Poems of Life and Death – 1

This month I started a new job. I have less time for Go, but I have been inspired by how my boss, who happens to be a Go player, makes great use of his time.

I have decided to emulate his efficiency and find new nooks and crannies in the week to nurture my love of Go. That translates to earlier mornings, during which I’ve blocked out an hour of time to create a new series I am calling “Poems of Life and Death.” The goal is simple: use the hour to solve a few life and death problems and write a poem. My hope is that this activity will bring focus and intention to the rest of my day while exercising both the logical and aesthetic thinking required to play Go.

I’ll start by working through the intermediate level of Cho Chikun’s Encyclopedia of Life and Death, which is available for free online. I’m fond of these problems because they do not have solutions and require extreme thoroughness to determine their status.

The poems may or may not be related to the problems. The time constraints, I hope, will allow me to be more generative.

And now: today’s problems and a poem. I hope you enjoy.


The coffee brews and hisses.
The cat sleuths around the room.
All my undone lists
Call old foes through my phone.
There was warning of an avalanche,
But nothing seems amiss—
The ravens still regard us fools
And pick the rainy streets.

Game 8 – Ponnuki

Recent events have prevented me from writing in this journal, but I’m happy to finally return.

About a month ago, I decided to adopt a cat. I drove 90 miles across the unforgiving winter landscape of southcentral Alaska to bring home the being I have named Ponnuki, who has brought to my life all the livingness of Go.

Ponnuki is energetic, powerful, and sharp: a vital companion, all in a lethally efficient and aesthetically pleasing shape.

To honor my cat, I thought I’d consider on the role of ponnuki in a recent lesson with Lukas, commented below by me with some of Lukas’ suggestions and observations. I played white, and lost by resignation.

Some exciting interviews are coming up soon. Stay tuned.

Game 7 – Meeting the Czech Go Baron

I met Lukas Podpera, the Czech Go Baron, at the Västerås Go Tournament in Sweden, where he was the top-ranked player. As I was gathering a few wins and losses against opponents around my level, Lukas was busy smashing everyone away from the top board, which was kept in a separate room apart from the main playing areas. Because of this I did not see Lukas very often, so he seemed especially mysterious and powerful. At the end of the three-day tournament, I noticed him helping one of his opponents create a record of their game, so I decided that he could not be the Go monster I had been imagining sitting behind the top board. I worked up the courage to introduce myself and, before I even knew what I was doing, asked if he would be willing to teach me.

It turned out to be a good plan. Relative to Lukas, I am a beginner, and each lesson feels like a personalized masterclass. The fluidity and creativity of his play is astounding, and so is the way he reviews each game, anticipating all of my questions and problem areas with kindness and humility.

Below is our most recent game, commented by me with a few of Lukas’ suggestions, followed by an interview with him. In the game, I felt I did well given the difference in strength, but made a terrible blunder at the end because my brain was exhausted trying to keep up with Lukas.

And now, the interview.

River: How would you describe your teaching philosophy?

Lukas: I try to help my students understand that Go is not a fight, but rather a game about building. So, they should always prefer to build territory, and be aggressive only if necessary. Also, I teach my students that they should always understand what they are doing and, when they play moves, that they always have some plan behind them. My important task is also to prevent students from making errors in basic principles.

R: How would you describe your style of play?

L: I’m a calm player, focusing on having strong shapes and a lot of solid territory. I use brute force only if necessary—for example, to punish an opponent’s mistake. So, when someone is watching my game, one might have the feeling that I’m doing nothing. Mostly, I’m focusing on doing things right by myself and waiting for my opponent’s mistake. This strategy needs a lot of patience and often leads to close games. I had to study a lot of endgame to make it sharp. My half-year stay in China six years ago helped me with that a lot.

R: What was your experience in China like?

L: I spent half a year in Beijing in one of the most famous Chinese Go schools led by Mr. Ge Yuhong. I studied there with five other strong European players and something like a hundred Chinese youth. Training in the Asian professional development context was a really exhausting but unforgettable experience. From Monday to Friday, we studied Go for 12 hours per day. During the weekends we either had some friendship matches with Chinese players or we participated in a tournament. Occasionally we did some sightseeing, such as going to the Great Wall of China.

R: What do you enjoy most about Go?

L: This question I usually answer simply: the endless possibilities and variations for trying to win. Before each game I can always design a strategy about how I will try to get the victory. Thanks to that, I’m sure I will never get bored of playing. Also, Go has helped me to get to know a bit more about myself.           

R: What has Go helped you learn about yourself?

L: I believe that Go shows a lot about my personality, but that’s not the case for everyone. Go helped me learn to be patient and more decisive. Making the right decision in life has been always difficult for me, and I was always doubting myself. That doesn’t happen so often anymore. Go also taught me to tell the entire truth in any kind of situation, and to never lie to myself or anyone else.

R: How has your Go world changed since the rise of AI? What do you think the future holds?

L: At first, I was conservative and felt very suspicious about the new ways of playing that AI created. Eventually, I had to adopt a lot of new methods into my play, and in the end, it proved to be a positive decision. This gave me new opportunities to explore the game even more. Also, I realized that many moves that I would never think about before are now easily playable. However, I’m still careful about studying a lot with AI, because although it’s nice to learn some new moves or sequences, AI will not tell us the meaning. Therefore, I usually adopt a new method in my play only when it is explained to me by an Asian professional. Since I believe that the sure-win strategy will never be discovered, the arrival of AI should be judged positively. On the other hand, there is a negative aspect: I’m worried that, because AI applications are available to anyone in these days, it will kill online tournaments in the near future.

R: What is your most memorable game?

L: Immediately I think of my two most successful results: bronze medals in the European Championships in 2016 and 2019. I would probably pick my quarterfinal game from 2019 against European pro Ali Jabarin, which was one of my best performances ever.


R: Who are your Go heroes and why?

L: I would like to mention two. The first is Vladimir Danek 6-dan, a Czech player who was my teacher when I was a middle-dan player. He was a National Champion like 12 times, has been playing Go since 1970’s and basically built the Czech Go community from nearly zero. Even though he holds a PhD in mathematics and physics, he has spent his life with Go. He even had a big Go-shop of his own.

The second is Lee Changho – a famous Korean player who was world no. 1 15-20 years ago. I admire him for his calm and peaceful style, which was enough to beat the rest of the world. At that time, he had a winning rate similar to what Shin Jinseo has now. I was so lucky to meet Lee Changho three times in person.

R: What was it like organizing the Corona Cup?

L: Originally, I planned the first edition of the Corona Cup (Spring 2020) to be only a Central European event. However, the announcement about the tournament started to spread faster than the COVID-19 virus itself. In the end it became a huge event, which I was not really prepared for. It became a really big responsibility to make it run smoothly. Fortunately, I had prior experience organizing and refereeing tournaments. Anyway, those were a really exhausting 6 weeks for me, but despite that I enjoyed it and I think the participants did as well.

I made a second edition that autumn, but this time I had help from a team of organizers, so not everything was on my shoulders. It went even better than before, and the number of players reached 400. Because the pandemic situation is not getting much better, there is a good chance I will be making a third edition in the next few months.

R: Are there any upcoming Go-related events that you’re particularly excited about?

L: 2021 is a year when the European Pro Qualification will be held again. Of course, we need to wait for the moment when it’s possible to hold live tournaments and to be able to travel. I have already reached the final twice, so I hope that, should I reach a third one, that I will finally be successful. That is my main goal for this year. Otherwise, as usual I’m looking forward to the European Championship and the European Grand Slam. Hopefully, they will be allowed to be held live as well.

Game 6 – Meeting Camille Lévêque

Part of my inspiration to create and write in this journal comes from the work of Camille Lévêque, a 28-year-old Frenchwoman who has played Go since 2018, and has already achieved the rank of European 2-dan. For three years, she has drawn for the Go community behind the alias Stoned on the Goban and teaches at the Grenoble School of Go. I first discovered Camille’s work at the 2019 European Go Congress, where there was a table displaying her art. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Camille at that time, but I continued to see her art appear on Facebook. When I noticed she was also participating in the Yunguseng program, I decided to subscribe to her Patreon and reach out. Camille kindly offered to play a game with me and agreed to participate in a short interview, both of which are included below.

I played Black with a two-stone handicap. The game was challenging and fun for me. I found Camille’s moves solid and calm, and I felt like I was being pushed to produce my best Go. Camille won by a comfortable margin, but according to Camille I played well.

To summarize, I handled my lower left corner group far too casually, and Camille found a great way to attack and kill it. Thanks to the handicap, I didn’t have to resign but I knew that winning was unlikely. Nevertheless, I made the game competitive by focusing on building a big moyo, which Camille reduced well with moves like White 73. Our review of the game was informative, and I learned some new techniques and shapes from Camille’s play (such as the capture with White 49, or the clever move of White 77).

And now, the interview.

River: How would you describe yourself and your role in the Go community?

Camille: I am very “young” in the Go community, as I started playing three years ago, but I entered the community fully very quickly, and I have not stopped playing and meeting new people. I felt so welcome that I absolutely wanted to participate in the game, too. It’s in my character: I don’t like to just be a consumer. Everyone can contribute to a community, I’m sure. This partly explains why today I devote myself almost exclusively to the Go community! I was previously a professor of agricultural technology; today, I am an illustrator and creator of content at 80% for the game of Go. I am currently in charge of the development of the Grenoble School of Go, where I have been teaching since September. I couldn’t have imagined this three years ago, especially teaching Go! I am creative and committed, and I have the great opportunity to be supported by a community, so I hope to participate in the promotion of Go, but especially for female players, who are often invisible.

R: How would you describe your style of play?

C: I have a very instinctive playstyle that is strongly inspired by the AI style, simply because I started playing long after such technology was born. I think instinct is my greatest strength; conversely, the more calculating and deep reading phases are difficult for me.

R: Who are your Go heroes and why?

C: There are a lot of inspiring people in Go, apart from the immense strength of the professional players, of whom I know little about. In France, women players have inspired and motivated me: Astrid Gautier, Dominique Cornuejols… strong women who cement the links between people. My heroes are those who work behind the scenes to make this game accessible to everyone, and there are many of them.

R: What do you enjoy most about playing Go?

C: My favorite thing is the atmosphere of a game surrounded by friends, when every move evokes a laugh or a nod. I like the sharing that games bring in general. When I play, on the other hand, I especially like the beauty of a goban that gradually fills up, with a story in each sequence.

R: How do you mentally prepare for a game?

C: I don’t really prepare myself. In tournament games I am extremely stressed out and always find it difficult to play calmly. Usually, games in public make me uncomfortable, because of the judgment of my game, I guess. When I master my game environment, I especially try to refocus on my feeling, which guides my game a lot. I know ignoring your opponent is important, but one can’t play on the goban without the other player.

R: How do you deal with unexpected setbacks, on or off the board?

C: I have a lot of difficulty recovering a game that has advanced badly for me. I naturally tend to “see” the winning percentage that an AI would give me, and therefore know that the game is badly started. Then, it’s mentally difficult to make a comeback, especially since I don’t like playing harsh moves and prefer to admit that my opponent played better. But overall, the defeats don’t bother me if I feel like I have given my best.

R: How would you describe the relationship between Go and art?

C: I think a lot of great players have done it better than me. I found Go to be beautiful immediately, because it balances simplicity and complexity. Its rules and materials are simple, but its depth is almost infinite. There aren’t many planks of wood and pebbles that can inspire humans so much.

R: Can you tell us about your Inktober series?

C: Inktober is an annual drawing challenge in which there is one new theme per each day of October. I have never managed to complete an Inktober yet, but I do better every year. This year I wanted a graphical consistency between all the illustrations, and to get out of my comfort zone: the sweet and cute characters who play Go. Some themes were extremely difficult, such as “chef.” I am happy with the result, which allowed me to test new techniques, and still inspires me for future illustrations.

R: How does Go relate to other parts of your life?

C: Go infuses almost all of my life today: my meetings, my work, and even my home, because I live with roommates … who are also Go players! Go has made me feel stronger and listened to, and it’s already a good result.

R: Are there any recent or upcoming Go-related events or activities that you’re particularly excited about?

C: Even though I appreciate the connection that digital technology allows us, the events that I look forward to more than anything are the return to real life, for example the next European Go Congress. But we’ll have to wait some more.

Game 5 – The Wall of Time

The Palace’s Call

The space was vast,
And the land was so silent
That all its music could be made
From the most ordinary bell,
Housed in the deepest chamber of the palace.
It calls, in the rhymes of divine calculus,
To the forlorn traveler, lost over the horizon,
With the way toward home and peace.
The deaf scribe, shivering by a candle,
Feels the song in the palace walls,
And translates with his hands
A recreation of its welcome.

I did not want to write about this game. After losing on time from a winning position, I first had to find a way to let go of frustration. The poem above, about the experience of Go through language and writing, is my attempt to do so.

I won’t say much about the game, except that losing on time is an unpleasant reminder that we are mortal and our time here is not infinite. I had five seconds to make a move, reset my clock, and continue playing, but I hesitated. I fell into a delusion that I was not subject to time’s power. My failure to play in those five seconds might look like simple panic, but it actually shows a terrible weakness in my game: that my desire for the psychological comfort of victory can distract me from the most fundamental responsibilities.

Apart from the ending, I felt great in this game. I had a significant time advantage throughout and I felt confident about my plans, but my opponent played very well under pressure, troubling me after I couldn’t make the important psychological shift to playing in byo-yomi, during which one must let go of finding perfect moves. The AI analysis, which shows me leading throughout the game, can be viewed here, though I am looking forward more to hearing In-seong’s thoughts.

The interview series I promised last time will begin in the next post. Thanks for reading.

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.