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Jigo

I don't often get a jigo. I was pleased to draw this 4-handicap game on DGS as my opponent (pablopicollo) is a fair bit stronger. However, I missed the winning move. I also thought I had won, but miscounted.

Some interesting lessons from this game. I definitely feel that I'm happiest playing opponents 2-3 stones stronger, who can attack well, defend hard, and punish my mistakes. If I win, it's a sweet win, and if I lose then playing over the game can be very instructive.

However, I am bad at counting, or just lazy - the one implies the other. I didn't count this at all before passing - I felt pretty confident that I was just ahead, and CGoban's score estimator showed me +1, so I relaxed.

Unfortunately, the score is jigo (equal). As if that wasn't bad enough, Pablo pointed out rightly that I had missed the winning move: A6.

It is annoying to miss out on a win by one point in a game that must have lasted several months. I think there are at least two important things I'll take away from this:

  1. I need to count more, count better, and count often. Even if I don't count at any other point in the game, I should count carefully just before passing to make sure I know what result I'm accepting!
  2. I need to put more effort into the endgame. Because I thought I'd already won, I didn't search very hard for the last 1-point moves. Even if I think I've won, I should still fight for every point.

Motivation and slumps

I've noticed that I go through definite phases of great enthusiasm for Go, marked by intensive study and lots of play, and then regularly pass into a slump where I have no interest in the game at all. I'm not sure why this is, but I can't be the only one to experience it.

Most recently I was hit by a severe flu which made any sustained brain activity impossible for a couple of weeks, and after that I found my enthusiasm was sadly lacking. The slump lasted for a couple of months, and I have only recently started to enjoy playing again and thinking about Go.

It makes it hard to set targets for improvement - having reached KGS 15k, I set a new goal of 12k by 1st July, but didn't play a single game! Amusingly, I'm now 10k, but purely due to rank inflation. This presents a problem as any game I play is bound to drag my rank down to a more realistic level - and who wants that?

Playing correspondence games on DGS helps, as even in a slump you need to make a move every few days (Fischer time is much more suitable for me as you can gain back time lost during a long slump). I tend to feel a strong resistance to playing, but an even stronger resistance to losing on time usually wins out! The moves I make are poor, not well-thought-out, and I just don't have a good fighting spirit at all.

I think watching videos such as CountSheep's wonderful game commentaries are a good way to help break a slump. It doesn't need the same mental effort as actually playing, yet stimulates the Go synapses. I'm off to watch some now...

The day I discovered Go

I think it was in the autumn of 2008, though it might have been earlier. I was working in a web company which had a very nice office with a coffee table area and some sofas. One day when I was looking through some cupboards and found a chess set. I thought it might be fun to have some games of chess in the office and put the set out.

We did play a few games of chess, but it wasn't long before someone suggested bringing in a Go set. I had heard of the game but had no idea how to play, so I asked him to show me the basics. I thought it was very interesting: different to chess, but deep and fascinating. I stared at the little plastic stones so much they would float before my eyes as I was going to sleep.

I downloaded GnuGO to get a bit of practice, and was soon looking for online opponents. Dragon Go Server was great for this as I didn't need hours of uninterrupted time to play; I could just make as many moves in a day as I had time for. Also, I had a long-running over-the-board game going with my desk mate in the office. Each of us would probably make two or three moves a day, and I would copy the moves into an SGF file so that we could reconstruct the board if necessary if it was upset by the cleaner (which happened a couple of times). Sometimes there were long lulls where neither of us would play for a while. Over two years we probably only played 6 or 7 games!

I did not improve very fast at first. Playing only correspondence-style games is not a great way to get stronger as it is often difficult to remember what happened in the earlier stages of the game, and what was going through your mind when you made certain moves. However, it is very useful for keeping the Go muscles exercised daily, as I mentioned in the post on motivation.

I think my first real attempt to improve and do some serious study came about a year after I first started playing. I got the SmartGo Pro app for the iPhone and used it to do lots of tsumego problems, and also the Tetsuki app to watch live games online.

The books I found most helpful were Charles Matthews' invaluable Teach Yourself Go and Life and Death by James Davies.

Probably the biggest asset to me as a beginner was Sensei's Library, an amazing Wikipedia of Go which explains all sorts of technical terms and allowed me to look up certain openings or corner patterns in my games and understand why some moves are better in certain situations.

I also watched all of the excellent 123Go videos on YouTube by Catalin Taranu, which while many of them were (and still are) over my head in terms of the level of play, they were nonetheless really helpful for understanding how strong players think - and what they think about.

So how did you discover Go, and what got you interested in the game? Let me know in the comments.

Fighting spirit

Go is a subtle game, but it is also a fighting game. "Fighting spirit" (kiai in Japanese) is key. This doesn't simply mean naked aggression, which usually leads to downfall. It is about mental toughness, the will to win, and refusing to play passively or to capitulate to a stronger player.

I was thinking about fighting spirit during a game the other day. I was 20-30 points ahead and there was no realistic way for my opponent to close the gap. I expected him to resign, but instead he continued to play: invading, threatening, forcing everywhere he could.

Even though none of the invasions really worked with best play, I was forced to read very carefully. The smallest mistake could have cost me many points, or even the game. He was playing fast, with no need to think too much or read deeply - he had nothing to lose. I had everything to lose and at each move had to take my time and make sure that I was making the correct reply to his threats.

Thankfully, I made no serious mistakes, and he ended up losing the game by almost a hundred points instead of 10 or 20. But what a fighter! If I was distracted or in time trouble, his tactics could definitely have paid off. There is a saying in chess that the hardest game to win is a won game. Once you feel well ahead, there is a strong tendency to relax and stop trying so hard. This can be fatal in Go as well as chess. A position that seems very solid can have small but important flaws, and pressure on these flaws combined with mistakes in reading can swing the game.

It made me realise that my own fighting spirit could be a lot better. Usually, if I'm behind in a game with little chance of catching up, I either play straightforward moves until the game is over, or resign out of politeness. This is not good fighting spirit. It does not matter how many points you lose by. A close loss is just as much of a loss as a deficit of 100 points.

I wouldn't quite say "never resign" - it is irritating to a much stronger opponent if they have to play out an obviously won game - but anyone who enjoys Go enjoys fighting, and if you play hard and aggressively, searching out the smallest weaknesses in the position and exploiting them, using the clock to your advantage, you may still lose, but you should impress your opponent with your fighting spirit!

"Fall down seven times, get up eight."

-- Japanese proverb

A close game against Frank Janssen 6d

Frank Janssen is a well-known strong amateur and Go educator, 4 times Dutch national champion, and he plays many 9x9 teaching games on DGS with players of all strengths. I was pleased with this 3-handicap game in which I thought I didn't entirely disgrace myself. I lost by 1.5 points.

I think I lost it quite early on, allowing cuts at C5 and F5 - but I feel like I showed good fighting spirit in working for every point.