Summer Sizzler Tournament


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.

Me in the midst of a delicate struggle. Photo credit Jeffrey Fitzgerald (@fibonaccistu).

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.

Dan-level players duke it out on the goban! Photo credit Jeffrey Fitzgerald (@fibonaccistu).

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.

Overall Impressions

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 CenterOnegaishimasu!

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!

Photo credit Jeffrey Fitzgerald (@fibonaccistu).


Brief Update

A pretty sweet painting!

Let’s start with the obvious: This blog has been dormant for nearly three months. I’m not proud of that fact, indeed it’s quite embarrassing. But there’s a few good reasons for my absence that I hope to address going forward.

1. Job

This is the most recent development. A few weeks ago I learned my job was being eliminated, effective the end of April. Since then I’ve been pounding the pavement, so to speak, applying for jobs and networking. Fortunately there are a few good prospects, and I think everything should be settled within the next week or two. Fingers crossed!

For those who’ve never lost their job, I hope you never have the experience. It’s stunning, demoralizing, and panic-inducing all wrapped up in a nice, neat package. This is especially true when one has a family to support, as I do, and doubly so when there’s a little one on the way, as I do.

It’s cliche to say that moments like this focus one on what’s important, but that’s been my experience. By analogy, it’s like a critical middle-game fight when reading every move becomes absolutely essential to determining life and death. Every stone matters, so there’s no room for error or waste. So besides the job hunt, I’ve cut out nearly all extraneous media and spent my free time with family or a few friends. Spending has been minimized as much as possible. Like a warship preparing for a fight, the hatches are battened down and the decks are cleared for action. I’m straining to read as far as possible and anticipate possible moves.

2. Basement

Before learning about my impending job loss, I was hard at work refinishing our basement, which is equivalent to 1/4 of our house’s square footage. The project has absorbed considerable time and resources, and I’m really excited to see it through to conclusion. It feels a bit like the montage from The Karate Kid where Daniel LaRusso is doing all of his chores – wax on wax off! – that have seemingly nothing to do with learning martial arts, yet they provide a kind of ‘silent’ training all on their own.

I’ve learned to use a framing nail gun and compound miter saw. I’ve learned to replace windows and frame walls. I’ve learned how to insulate and caulk. Nothing about this has anything to do with go, yet my game has only become stronger since taking this diversion.

Partially I think it’s allowed my brain time to rest and process everything I’ve learned. Previously I was courting burnout with the amount of studying I was trying to accomplish. Nothing seemed to stick, and it was getting rather frustrating.

Working with my hands and seeing the results right away has taught me about the importance of purposeful action. If I cut a 2×4 incorrectly the ill fit is readily apparent, and I have nothing to blame but my own carelessness. So measure twice, cut once. Check and recheck. In go this means reading and rereading a situation, not making excuses for yourself or taking shortcuts.

Lord this is embarrassing to admit but I’ve used josekipedia more than once while playing online. It’s like that scene from volume 2 of Hikaru no Go where Tetsuo blasts his tournament teammate for using a joseki book during their round. “It’s not against the rules,” protests the teammate. “No, but it makes you a weak player!” comes the rejoinder.

Purposeful action requires that we work within the constraints of our own experience. The less we know, the more we have to learn. There are no shortcuts to perfection, only hard work. I can’t make excuses for myself in the basement so why do I allow myself to do it on the goban? It’s not consistent and it’s not helping me, so I’ve got to cut it out. Fortunately the lesson is clear and all I have to do is apply it.

3. Practice

I mentioned the basement and the job hunt because these have absorbed the bulk of my attention. My practice has suffered, but it’s also evolved. No longer to I put book knowledge first; instead I’ve prioritized playing games.

The only way to get stronger at go is to play more games.

Time and ego are major constraints when it comes to putting this into effect. There are only 24 hours in the day and they fly by fast. So they must be used efficiently. I try to think of pros using their time in game to maximize their gain. It’s something I struggle with – slow moves, purposeless moves. Like vegetating in front of the internet or television, sitting and doing something that’s not important or edifying isn’t going to get me closer to my goal. If I want to get stronger at go, I actually have to play the game.

Ego is also a constraint, because there’s an undeniable urge to win. It feels good to win, and bad to lose. Putting ego aside is impossible, but channeling it into a productive capacity seems more manageable to me. Losing still hurts but I’m moving past the point when it felt like some kind of personal affront. Instead I’m able to say, “Wow that was a silly move. Or, that was a mistake.” Examining myself like this acknowledges the ego without giving it pride of place. In time I hope to improve my self-control so that I can develop the sort of unflappable demeanor that all pros possess.


Project Dan failed but I’ve learned a lot about myself and the game because of that effort. Recent events have taught me the importance of purposeful action, eliminating waste, and working diligently. Strength is achieved only gradually; it’s not something that can be bought or gained in a single run. So where does that leave me?

In addition to finding a job, I look forward to spending time with friends and family, to continuing purposeful action in prayer and go, and to extending this action to other important areas like renewing an exercise routine and practicing frugality. Focusing on action instead of thinking about action is one of the keys to success, I think.

I’m really excited for the opening of the National Go Center next week and I hope to attend the inaugural ceremonies.

Let’s Play Baduk! has not yet begun to fight!

Friday Roundup: 9×9, Weiqi101, Misaeng and Life

I’m feeling pretty scattered today, so I’d like to share the following with you in no particular order:

1. Play more 9×9 games

I almost always have a book of tsumego handy while commuting. Right now it’s 1001 Life & Death Problems. I prefer paperbacks because I have to put in the mental effort of reading out a solution before I can check it. With digital options (especially mobile apps) I’m tempted to bash my way to a solution which defeats the purpose of reading in the first place.

In addition to tsumego I’ve started playing more 9×9 games on my mobile. My current app of choice is SmartGo but I’ve got friends advocating for GoQuest, so I might make take the plunge at some point. The big plus I see with GoQuest is the ability to play against other humans.

I’ve heard 9×9 go described as a “knife fight in telephone booth.” Well that’s pretty funny, and dangerous! I think it’s also an apt description of 9×9 games. The small board is great for quick, fierce games and rapid iteration. If something doesn’t work one game it’s easy to try a different route in the next one. What I like best is that 9×9 teaches basics in a really engaging way. I’ve learned more about cross-cuts, connection, liberty counting, and playing aggressively (but not too aggressively) with 9×9 than I have from any other source. The practice I get from small games like this pays off when I hit the books. Tsumego become easier and I can sense this improvement when the solution to a problem comes just a little more quickly than perhaps it had the day before.

While 19×19 games are the gold standard of baduk — really the only way to get stronger at the game — playing 9×9 is a way of “greasing the groove.” “Strength is a skill,” says kettlebell master Pavel Tsatsouline, and like any skill it must be practiced. So use 9×9 to practice in moments when a full-size game is either impractical or inappropriate, like a short train/bus ride, waiting in line, on your lunch break, or sitting in a cafe. Don’t neglect 19×19 games, instead build your strength for the main event by practicing in short intervals throughout the work week.

2. Weiqi101

Notwithstanding the issues I raised about digital tsumego above, I’d like to share a site that I recently learned about. It’s Chinese and called Weiqi101. Although I haven’t had much time to explore it (and I don’t read Chinese!) it looks like an impressive collection of tsumego and game records. I ignored Google Translate and did a couple dan-level life & death problems (successfully!). You might click the wrong button at first but it’s not like you’re resigning or anything! It looks like a great resource to bookmark.

3. Misaeng (aka. “Incomplete Life” or 미생 – 아직 살아 있지 못한 자)

One day on YouTube I searched for “baduk video” and up came a short clip from this Korean drama. It shows the protagonist, Jang Geu-rae(Yim Si-wan), learning master games of baduk. It turns out that the series is one of South Korea’s top television programs and it’s available on Hulu as “Incomplete Life.” I’ve only finished the first two episodes but it really draws you in. I’m a lover of Hikaru no Go but I can relate more to Misaeng than HNG. It’s really a terrific show and I recommend you check it out on Hulu.

4. Life, the Universe, and Everything

My wife’s pregnant with our second child! Due late July. We’re thrilled to see our family grow (I can’t wait to introduce my kids to baduk!). Things’ll be busy for sure. We’re also doing house improvements and I have a full-time job to boot, so yay life! But I’m finding time to play baduk as well.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed certain things changing. At one point it was great to have a lot of friends, but as life progresses I’m fine with fewer. I used to have several hobbies but now I’m mindful of my time and really focus on just one (baduk). It’s great to go out and socialize with friends and colleagues but most nights I’d prefer to be home with my family. It used to be harder saying “no” to myself, but I notice it gets easier as I practice it.

I’m playing several serious games per week so far this year, and that’s a great start. I know I’ll get stronger. Project Dan (which I’ll write about soon) was ambitious and although I’ll fail to meet my stated objective of reaching 1 dan by March, I’m already better for the experience. I’m stronger as a player, working on fundamentals and honing my play, and I know myself better as a person. I think the foundation I’ve laid since last year with respect to baduk is sound, and a great starting point for the New Year!

I’ll leave you with the following album which I recently discovered on YouTube and which has become something of a soundtrack as of late.