American Go E-Journal » Traveling Go Board

THE TRAVELING GO BOARD: St. Petersburg, Russia

Saturday February 26, 2011

“I recently traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, for my job,” reports former American Go Association President Mike Lash (r, in photo). “It was my first return since 2006, when I found the International Saint-Petersburg Go Club and met its dedicated manager Maxim Podolayak. He welcomed me back and I visited his club on a very snowy cold night. Since it took me 70 minutes in a taxi while I could have walked there in 35 minutes, I only played one game with a local player. Maxim was kind enough to take me back to my hotel via the subway – a mere 15 minute walk/ride — before he returned home.  Pictured are my game and Maxim (facing the camera, at left) in one of his teaching games.”

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THE TRAVELING GO BOARD: A FLOWER BLOOMS IN THE JAIL YARD

Friday November 26, 2010

It has now been almost a year since I first visited the Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, CO, and I am pleased to report that they now have a weekly go club with regular attendance of 10 to 20 inmates. My first article on this program sparked a tremendous outpouring of support from the go community:  Slate and Shell donated over 20 books for the inmates, Yellow Mountain Imports sent a treasure trove of nice playing sets and books, SmartGo donated free licenses for the full version of their program,  Janice Kim sent more copies of the Learn to Play Go series, and of course the AGF provided free sets and matching funds as well.  All of these resources have been put to good use by the inmates, who are making steady progress.  I have been able to visit the prison every few months, and have had a warm reception every time. Continue reading…)

THE TRAVELING GO BOARD: Central Park, New York City

Sunday October 10, 2010

New York’s Central Park, the most-visited city park in the U.S., seems to have everything — meadows, ball fields, tennis courts, three theaters, two lakes, a reservoir, a skating rink, a carousel, a zoo, even a castle. Frederick Law Olmsted called his creation “a democratic development of the highest significance” because it had something for everyone. As a longtime New Yorker, after decades of exploring the park, I thought I had seen everything. But recently I happened upon The Chess and Checkers House, a gaming pavilion donated in 1952 by Bernard Baruch. It stands atop a rock outcropping known as the Kinderberg, near the southeast corner of the park. Walk north from 59th street or south from 72nd street along the eastern park drive and you will see signs. With indoor and outdoor seating and views of the rink, the carousel and the dairy, it’s an ideal place to while away a pleasant afternoon. I was disappointed to learn that only one go set was available, a small, poorly-made item that they kept in the store room. When I found that manager Catherine King is eager to promote any game, I returned with two full-sized sets, leftovers from early shipments of Ing equipment. King immediately set up a prominent display in the main playing area, along with a handout I provided, directing interested players to The New York Go Center and various online go resources, as well as several copies of The Way To Go.  The Chess and Checkers House is open Wed-Sun from 10a to 5p. Anyone can use the equipment inside, or take it outside by leaving a $20 deposit or form of ID. No permit is required. At this point, to be sure of a game, it’s BYOO (Bring Your Own Opponent), but it’s the perfect place to take a break while exploring, or to meet a friend for a lunchtime game.
- Roy Laird

THE TRAVELING GO BOARD: HANGZHOU’S TOWER OF GO

Thursday May 27, 2010

The Hangzhou Tian Yuan Tower (l) is a go player’s dream come true. Basically, once you step through the front door, you never have to leave again. Like upscale hotels around the world, the Tian Yuan contains well-appointed rooms and several different restaurants featuring Chinese cuisine, but this special place also include facilities for playing and studying go. To dispel any doubts about the building’s go theme, the fountain in front features a large go bowl and stones, a wall in the main lobby (below) has a huge go problem with the names of famous Chinese go players engraved on the stones, and the main restaurant is housed in a massive go bowl spinning slowly atop the building, providing dramatic – if hazy – views of the area’s famous lake district, as well as the rapidly burgeoning Qianjiang New City, a brand-new Central Business District that is planned to be the political, economic and cultural center of the Hangzhou city of the future. Completed just three years ago in 2007, the Tian Yuan is owned by the Hangzhou Go Association, which uses the first ten of the building’s 37 floors for go-related activities and rents out the rest to the hotel and other tenants. The Association’s administrative offices and go classrooms – called “combat rooms” in English – are on the fourth floor, along with an extensive wood-paneled library (l) of go books in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The Association has already hosted a number of professional tournaments since the Tian Yuan opened – the facility is designed and equipped to handle the special needs of go tournaments as well as hundreds of players, officials and media — and the finals take place in the Ling Long Hall (r), a well-carpeted room on the fourth floor with low tables and leather-cushioned chairs. Down the hall, in Room 406, the Hangzhou Go Team – comprised of 10 pros who live at the Tian Yuan — trains for their tournaments. Next door, in Room 405, local go students play and study in the evenings. Tucked away in Room 410 is a go store (l) run by Yawei “Robert” Wu, who owns a factory in Hunan province that supplies a chain of nine such go shops across China. Here you’ll find everything from an inexpensive paper board to gobans made of bright yellow new kaya and his top-of-the-line board, a traditionally-carved Chinese-style board made of glossy dark wood that’s been buried for 80,000 years and sells for nearly $900 (though bargaining seems to be expected). A go museum is slated to open later this year, containing historic go boards and stones, pictures of famous Chinese players and more, including the oversized world map signed by all the players at the 31st WAGC. There are additional training rooms on the third floor, and several floors of hotel-style rooms for the pros and resident students, as well as visiting groups like Feng Yun 9Ps annual summer school, which is set for July this year. It’s possible to arrange a visit as an individual, but guide Lang Qin Fang says the cost would likely be prohibitive and they encourage those interested to instead join or organize groups such as Feng Yun’s. Although the area surrounding the Tian Yuan Tower is still very much a work in progress – restaurants and other cultural attractions are a cab ride away in the old downtown — the many attractions of Hangzhou’s West Lake District may prove irresistible for even the most dedicated go player.
- Chris Garlock; photos by John Pinkerton

THE TRAVELING GO BOARD: Shanghai: Counting Liberties at the Tongzhou Go School

Tuesday May 25, 2010

If you have any doubt about whether go is alive and well in the land where it was invented, show up on a Sunday night at the Tongzhou Middle School in Shanghai. Night has fallen and the streets are quiet, but the school is a beehive of activity. More than eighty kids are gathered in four classrooms, excitedly shouting out answers as their teachers lay out go problems on demonstration boards. The youngsters, ranging in age from four to twelve or so, sit — when they’re not leaping up to try their move — at special classroom desks stencilled with go boards; the plastic go bowls swing out from beneath the desktop. The school, which currently has more than 300 students, is run by the Tongzhou Go Association and was founded in 1998 by Qin You Min, a go-loving amateur 5-dan businessman who’s also on Shanghai’s team of strong amateurs. Most of the students at Tongzhou are from local primary schools, and indeed Qin learned to play when he himself was in primary school. “Go is an important part of traditional Chinese culture and once I learned, I just could not give it up,” he said with a smile and a shrug. When the principal of the Tongzhou Middle School asked him to start up the go school there, “I could not say no.” Like many an American school, trophy cases — in this case for go championships — line the wall in Tongzhou’s front lobby. Unlike the privately-run Blue Elephant School, Tongzhou is part of the official China go sports system and its team participates in national go tournaments. “A good teacher is the secret of good training,” Qin. Liu Yi Yi 2P is the team’s main coach, and other pros often come to teach as well as the three full-time teachers and seven part-timers. In just twelve years, the school has already generated four professionals, Qin tells me proudly. The team trains daily, with cultural lessons in the morning and then go lessons in the afternoon and evening. Tonight’s classes are levels 2 through 5. The Level 2 kids — who teacher Bai Yi Ping has to lift onto a chair to reach the demo board — are 8 kyu and are learning to count liberties. In adjoining rooms a Level 3 class of 7 kyus is reviewing capturing races, a Level 4 group of 4 kyus is reviewing their games and a Level 5 class of 1 kyus is studying life and death problems. The energy in the school is vibrant, with the kids both focussed and having fun. In the Level 4 class, for example, the kids are working intently together to replay and record their games, while in the next room the tiny Level 2 students are literally jumping up and down in their seats to be chosen to solve the problem on the board. “Play more games with Chinese players,” Qin says when I ask his advice for how American players can improve.
- Chris Garlock; photos by John Pinkerton

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THE TRAVELING GO BOARD: Shanghai: Drinking Go & Coffee Shop Lessons

Sunday May 23, 2010

The way drinking go works, Jacky Sun explained at dinner Friday night, is that the loser of the game has to down a beer. “I played the former European go champion, I think he was from Finland, maybe, and I lost the game but I won the drinking,” Jacky boasted. He and Qin Zhixuan were playing in the teacher’s room at Jin Sheng Yu’s go school Friday night while I played a simul with two students (see Chicken Feet, New Friends, the Mysteries of Go and Pint-Sized Players). After the kids left, EJ photog John Pinkerton and I went in to check on the game. Qin was trying to activate some non-existent aji but Jacky was giving no quarter and soon Qin was paying for his loss by downing a giant bottle of Suntory in one long gulp. Go is thirsty work.
After the Blue Elephant Go School visit Saturday morning (see At the Blue Elephant Go School), Du Yufeng 3P dropped us off at  a coffee shop where some of her friends have been playing go every weekend for seven years. “There aren’t really any go clubs in Shanghai,” Danny Wang (below) told us. “It’s easier just to play on the Internet, and it’s free.” Still, Danny and his friends — all very strong dan players — prefer to hang out at the coffeeshop on the weekends and they welcomed us to the gang, keeping our glasses filled with tea, showing us how to peel ripe lychee nuts and taking turns giving us games. “Go is a good way to make new friends,” Danny said. The afternoon slid by as rain pattered outside and stones clicked on the boards. We lost track of time and how many games we played. After a few games with one player, another would take his place. Some smacked their stones down forcefully, some gently. All smoked and all played classically good shape patiently, never gambling on a quick win. At game’s end the stones would fly around the board during Chinese counting and each time we’d come up short and the cycle would begin again. After a dinner break nearby — Chinese food family-style with beers and toasts each time our glasses were refilled and a discussion about favorite go professionals — the games continued into the night until finally it was time to say goodbye — until next time — to our new Shanghai go friends.
- Chris Garlock; photos by John Pinkerton

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THE TRAVELING GO BOARD: Shanghai: At the Blue Elephant Go School

Saturday May 22, 2010

The Shanghai sky is falling in great wet sheets as our taxi careens down the freeway into town. None of the seatbelts work, not even the driver’s, who’s slaloming through an obstacle course of Saturday morning traffic puttering along at 70 miles an hour. A few white-knuckled minutes later we stagger out of the cab and — after grabbing a quick steaming-hot pork dumpling at a street vendor — meet Du Yufeng 3P, who takes us to the Blue Elephant Go School, just around the corner from the famed Fudan University. Founded in 2002, the Blue Elephant is by far the biggest go school in Shanghai — of some 15 — with 400 students. Founder Lao Jian Qun meets us as we exit the elevator and proudly gives us the grand tour of the school’s nine classrooms. In one room several 4-year-old beginners wave their tiny hands frantically in the air for the chance to solve the go problem projected on the wall. In another, teacher Li Jun Liang deftly draws the crowd of 8-year-old kyu players into today’s lesson on sente with humor and a steely glint in his eyes. “This move kills two birds with one stone!” they all shout together, raising two fingers gleefully. And in a third classroom, half a dozen dan players break away from their lesson to beg us to play. E-Journal photographer John Pinkerton and I oblige as the rain draws a grey curtain over the Shanghai skyline outside. John manages to beat Lin Lin, his 9-year-old 1-dan opponent but my budding 4-dan, 12-year-old Xu Wen, proves to be too tough and I soon resign and thank him for the game. Classes meet daily — though the biggest concentration is on the weekend — taught by a 12-member faculty that is half professionals and half strong amateurs. “Most have extensive teaching experience,” Lao tells me, “some as much as 20 years.” As at the school we went to Friday night, the emphasis is “not just on the mechanics of the game,” Lao says, “but on the traditions and culture of go,” as well on the other three classical arts: drawing, music and calligraphy. One floor down is a separate but related school that offers classes in dance and tae kwon do, while next door is an art school with one whole classroom devoted to calligraphy. “We believe that these arts help children’s focus in their other studies as well as in life,” adds Lao. Teacher Li explains that counting liberties is a way “to slip a little math into the go lesson.” As Lao sees us out, I ask him what inspired him to found the school. “Because go is so deep,” he says, “and has such huge possibilities.” Just like children.
- Chris Garlock; photos by John Pinkerton

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THE TRAVELING GO BOARD: Shanghai: Chicken Feet, New Friends, the Mysteries of Go and Pint-Sized Players

Friday May 21, 2010

“How much you can drink is directly related to how strong you are,” proclaimed Sun Bo, brimming glasses of both wine and beer in front of the amateur 5-dan. E-Journal photographer John Pinkerton and I had landed in Shanghai a few short hours earlier and Jin Sheng Yu (far left) and his wife Dai Zijia (far right) had picked us up and whisked us off to dinner with fellow go players Quin Zhixuan 5d (2nd from left), Du Yufeng 3P (3rd from right) and Sun Bo (3rd from left), who goes by “Jacky.” We’re in China to cover the 31st annual World Amateur Go Championships (WAGC), which start Monday in nearby Hangzhou and arrived a few days early to explore go in Shanghai. Feng Yun 9P had generously provided an introduction to Jin and though we had all just met, we were soon bonding over platters of Cantonese food, wine, beer and of course, go talk. Jin is a 4-dan pro in his early thirties who became a pro at 11 in 1990 who now works days at the Children’s Palace and runs a go school on weekends. His wife, who insisted we call her Diana, teaches English at a Shanghai high school. Jacky, who we immediately nicknamed “Tough Jacky” because he confidently claimed to be strong at everything from go to ping pong, drinking and karaoke, is Jin’s student and colleague at the weekend go school, which is so new — it just opened in March — that it hasn’t been named yet. As we downed one delicacy after another — you haven’t lived until you’ve sucked the fatty skin off chicken feet and slurped up glutinous rice balls in sweet red bean sauce — discussion ranged from the pros and cons of internet play (“anyone can get to 7-dan online”) to how best to study pro games (split between some who said it was necessary to try to understand the moves and others said No, just play through the moves and try to get a feel for them). All agreed that at the top levels go is deeply mysterious and that questions of “good” and “bad” moves largely come down more to a sense of the game and style, rather than absolute assessment. After dinner we adjourned to Jin’s club, near the famous Jingan Temple in downtown Shanghai, on the 6th floor of a nondescript office building. We could hear the chatter of young voices as we came out of the elevator and soon a dozen young go players were crowding around us, practicing their English and excitedly shaking hands. A few minutes later I was playing a simul with 7-year-old Zhu Qiying (l) and 8-year-old Zhang Chi (r), two young kyu players whose seriousness and poise was impressive. Zhu took up the game just 10 months ago on a dare from her classmates in school, and her twice-a-week lessons compete for her attention with dance, piano, English, skating, mathematics and other classes. Zhang — a rosy-cheeked youngster who also studies Chinese chess, piano and calligraphy — would like to be a pro and has been playing for two years. Jin has fifty young students already, and his instruction covers all aspects of go, “because you can’t understand go without understanding its culture, as well.” After the games and brief interviews and photos, the kids went home and we went into the teacher’s room to check out the gambling go game Jacky and Zhixuan were playing. But that’s another story.
- Chris Garlock; photos by John Pinkerton

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THE TRAVELING BOARD: Go Behind Bars

Monday January 25, 2010

“I am 14 years into a 25 year sentence, and I am interested in starting a go club at the prison,” read the letter from K, forwarded to me at the American Go Foundation by Mark Rubenstein at AGA Member Services. Although our main work at the AGF focuses on children, we also offer full support for institutional settings as well. I sent K an information packet and an application for a class room starter set. Noticing the prison was here in Colorado, I also told him I would be willing to do a demonstration at the prison. Rubenstein also donated two playing sets, and a number of go magazines, but the package was refused by the prison, which had very specific guidelines about what they would accept. As K had mentioned wanting to start a program at the prison, I thought I might try contacting the education coordinator at the prison directly. So began the first of what would ultimately be six months worth of phone calls, letters, and requests to the Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood. I had given up on any chance of a program starting at the prison when I finally received a phone call from one of the education coordinators. He said he had a group of over 20 prisoners who kept asking him when the go teacher was going to come, so he finally decided to let me do a demonstration at the prison. I was also able to arrange for the prison to accept multiple playing sets for the program, and I was finally able to hand-deliver Rubenstein’s package of equipment and magazines as well. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I finally went to the prison. I had briefly worked with youth in a juvenile correctional facility a few years back, but Englewood is an adult prison, and a federal one at that. When I arrived, I was surprised at the size of the place. A guard told me they house 1,000 inmates there. I passed through multiple security screening points, with giant sliding metal grates, and went deep into the heart of the complex, where I was taken to an educational center in the prison and had a few minutes to set up before the 22 prisoners who had signed up for the program arrived. I finally met K in person, who thanked me profusely for arranging the demonstration. He and the other inmates were all polite, friendly, and very attentive. Three of the prisoners knew how to play already, and I was very pleased to see that they had a few volumes of Janice Kim’s Learn to Play series. None of them had ever played a game outside of the prison system though. The other 19 inmates were all first-timers, so I taught them how to play and then had them all play each other on 9×9 boards. I think the Education Coordinator was pleased to see all of the inmates immediately engaged in the game, and laughing as they discovered new things. After they had all played a game or two, I offered to do a simul with any five of them. They were quite excited by this, and everyone else gathered around the table where I was playing. I gave most of them a five stone handicap on the 9×9, and tried to show them some things while we were playing. One of the men, T, had been playing for many years. He told me he had learned from a Japanese prisoner, at another prison. He had tried to show the others how to play, but hadn’t had too much luck. I played him even on the 9×9, and the other inmates all took immense pleasure in finally seeing T lose a game. After the first simul, I did a second one. This time I played both K and T on the 19×19 with a 9 stone handicap, and three newcomers on the 9×9 boards. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to come back often (or perhaps at all) I wanted very much to see if we could establish a rank for either of them. K thought he might be 17 kyu, T had no idea, but they both knew he was much stronger. T played a good game, and to our mutual delight, was able to force me to resign. Since he was within 9 stones of my rank of 1 kyu, I told him I thought he was about 9 kyu. I explained that each handicap stone was worth roughly ten points, and that from here on out he should try to give handicaps accordingly to the other inmates. If he won a game by 50 points, he should give five stones, and so forth. Hopefully the other players will be able to base their ranks off of his. My experience with many clubs has been that two things are critical for success: first, a group of beginners who are all learning together, and second, a handicap system that allows everyone to play fair games. At the end of my three hours with the inmates, T surprised me by asking if it was possible to make a donation to the AGF. I told him we were funded entirely by donations, and would welcome one if he had the ability to give. I wasn’t expecting the prisoners to have any money, but one of the guards explained that the inmates work in the prison, and receive wages for it. I don’t know what crimes any of these men had committed, but I do know that a person doesn’t stop living once they are behind bars. I can think of no group that might better benefit from the qualities that go brings to our lives than prisoners. Perhaps learning how to play go will give them a non-violent forum to express themselves in, and they will be able to better themselves by learning how to communicate in this way. I also know that whatever a man’s crime, he should be able to play go if he wants to. They have chess and Scrabble in prison, they should have go too.
– Paul Barchilon is Vice President of the AGF; graphic by Mike Samuel

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THE TRAVELING BOARD: Hyodo Offers Another Bite in the Big Apple

Monday December 8, 2008

2008.12.08 Hyodo If you’re anywhere in the metro New York City area, run, don’t walk, to the New York Go Center: Visiting Nihon Kiin instructor Shunichi Hyodo (pictured) 7D has extended his stay through the end of January. An old friend and one of the best go teachers I know, Hyodo was my guide on an unforgettable tour of Japan’s go clubs and historic go sites in 2003. On the train between stops, no matter how exhausted we were, Hyodo would give me problems to study and then quiz me closely, exhorting me to work ever harder to improve my game. His strength as a teacher lies not just in his encyclopedic knowledge of the game — he spent 90 minutes reviewing nakade (dead shapes) with me last Sunday — but in his passionate commitment to teaching. Hyodo’s many American friends look forward to seeing him — and his tour group of dedicated Japanese go players — each year at the Go Congress, and he’s been in residence at the New York Go Club since October. He’s there every day except Monday, when the club is closed.
- Chris Garlock; photo by Steve Colburn