American Go E-Journal » Tools: books, software & hardware

Janice Kim on Why Solving Go Problems Isn’t Boring (& Two Books to Read Now)

Wednesday January 2, 2013

Although I agree with most of the article on how to improve (The Spirit of Play: “What can I do to improve?” 12/31 EJ), I must — tongue firmly in cheek — object to the statement that solving go problems is ‘boring’.

When I was a student at the Korean Baduk Association, the protocol for solving a problem was that you had to be willing to stake your life that your answer was complete and correct. ‘Complete’ is key, as you definitely didn’t want to scramble for a reply if an alternate move in some sequence was suggested; the executioner may have itchy fingers. Solving problems to this day remains a high-octane, nail-biting affair for me, especially if it’s not much of a reading challenge, so tempting then to omit steadying the nerves and triple-checking. You can hold yourself to a higher standard when practicing, and everybody loses sometimes so the pressure is off when playing, so you might think it’s the actual competition that is the tedious part of go…”

Last (well, not really) thoughts. They don’t call the experts ‘practitioners’ for nothing. Janice’s brain cross-references with two suggested reads: The Little Book of Talent, questions-answered-from-real-world-not-author-agenda-practical-really-works tips for improvement in any endeavor, and the science fiction novel Ender’s Game, almost required reading on the American Cultural Experience syllabus. Spoiler alert the entire premise is this idea of thing-itself-is-a small detail or afterthought, the lead-up to the game, not during the game, is where the winner is decided.
- Janice Kim 3P; photo: Kim playing primary schoochildren at the Shuang Huayuan campus of the Beijing Chaoyang Fangcaodi International school on December 17; photo by Chris Garlock

 

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The Spirit of Play: “What can I do to improve?”

Monday December 31, 2012

by Gabriel Benmergui

From time to time students ask me “What can I do to improve?” This is a funny question because I suspect what they really want to know is “What can I do to improve that doesn’t involve solving problems?”

When this subject comes up, someone invariably says something like “I know at 5-dan who never picked up a problem book.” I know a few of these cases, too, and understand that the comment is not really about recognizing that player’s natural skill but as proof that solving problems is not required to improve at go.

There are many factors that contribute to a player’s skill. Unless you’re one of those rare cases of raw natural talent, trying to convince yourself that solving problems is not one of those factors is simply laziness.

An informal poll I once conducted revealed that over 50% of players don’t do any problems at all on a weekly basis. And of those that do, only 10% do enough to reasonably expect any improvement. The good news is that this means that solving problems gives you an absolute edge over the vast majority of players.

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: solving problems can be terribly boring. It doesn’t have the excitement of a game and there is no companion or rival. Also, the benefits are hard to measure with precision in the short run, and no matter how diligent we are and how many problems we solve correctly no-one will praise us.

Solving problems, more than any other training activity, requires effort. But you can be assured that when you do put in the effort, you will reap the benefits. How much you want to work is up to your personal ambition, and nothing else.

My Advice: Ignore whoever or whatever tells you that solving problems is a waste of effort. Effort equals results.

Gabriel Benmergui lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentinian Champion in 2011 and 2012, he has studied go in Korea and now runs the Kaya.gs Go Server. photo by Ivan Vigano

SmartGo Books App Adds 4 Titles, Japanese & Spanish Translations

Friday December 28, 2012

The SmartGo Books app has just added four more e-books for a total of 52 books in English. The latest titles include both volumes of Cho Hun-hyeon’s Lectures on Go Techniques, Yilun Yang’s Tricks in Joseki and In the Beginning from the Elementary Go Series. And for those who prefer Japanese or Spanish, Michael Redmond 9P has translated his Patterns of the Sanrensei into Japanese, and the Spanish version of Yuan Zhou’s How Not to Play Go, translated by Brian J. Olive, has just been added. Readers can switch between English and the other language, or see both languages, “perfect for brushing up on your Spanish or Japanese,” says SmartGo’s Anders Kierulf. 38 Basic Joseki and The Endgame are also in the works, Kierulf adds.

Openings for Guo Juan Internet Go School ’13 Term

Monday December 24, 2012

Guo Juan’s Internet Go School is now accepting enrollments for its online group class for the first term of the new year. The class begins January 19-20, 2013, and participants will also receive a 20% discount on a year’s membership for Guo’s audio lectures. The school’s teaching faculty includes Guo Juan 5P, Jennie Shen 2P, Young Sun Yoon 8P and Mingjiu Jiang 7P. Click here for details and to register.

Baduk TV English Drops Prices, Expands Options

Saturday December 22, 2012

Baduk TV English — the partnership between Baduk TV and Go Game Guru – has just introduced new pricing plans, reducing prices by as much as 60% Baduk TV Live is available for $7 per month, Baduk TV On Demand is $10/month and Baduk TV English is now $20/month. The brand-new Baduk TV Day Pass provides 1-day access to all videos for $2.70. The Baduk TV English introductory special offer — $1 for the first week of Baduk TV English, when you order a monthly subscription — ends this week, on Friday, December 21. The expanded pricing options and reduced costs are possible because of the success of the new service, says Go Game Guru’s David Ormerod. “Thank you to everyone who’s subscribed to Baduk TV and helped the service grow to this point. The support from the go community has been humbling, and it gives us the motivation we need to keep Go Game Guru going, day by day.” Click here for complete details.

The Spirit of Play: “I would have won that game if it wasn’t for the stupid mistake”

Monday November 26, 2012

by Gabriel Benmergui

We have all had this experience in our own games. Right from the fuseki, the game looked to be in your favor, you have the fights in control and the lead is obvious and solid. Then it happens. The self-atari, the missed sequence, the time-pressure mistake. That you could so easily have avoided the mistake only deepens your dissatisfaction and regret.

I can’t tell you how to prevent these mistakes, which even happen to professional players. But there is something you can do about what happens next. The emotional turmoil after such a mistake often causes more losses than the blunder itself. When you’re in control of a game your brain moves like a train. Straight. Direct. Unstoppable. When the blunder happens, it’s like getting derailed. It feels like a total disaster and can cause a great shock. Our sense of the balance of the game gets skewed by nostalgia for the position before the mistake, we get angry and then we play badly.

How many games have you seen where even after a mistake the player who blundered was still winning, but lost perspective, control, and the game? This is about emotional control. It is of utmost importance not to get upset. Controlling your emotions is hard, but is absolutely necessary if you want to win more games. Your resolve must stay steady, and you must always look for the best way to play. You will notice that professionals and ex-inseis have a formidable control over their emotions. The pro system quickly disposes those who don’t handle their emotions well, providing evidence that emotional control counts for a lot more than we may think.

My advice: In any kind of emotional rush during the game, whether due to a mistake or even excitement, I recommend taking a break, even for as little as thirty seconds. The purpose of the break is simply to calm your emotions, control them, get them back in check. It’s just too dangerous to continue playing a game when your perception is blurred by heightened emotions.

Gabriel Benmergui lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentinian Champion in 2011 and 2012, he has studied go in Korea and now runs the Kaya.gs Go Server. photo by Chris Garlock

Go Review: GoClubsOnline

Sunday November 11, 2012

By Peter Drake

I’ve used several different tournament management software packages over the years that I’ve run the Portland (Oregon) tournament. For the past couple of years, I’ve been using GoClubsOnline (GCOL). This has certainly been the most stable, least frustrating option and I plan to continue using it and recommend it to others.

GCOL works through a web browser and all data is stored remotely in the “cloud”, so there’s no worry of files being corrupted or lost. That does mean, however, that GCOL is not the right choice for a tournament director (TD) without reliable internet access.

For the TD, a package like this has two core jobs: pairing (deciding who plays whom) and recording results. Pairing is notoriously difficult because there are many constraints. GCOL does as good a job at this as any software I’ve used, with a plethora of options, like avoiding pairing players who live in the same city. While GCOL has on rare occasions given me some strange pairings it allows the TD to make some pairings manually and then automatically re-generate the rest. This is a recurring strength of GCOL: if something doesn’t work perfectly, there’s almost always a workaround.

There are a number of options for communicating the pairings to players. With two or three dozen players, I tend to just turn my laptop screen where they can see it, but you can print out pairings as well. Players can also log into the GoClubsOnline site and see their pairings and results.

Recording results is as easy as checking boxes. These can be displayed in the same variety of ways, and winners can be automatically computed; in my tournament, I compute the top three in each of dan, single-digit kyu, and double-digit kyu. The otherwise-tedious process of emailing the results to the AGA is accomplished with a few mouse clicks.

The stability of these basic features alone makes GCOL worth using, but there is much more. Players can register in advance online, for example, drastically reducing check-in time. GCOL also keeps track of income and expenses and how much needs to be forwarded to the AGA for tournament fees.

Is it perfect? Not quite yet. The system does take a bit of learning, as there are many options, but the default settings are generally good. Some may balk at the annual $39 cost, but this only covers “out-of-pocket expense” according to GCOL’s author, Robert Cordingley 2k of Sante Fe. “It is still very much a volunteer effort,” he explains. We are fortunate to have a volunteer willing and able to produce such complex, high-quality software for such an obscure niche. Cordingley has been extremely helpful; I’ve often been able to get help from him during a tournament and he’s added features requested by various TDs, like allowing players to specify meal preferences at a tournament serving lunch.

GoClubsOnline is reliable, clean, and easy to use. I have every reason to expect that it will become even more so as the number of users increases.
Drake is the Tournament Director of the Portland (Oregon) Go Tournament and runs the Lewis & Clark College Go Club in Portland.

The Spirit of Play: “I’m Stuck”

Monday October 29, 2012

There are countless books, dictionaries and other materials aimed at expanding knowledge in go. But Argentinian champion and teacher Gabriel Benmergui 6D says that “what most of these resources don’t take into account is that there are many things that happen to the players, before, during and after the game that have just as much effect on the result.” In this new column for the E-Journal, Benmergui goes beyond tactics and strategies to look at the player, with a goal of helping develop “an unshakable spirit.” This article is dedicated to Benmergui’s first teacher, Franklin Bassarsky, “the greatest teacher I could ever become,” who recently passed away. “He was Argentina’s greatest go teacher,” says Benmergui, “creating generations and generations of go players here.”

A common situation for go players is the feeling of not moving forward or improving, of being stuck. The reality is that most players go through this phase, and there are actually well-known rank barriers, located around 9k, 5k and 2k, ranks that hold unusually high concentrations of players. In Lessons in the Fundamentals Kageyama 7P said “You can identify when you are stuck when you find yourself playing for fun, with disregard of the outcome. Maybe you even read books but they don’t help you improve. You also rarely review the games you play.”

As a teacher I have seen many go players “plateau” like this. Their common denominator is a fear that they’ve peaked, that they’ve reached their maximum potential and that studying any further will be a waste of time. This usually happens when players are no longer improving naturally, as they tend to do between learning the rules up to around 10k, where just getting advice and playing was enough to steadily improve. The truth is that expecting to go up in rank with little or no effort is like expecting to lose weight without diet and exercise. So when people ask me “I’m stuck, what should I do?” I immediately respond “What are you doing to improve?” And it’s no surprise for me to hear “I watch and play games” as if that alone were an appropriate level of training.

My advice: Just do it! If you want to improve you have to be proactive. You have to set goals and perform a more rigorous training regime. Solve life and death problems, read books with the intention of putting in practice the knowledge gained. Take lessons. Remember that people improve at different speeds, but with effort everyone improves.

Gabriel Benmergui lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentinian Champion in 2011 and 2012, he has extensive international amateur tournament experience, representing South America twice at the World Student Oza, two-time Prime Minister Cup representative for Argentina, captained his country’s team in KABA’s World Team Championship in 2005 and was Argentina’s representative for the 2005 WAGC. Benmergui studied go in Korea, in Lee Sang-hun’s dojang, at Kim Sung Rae’s KBC and at BIBA (Blackie’s International Baduk Academy) and now runs the Kaya.gs Go Server. Photo graphic by Chris Garlock

SmartGo Kifu Includes Fuseki & Joseki Matching

Monday October 22, 2012

SmartGo Kifu 2.0 includes fuseki and joseki matching: given any board position, it finds all the matching full-board or corner positions in 40,000 pro games and shows you how the professionals played. “Programs like SmartGo for Windows have long done this on the desktop,” says author Anders Kierulf. “Now you can have this capability in your pocket.” SmartGo Kifu runs on iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, and is available in the App Store. Click here to read more about the newest changes.

Cho-U Go App for Kids now on iPad

Monday October 8, 2012

The Nihon Ki-in has just released an English version of Cho-U’s 4×4 Go Puzzle. Cho-U 9P came up with all of the problems for the program, and has developed a clever system for introducing go to young children.  The app is available for iPhone and iPad, and is being offered on the App Store at an introductory rate of just 99 cents, until October 19th, when the price will increase to $2.99.  The app introduces a colorful cast of cartoon characters, including Minigo, a black cat, and Diego, a big white dog who is taking over the playground and won’t let the cats into his territory.  Children can enter story mode for flash animations that teach the basic principles of go as part of the cat’s quest to get back to the playground.  The graphics are terrific, and the stones are cats and dogs.  When “stones” are in atari, they shake and shiver (this can be turned off in settings for a bigger challenge).  The story is  interactive, and kids are asked to help Minigo solve various problems as he confronts various opponents. Players can also go to the free and challenge levels, where they can solve go problems directly.  The board size is limited to 4×4, but Cho-U has made very clever puzzles within this limitation.  Many of the problems revolve around seki, and you can choose what level to play with, or progress through the levels as you improve.  Players can also buy more problems for the program, which come with all new festive graphics.  The Snack Pack problem set gets you 100 problems, with chocolate and pink frosted donuts for pieces.  The Rainy Pack and the North Pole Pack offer additional cute themes and more complicated problems.  I bought the Rainy Pack for .99 and was charmed by frogs and snails playing on a lily pad field; the first problems I tried revolved around snapback.  This app is perfect for kids from 5 to 10 years old, and even older kids will enjoy some of the more challenging problems. -Paul Barchilon, E-J Youth Editor. Picture courtesy of the Nihon Ki-in.