American Go E-Journal

The Janice Kim Files – Game On

Monday July 13, 2015

(or what I learned during my two-year vacation from playing games) by Janice Kim 3P

PastedGraphic-1For me go and poker are the same. As they are like two sides of my same coin, I find the optimal strategy in go is to know everything, and in poker, to be random.

Humans are not randomizers, they require computers, or cards, and even those require perfect input for true randomization. A good watch with a sweeping second hand can take care of a lot in poker. If you develop the strategy of eyes going to your watch, as if you’re the smartest Princess Bride in the world poisoning a cup, basing your actions entirely on the position of a watch hand on the dial, you will be about as random as humans get. I look pretty much like Lee Chang-ho would playing poker, a Stone Buddha in a skirt and heels, a non-sentient target no more than a table’s-length away, which is why it is oh-so-perfect.

Of course this is only truly useful if you are not looking at your cards at all, so as not to introduce the possibility of fear in yourself, and playing against the best cash players in the world, and aren’t an actual threat to the way of life to wealthy and powerful, testosterone-enhanced, actively aggressive people. And then you have to have enough chips neatly stacked in front of you, or maybe with one almost toppling over, to enrage enough or entice enough to engage enough to get any play. The buy-in on such where-are-you-on-the-guest-list events is steep if you aren’t backed. 

You have to modify by close observation which perimeters to change, and how, when playing poker in all other situations. The lipstick camera in televised events, for example, lets the audience play along, and makes you look insane, or insanely driven for a spotlight. If you unfocus your eyes, it’s just possible to look like you’re looking without actually seeing your cards exactly, but the whole thing is too complex to deal with rationally, and I’m not color-blind.

There’s no doubt to me that poker is as complex as go, or at least, that if you have a game with simple enough rules, you get games of the most complexity. In poker, there are only five things you can do, after all: check, call, bet, raise, fold. Eighty percent of the time in ring games for the most part you should fold, and that is only when it’s your turn and you don’t have sente. For the other 20% of the time you can only do one of two of the other things, depending on whether you have sente or not. It’s harder to say than to do, and it’s not that hard to say, although some people say it more clearly than others. I’m like the Yoda of the poker world, but I wish I was the Yoda of the go world.

That reminds me of the coin again. In poker, gote has the value that sente has in go. There’s the secret. If you’d like to start a dialectic on these subjects, you can send me 1% of your game earnings later, if you choose to play for a time and find this information of practical value, or just send me a note. Yoda has no pockets, or any need for them. Yoda desires kind friends. If you read this last bit in a Yoda-voice, it is to write me immediately, please, good idea, I think. Yes. I have some letters, here somewhere, did I mention I have no pockets? I have this computer box though, hitting it with a stick I sometimes do.

No doubt poker is obscenely lucrative if you want to have fundamentally no fun or interest in what you are doing, but sleeping on a pile of greenbacks is fun or interesting for less than five minutes, and impossible after that no matter how tired you are. I can personally guarantee you of this, having on the occasion of one of my biggest wins, missing my daughter’s second birthday it was, finding out that without one of the regular’s secret boxes at the Bellagio, all cash comes cold and hard and lumpy, to be dumped on the bedspread before you collapse on it as well from not sleeping for 38 hours straight. You can get it in conveniently-sized flags and cranberries, colored wafers in $5,000 and $25,000 denominations, if you are prepared to carry and possibly lose non-traceable poker chips in a casino filled with people, kill you for them they would. Cash in a duffel bag is safer, using the force all around you. Even revealing this information will have me marked by the dark side. I found it was better to ask myself in the end why I wanted to negate myself, or if by way of another poorly-scaled analogy, if omniscience, if wise, requires dice to play with the universe. So much for poker.

Since I’m not able to memorize everything, a feat that puts the memorizing of the first 10,000 digits of pi in a little perspective, it’s lucky that my pattern recognition skills and ability to analogize seem built in to my brain, more or less, so I can play go. Of course it helps to be able to read, and to count, accurately. These do not appear to be built in to my brain, and required 10,000 hours of practice for me to be able to read well, and about a quarter of that amount of time to count to ~60 (fractions still throw me a little).

Of course I’ll never know everything, and know only the first six digits of pi (I know more digits of the transcendental number e, but no one has ever stopped me to congratulate me on my license plate, or could understand why I would pay $79 a year for an apparently random one, until now. See, I get a lot of writing). I figure being able to know very little, what I can do is try to prepare myself, and hope for the best. My chances appear random, but I suspect I’ll be a surprise ringer in the coming zombie apocalypse. I love game players, go players most of all. Who am I? I have achieved every award in Plants vs. Zombies, that is not easy, especially for someone in my position.

Chess is more than enough for my brain, but the board is much smaller and the pieces are all differently weighted, so I don’t find it my perfect analogy. Sorry chess guys who can kick me up and down the street in chess that I enjoy playing to the extent I have any idea what I’m doing, and probably also in go and poker for that matter, with any practice. Not clear if I still rule the wasteland in Plants vs. Zombies, but I am kind of old-school, does anyone even play that anymore, even in secret? That’s all that I have on chess, and, also, my kids played in a chess tournament, and my little daughter wanted to play too although she didn’t know how exactly. She gamely finished all the rounds, and they gave her a trophy too, to her tears of relief. As far as I could tell, the trophy was for being the youngest player to finish all her games that day, without actually knowing how to play chess. I wanted to take names and meet them in the darkening parking lot.

But I digress a little, and ramble on a lot. All true games are exciting and fun, and can keep kids entertained in ways that have educational value, more or less. I wouldn’t get all didactic and insist on one game over another, I say let kids play what they want, while remembering, safety first, and urgent before big. You need a way to live, two eyes at least, or otherwise a way to connect, or escape. Escape I did, for two long, long years.


Categories: The Janice Kim Files