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.

“This Atari Is Complete Nonsense!”

GoKibitz homepage.
GoKibitz homepage.

Pardon the pun, but lately GoKibitz has been my go to resource for game reviews. Every time I post a game I get insightful feedback from the community, which is (good to say) very active. Rarely do I have to wait more than an hour or two for my games to receive commentary.

The structure of GoKibitz makes it fun and easy to use. After creating a (free!) account, users have the option of either uploading their SGF files directly to GoKibitz or importing it via URL. The latter is especially useful for games played on OGS. That’s it. The rest is all conversation about the game.

I find the format of these conversations particularly effective because you’re looking at the board during the moment in question. Time and again I remember sending my SGFs to other reviewers and getting comments like “On move 101 Black should have haned.” OK, now I have to scroll to move 101. GoKibitz enables you to jump to exactly the right spot, which is great if you just want to read what others have said about your game.

There is a continuum of reviewers. As a 9k I get feedback from both kyu- and dan-level players. It’s interesting to see how the conversation differs based on the reviewer’s rank. Each player brings their own experience and style to the table, which I really enjoy because my own understanding of the game is constantly evolving. Every game I’ve posted so far has received comments from a range of experience levels, and that’s really great for the community because there is something for players at every level.

The game below is one that I played just yesterday and it contains the best comment I’ve yet received on GoKibitz. User @tuerda, a 1d, looked at Black’s move 109 and writes: “This atari is complete nonsense!” As I looked at the move I realized that he’s completely right. I wasn’t thinking and played a terrible move. It’s always important to recognize areas of improvement, and one area for me to improve in is definitely playing correct moves. For some @tuerda’s feedback might have seemed a bit harsh but for me the honest feedback was most appreciated. It even made my wife (who really isn’t interested in baduk) laugh out loud. “Oh no!” she said, “I’m laughing at go things.” That’s the first step! I’ll get her hooked on the game yet.