Game 4 – Mr. H—

I started playing Go in high school. Like many, I was influenced by the manga Hikaru no Go, and the game became my part-time escape from the rigors of school and the mad dash to get into the “best” university. At the time, Anchorage had a fairly active Go club that met at a local bookstore once a week. There I met Mr. H—, who guided me through the basic principles of the game patiently and kindly. I cannot understate his influence on my life. Whenever I’m home in Alaska, he has always been there, willing to play a game and teach me something. He represents the kind of personal and intellectual strength I would like to see in myself. Every game with Mr. H— is very special to me, as I know there is something valuable to be learned, and I know he cares about my progress and success on and off the board.

When the bookstore could no longer host the club, we started going to Mr. H—’s house to play. Mr. H— also repairs electronics, and his house is filled with an array of devices, parts, and tools I don’t recognize. He is also an exceptional classical guitarist, and has many guitars and their cases on display—and I haven’t even mentioned his Go board collection. Imagine playing Go in such a powerful space! To honor Mr. H—, I wrote a poem some time ago:

Mr. H—’s Go Salon

Room of connections,
Circuits, fine instruments,
Wooden spaceships
Made with many seasons. 
Two eyes make life:
The depthwish 
Guiding hands above
The earthly plane
In starry talk 
Of new realms,
At the threshold
Of an open door.
Design, fortify, negotiate
How eternity will cease,
Take its measure
And begin again.

Below is a recent game I played with Mr. H—. According to AI we both made some pretty serious mistakes, but I learned many lessons from this game. Two seem to jump out: first, a game can be decided by very small misunderstandings. I am thinking of Mr. H—’s separation of my top left group from my center stones. I thought I saw a sequence that would keep them connected, but clearly I did not understand the situation properly, and played too hubristically. According to AI, my biggest mistakes were Black 141-159, around the time I got separated (and shortly after that resigned). The other lesson is one that Lukas has also shared with me: just because you can read and play a sequence, that doesn’t mean that it’s good. I’m thinking about my cut at J13, which in itself wasn’t a bad idea but I mishandled the follow-up. Mr. H— had many great suggestions during the review. You can see the AI-analysis here.

Stick around for my next two posts, which will include interviews with some interesting Go players.

Game 3 – Falling Early and Often

It is snowy here in Alaska, so I have been able to get out and cross-country ski a few times since returning from Belgium. I love to glide peacefully along on the flats, but I have yet to develop technique strong enough to master steep, panic-inducing downhills. One of my skiing companions gave me the following advice: fall early and often.

My Go is a lot like my skiing. I can do it, and sometimes make it down medium-sized hills, but I’m not quite ready for the racetracks of dan-level competition. So for this entry, I decided to interpret the game through the lens of my friend’s advice, as Go is basically one steep hill, whether you are climbing up or falling down it.

Because I am in Alaska, the weekend game schedule for Yunguseng Group D ended up being quite early: 4:00 am! I could have rescheduled, but I learn much more from the reviews when they are immediately after the game. Anyways, I felt fresh and ready for competition; however, my 10-week-old cat, Ponnuki, always wants to play at this time of day. A strategically placed roll of toilet paper distracted him.

I split my previous two games with my opponent, “hdc,” so I knew that our game this time could go either way. The game was a gradual, peaceful climb to the top of a hill, where we both realized that whoever could get to the bottom first would win. I fell early and often as fast as I could, distracting my more graceful opponent, who missed an opportunity to finish the game.

In the process I discovered that my desire to win overpowered my sense of danger, which worked this time but probably won’t on future occasions. I’m thinking specifically of my jumps out into the center, which hdc could have disconnected with a double-wedge after my misguided peep at F11 (Black 115). I had a strong feeling that such a disconnection was possible, but I ignored it because I knew if I didn’t reduce white with the knight’s move at G6 (Black 125), I would lose. I should have taken time to regroup and play something like H13 and K11, then resume my “descent” into white’s area, even if it meant losing. Because I won, this is a difficult lesson to accept, but my next opponent might find such a weakness in my position.

As usual, In-seong had many great suggestions. My atari at B17 was bad, as it gives white the option of easy life should Black disconnect the group somehow. Black 71 should have cut the two stones on the other side to make the O16 group heavy. Trying to cut White with Black 95 was a bad idea. As In-seong explained, my pushes up to that point were good but I needed to “return home” with a peep at M11 and cut at M13, which I played but only after I lost the two stones on the right. Lastly: I need to review the double approach move I played on the bottom left.

Onward to the next hill!


Game 2 – Treasure Hunt

Go is treasure.
This truth like a mine
Quarried for the rarest finds:
Gems emerging from the sand,
Ornaments adorned with them by hand–
But none so great as the mysterious stones
Of treasures still unknown.

If you’ve been reading this journal so far, you know that one of my goals is to have more intention behind my play. So, for my second game in Yunguseng’s 29th season, I focused on what I enjoy most about playing Go: discovering treasure.

Treasure might be a tesuji, an elegant shape, or the sparkle of gaining sente. But it might also be a new insight from a mistake. No matter the form, I was determined to find a piece of treasure.

I felt confident that I would. I have played my opponent, “nbouscal,” several times in the league. He is a tough opponent for me, and this game was no exception.

Unfortunately I got lost in my search, losing on time (though the game was decided much earlier), and could not find the treasure I wanted – in the game, at least.

In the Yunguseng league, every game gets reviewed by one of several amazing teachers, this one by In-seong Hwang. I made many mistakes, of course, particularly with the lower right two-space high enclosure, which I have studied before. In-seong suggested reviewing his lecture on that topic. In other words: sometimes, treasure is something you already have and need to dust off.

In-seong had many other great suggestions. The tiger’s mouth at S15 was bad, and instead of D12, I should have moved out faster with E12. Also, saving the G12 stones was quite important. Once White separated Black at O15, the game was over.

Thanks for reading. May there be a piece of treasure in your future.

Game 1 – Plans and Intentions

In my previous lesson with Lukas, I discovered that I don’t always have clear intentions behind my moves. I often play on spots that look interesting to me but not in the context of a larger plan (and certainly not with thorough, accurate reading). According to Lukas, a bad plan is much better than no plan at all. It also occurred to me that I rarely have a plan before I start playing. And if I have no plan, then growth will never happen.

So, for the inaugural game played for this journal, I made a plan. In casual online games I often play lazy, instinctual moves – just clicking around without truly thinking – so I decided to use as much of my available game time as comfortably possible, and to always consider each move as part of a bigger plan, even if that plan turned out to be a bad one.

Results were mixed. Predictably, focusing on trying to change my habits disrupted the thought patterns that keep me at a 3 kyu level but stifle further progress. As a result, I made many unusually catastrophic errors that should have ended the game. On the other hand, I believe I had a solid, articulable intention and plan behind every move, which is what I wanted to achieve.

The game was played on IGS-Pandanet. I was white, and my opponent, “norman,” was black. White won by +22.5 points.


I decided to review the game with AI-Sensei, though I believe at my level it is difficult, if not impossible, to fully understand the intentions behind AI moves. Nevertheless, I was able to gather some useful information about my play. Although I had an intention behind each move, I discovered that in many cases I was guided by overambitious thinking. I believed that far more was possible than what was really on the board in front of me. I am beginning to detect a layer in my psychology that aims far too high when more reasonable, steady progress should be the plan. Moreover, this overambitious thinking seems more like a defense mechanism than an authentic desire for achievement. In other words, if I made a mistake, I overcompensated and tried to cover it up with an even bigger, grander, but ultimately delusional plan.

I think this can be seen most clearly in how I handled my center group after black’s attack. There were many mistakes before this, of course, but the goal of this journal isn’t to point out every mistake and explain the better position. Rather, I want to explore the thought patterns governing my play. In the diagram below, White 88 is perfect evidence that I was desperate to preserve the extremely illusory possibility of killing black’s large center group – or if not kill, get some profit. Even though it was not a significant mistake according to AI, all I could think about in this moment was preventing the capture, thus preserving my delusion. It was better to stabilize my group in another way, moving into black’s framework on the left – or even to play elsewhere (such as C8 or J17)!

Of course I should have resigned after White 110 ensured the death of my center group. However, based on my opponent’s play early on, I thought an opportunity might come. Eventually my opponent also made some catastrophic errors, so I was able to reverse the game and win. I’m not really interested in the result, because I think I succeeded in changing my habits ever so slightly. I would have felt successful even if I had lost.

That’s all for now. In the next post, I will be discussing my second game of the season in Yunguseng, to be played on Thursday. I hope there will be more intention behind my moves, and that my plans are a little more reasonable.

Hello World

Hey there, River here. The purpose of this journal is to reflect on my Go journey with the hope that doing so leads to personal growth beyond my ranking (which should take care of itself). I also hope that readers of this journal will learn with me regardless of their level and, indeed, of whether or not they play Go. I believe that studying Go is studying life, and one need not play the game to understand what I write, though I think that learning the basics would enhance one’s experience of this journal.

I begin with one of my recent games on IGS-Pandanet, which I reviewed with one of my teachers, Lukas Podpera. In fact, my decision to create this journal is a direct result of reviewing this particular game. More accurately, I realized while finding recent games to review with Lukas that I wasn’t satisfied with any of them – and then not even with the games I won!

I was stunned. How could I have played dozens of online games in recent months but feel no sense of satisfaction in them? Until recently Go has brought me great joy, but my ranking plateau has confronted me with the reality that the road forward is much more difficult than what came before. Instead of progressing, I have found myself invested less in the learning process and more in the result, creating a situation where I am simply passing the time under the shadow of old habits.

So, how to progress? More importantly, how to regain joy? I noticed that I feel happiest playing Go during teaching games with Lukas and in In-seong Hwang’s Yunguseng Dojang, both of which offer serious, respectful, and competitive learning environments. This feeling has been absent for me in casual online play. So I have now resolved to create a feeling of intensity for every game I play, no matter the occasion. The first step was to create this journal, where I will be sharing short reflections on my games alongside events outside the board in the hopes of making connections between Go and everyday life. Should I be lucky enough to develop a modest readership, I hope I can deepen their love and understanding not only of this game, but also of life.

So, let’s look at the game. My nickname is “tennisbabe,” I played black. My opponent, haemita614, won by +5.5 points.


My play in this game is like a young man who has never left his tiny village, and is just discovering that there are many obligations to the outside world. He is naive and obstinate, shuffling down the old street telling everyone how great he looks in his new hat while, somehow, he can barely keep track of his five chickens. When they get eaten by a fox, he blames an old woman. And if Go is a constant negotiation between the local and the global, this man looks over the horizon toward greener pastures of hard work only infrequently, and still thinks his every journey to the town square is a pilgrimage. He dreams up palaces instead of fixing the holes in his roof. He tries and fails to sell encyclopedias missing an entire letter of the alphabet.

Games of Go usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is undesirable in Go for a game to be decided before, say, the 20th move, long before the more exciting middle stage has begun. But the young man of this game simply had too many beginnings, over and over, so that the whole game was just a beginning. He experienced one hasty, angry moment of intention – but much too late, long after the last bus left town. When he died, he was still thinking of his five chickens – maybe five and a half – and the old woman that he believed had eaten them.

I included some memorable suggestions from Lukas in the .sgf file, though I should say his reviews are much more thorough than is indicated by my comments.

Thanks for reading. Until next time.