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.

Emotional Play

Tonight I logged into KGS hoping for some serious games. Instead I went mad and played a series of blitz games, losing all except one. So much for that plan.

I’m not a crazy aggressive player – at least I didn’t think I was until tonight – but I couldn’t seem to keep from pushing too hard, attacking, and then getting cut to pieces. I can count liberties and read a few moves ahead, but tonight I watched myself throw good stones in after bad. It was insane, but then apparently so was I.

It never ceases to amaze me how go reveals our inner selves. In chat a friend advised me to calm down, to focus. He saw what I was feeling.

The conversation was just what I needed. His advice: watch some dan level games to calm down. Not only will you get time to think, you’ll also avoid going on a tear like the one I had just finished.

Truth is, I jumped onto KGS to fight. I wanted to work out my raw feelings on the goban, and I got what I came for: a brawl. Except that I got my ass handed to me 😉 KGS isn’t Fight Club. Or is it?

It’s no revelation. There are two opponents in every game: myself and the person sitting across from me. If I’m not in control of my emotions then I’m giving my opponent a pretty big handicap: three, six, or even nine stones. Put differently, how much could I improve if I learned to govern myself?

Echoes and Resolutions

At first light lay proud foundations
Sense the greatness that before you unfolds
Seek no more for hollow answers
Answers that lay within you all along —VNV Nation, “Arclight”

As a preschooler I was fascinated by the Titanic, and I wanted more than anything for others to share my interest.

I’m fairly certain it was all I talked about to my (few) friends, and I also struggled to convey this interest in art. I built the ship out of blocks (I still remember how to do this!), illustrated and wrote my first book, and shared my interest at show and tell. For the better part of two years the ship and its journey were my sole interest. I absorbed everything I could about the subject before moving on to other things.

I struggled to recreate illustrations of the Titanic found in books. My drawings never lived up to published matter or, indeed, my own mind’s eye. How could they? I was young and unpracticed. It got to the point where my mom would help me draw the ship and I would copy her. Time and again I’d practice and get better. Looking back, in technical terms, my drawings were unimpressive – it was child’s art – but I remember the fervent interest that animated the work and I’m still astonished by what was achieved.

Today I still possess that strength of feeling but it is no longer directed at the Titanic. Instead, over the years, it’s been directed a multitude of subjects: military history, Star Wars, language studies, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Halo, political history, and, now, baduk. I still don’t know what drew me to all of these interests, but they comprise a good deal of my biography. These aren’t just encyclopedia entries but a real, living part of how I understand myself and the world around me. Each is connected with people, times, places, and events. In each I find an echo of my past, and an inkling of the way forward.

Free Your Hand

Last night I saw Rogue One and it was worth the wait. Parts of it reminded me of the games I’d play with friends and family using Micro Machine Action Fleet toys, other parts evoked the characters we’d assume playing Rebel versus Imperial. This morning I cannot stop thinking about the exhilarating experience of that film and all of the things it did right, not just in terms of film making but also fandom. I wanted to sketch space battles as I did when I was a child and while doing a bit of research came across something that evoked baduk to me.

On a page appropriately entitled “I Want to Draw: Simple Exercises for Complete Beginners” I found the following advice:

Technical drawing (straight lines, perfect circles) requires concentration. It’s about drawing things exactly as they are. There’s no space for creativity or personal style, since style comes from diversity. Is it really what you want to do? Draw the same things exactly the same way all the time?

It goes on to list some tips including “divide long lines into short ones”, “Keep it fast!”, “Touch the paper very lightly, don’t press your pencil hard”, “draw lightly – this way your mistakes won’t be visible”, “create your own style”, “sketch a lot!”, “measure the proportions”, and, finally, “Free your hand.” I was reading about drawing but thinking instead about how all of this applies to baduk!

Over the past year I’ve had a growing awareness of some ineffable obstacle in my baduk game. Study seemed fruitless. Reviews only marginally helpful. Practice difficult. The more I strove to size up the wall the more I sensed that it wasn’t anything external to my game, that is, something I could overcome by technical means.

Then the memory hit me: The Titanic illustrations. I remember my frustration at being unable to recreate exactly artwork which grabbed my total attention. But in recalling this frustration I had forgotten the other aspect of my labor: The drawings that I CREATED using my own mind and hand; the book I had illustrated and written. In being wrapped up with perfection I forgot my own learning and how through this I had expressed myself and created something of my own. I had also forgotten the relationships and memories the experience of these subjects had created. Whether it was drawing with my mom, building blocks with my preschool classmates, or playing with my brothers and relatives.

I knew my subject but I didn’t know myself and because of this I couldn’t express myself.

Sun Tzu writes, “if you know yourself and know the enemy you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” In “Arclight” the final track of Empires by VNV Nation, the lyrics “Seek no more for hollow answers / Answers that lay within you all along” are heard. The resulting mental deluge had me feeling burdened and free in the same instant. On the one hand I have Arclight saying “Forget your fear, and want no more” and on the other I have the realization that I’ve built something of my own shackles. Like Marley I’ve forged my own chains. Like Scrooge I still have recourse to cast them off.

K-Baduk is on the right track.

Forget Your Fear

As I write this it is late in December 2016, and a new year is almost upon us. The new year is traditionally a time for resolutions “What will I do better?” In 2016 I’ve learned the value of dead work, of just showing up. Virtue and success are not things we can strive after, they are the result of a constant labor of love. Systems will not save us, nor will they necessarily elevate the best among us. Aleppo burns and Donald Trump will be president of the United States of America. Yet another Transformers movie is being released, yet another entry in the mindless Fast and Furious series. Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water and hundreds still drown trying to find a better life. The president of the Philippines boasts of vigilante murders and China dreams of a digital dictatorship. Perhaps you are tempted to despair, but there is cause for hope.

In this Advent season we recall in the infancy narrative of St. John words that serve as the basis for my hope.

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be
through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.