American Go E-Journal » The Janice Kim Files

Correction: Kim Broke WYGC Record in 1985

Thursday August 25, 2016

2012.04.27_janicekim-2008-10-sf“Congratulations to Aaron Ye on the WYGC (EJ 8-13)” writes eagle-eyed reader Keith Arnold, “he may be the first to finish third, but he is not the first to finish in the top three. Janice Kim took second place in the World Youth Championship in 1985.” Arnold also noted that Bellamy Liu tied for third place back in 1995, and that several contestants besides Calvin Sun had also placed fourth in the past.  “Keith, repository of go lore, is correct in all things,” responded Janice Kim 3p when asked for comment, “I myself wasn’t sure if he had the year right, so I had to go look at the trophy. The year before (’84) I came in 9th, interestingly, my recollection is that Lee Chang-ho 9 dan came in 3rd, and Ryu Shi-hoon 9 dan came in 4th (he was a Korean insei who went to Japan and even won a title there). Kim Young-hwan (not sure what dan he is now) won. The next year when I came in second, Kong Byung-ju (again, not sure what dan he is now) won. The Korean insei system got started around 1980-81, and that first cohort was a POWERHOUSE, headed by Yoo Chang-hyuk 9 dan, the oldest of us. I think I was riding the wave of that team, and see sometime soon something similar for young US go players. I should note that I was studying in Korea, but representing the US, and in those early days the insei system in Korea wasn’t really formalized.”

“To be an insei (or ‘wonsaeng’ in Korean) back then you just kind of had to show up and ‘represent yourself,’ as one might say,” Kim continues. “When Kong Byung-ju came to Seoul, one of the older pros had him take 2 stones against Yu Chang-hyuk, who had already been granted professional 1 dan status for coming in 2nd in the World Amateur Championships a bit earlier. I think Yu was 18, making him one of the oldest of us, he was pretty strong already, in just a couple of years he was challenging Cho Hoon-hyun 9 dan in title matches. That strong younger generation coming in with the lower dan ranks, was one of the reasons why Korean low-dans were globally feared back then.”

“I remember distinctly when Yu was playing this 2-stone evaluation game with Kong, they went to just the early middle game, and then Yu Chang-hyuk said “Andennundayo,” basically, it’s not happening, I can’t give him two stones. That was enough to put Kong Byung-ju at wonsaeng 3 kyu or ‘gup’, in A League. The games that A Leaguers or lower-dan pros played in the wonsaeng study room were fascinating to watch, they were all even, and I remember once a huge, complex capturing race with big eyes, where one side had over 20 liberties, the other, one less, although I wasn’t able to see that before the resignation came. I could not believe my own eyes that a player short a liberty so far down a twisting path would resign at that point, certain of defeat. It’s informed my go sensibilities to this day what it means to be truly strong, although many people would look only at the loss.”

“When Kong and I played in the final at the World Youth, I think I believed I could win, but maybe subconsciously didn’t, I used to watch everyone’s games and wonder inside if I could possibly be playing at that level. Afterwards we went to the top of the hotel we were staying at in Taipei, and tried to drink the beer they had given us at the banquet out of our trophies. I have never cared for beer though, even under such circumstances, so we ended up just singing instead.”

-Paul Barchilon, EJ Youth Editor


The Janice Kim Files: Debating the Details

Friday June 24, 2016

by Janice Kim 3P2016.06.24-janiceKim

Andrew Feenberg has made illuminating and interesting points comparing and contrasting the recent match between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, and the novelized match between Shusai and Kitani in the book The Master of Go.

There are differences in the modern feeling of go, and what go traditionally has been, and it is all about the details; the ones we focus on, and what they mean, are up for debate.

Feenberg suggests (Rational Play? The Master of Go vs. AlphaGo), as some observers in the book do, that move 121 was the central issue, a move away from the main center battle in order to take advantage of the time rules. Kawabata does spend a bit of time on it, but I’d say therein lies the issue for the Master: it’s not a central issue to the game itself.

For that reason, it may have the appearance of a modern attempt to take advantage of ‘fussy’ rules in order to win a game, at some cost to the meaning of the game. In fact, it may be much more insidious than that :), it’s a ‘modern’ way of extracting the maximum number of points whenever you can, without emotional involvement in what appears to be happening on the board at that moment as a battle between two human opponents. In this sense, the modern game is bringing a new, more nuanced sensibility to the concepts of “tempo” in games, specifically “sente” and “gote” in go.

The Master himself allows that it’s a question of timing, and his opponent may not be able to make that small forcing play later, depending on how the center battle goes. It possibly does throw him, as he later misses a crucial timing issue in that center battle (at this level, questions of who is the inferior player I think can’t be shown through one game, or one move in one game, and are beyond the scope of what can be argued through them). But this detail of what the Master actually said is lost as well, perhaps deliberately as it’s subtly suggested that the Master himself is now trying to “justify” an (ugly) move in an attempt to preserve the beauty of go, as if we have a lock on definitions of beauty, and 121 isn’t it, and the players themselves are telling us things about the game that they don’t understand.

If this were a modern game, there would be no question that White would lose a game without komi; there’s no reasonable chance that one top player can spot another Black no komi, the Master is almost certainly going to lose such a game precisely because of tradition. It’s interesting to me to note our human tendency to focus also on the score beyond winning and losing, as if the players would care if it was a 3 or 4 or 5 point loss, and play accordingly. Observers often say a resignation or a bigger loss is somehow indicative of a greater difference in skill exhibited between the players. It’s rare for someone to see that a great player, seeing he or she was behind, would make plays that were arguably better, but perhaps riskier and result in a greater loss.

Focusing on another detail, I’d hesitate to call this a ‘Western’ influence, although perhaps Kawabata appears focused on ‘outside’ influences and is feeling it from the West, and China could be considered west of Japan, or not being looked at, depending on where one is standing :). The way of thinking behind move 121 to me has clear roots in an outside, fresh perspective of analysis through objective territorial counting that Kitani’s great collaborator in the modern way of play, the player who came to Japan from China, Go Seigen, brought to the table.

A more compelling analogy to me would be between Go Seigen and AlphaGo, and the big question still to be answered is if AlphaGo will bring us a rich body of work like Go Seigen did, so much so that it’s said you can do nothing but study the games of Go Seigen 10 times and become a professional shodan, or if we’ll have 10 tantalizing clues of what AlphaGo was thinking at a point in gmaespacetime.

Much thanks to Mr. Feenberg, and the American Go E-Journal, for bringing such thought-provoking pieces right to me with my morning coffee!

Categories: The Janice Kim Files

The Janice Kim Files: Applying David Lee Roth’s “Brown M&M” strategy to go

Thursday March 3, 2016

by Janice Kim 3P2016.02.20-janiceKim

The world is surely converging…years ago after reading about David Lee Roth’s “Brown M&M” strategy for finding an indicator in a complex system, it seemed like the best tool I had ever heard of for approaching the opening in go, a simple and elegant way to understand opening theory, and apply it in real games. (Van Halen Frontman David Lee Roth Taking Go Lessons from Myungwan Kim 3/2 EJ)

Roth’s idea is genius: with an arena rock concert to set up in four hours, how to know with reasonable certainty that every technical specification in a 1000-page manual has been met? Answer: Insert a clause somewhere in the middle that there will be a bowl of M&Ms in your dressing room, with the brown ones picked out. No M&Ms, or brown M&Ms, no show.

The beauty of David Lee Roth, is to actually follow this, and knowing it’s beyond explanation or legal argument, just smash some stuff and refuse to go on. The one time he went on anyway when there were brown M&Ms, part of the set collapsed.

One of the brown M&Ms in go are those pesky third line stones lined up in one direction on one side of the board. I can use no other analysis tool, and so far accurately determine whether the opening is a fail or not. Here, I’ll show you :)

Once, I explained to Kim Myung-wan 9 dan David Lee Roth’s brown M&M strategy and how it applies to go. He may have thought I was kidding, but appeared to good-naturedly accept it as just another example of how go is really at the center of things, after all. Hmmmm, like the chocolate inside that thin, thin colorful shell that melts in your mouth, not in your hand…

My hat is off to David Lee Roth, a great musician whose thought truly spans our odd global modern age, and Kim Myung-wan, a great player of games, who may not know he is the David Lee Roth of the game world. (Sorry!)

PS. In regard to the other news items I’ve been reading — let’s not get carried away, folks. I’m sure that when Asians first started seeing Westerners play go, they were intrigued, and opinions were all over the place. But no one thought that a Westerner winning a game against a top Asian, or setting up a match with the expectation of winning, meant that Westerners had “surpassed” Asians, or it was only a matter of time. Even if it were so, Asians will probably not stop playing go, of course. And of course, someone will probably make some where-are-you-going-with-this case for Westerners to be inherently better at go playing. The show goes on, with me smashing up dressing rooms in my mind.

Categories: The Janice Kim Files

The Janice Kim Files: Email Bankruptcy & The Parking Lot Incident

Monday September 14, 2015

by Janice Kim 3P

Despite my well-known penchant for pompous, florid, and illiterate writing for comedic effect, it is literally true that I declared email bankruptcy several years ago. For the most part I let the bulk of all communication go by, reserving only ever-changing email addresses and phone numbers for specific day-to-day purposes, like I think I’m Tom Cruise who thinks he’s a super spy.

Even with filtering out spam and junk mail, I had just a hair under 28,000 emails in my inbox when I screwed my courage to the sticking point and went through them all in one blur of a Labor Day weekend. Doubtless some were overlooked, but I was touched by the emails I’ve received from people I’ve met in the go community, and it fills me with regret that many people wrote me more than once, and some wrote me only once, and all were doubtless confused why I did not answer. Perhaps I should also have been moved by the numerous overlooked opportunities for self-help, gainful employment or contribution to society in these emails, but that’s one of the beauties of go. One learns not to value oneself based on short-term specific results in a shifting, highly complex landscape involving other players.


Go teaches us that excuses are merely tools we use to remain at a plateau, but in sifting back through years of thoughtful emails from wonderful people that went unanswered, I noted that the date of the declaration of email bankruptcy appears to be somewhat co-related to the date in which I lost the connection, could not escape, and appeared to not be able to live except by repeatedly playing elsewhere through ko, when I was severely beaten up in a parking lot. It was not fatal, as I am fine now, but I can speak to the Asian truth of nearly dying of shame and embarrassment, why that’s not as peculiar and ridiculous as it may sound, even if meant literally. As you may have gleaned by reading previous entries of the Janice Kim files, it may also have something to do with constantly tripping over a super-selective eidetic memory. I will disavow any knowledge of this message, and it will self-destruct in five seconds. Meanwhile, here’s my long-promised actual piece with go diagrams, incorporating my parking lot incident in the way I was thinking about it.

Categories: The Janice Kim Files

The Janice Kim Files: Everything You Wanted to Know About Go But I Was Afraid Was True

Tuesday August 18, 2015

by Janice Kim 3P2012.02.21-janiceKim

Let me start off by alienating the half of the audience that may not be alienated after reading this, by giving away the title of my next installment, Why Go Is Better Than Chess, Really (From the Non-Chess-Playing Perspective).

For those of you who aren’t having a bad day and easily saw past that ruse, may I offer some unvarnished truths, in the form of the real answers to questions that I cavalierly and annoyingly dismissed when asked earnestly by those to whom I was only too happy to present myself as knowledgeable in the past. This is in opposition to talking around the subject, which I never do despite the difficulty in following my convoluted English, which I’ve used to actually talk myself out of traffic tickets, thanks very much. I’m never not honed in like a hawk eyeing a field mouse when I’m answering a question someone asked me five years ago. I’ve either missed it entirely, or am dead on.

Q. How much is the ability to memorize involved in go-playing?

A. Let me tell you a story about my father. My father once memorized a 50-page poem when he was in high school. In English. Which he didn’t speak. It’s not clear to us whose memory is better, because he remembers things I don’t and vice versa. This has something to do with whether he or I was there or paying attention, I believe.

No one cares or truly believes this wild talent, except perhaps exes who are literally rendered speechless and apoplectic when I quote what they said verbatim years ago by way of reply to questions posed as to how I’m doing, etc. now. It really only comes in handy these days when my son asks me what lithium is and I send him running out the door with a tour of the periodic table sung to the tune of “Beautiful Dreamer,” which my father did for me when we went for a walk when I was eight.

My dad taught me how to play go by spending about ten hours a week on it with me for a long time. So that’s the answer to the other question, how did I make progress so quickly. Because I was young and it was easier to learn when I was young and I’m very smart and talented, yes, yes, that must be it. Spending ten hours a week on Netflix now has nothing to do with stalled progress. If only he’d spent ten hours a week on video games with me for a long time, I’d be a Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

Which is not to say that I think memorization of moves plays a big part in go playing. I barely remember any specific actual moves, or generally even where my opponent played last. Which is not to say I didn’t write a whole go book entitled The Palace of Memory. Which enervated many people that there were many typos. And apparently enervated no one that I said I remembered like ten things, but had a lot of jingles and off-topic anecdotes and references that actually constitute what I know about go that you may secretly suspect is true.

But seriously, folks. How many of you read Lee Sedol 9 dan’s book of commented games? When I heard about it I thought that was the holy grail and almost flew to Korea. I could not contain myself. Lee Sedol 9 dan became the world champion because he spent a lot of time on go, and that time had emotional content, because his father spent a lot of time teaching him and his father wanted him to be world champion and then his father died. Remember, Bruce Lee said emotional content, not anger. The point isn’t to get angry at ourselves or our opponents, but to find what is meaningful to us in the conversation with our hands that we are having. If we spend even a few minutes trying to extract what we and our opponents were trying to say as we played, with respect for our words, surely we can find something, if we are looking for it, that we can remember to take away with us. So I knew it would be the holy grail, before I even read it.

I actually don’t remember the moves of the games I read (I can only recreate games if I paid attention throughout and remember the first few moves and how I was thinking about them at the time and exactly who the players are, then, it all follows logically), but Lee Sedol (who means a lot to me because his brother was a good friend long ago who said he would sacrifice his own career to make sure Lee Sedol would be world champion) made one comment in a matter-of-fact, off-hand way that entirely changed my perspective on go and made me realize what I had been doing that had been frustrating me and causing me to lose most of the time even the few times when I was way ahead. It was because I was ahead. I could only knock out my opponent because I had no idea how to pull a punch and wait, and stronger opponents don’t get knocked out easily. That will be the actual subject of my next installment.
Continue reading…)

Categories: The Janice Kim Files

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.  Continue reading…)

Categories: The Janice Kim Files

The Janice Kim Files – What Go Means to Me

Thursday July 2, 2015

A special E-J Column by Janice Kim 3P

2012.02.21-janiceKimWhen I was young I liked to read, and to watch TV, and didn’t go out much, except alone to explore arroyos, watch movies, or go jogging very early in the morning, when the light was still gray.

Going out jogging, it’s right on the surface of my memory how the air tasted, like an apple, and the way the sidewalk curbs looked in that light, gray on gray, appearing out of the mist like phantom tracks. If it had been raining, there’d be sounds, the splish-gerr-splish of some unseen tires driving through a puddle. Back at home we still have an old pinon tree that you could climb up, and then on to the roof.

On weekend afternoons my activity was to ride my bike to the store, and rent a movie to watch at home. My favorites were “Journey to the Center of the Earth” with James Mason, and “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” with the old Ray Harryhausen monsters. Later the grocery store put a Ms. Pac-Man arcade game in the back storeroom. The nearby 7-Eleven had Tempest (awesome) and Centipede (slightly less awesome), thus in the shopping district of my own small town forming the classic arcade triumvirate that makes me feel truly special because, I was there. I had a long blister on the side of my hand from using it like a blade with the dial controller, gaining precision and more speed than possible just by turning it with my fingers.

Later someone figured out how to pry open the front panel near the Insert Coin slots, so you could click a small red button inside to increase number of games left on the digital counter. Once you could insert your quarter without that delicious frisson of fear — will it be worth it? Will I ride out this quarter, or will it be wasted on some stupid slip on the first alien attack wave? — the fun was spoiled, and once the summer moment was gone and you could play endlessly for free, it was impossible to recall why it was ever fun in the first place.

I loved board games, but had trouble getting anyone to play. My personality seemed dull to myself, and to lack sparkling qualities. I framed my analysis of the structure and meaning of a game in terms of how to win, and didn’t understand the point of playing otherwise. Sometimes I would say something, or examine flowers or things people left in the street, and people would snort or snicker, or look worried or irritated. My sister was popular and had close friends, but I was too much of an accountant, with friendship owed and due, to be very much fun for anyone. Or maybe it was because I was really different than everyone I knew, invisibly at first, then for certain when I lived in as the only girl insei in Korea, without the ability to speak Korean. Even though the purpose of being there was to play a board game, I still couldn’t get anyone to play very often, because I was one of the least skilled there.

But there were moments. Like when I couldn’t go to the summer camp at the Buddhist temple because they didn’t have girls’ accommodations, and when they came back, Yu Chang-hyuk walked into the research room before everyone else and saw me sitting alone and came over and gave me a hug. Later I beat him for the first and only time in my life, and he sat there muttering to himself, “I don’t know how it is that I won every battle, but lost the war.” That’s how a decade later in another moment, I gave a computer program a 25 stone handicap and defeated it at the AAAI conference. I watched Yu Chang-hyuk play a game online sometime after that, and some kibitzers were saying his moves didn’t make sense, and I wrote that he was the very best player in the world. Someone asked “Why do you say that?” and someone else answered, “Because she LOVES him, ha ha.”

We really can do almost anything. I can see how and why, but also where it is all going. We will all lose in the end, and go to the great review in the sky. The other day my son said that they’ve made big steps in plastification and we may be able to live forever, and I’m thinking about that digital counter in the arcade and the air that tastes like apples and the pinon tree and I find myself hoping we both die too soon to be made into plastic. I’m just looking for another summer moment. Seems like go is our best chance.



Categories: The Janice Kim Files