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Research Offers a New Look at Go Players’ Brains

Thursday February 6, 2014

A research collaboration in Seoul has revealed new information about the cognitive requirements of playing go and the effects that it may have on the brain. A team compared a group of expert go players with a group of beginners and published the results in the journal “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience”. The work revealed several differences between the brains of the beginner and the expert. The experts had increased volume in certain areas of the brain, decreased volume in others, greater interconnectivity between certain regions and differences in the overall brain structure. A correlation between the magnitude of the effect and the number of years of go training suggests that these differences are not simply the result of a predisposition of these people to continue playing go. Rather, the difference in brain structure can be explained by the the fact that the brain rewires itself to meet new skill requirements. This phenomenon, known as neuroplasticity, has been observed before in chess players. The areas of the brain in which the experts outmatched the novices are associated with visuospatial processing and emotional regulation in decision making, among others. This suggests that these skills are important in go. Thus, it appears that long-term go training can enhance these and other skills and can indeed be used as a tool for brain development. The complete article is available here. The literature search section links to many other fascinating studies as well. There are several related articles. Click here for one that discusses similar specific physical changes in the brain and reaches similar conclusions. The EJ covered this article at length in 2010 here.
- Ben Gale, Korean Correspondent for the E-Journal
Categories: World

Go One of “5 Things Your Brain Does Better Than A Computer”

Sunday August 26, 2012

Go is the first example of “5 things your brain does better than a computer,” a recent post on the Mother Nature Network blog. “There are still a few activities that are too complex for a computer to bash its binary way through,” writes Shea Gunther. “In those realms, humans still reign. But don’t get too comfortable; computers are getting faster and smarter by the year.” Gunther notes that “There are more than 10 times more scenarios in Go than there are atoms in the observable universe. Computers are good at handling big numbers, but that’s just ridiculous. What’s more likely is that humans will get better at designing computer programs that more closely replicate the human brain and its thought processes. But when that happens and the machines take over, I don’t think we’ll be all that concerned about losing a game of Go to a computer.” By the way, the other four things your brain does better than a computer? Solve crossword puzzles, play Starcraft, create art, and write. Thanks to Richard Moseson for passing this article along.
- photo by Marcus Yeagley


Categories: World


Monday September 6, 2010

Serious study of go causes actual physical changes in the brain. That’s the stunning finding of a Korean group of neuroscientists who studied the difference between “long-term trained players” and“inexperienced controls.”  In their paper, which appears in the August 2010 issue of Neuroimage, Lee et al. report that they found “larger regions of white matter . . . that are related to attentional control, working memory, executive regulation, and problem-solving.” Their findings also suggest that “experts tend to develop a task-specific template for the game, as compared to controls . . . [and] were less likely than were controls to use structures related to load-dependent memory capacity.” In other words, experts don’t think harder, look at more variations or read farther than the rest of us; they use “spatial processes” – pattern recognition – to see better moves than the rest of us immediately. The researchers used a special type of fMRI –voxel-based diffusion-tensor imaging — to compile their data. This is a fairly well-established method: last year British researchers used the same process to show that “motor learning” – in this case, juggling – produced similar changes. The findings that strong players use something like “intuition” to see better moves tends to confirm previous research such as Chase and Simon’s classic 1973 study, where it was discovered that master chess players see more meaningful “chunks” when briefly glancing at a position than “woodpushers.” “Chunk theory” is now a widely accepted way of understanding how trained brains work. Reitman’s 1976 paper furthered our understanding of expert processes by studying an “expert” go player (Jim Kerwin, who went on to become the first Western pro) and then-beginner Bruce Wilcox (later the author of NEMESIS, the first computer go program) and confirming the basic tenets of “chunk theory.” Other research has examined whether go playing brains may have different — and hopefully more desirable — general qualities than non-playing brains.  The Deoksoo Study is one of several suggesting that serious go students may acquire more sophisticated cognitive abilities in other areas. In 2003, Chen et al. showed that go players use many different areas of the brain; similar chess studies have shown more localized activation. Lee et al.’s study takes our understanding one giant step further – high-level cognitive training has a physical impact on the brain, just as hitting the gym does for the body. This finding has enormous implications for the eternal “nature-nurture” debate. The current conventional wisdom is, “We are what we’re born with,” not “We are shaped by our experiences.” The brain’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions and perform the other work that makes us human is seen largely as biological, inborn, brain-based. “Big pharm” ads tell us over and over that the way to fix our depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ED, etc. is to tweak our brain chemistry with a pill.  Teachers and parents often label struggling students, then begin the quest for the perfect pill that will fix the ADHD, bipolar disorder or whatever. But what if the pills don’t work? If it’s an inborn biological problem, what’s the solution? Fortunately, we now know that certain kinds of experience can actually improve the physical brain.  As the authors say, “long-term Baduk training appears to cause structural brain changes associated with . . . higher-order cognitive capacities, such as learning, abstract reasoning, and self-control, which can facilitate education and cognitive therapies.” Other questions now arise. Are some activities more growth-promoting than others? Probably. Does the brain change more in players who begin at a younger age? Does the increased white matter in go players’ brains just help them to play well, or is the increased “throughput” capacity useful in other areas as well?  One would think so, but there’s no evidence – yet.  To learn more, check out “Go and Cognition” by Peter Shotwell, in the Bob High Memorial Library.
– by Roy Laird; additional reporting by Hajin Lee 3P

Categories: World

Historic go at Princeton’s Fine Hall

Thursday March 8, 2018

In the January 10 edition of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, there is an article by Elyse Graham called “Adventures in Fine Hall: The weirdness of math’s golden age.”  She writes of the hijinks of the great mathematicians of the 1930s gathering in the Princeton 2018.03.03_Math-EinsteinNew_0University Mathematics Department and the Institute of Advanced Studies: Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, Kurt Friedrich Gödel, Hermann Klaus Hugo Weyl.

Speaking of Fine Hall, the center of mathematics at Princeton, she writes, “To blow off steam, many students got into games, as players and creators both…. During the day, a visitor to the common room might see the nation’s mathematical brain trust absorbed in games of Go, bridge, double solitaire, or chess, played classic or whimsical variants.” She also writes that “A favorite was a double-blind variant of chess called Kriegspiel,” which Terry Benson has adapted for go at his Crazy Go nights each year at the U.S. Go Congress. “The boast went out that Fine Hall ‘could produce a champion in any game that was played sitting down.’”
- Ted Terpstra
photo (l-r): Luther Eisenhart, Albert Einstein and Walther Mayer

Categories: Go Spotting,Main Page

Seong-jin Kim dominates EGCC Anniversary Tournament

Saturday November 11, 2017

Seong-Jin Kim 8d won the EGCC 25th Anniversary Tournament, held October 21-22 at the European Go Cultural Centre (EGCC) in2017.11.11_Seong-jin Kim 8d Simul Amstelveen, the Netherlands. The tournament was the centerpiece of the Center’s 25th anniversary celebrations, which included a series of events held October 20-22, from a European Go Teachers’ Day to simuls and an evening reception.

The festivities began on Friday morning, October 20, with a full day of seminars, discussion, presentations and brainstorming by eighteen go teachers from seven different countries. Rob van Zeijst and Kalli Balduin organized the session, which featured topics like the professionalization of Western go education, the mindset of the teacher and his students, the do’s and don’ts of go teaching, obstacles for go teachers and how to overcome them, and the everlasting question “how to best promote our 2017.11.11_Cleaning EGCCs Go Equipmentsport?”

A reception Friday night was highlighted by distinguished guests, including Hiroshi Yamashiro, vice-president of the Nihon Ki-in, Setsuko Kawahara, minister of the Embassy of Japan in the Netherlands, Maaike van Veeningen, alderman of the city of Amstelveen, Kenji Saito, chairman of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCC) in the Netherlands, Martin Stiassny, president of the European Go Federation and Han Ellenbroek, president of the Dutch Go Association.

The EGCC Anniversary Go Tournament ran Saturday and Sunday, October 21-22, and was preceded by the work of three fanatics who cleaned all the EGCC’s go equipment, a long overdue task. Michał Łukasiewicz, Justyna Klęczar and Kim Ouweleen took several days to clean the Center’s 54 kaya and katsura go boards, as well as thousands of slate and shell go stones (left) and their bowls. On Saturday evening, after an Indonesian style dinner, participants had their choice of several fun side events, including simuls with Artem Kachanovskyi 1p, Cătălin Țăranu 5p, Seong-jin Kim 8d (top right) and Stanisław Frejlak 6d.
- adapted from a report by Kim Ouweleen. Click here for complete tournament results. photos by Judith van Dam (EuroGoTV); report edited by Chris Garlock

Categories: Europe

Your Move/Readers Write: AlphaGo is unbeatable; get over it

Sunday September 10, 2017

“Apparently, some people believe that someday a human will be able to defeat AlphaGo,” writes Joel Sanet. “It’s not gonna happen. The reason is biological, not technological. No human being is capable of thinking about the game the way AlphaGo does. AlphaGo’s way of thinking is better than the human way; ergo it is no longer possible for a human to beat AlphaGo. We human beings are not capable of considering a choice of moves by determining a concrete number for each called “the probability of winning” then choosing the one with the highest value, but this is what AlphaGo does.

“Thinking that it is possible for a human to win now is due to anthropomorphization, the application of human attributes to something that is not human, a process rampant in the go community. I have heard people say, ‘AlphaGo likes the early 3-3 invasion’ or ‘He (or she) likes thickness.’ AlphaGo can’t ‘like’ anything because it has no emotions. It plays the early 3-3 invasion because it maximizes its probability of winning in certain openings. Also, as far as I know, AlphaGo has no concept of thickness. It has nothing to do with how AlphaGo derives its moves. Furthermore, AlphaGo is not a ‘he’ or a ‘she’. AlphaGo is an ‘it’.

To attribute thinking to AlphaGo is also a mistake. I wrote that it chooses the option with the highest probability of winning. It doesn’t “choose” anything because it isn’t self-aware. AlphaGo receives input, does what it is programmed to do, and produces output. To me this is more akin to a human knee jerk than to true thought. A doctor’s percussion hammer causes sensory neurons to fire off a signal to the spinal cord where it is processed and returned to the knee via motor neurons without intercession of the brain. This is analogous to AlphaGo’s input-programming-output. AlphaGo’s programming is immutable. The day AlphaGo changes its own programming is the day I’ll say it thinks.

Nevertheless, humans can learn from AlphaGo. We have learned that the shoulder hit is a lot more useful than anyone thought. AlphaGo’s new 3-3 invasion joseki makes sense so we can benefit from that, but I advise you not to do the early invasions until you are able to read the rest of the game to the end.

Alphago’s supremacy over humans is no reason to feel that studying go is a dead end. Your study is de facto open-ended because you will never reach the end of it. People study go to improve, not to become the strongest player on the planet.”


Power Report (2): Xie to challenge for Women’s Honinbo; Ichiriki to challenge for Oza and Tengen; DeepZenGo wins computer tournament

Thursday September 7, 2017

by John Power, Japan Correspondent for the E-Journal

Xie to challenge for Women’s Honinbo: 
She may have lost some titles to Fujisawa Rina recently, but there is no doubt that Xie Yimin (reverting to Pinyin spelling) remains one of the top two women players in Japan. In the final of the 36th Women’s Honinbo tournament, held on August 17, Xie (W) beat Yoshihara Yukari 6P by 5.5 points, so she has a chance to wrest back one of her lost titles. The title match starts on September 27 and features the same pairing for three years in a row.

Ichiriki to challenge for Oza and Tengen: Ichiriki Ryo made his debut in top-seven title matches when he challenged Iyama Yuta for2017.09.06_Oza chall Ichiriki left Shibano R the Tengen title last year. He won the second game but lost the match 1-3. This year he has earned himself two chances to take revenge.
First, in the play-off to decide the challenger for the 65th Oza title, held at the Nihon Ki-in in Tokyo on August 25, Ichiriki (B, at left) beat Shibano Toramaru (right) by 1.5 points. The senior player (Ichiriki turned 20 in June) prevailed over the junior one. If Shibano had won, he would have become the youngest player to challenge for a top-seven title. (By the way, after this result the two shared first place in the most-wins list, Shibano with 33-8 and Ichiriki with 33-9.) The first game of the title match will be played on October 20.
On August 31, the play-off to decide the challenger for the 43rd Tengen title was held at the Nihon Ki-in and it pitted Ichiriki against the 38-year-old Yamashita Keigo. This was the same pairing as last year, and the result was the same, a win for the younger player. Taking black, Ichiriki won by 4.5 points. The first game will be played on October 11.

DeepZenGo wins computer tournament: A new tournament, the Zhongxin Securities Cup World Electric Brain Go tournament, has been founded in China to decide the world’s top go-playing program, and the 1st Cup was held in Ordos in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region in China, on August 16 and 17. In the final, the Japanese program DeepZenGo, often referred to just as Zen, beat CGI of Chinese Taipei. With the retirement of AlphaGo, DeepZenGo can claim to be the world’s top AI go program, but in the preliminary round it actually came third, losing to both CGI, which was top with 5-1, and Absolute Art, the to Chinese program, which was 4-1. These losses led Kato Hideki, the main programmer of Zen, to make some changes in its settings, and that secured success in the final round. (Zen beat Absolute Art in the semifinal.)

Tomorrow: Takao makes good start in Meijin title match; Women’s Meijin tournament gives up league; Promotions

Categories: Japan,John Power Report

Microdosing study to use go to test creativity

Tuesday August 29, 2017

For years now, reports Inverse, trendy Silicon Valley bros have been sustaining a slight buzz by microdosing, claiming a few potent hits of LSD can supercharge a workday. Until now, there hasn’t been much in the way of science to back it up, but Amanda Feilding hopes to change that. 2017.08.27_Does LSD Microdosing Make You SmarterFeilding is founder of the Beckley Foundation and a leading researcher in the field of psychedelics and consciousness. She’s got a plan to prove that microdosing LSD makes you a better problem solver. She’s throwing the established protocols for evaluating cognition and creativity out the window in favor of a much more straightforward objective: How do test subjects fare when playing the ancient Chinese game of Go?

It’s a protocol imagined from her experiences among friends as students of physiology and psychology more than 50 years ago. “We were working very, very hard,” she tells Inverse. “And as recreation in the evenings, we used to play the ancient Chinese game of Go. I found that I won more games if I was on LSD, against an opponent I knew well. And that showed me that, actually, my problem-solving, my creative thinking, was enhanced while on LSD.” Feilding’s study, to be run through the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme, is designed to have 20 participants take a dose of LSD at 10, 20, and 50 micrograms (a typical recreational dose is 100 micrograms) and also a placebo. Each time they will complete questionnaires on their mood and other vectors, will undergo brain scans, and will play Go against a computer.

“The tests of creativity, which are current, like Torrance Test, they don’t really test for creativity. They test more for intelligence, or word recognition, or whatever,” says Feilding. “They can’t test those ‘aha’ moments in putting new insights together, whereas the Go game does test for that. You suddenly see, ‘Aha! That’s the right move to enclose the space.’”
- from The Plan to Prove Microdosing Makes You Smarter 

Categories: World

A seat at the board: a game recorder’s view

Tuesday August 22, 2017

by Nate Eagle2017.08.19-wu-hao-eagle

Move 110 of Wu Hao’s game against Ryan Li in this year’s U.S. Masters is remarkable: two seemingly dead white stones reach out a toe to the first line, creating a connection to the outside that turns out to be unbreakable due to an invisible sente, one that ends up swallowing up black’s four outside stones and becoming a game-winning fortress of territory. You can check out that move now and relive it—the timelessness of game records is one of the magical things about go, better even than baseball’s much-loved box scores—but I got to actually be there.

I sat next to Ryan Li, across the table from Wu Hao (right), my hand perched in readiness near the trackpad on my laptop, and traveled with two amazing players for several hours. I did my best to be as easy for them to forget as an extra chair at the table, trying not to stretch or fidget or distract from the game. How did I spend those hours? As well as I could, I tried to understand the game and think about white and black’s choices. If you had a magical view into the brain activity of the three humans at that table, of course, you would see two brains afire with electrical tempests of analysis and one brain with a single red LED blinking fitfully. But I was there with them, waiting while they thought, ready to ink their moves into electronic permanence before the 2017.08.19-nate-eagle-IMG_8652stones stopped vibrating.

That waiting, those long stretches of silence, is the difference between being forced to watch a match in its entirety and viewing a record afterward. It’s what gives one’s mind the time to ask questions, and those questions are what make watching a game edifying. It’s exciting when I anticipate a move correctly; even more so when—far more commonly—I’m wrong, and I get to spend the next few minutes learning about why the move actually played was stronger, sharper, bigger, or better-timed. The Socratic principle holds true in go as it does in all things: no teacher can give us knowledge, they can only help us answer our own questions.

Getting to be a recorder during this year’s Go Congress was a privilege and a pleasure: if you’re interested in volunteering to record at a future AGA event, please email

Eagle, who recorded evening Masters games (as well as the City League final), went 6-0 to win the shodan division of the 2017 U.S. Open
photo (top right): Eagle’s view of Wu Hao; (bottom left): Eagle recording a game between Matthew Hu and Tim song during the Pandanet AGA City League finals on August 5; photo by Chris Garlock

Categories: U.S. Go Congress

Why We Play: Alexandra Patz 13k, Lee Schumacher 1D

Sunday July 31, 2016

Alexandra Patz 13k
Age: 43Alexandra Patz
Lives in: New York, NY, originally from South Africa
Years playing go: 5 years, but learned almost 20 years ago and took a break
Favorite thing about go: Alexandra likes how stimulating go is for the brain. “Very engaging,” she explained. When asked if she plays other brain games, she says, “It’s really just go, I tried chess as I child, I never really liked it, I never learned bridge. I lived in Japan for a year, so I became interested in Japanese culture. And when I moved back to South Africa, I joined a go club there.” 2016.07.31_lee-schumacherShe’s also fascinated by AlphaGo, and the deep learning involved. “[Go] is an amazing community, too,” she adds, “Clever people.”

Lee Schumacher 1D
Years playing go: Since the age of 13
Lives in: California
Favorite thing about go: “The focus, the immersion.”

- report/photos by Samantha Fede, E-Journal special correspondent, reporting from the 2016 U.S. Go Congress