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

EJ Mailbag: Joseki guide for kyu players; Don’t mourn, organize; Columbus discovers Go; Gameboy Go?

Sunday December 15, 2019

Columbus discovers Go: “Devin Fraze can teach you how to play Go in about two minutes.” That’s the lead in the “It’s always Go time for enthusiast of ancient game” report last month in ThisWeek Community News, about the Columbus Go Club in Ohio. “To try and teach yourself the game can be confusing and frustrating, but to sit down across the board from an experienced player is a great way to learn,” Fraze said.

Joseki guide for kyu players: Learn Go Joseki for kyu players is a new way to view common joseki for kyu players designed, coded and populated by Neil Moffatt. They’re drawn from the 21st Century Dictionary of Basic Joseki volumes one and two, with a few exceptions.

Don’t mourn, organize: “I am saddened by Bill Cobb’s article,” writes Jean de Maiffe. “I find internet play soulless and am grateful to live where I have been able to start two different Go clubs in my town, at different times in my life. My heart goes out to Bill for his isolation. I started my first Sunnyvale CA club about a year after my husband and I moved here. When I turned that first club over to someone else, I learned that while I didn’t need to drive for an hour to attend, I did have to drive a narrow, twisty, dirt road in the Coastal Range to get there. During the rainy season, when the sun retires early, I found it terrifying to drive to and from there. Hence my starting a second club in our nearby Senior Center, which is within walking distance and which is open during the day only, a blessing for me in my 70s. Best wishes to Bill on finding a new GO home in the Arkansas mountains or nearby.”

Gameboy Go?: “I’m very interested in Go and used to own a portable chess game similar to the Gameboy,” writes a usgo.org visitor. “Do you know of any electronic go handheld games available today? I have tried for hours to find something that’s not on the app store.” Email journal@usgo.org with suggestions.

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The goban, elevated

Tuesday December 10, 2019

Playing go on a traditional goban is one of the joys of the game. But aging knees pose a painful obstacle. Former AGA president Phil Straus elegantly solved the problem with help from fine woodworker Sylas Navar. The table he designed for Straus allows the traditional go board to be used while sitting in chairs. It’s made of hickory and flame maple with walnut inlay, which complements and extends the aesthetics of the goban, where the grain and glow of the wood are an integral part of the game. If you’re interested in such a table, contact Sylas at ironwoodartistry@gmail.com  or check out his website.

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Sixth volume in Black to Play! series published by Board N’Stones

Saturday December 7, 2019

Board N’Stones have just released the sixth and final volume of the Black
to Play! series by Gunnar Dickfield, available in books stores as a paperback or as an ebook from gobooks.com.

The Black to Play! series begins in the first book with problems for beginners – 30k to 25k – and is aimed for players who have just gotten in touch with the game. It provides exercises to help deepen and ingrain the understanding of the rules. They will learn about the correlation and dependencies of the stones to each other, and thereby be able to improve your games. The exercises throughout the six volumes gradually increase in difficulty as the player learns and grows stronger, accompanying the player on the way to Shodan, the first master rank. This sixth volume is dedicated to players from 5k to 1k, and includes more whole-board problems, allowing the learner to apply local problem solving strategies in a larger context and real game situations.

This series is available in English (Black to Play!), German (Schwarz am Zug), and French (A Noir de Jouer). Board N’Stones (Brett und Stein Verlag) is a long time publisher for Go books based in Germany with about 45 titles in print, focusing mainly on Go books in German with some titles in English and French.

-report by Gunnar Dickfield

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AGF invests in KGS

Wednesday December 4, 2019

-Paul Barchilon, AGF Vice President and KGS Liaison

The AGF is instituting a series of changes to the KGS Go Server to make it more available and more useful as a tool for promoting go. As a first step, KGS+ events will now be free with users able to make a donation – not only to support KGS+ but to cover server costs and fund improvements on the software. All of this year’s saved lectures are now also free, and can be viewed under the KGS Plus menu.

For those that haven’t tried it, KGS+ provides lectures and lessons with professionals and very strong amateurs. In the past, sales of KGS+ provided enough income to pay for itself as well as the server costs. However, attendance has dropped in recent years and the server has not been able to meet its costs for quite some time now. The AGF Board hopes that by opening the lessons to everyone, more people will attend, join the community, and support KGS.

We recognize that the software is now almost 20 years old, and we have a very long list of things we want to improve.  Our current all-volunteer model for making those changes and maintaining the server has not kept up.  Those with the necessary skills are far too busy.  As a first step the AGF will be hiring a software engineer to write a web based registration module. This will allow people to register from any device, including phones and tablets, and from any computer whether it is running Java or not. The current requirement for Java has kept the server blocked entirely from many environments (such as public schools in the US and many international locations).

While the AGF is willing to run KGS at a loss as a service to the go community, we would rather a smaller loss or to break even with any added money invested back into KGS. We hope that by switching to a donation model, we will generate the revenue for upgrades, fund more events, and provide a stable platform for play.  Since the AGF is a 501c3 charity, donations to support KGS will be tax deductible.

Although KGS has seen declining attendance in recent years, there are still between 350 and 800 players on at any given moment. We feel that KGS builds community in a way that other servers don’t.  The chat and room functionality allow people to meet new friends, create virtual go clubs, and learn together with what are still some of the best game editing tools available. Our hope is that the community shares our regard for KGS and will contribute to help keep it afloat. If you would like to donate to the server, through Paypal or with your credit card, click here.

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Go Spotting: The inscrutability of artificial intelligence in go… and nuclear warfare

Sunday October 6, 2019

In a September 7th article titled “Battle algorithm,” The Economist writes of a “paradox” that may be familiar to readers who analyze their games using Leela Zero and other AIs. “AI might at once penetrate and thicken the fog of war, allowing it to be waged with a speed and complexity that renders it essentially opaque to humans.” The article notes that in AlphaGo’s March 2016 victory over Lee Sedol, the AI “played several highly creative moves that confounded experts,” and this led a workshop at the Chinese Academy of Military Science to conclude that, in the words of one source, “an AI could create tactics and stratagems superior to those of a human player in a game that can be compared to a war-game.”

While the article in The Economist focuses on conventional warfare, the strengths and weaknesses of go-playing AIs also appear in recent publications on nuclear warfare.

In 2017, the American think tank RAND Corporation held a series of workshops on AI and nuclear war, which noted that AlphaGo’s victory “astonished even AI and strategy experts.” “[T]he decisionmaking in Go is far simpler to address than in nuclear war…. but by the year 2040, it does not seem unreasonable to expect that an AI system might be able to play aspects or stages of military wargames or exercises at superhuman levels.” It is “likely that humans making command decisions will treat the AI system’s suggestions as on par with or better than those of human advisers. This potentially unjustified trust presents new risks that must be considered.”

This year, an August 16 commentary by two American researchers also cites AlphaGo. The commentary notes that AlphaGo Zero “learned through an iterative process”; “in nuclear conflict there is no iterative learning process.” “The laws of war require a series of judgments…. Software that cannot explain why a target was chosen probably cannot abide by those laws. Even if it can, humans might mistrust a decision aid that could outwardly resemble a Magic 8-Ball.” Nonetheless, the commentary argues for having AI take more control over US nuclear weapons.

Thanks to Fred Baldwin for once again spotting go, this time in “Battle algorithm.”

-edited by Joe Cua

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Leela for all, maybe Bender and Fry too

Wednesday August 28, 2019

Plenty of go players have tested their hand against Leela, but what about Bender, or Fry? Ever wanted to play a go game against Dr. Farnsworth? Andreas Hauenstein has modified Leela Zero – an open source superhuman-strength go program – and created different “players” with different strengths after some experimentation and public feedback. That those “players” should be named after Futurama characters, Leela being the strongest, seems natural. To read a little more about his process and to test your skills against the character of your choice, take a peek at his English translation of a piece he wrote up for the German Go Journal here.

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Go-inspired clothing

Tuesday August 27, 2019

Would you like to have a t-shirt that shows a Go board with a Go stone getting captured? How about a tank top that depicts a ko fight? Tenuki Normal is a new clothing brand offering apparel with Go-themed imagery. T-shirts are available in men’s, women’s, and children’s styles, and tank tops and sweaters are also available. Check out Tenuki Normal’s website here; you can also find them on Facebook.

“Our goal is to create Go/weiqi/baduk/igo style clothing for comfortable and casual wear that stays true to the aesthetics of the game,” reports the company’s website. Founder Matthew Leong tells the E-Journal that Tenuki Normal is a nonprofit organization, and that 20% of proceeds will be donated to the American Go Association in support of its efforts to promote and sustain the American go community.
– Roger Schrag

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The Win or the Way: Finding meaning in the game of Go

Sunday August 25, 2019

by Brian Olive

Regular readers of the American Go Association E-Journal will be well-acquainted with the contributions of William S. Cobb, both as author of The Empty Board, a column published regularly in this journal for many years, as well as the publisher of many excellent go books through his own Slate & Shell publishing company. Through his writings, Cobb has challenged us all to think more deeply about why we love this game so much. Through his publishing – and, by extension, through Slate & Shell’s generous sponsorship of countless go tournaments around the country – he has worked selflessly to spread his own love of the game.

Mining the same veins of thought expressed in The Empty Board, Cobb has published other, deeper musings on the meaning of Go, especially as it relates to the core teachings of Buddhism. One such article (available here) was published in 1999 in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Entitled simply “The Game of Go”, this article explores Go as an aid in the search for enlightenment, an endeavor that, Cobb posits, is on par with other traditional meditative practices such as the tea ceremony and karate. Twenty years later, this essay still shines as exemplary on two fronts: its easy introduction to the game for those not familiar with it, and its deep look into the meaning of the game. It is worthwhile and fresh reading, even for those who have been playing go for years.

As a tip of our collective hat to Cobb’s contributions, what follows is a brief recap of some of the key ideas that emerge from his article in Tricycle. Although this comes at the risk of losing some context, or inadvertently reinterpreting Cobb’s views, the hope is that something said here will encourage you to both read the article for yourself and to think deeply about the meaning of Go. What does the game mean to you? Is Go all about ‘the win’? Or, perhaps, can this millennial endeavor be a way to enlightenment? Feel free to share your thoughts. Here are some of Bill’s:

Go fosters humane attitudes

Cobb rests squarely on the history and tradition of Go to support this claim. From the days of buddhist monks teaching go to samurai, to the continued popularity of the game in Asia and its growing presence in Europe and America, Go has been used as a means to “instill the virtues of overcoming fear, greed and anger”. Any Go player who has played – and lost – any significant number of games can feel the sweet pain of truth in this idea. We’ve all suffered from our greed mid-game, and we’ve all won games based on mustering up sufficient patience and balance of play. Go teaches us these things.

When played properly, you lose about half of your games

On the surface, this statement speaks to Cobb’s full embrace of the handicap system in Go. In theory, when playing with a handicap, we should win about half of the time. If we are improving, and therefore winning more times than not, then we adjust the handicap and get back to winning just half of the time. Most see this as a way to give other, weaker players, a fair chance. This is perhaps true, but Cobb takes it further: this is how go should be. We are, in his opinion, better off when constrained to both winning and losing. Equally. Put another way…

It cannot be good to win in go, because it is not bad to lose

Tightly woven into this surprising idea are the core threads of Cobb’s idea of Go as kido or, the Way. Many play with the singular motivation of winning. For many, it’s all about ‘the win’. We watch go videos, read go books, attend go lectures, all to improve our play and win games. We track our rating, with our sights set on ranking up. Cobb, on the other hand, proposes that the point of playing is to open oneself to the initial emptiness of the go board, to explore the interconnectedness of the stones, to appreciate the impermanence of value and structure, good and bad on the go board, and to lose oneself (i.e. experience no-self) in this act of creativity. Much of the article expounds on these key ideas, which happen to represent the four fundamental Buddhist principles.

In case you missed it, find the article here. photo by Phil Straus.

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Multilingual Go Book Completes French Version, Reports Progress on Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, and Russian Versions

Thursday August 22, 2019

Earlier this year, the E-Journal reported on Haris Kapolos’s Multilingual Go Book project, the goal of which is to create a book “that could circulate in libraries, schools, universities and game shops… in more languages [than just English and Greek] and have it be free for everyone.”

Kapolos recently wrote us to announce “the full translation of the book in French. The translation was made almost entirely by Jean-Luis Tu.” Significant progress has also been made on a Brazilian Portuguese translation, with almost three chapters complete, by Lucas Félix de Oliveira Santana. The website has also been fully translated into both languages.

“The whole English version has been proofread and some diagrams were corrected,” writes Kapolos, “Also, I have re-aligned most of the text boxes and image boxes in the book and it looks much better now.”

Kapolos is looking for more collaborators: “The current [translations] that have volunteers working on them and on which it would be great to receive more help are the Dutch, the Russian and the Brazilian Portuguese versions.”

If you’re interested in getting involved, the project is looking for people to create translations in their own language, proofreaders, and donations.

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AGF imports blind go sets

Wednesday August 21, 2019

The American Go Foundation has purchased 12 new go sets designed for the visually impaired. Both black and white stones are slotted on the back, and click into a 19×19 grid, with a 9×9 grid on the backside. Black stones also have a raised dot in the middle, so they feel different from the white ones. Sets have been sent to the National Go Center and the Seattle Go Center, and one will be available at the US Go Congress each year as well. Milan Mladenovic ran a pilot program last year at Perkins Institute for the blind in Boston, and it was well received . “Ever since I learned to play go my brain has reconnected with my love for thinking ahead and mind games,” reported S, a student at Perkins. 

AGA Board member Steve Colburn approached the AGF about purchasing the sets. “The AGA Webmaster receives dozens of emails a month from people around the country,” writes Colburn. “Most of these have pretty easy answers, but there are others that can take years to answer.” Colburn says he has received multiple requests for blind sets over the years. “This time we were helped from some users on Go (Baduk, Weiqi) Players on Facebook, which is a nice group of worldwide go players to chat with. Earlier this year someone asked if they knew where to buy a blind go set. Someone in the thread found the right site for the Japan Braille Library Equipment Business Division. After a short consultation with the AGF they agreed to import some of the sets to the US,” said Colburn. Importing proved fairly complicated. Joshua Guarino’s Japanese was crucial to get through the many issues with ordering, importing and payment, and the sets finally arrived at the AGF warehouse just before the Go Congress.

“Adding go sets for the visually impaired to our equipment offerings was a natural extension of what the AGF does to promote go in institutional settings and to underserved populations,” says AGF President Terry Benson. The sets will be free for institutions that are working with the visually impaired. Individual players who are blind can also contact the AGF if they are interested in acquiring a set. -Story and photo by Paul Barchilon

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