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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

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  


The Power Report: China’s Li wins 3rd Globis Cup

Monday May 9, 2016

by John Power, Japan correspondent for the E-Journal. As in 2015, I was invited to cover the Globis Cup for the E-2016.05.09_globis_Hori Yoshito, tournament founderJournal;  I hope readers will forgive the delay in submitting my report.

China’s Li wins 3rd Globis Cup:  The third Globis Cup, an international tournament for young players sponsored by the Globis Corporation, was held from April 22 to 24. Li Qincheng 1P (left) of China won.  2016.05.09_globis_LiThe full name of the tournament is the Globis Cup World Go U-20, and it is open to players under 20 as of January 1 of this year. Participating were six players from Japan, three from China, three from Korea, and one each from Chinese Taipei, Europe, North America, and the Asia/Oceania zone. The venue was the Graduate School of Management, Globis University, a business school run by the corporation; it is located in the Kojimachi area, a short walk from the Nihon Ki-in. The tournament is the brainchild of Hori Yoshito (right), who is the president of Globis University and also a director of the Nihon Ki-in.

At present, this is the only international tournament held every year in Japa
n and the only one for players under 20. The aim of the tournament is to raise the level of teenaged players in Japan who may not have many opportunities to take part in international tournaments. Of course, all the participants benefit, but the founder Mr. Hori is particularly concerned to raise the level of Japanese go and has set the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Nihon Ki-in (2024) as the target date for achieving this ambition. 

2016.05.09_globisThe new tournament started well for Japan, with two Japanese representatives making the final (the first time this had happened for 16 years) in the 1st Cup (Ichiriki Ryo beat Kyo Kagen). In the 2nd edition, on which I reported last year for
 the EJ, Huang Yunsong 4P of China beat Na Hyeon 6P of Korea in the final.

Below is a full list of this year’s competitors with their ages.
Japan: Ichiriki Ryo 7P (18), Son Makoto 4P (20, as of February 21), Kyo Kagen 3P (18), Matsuura Yuta 2P (16), Shibano Toramaru 2P (16), Onishi Ryuhei 1P (16)
China: Fan Yunruo 4P (20, as of Jan. 7), Yang Dingxin 3P (17), Li Qincheng 1P (17)
Korea: Lee Donghun 5P (18), Shin Jinseo 5P (16), Byeon Sangil 4P (19)
Chinese Taipei: Lin Shih-Hsun 5p (18)
Europe: Grigorii Fionin 7D (17)
North America: Justin Ching 7D (14)
Thailand: Krit Jamkachornkiat 7D (20, as of March 1)

Like some other international tournaments, the Samsung Cup, for example, the Globis Cup is made up of two stages. In the first, the players are split up in to four groups, in which the players play each other in a double knock-out. You qualify for the main tournament when you win two games (one player will do so with a score of 2-0, the other with 2-1). The second stage is then a regular knock-out tournament. Unfortunately, none of the amateur players scored a win. Below are the results in the second stage. Tournament conditions are the same as for the NHK Cup, that is, 30 seconds per move plus ten minutes’ thinking time to be used in one-minute units.

Quarterfinals: Li (China) (W) beat Shibano (Japan) by resig., Byeon (Korea) (W) beat Lin (Ch. Taipei) by resig., Yang 2016.05.09_globis_Byeon, Li, Kyo(China) (B) beat Shin (Korea) by 7.5 points, Kyo (Japan) (W) beat Lee by resig.
Semifinals: Li (B) beat Byeon by resig., Kyo (B) beat Yang by resig.
Final: Li (B, center) beat Kyo (right) by resig.
Play-off for 3rd place: Byeon (B, left) beat Yang by resig.

In the final, Kyo started fairly well playing white, but he missed the decisi
ve points in large-scale middle-game fighting, so Li took a safe lead. As far as I know, this is Li’s first tournament victory. Kyo had to be satisfied with second place for the second time; he will get one more chance to play in this tournament. Incidentally, both Li and Kyo scored 2-1 in the first stage.


Go Congress “Early Bird” discount extended; “Blindfold Go” master Bao Yun confirmed, AlphaGo Q&A

Sunday May 1, 2016

The early bird discount for this year’s US Go Congress has been extended to midnight Monday night. Click here now to save 2016.05.01_congress-updates$25 on registering for the Congress, which runs July 30-August 7 in Boston, MA.

In other Go Congress news, “Super Brain” Bao Yun 7d, the blindfold go master has just confirmed he’ll be attending this year’s Go Congress, where he will challenge an American professional in an even game blindfolded at 1p on Monday August 1.

Also, there will ba a Q&A session right after the AlphaGo team’s keynote address, please submit your questions here.


David Lee Roth: “Go, man, go”

Saturday April 2, 2016

Rock ‘n’ roll legend David Lee Roth is “goin’ to the world championships; Not monster truck. Not PBR. Not rodeo. All of it 2016.04.02_david_lee_roth_videomixed into one: AlphaGo versus a human being.” Former Van Halen front man Roth’s most recent addition to his hit video webcast series “TheRothShow“, features about 10 minutes of witty dialogue on go. In a witty, erudite stream of consciousness rap about go inspired by the recent AlphaGo versus Lee Sedol match, Roth — who’s been studying with Myungwan Kim 9P — explains the “infinite variety” of the game that our “kids are gonna” play and our “grandkids are gonna be able to teach.” Pointing out that go players develop their “intuitive capacity to look at something and find the solution in the board,” Roth alludes to the challenges computers face in “divergent thinking” and calls the game “gymnastics for the brain.”
- Brian Kirby

Oregon updates: Mochitsuki volunteers wanted; Janice Kim coming to Corvallis

Sunday December 27, 2015

Oregon go player alert: the Portland Go Club is looking for volunteers to help host a table at Mochitsuki at PSU on January 31st and Corvallis 2015.12.25_Mochi-Banner-color-webwill host a workshop with Janice Kim 3P February 13-14.

The Portland Go Club will host a table at Mochitsuki at PSU on January 31st, the 20th anniversary of the Japanese American New Year celebration. “Last year was a great success 2015.12.25_JaniceKimand four of us introduced many, many adults and children to go,” reports Peter Freedman. “This is a well-attended event!” Volunteers get free access; email

Corvallis will host their third visit from Janice Kim 3P with a workshop scheduled for February 13 and 14. “The workshop is being aimed at the 9 kyu to 3 dan strength range of the Corvallis Go Club ‘regulars,’ many of whom you will be familiar with from the annual Lewis & Clark tournaments, as well as participation on Braindog,” reports Bob O’Malley. For details and to register, email


Go Spotting: Vagabond Manga; The Uncommon Series

Monday November 9, 2015

Vagabond Manga: “A favorite coffee barista of mine suggested I read the manga Vagabond, a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by2015.11.09_Vagabond21 Takehiko Inoue,” writes Devin Fraze. “It portrays a fictionalized account of the life of Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel Musashi. In Volume 6, go is being played by the hero’s love interest. Unfortunately more of the game play is not shown as her opponent “accidentally” knocks over the board.

2015.11.09_vagabond-seriesThe Uncommon Series: One of the protagonists in The Uncommon Series is an avid go player. “The thriller trilogy follows a pair of entrepreneurs that drop out of college to found a new tech startup and get caught up in an international conspiracy along the way,” author Eliot Peper tells the E-Journal. “James Chen is the protagonist who’s a go enthusiast. He’s Chief Technology Officer of the startup in the book and the brains behind the whole operation. He develops a complex algorithm that identifies fraud in large financial datasets, allow law enforcement to take down money laundering rings, etc. He loves go because it’s all about pattern recognition and is the perfect analog for the breakthrough software he’s developing. He even uses online go players to train the software’s artificial intelligence routines. As the startup in the book skyrockets from garage to IPO, they have to use his technology and their own wits to take down a major cartel that’s in bed with the big banks and government regulators.”2015.11.09_vagabond-series
Spotted go somewhere? Let us know by emailing us at!


Categories: Go Spotting

Go Spotting: “The Broken Seal” and the Mystery of Yamamoto’s Missing Go

Thursday September 17, 2015

“Quite unexpectedly I found an interesting reference to go in a non-fiction book that I am currently reading, ‘The Broken Seal,’ by Ladislas 2015.09.13_TheBrokenSealFargo,” writes Erwin Gerstorfer.

2015.09.13_Isoroku Yamamoto“This book, first published in 1967, deals with the hidden war between American and Japanese code breakers from WW1 to Pearl Harbour. In discussing Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (left), the “brain” behind the attack on Pearl Harbour, Fargo mentions that Yamamoto was considered one of the strongest go players in the Japanese Navy (he enjoyed other games too, like Shōgi, Bridge and Poker).

For me it was not too surprising that Yamamoto played go, as many members of the Japanese Navy were fond of it (see e.g. Ukiyo-e below right), but I did not know that he was such a strong player. However, when I checked the curriculum vitae of Admiral Yamamoto in Wikipedia I got another surprise. While go is listed on the German Wiki among other games that Yamamoto enjoyed, in his English Wiki entry go is not mentioned at all. This is quite a contrast to the fact that he was an expert go player.2015.09.13_JapaneseNavyGoPlayers

Yamamoto was killed when American codebreakers identified his flight plans and his plane was shot down.


Categories: Go Spotting