average, and the professionals attempt to comment the games in English. This time, the strongest professional present was 7 dan. The concept is courtesy of Kobayashi Chizu sensei.

Yesterday, before delving deeper into the game of the day, we recapped some important basic terms related to go. Kobayashi-sensei wasn’t present, so if it wasn’t for Simon’s assistance, I would have been on my own for the English teaching part. Simon did indeed a great job in assisting me, helping me with a lot of translations, and writing the English terms up on a whiteboard for the professionals to take notes of. At the beginning of the study session, I was initially slightly lost at how to take charge of everything, so I quite randomly took the English words for parts of the go board as the first content of the day: 隅=すみ=sumi=corner, 辺=へん=hen=side (upper/top, lower/bottom, left, right), 中央=ちゅうおう=chuuou=centre.

The English terms seemed to be new for most of the “students”, so it turned out to be good opening practice. I was quite strict on the words’ pronunciation, due to the fact that in Japanese, people sometimes use the Japanglish words of コーナー (“koonaa”, corner) and センター (“sentaa”, center). Apart from the *er sound, there’s not a real difference. We then started with the game review, and also recapped terms like connection, cut, extension, jump, et cetera. I’m not sure this whole studying concept provides for even-handed learning for all parties; the professionals are only learning English, while aside from go technique, I’m also learning Japanese! And for some reason, I still seem to hold the teacher’s role.

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Secondary goals, natural styles and countering your opponent’s plans

I had for long thought that I could develop for myself an ideal style of play – one with which I could, without much thought, play moves ordinary to me – and then I would win every game. That was my long-term goal, anyway, even if it was unachievable. For a period of time I experimented upon a really high-flown style of playing, where I usually ended up with a huge framework in the centre of the board. I liked that way of playing so much that I started playing like that all the time.

Then I met an opponent who, instead of challenging my plans like the others had, let me have my way. He, too, had his own grand plans for the game field, and wasn’t concerned with what I was building. I got baffled, challenged his plans, and even though the game went fine for some time, I eventually lost it. The same thing repeated with the same opponent for several times. I really couldn’t take it when my opponent let me have what I wanted.

For me, this course of events felt like first I was on my way to develop a perfect sword fighting style, which no other swordsman could counter, and then I met a guy with a gun.

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Slow down, you move too fast

Unlike the topic could imply, this text isn’t about about the process of placing a stone on the board, nor about playing times, but instead about the pace of stones played on the board themselves.

The exact wording of the topic comes from a story I saw on the internet, in which Washington Post conducted a social experiment: Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world, played some of the world’s most intricate violin music for one hour on a public place with a $3,500,000 violin, and no passer-by realized it. The punchline of the story was as follows: “If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made… How many other things are we missing?”

Seeing the 1994 movie recently, The Shawshank Redemption, made me think a lot about time (some minor spoilers about the movie included in this paragraph). The movie is about prison inmates, the main characters being sentenced for life – they’ve got the time to do what not, but there’s not too much you can do in a prison. For most of the time, the protagonist is taking his time leisurely, without a worry in the world, yet making the prison a better place for other inmates. The movie made it seem like the inmates actually had it pretty well: food, shelter and basic hygiene and other needs guaranteed, and certainly not many things to be concerned about. With less content in each of their days, they could spend more time concentrating on what they’re doing, instead of having to hurry and conduct different businesses all the time. That certainly leaves more space to appreciate the beauty of things. A released, old inmate sends his friends a letter that begins as follows: “Dear fellas, I can’t believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid, but now they’re everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.” Was a pretty touching scene.

How do these stories relate to go? Other than the more obvious realization that one well-played and enjoyed game could well be worth more than multiple fast and hastily played games, I also found an allusion to sente (“preceding move“, in common usage meaning a move or sequence that tempts the opponent to respond in some fashion) and gote (“following move“, meaning a move or sequence that doesn’t tempt the opponent to respond in any fashion). The amateurish way of playing unnecessary sente and forcing moves, extremely often seen in internet games, I could very well dub “getting in a big damn hurry”. It is not uncommon at all that instead of trying to do everything at the same time (like real-life multitasking), doing one thing properly is much better. Sente is well-used if there is a task you absolutely have to accomplish in a way that you also get to some other part of the board first. The forcing moves you may have to make will make the opponent’s position significantly stronger, but sometimes it may be worth it. In the opening and middle games, I consider it safe to say that trying to settle multiple positions in sente is never ever a good idea.

Here’s my game against Wang Wei 6 dan in the London Open Go Congress – I think I was able to play a few good gote moves, even if I did get hasty during the middle game. I was black.

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