On Saturday, 15 July I played in the National Go Center’s aptly named Summer Sizzler tournament. The all-day, four-round event was my first tournament experience, and it was a blast! I finished the day with two wins and two losses. Not a bad start for a first tournament. Here is a breakdown of the day.
Round 1: Win (W+2.5)
I took White in an even game against a fellow 7k. The game opened calmly, and I felt confident until I played an elephant’s eye off of a cap. At once Black punished this overplay by cutting through White’s loose formation. This created a difficult situation for White. Forced to reckon with two weak groups, White eventually had to save one at the expense of the other. At this point I thought the game was lost and considered resigning, but resisted capitulation for two reasons. First, because this was my first tournament game, it would be humiliating to lose so quickly.
The second reason was that I remembered a 9×9 game where a similar situation arose. In that game I made a reading error that had cost me several stones. At once I expressed my desire to resign but my friend encouraged me to keep playing. The game was lost, but only by a narrow margin – I was able to make up most of my early loss. This experience taught me that sometimes I am tempted to resign too early, and that I needed to develop a fighting spirit.
Remembering this experience and not wishing to admit defeat, I dug in and felt a fighting spirit take hold of me. I kept playing. Eventually Black accepted a ko fight that enabled me to trade the lost group for a sizable group of opposing stones. This territorial swap evened the game, I reckoned. It would be close but I estimated that I had the edge with komi.
Once the game ended I had to laugh because I forgot how to count. I think it was the adrenaline but I couldn’t concentrate enough to add up our points. Eventually the haze cleared and the conclusion was that White edged out Black by 2.5 points. A real come from behind victory!
The experience was electric. I felt like Hikaru, saying to myself, “I want to play more games like that!” Even had I lost the game I knew the feeling would have been the same because it wasn’t about the outcome – it was about the spirit of the game: that fighting spirit! This was a fantastic way to start the tournament.
Round 2: Loss (W+R)
In the second round I took Black against a 4k with a two stone handicap. My opponent and I were already acquainted, so we started cheerfully. No doubt I was intimidated by this higher ranked player, because I doubted my ability to defeat him – it would be a steep climb. Nevertheless I took courage in my earlier experience and tried to summon the same fighting spirit.
At first things went well for Black. White made a few errors and Black avoided creating any weak groups. Eventually White made a wide extension that I was able to invade and punish. Black split White’s two groups by building a powerful wall, but this success was short lived. Too soon did Black make a knight’s move off of his wall, and White immediately counterattacked. The result was three weak Black groups against one White. The careful strategy of avoiding an all out fight was destroyed by Black’s mistake.
As the game devolved into a dragon battle, White held the upper hand. Black fought back furiously and nearly succeeded in killing White’s dragon, but failed by only two liberties. At this point there was no hope for Black, and so I resigned. We went to review the game and assessed our mistakes. Although I had lost, I was satisfied with our review because it helped me understand why the game had gone awry for Black. Secure in this knowledge I resolved to learn from these mistakes and try not to repeat them.
Round 3: Loss (W+R)
This game was a total disaster. I took Black against a very friendly 7k. He ended up going 4-0 in the tournament.
From the start I had difficulty concentrating. Partially I think it was due to the demands of playing at such a high level in a new setting. Partially it was the heat. Partially I think I was just not his equal in terms of ability.
Black made an early mistake: Blocking a corner invasion from the wrong direction. The joseki choice was itself not fatal but it created a difficult situation for Black and had me cursing my lack of awareness. I struggled to rouse my mind from its lethargy.
As the game progressed things went from bad to worse. White began to build a moyo and Black tried to reduce it. Black’s earlier mistake meant that the whole board was not favorable for a strong counterattack, so two groups went on in relative weakness. Eventually I missed an important connection and lost one of the groups decisively. This was the end. Yet I tried to redeem this loss for a short while, hoping in vain to stave off defeat.
Once it became clear there was no hope for Black, I resigned.
Unlike the previous game I felt no satisfaction from the result, only fury at myself. I cursed my performance. My opponent was very gracious and asked if I’d like to review the game, which I accepted. He was a very pleasant fellow and I feel remorse for my shameful display of emotion.
My regrets for this game do not center as much around the level of play (abysmal for me) as much as for the lack of self-control I displayed at the outcome. I felt no anger for my opponent, just at myself, and I did not entirely resist expressing this frustration. Much to my chagrin, I failed to practice detachment. The only hope I have is to learn from this experience and not to repeat it in the future.
Round 4: Win (W+>20pts)
In the final round I took White against a 9k with a two-stone handicap. I felt a good deal of nervousness giving a handicap, since this is not a common experience of mine. I worried that I’d chalk up another loss. This put me in a very aggressive mood.
Handicap games are fighting games, or so I’ve heard. Well, I fought and won the game quickly. I don’t remember much of the round, except that I read out a kill in a corner joseki that resulted in a large group of Black stones dying. This put White definitively ahead. Black attempted to counter with a moyo on the bottom but White was able to establish positions across the board and reduce Black to two small territories.
The margin of victory was large, but I felt no satisfaction at the outcome. My fighting spirit was purely negative: avoid loss, kill everything. My opponent was on the receiving end of my pent up feelings from the previous round. I’m not proud of my win, even though it was challenging with the handicap.
The National Go Center’s Summer Sizzler proved an apt name because, shortly before the tournament began, the A/C died. The few fans set up throughout the facility did little to curb the heat, and at one point it was 84 degrees inside the building. With no curtains anywhere the sun beat down on some players’ backs (including my own) placing them quite literally in the hot seat. Yet despite the challenging climate, none of the players I observed seemed at all discouraged.
One of the best aspects of the day was meeting new players. There were nearly 50 people in attendance so I had no trouble making some new acquaintances – one from as far away as Detroit! Our conversations centered around the game – how long we’d been playing, our rank, and what we enjoyed most about this most profound of games.
Watching the dan-level games was another privilege. It was like seeing another world. I realized just how great the chasm is between my own abilities and those of my peers – this was both humbling and inspiring. It thrilled me to think that with the proper training I could compete at that level. One friend in particular impressed me with his demeanor in the face of defeat. He went 0-4 for the day, which must have been difficult indeed to bear. Yet he did not show it; in fact, he expressed gratitude for his opponent’s skill and their challenging games. That is the kind of behavior I wish to emulate in my own play.
The day was incredible and I’m certainly looking forward to future events at the National Go Center. Onegaishimasu!
P.S. Be sure to check out this Flickr album of photos from the tournament. Photos by Jeffrey Fitzgerald (@fibonaccistu). Thank you for making them available!