snakeeater on Go

Monday, July 24, 2006

Scaling Mt Everest; Becoming a Go Professional

This past week saw the 2006 Professional Shodan Go Examination in China where promising Inseis and strong amateurs battle life and limb to claim the mere 20 Shodan spots allowed this year. At ~400 participants, mostly consisting of kids in their early teens, that's a 5% acceptance rate. And remembering that the 400 competing for the spots are all best of their schools and regions, those that become professionals are truly the creme de la creme de la creme, many times over. As if that's not competitive enough, China will begin instituting a new 'U15 rule' next year --- no one above 15 will be allowed to try out. So if you can't make it by the time you are 15, professional Go isn't for you. As depicted in Hikaru No Go, choosing the path of becoming a Go professional is hard and cruel. Many spend years as a child studying the game over everything else, most abandoning regular school (unless you are blessed like the mythical Hikaru and can attend school at the same time). It is no easier than scaling Mt Everest. In fact it is harder, it is a path of no return. Once you are on that path, you have effectively chosen to abandon all other pursuits in life. You must succeed, within a small number of years, or become a washed up amateur for the rest of your life, probably struggling to make a living teaching others with the only skill you have.

Life doesn't get easier even when you do become a professional. At the end of the day, you are just one of the hundreds of professionals around. Only the top pros enjoy the fame and wealth covered on TVs and newspapers. Most will suffer anonymity and struggle on with their meager professional salaries.

So unless you are talented and obsessed with Go, AND you have wealthy parents, don't bother. Enjoy Go as a side hobby, not a profession.

Some pictures from this year's examination below:


Place where the examination is held:



Room full with kids with their parents looking on:



Probably an eight-year old, too short for the Go table but ready to become professional!:



Staring down your opponent:



Everyone deep in thought:

Friday, July 21, 2006

Kaya Goban Used in 61st Honinbo Auctioned Off

Caught a piece of interesting news today. The goban used in the first match of the 61st Honinbo was auctioned off for 5,250,000 yen, or about 50,000 dollars in US. The board is of course, genuine Kaya, and about 6.5'' thick. Parts of the proceeds are apparently going to institutions that promote Go amongst Japanese youths.

The whole set with actual photographs of the match:



The glorious table board itself:



The inside of the cover showing signatures by both players:



The box itself:

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Playing for Points

The quality of my games are improving as I slowly begin to understand what many people understand when they first learn of the game: each move should be made toward the goal of getting more territory than your opponent. It's quite obvious but often forgotten during the heat of the battle.

Here's my thought process near the middle game:

1. A sente move that results in a net point gain for you. Especially one that crowds your opponent into a tight clump. Resist the urge to go all out and kill. Threaten, squeeze and profit. Learn to lean on your opponent. Only play killing moves when you can read out a profitable sequence. Scary but hollow moves will often backfire against a stronger opponent. This is where Tsumego pratice comes in. When you read better, you play real threats. If you can't read it out, drop back from the fight and go to step 2.

2. If two big moves are available, pick one that you like best and let your opponent have the other. Resist the urge to want everything, sometimes you simply have to trade with your opponent. Otherwise you may end up getting nothing at all. When groups begin taking shape, go to step 3.

3. A gote move that strengthens your group while creating a big follow up move yose. Create enough of these and your opponent's territory tend to magically shrink to nothing at yose time. At Yose time, go to step 4.

4. Go for the big points in the order of corner, side and then possibily center. This is where Yose skill comes in, you must count the value of each move! A 20 point swing at Yose time is common between someone who knows how to play Yose vs one does not. Resist the urge of making ambiguous moves that looks big in the center, esp when there are two or more gaps that allow your opponent sneak in. Your opponent can stab your center territory with one jump and it will go poof. Better is play a move in the corner that gets definitive territory and preps for a monkey jump.

The result of following these general guidelines have resulted in calmer games where purposeful moves for points are calculated and slight advantages are carefully sought, instead of the usual bloody game where big groups live and die as you each trade false threats and prey on each other's mistakes. Your calmness also has an extra bonus: you make less mistakes and your opponent's mistakes are magnified in turn.