American Go E-Journal » Traveling Go Board

The Traveling Board: My Father’s Last Game

Thursday March 29, 2012

by Betsy Small

My father, Dr. Paul M. Howard, was a psychoanalyst who loved to connect with others through the game of go. He was a very quiet man, and go became a special way for the two of us to bond.

My father discovered go in the 1940s in a book by chess International Master Edward Lasker, Go and Go-Moku: the Oriental Board Games, originally published in 1934. He never got to play an actual game until the 1960s, however, when my older sister Judy married a go enthusiast, who spent many enjoyable hours playing with my father. About six years later my father was delighted when I married Haskell (Hal) Small, another go enthusiast, and happier still when I learned the game a few years later. For us this marked the beginning of our communication through go for many years to come. I distinctly remember our very first game – neither of us understood much about it, but we had fun splitting the board diagonally into two parts, “His Side” and “Her Side.”

In the beginning, our games were limited to several visits every year, since my parents lived in Boston and Hal and I lived in Washington DC. But after the advent of the Internet, my father and I found online go a joyful way to connect across the miles that separated us.

In the fall of 2006, shortly after my father celebrated his 100th birthday, he suffered several small strokes, and we moved him to a senior residence in Washington so I could spend as much time with him as possible. While his go skills had declined, my father’s enthusiasm for the game remained strong and now we could play go most every day. At his peak he had been as strong as 10 kyu but now he was perhaps more like 40 kyu. I had remained a 13 kyu for many years and was now giving him a 3 or 4 stone handicap on a 9 x 9 board. Occasionally my father would express frustration with his waning go skills, but he took comfort in being reminded of how exciting the process of playing go remained for him. Most of the time, even at a weaker level, playing continued to give him great pleasure, because he still loved go, and our games were meaningful occasions for both of us.

As my father’s health declined we moved him to a hospice. Early one morning in January, 2007, we received a call that he had only hours to live, and we rushed to his bedside. My father’s pulse was weak and he was barely able to speak, but his eyes opened and he smiled when he saw us, managing a surprisingly firm handshake for Hal. Even more surprising were the faint words he spoke: “black stones…white stones…” Because he was too weak to sit up, we got out the board and placed it on his belly. From this angle he could not get a clear view of the bowls or the board, so I guided his hand to the bowl. He picked up a stone, and then I guided his hand to the board. Although he couldn’t see where the stone landed, he placed it with great intention. I made my move and we continued back and forth with these familiar and comforting motions for ten or fifteen minutes, until he gestured that the game was over. Not too long after that, a look of contentment, deep tranquility and fulfillment on his face, my father passed from this world.

That last game with my father, more of a symbolic farewell than a thought-out game of logic, will always be my most memorable.

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The Traveling Board: College Students Discover China

Saturday August 20, 2011

Cherry Shen 6d reports on her experiences this summer:

I’ve traveled to China several times before but none of my trips were quite as insightful or fun as this one. On July 22-30, a team of 11 American undergraduates and graduates had the amazing opportunity to attend the 1st U.S.-China Go Camp/College Student Exchange, simultaneously playing go and learning about China’s rich culture and history. The group consisted of 10 students (William  Lockhart, Steven Palazola, Cherry Shen, David Glekel, Zachary Winoker, Michael Haskell, Michael Fodera, Dan Koch, Brian Lee, and Cole Pruitt) and one team leader (Walther Chen), most of them hailing from the East Coast . Exploring China with a group of go enthusiasts was hilarious, eye-opening, and extremely memorable. As soon as we landed from the airport, we were showered with generosity and overwhelming hospitality from the members of the Ing foundation, Mrs. Lu, translators, other go players, and everyone else. The university hotels we stayed at were great and the authentic Chinese food was incredible. Aside from the mind-blowing go-themed hotel, go schools, and go lectures hall, I also learned about the many cultural aspects of China during our trips to the Great Wall of China, Yu Garden, Shanghai Financial District, and more. The presence of go in China was so impressive, especially when we were introduced to numerous 4-5 dans who were 7/8 year-olds at the Hangzhou Go School. We also had unique opportunities to receive teaching games from professionals, meet other college go students, and tour go facilities. This  journey has been unbelievably amazing and enriching; and I hope we can reciprocate this experience to future visiting Chinese college students. - Special E-J Report by Cherry Shen. Photo: At Fudan University, with various college go players.

Traveling Board: AGF Takes Go to 20,000 Librarians in New Orleans

Monday July 4, 2011

Go and libraries are natural partners, not just because of longtime efforts to stock libraries with go books but because libraries have also often hosted go clubs. Which is why the AGA’s Chris Kirschner, 2008 AGF Teacher of the Year Vincent Eisman and I found ourselves among 20,000 librarians at the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual conference last week in New Orleans.

The American Go Foundation (AGF) sent us out to promote free equipment and books to youth librarians. Libraries across the country are stocking lots of manga (Japanese comics) because they pull kids in.  From my own program, at a public library in Boulder, CO, I knew Hikaru no Go was a gold mine: once kids read it, they want to play go. And with Winston Jen’s generous donation of 1,000 sets of Hikaru, we figured we would be in a good position to reach out, especially since the AGF is giving libraries and schools the entire 23-volume set for free.

We knew the event was going to be big, but we were shocked at how huge the convention center was.  The building itself ran for almost two miles, and the vendor area housed 900 exhibitors. I had arranged to have our booth in the Graphic Novel/Gaming Pavilion, and once the conference opened, we had a steady stream of visitors.

All three of us have done a lot of demos before, but we felt that this was very different. People were not casually interested, or just wandering by and curious: they were focused, excited, and looking specifically for ways to engage kids and teens in their libraries. A great number of them were members of YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association. They were very enthusiastic about what we were providing, and seemed like a perfect target for us. There were also a number of library directors and people in other departments who took information and said they would give it to the right person at their branch. Not only did 113 libraries sign up for a free set of Hikaru on the spot, but we also gave out over 700 brochures, about 500 copies of The Way to Go, almost 200 starter CDs and 280 cardboard sets.  We even taught librarians how to play right there in the booth as well, and they all seemed fascinated.

The AGF has been reaching out to libraries for a couple of years now, so I was hoping we might encounter some people who already knew about us. There were several who had, and they raved about how much they appreciated our services.  One school library already had a go program, with equipment from us, but didn’t know we gave away Hikaru now, so their librarian was psyched to order it.  Another one told me that the program was going strong for a while, but then it died out when some of the kids moved on.  She said it successfully resurrected itself this past year when two fifth graders read Hikaru and got into the game. I ran into a librarian from Sacramento, who said she had had many go demos at her library in the past. When I asked who did them, she said it was None Redmond, Japanese professional Michael Redmond’s mother, and a tireless promoter of youth go.  Another librarian said the kids really love go at her branch, and that the equipment we sent gets used all the time.

Even at night, when we were “off-duty,” we found go connections. After strolling down Bourbon Street, where we soaked in the live jazz and the beautiful French Quarter architecture, a waiter at one restaurant overheard us mention the word atari, and asked if we played go. We were pleasantly surprised to find a fellow player at random and he told us there were a couple of go clubs in New Orleans, although we didn’t have time to visit any of them.  A security guard at the convention center also turned out to be a player, and had contacted me in advance through Tiger’s Mouth, our youth website.

Much to our delight, a good number of the librarians had already heard of go, Hikaru, or both.  It seemed that everywhere we went we saw evidence that go continues to break into the national consciousness.  Chris Kirschner remarked on how much ground had been gained in the past 30 years and mused that “we can never underestimate the value of the seeds that we are planting,” and that one never knows what teaching even one person how to play go might lead to.

We all felt that this particular group of people were in a great position to help spread go on a much larger scale.  Once they have Hikaru in their libraries, they will find kids asking to form a go club.  The AGF will be right there for them, offering free starter sets with enough equipment for 24 kids to play, and ongoing support through our mentor committee.  Slowly but surely, we are building the future of go.
- Paul Barchilon, Vice President of the AGF and Youth Editor for the E-Journal.  Photos: Top: The AGF booth at the convention.
- Photos:
top left: Vincent Eisman convinces passersby that go is for them while Chris Kirschner demonstrates go in back; Bottom right: Kirschner teaches a librarian; photos by Paul Barchilon

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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