- Born: 1984
- Learned Go: very young, about 7 years old I think.
- Started taking it seriously: march 2003
- Current Strength : 24/12/2014 : 2d BGF
- Local Club : Gent (and Roeselare)
Usernames on servers:
- KGS handles: Spook, LordVader?
- Old KGS handles: BramGo, WuQingYuan, ShinJoseki, Nimita, Blitzlator ...
- DGS handles: not playing there anymore
I don't like correspondence go (games that take multiple days). I prefer games with japanese byo yomi of (5x30 seconds). Main time is irrelevant (just for chatting).
In the past I have been working on several software projects. To name some.
- Go-Software for both: sony Ericsson Monile phones T300 and Nokia 6300. Both are outdated now.
- Webcam based kifu creation. (Creates an sgf file while playing real life)
- Some attempts to create an electronic go board.
- Monte-Carlo and neural-network based java applications that play go.
- Databases that contain statistics about go positions.
- Several other projects that never saw the daylight, some of which I still use to gather statistics to improve my own go strength.
And perhaps the most successful one: an online Joseki Dictionary! http://www.brugo.be. It started as a website for the Bruges Go Club. But I got carried away a bit and decided to dedicate it 100% to joseki after all.
Also, related is the iPad app that I made afterwards, which makes the joseki dictionary content available offline. (Very convenient if you want to study joseki when you're not at home).
The GGG website shows all my rating graphs.
====How it began====
I started mind games when I was very young. I live in Belgium so one of the first games I learned to play was Chess of course. When I was about 7 years old I learned how to play Go. I have 2 brothers. My older brother played Go with me now and then (about 3 times in a year) with a very old game box. It was a Ravensburg? game set with a foiled carton board and white and blue plastic slices. I also had that very famous book of Iwamoto for beginners (translated to Dutch). Back then I could hardly read boring stuff like that. So I never took a look at it. In fact when I asked what the book was for, they told me it contained nice pictures of animals you could reproduce using the stones. So we hardly even knew the rules of the game, we didn't know concepts such as "eyes, territory counting" but nevertheless we played on 19x19. So the game was rather boring for me at that time. I didn't play the game for ages after that. I did play a lot of chess and I was quit good at it too. I played a lot of chess at school, and against several chess programs.
When I was 18 years old, I restarted playing the game. My brother had restarted playing the game about a year before me. And I was determined to catch up with him.
I learned to know a lot of other go players on KGS. There's a Belgian room there "BelgianFridayNightClub?".
We decided to start a new go club at Bruges... The first person I played over there was a 21kyu (registered in the BGF). He played a very strange game with me. I was used to play corners and sides first. But he had no interest in those at all. But he did win by 20 points by closing of the center. At that time I played about 7 games a week. The other club members about 2 games/month
So I caught up really fast. It took me about half a year to equal my brother's strength (12k).
I have also learned a lot using TurboGo and Many Faces of Go. Many faces helped me to get to 11kyu really fast. Also GoBase was very helpful. I was a joseki freak: "if it's good enough for the pro players, then it must be good enough for me". I tried to memorize some opening moves of which I hardly understood the meaning, but in the longer run it did pay off! The Japanese way: "copy the master, the rest will come by itself". And it really did.
January 2004 I became 5k. School pressure became harder and I did not really feel confident in my rank. For the first time I bought a couple of books. I started with Get Strong At Invading by Richard Bozulich, Positional Judgement by ChoChikun, The Middle game Of Go by SakataEio and The small fuseki dictionary of the Nihon Ki'in. For the first time I learned the theory of counting points, invading and reducing. At first I did not feel much stronger. But these turned me into a 5k player with 2k moments.
I decided to give myself a chance in the first Iwamoto tournament (3th category 2k-7k players). And I was amazed as I won almost every game I played and won the tournament with 1 loss (out of 8 games). After that I received a very nice cup and as a price I got to play a simultaneous game with Liyue 9d from China.
The tournament took 8 weeks in total. And every game I tried to push myself to my limits of perfection. But after the tournament my results went down again, I did not really improve that much any more. Maybe I was still too much thinking about the tournament I played (too much focused on what was behind). During this period, I was playing less frequent and I was not sure how strong I was. I won games from 2k players and lost from 5k players. I was scared to lose the strength I had worked so hard for. So, I tried a lot of different things. I was reading articles, replaying pro games, doing a lot of tsumego (because I lost 1 game in my tournament because I made a reading mistake).
I received a message from Velirun. He is a 2d player on KGS. He was looking for somebody to be his student (see the MentoringScheme?). I had several students myself. It is a nice system where people try to help out weaker players. Although it is not easy to help a weaker player it is certainly worth a try. It's a win-win situation. Velirun told me to do a lot of stuff I was actually already doing at that time. He told me to discuss every game I played, to do a lot of life and dead and to study pro games by hard. Of course it was nice to hear a 2nd opinion and I was reassured I was on the right path. (the mentorship didn't last long though, but was more like a brief exchange of thoughts).
Shortly after I bought some new books. GetStrongAtLifeAndDeath (recommended by Velirun), The Endgame, Get Strong At Joseki Volume 2 and Yoshio Ishida's Joseki Dictionary - Volume 2. I was looking forward to reach 1d by March. But I was terribly wrong. I had more pressure from school than ever before.
October and November passed without having the chance to play regularly. I wasn't improving, but fighting to stay in shape :)... And I assumed it would take till February, to get back in shape. And so it happened
In February I had a training period in a software company in order to complete my bachelor studies. During that period I suddenly found the time to play go again. I was surprised how much I had run behind, but pretty fast everything came back to the old. I was as strong as before but more experienced.
I have the strange feeling that every time I quit go for a certain period it is actually a step forward. Sometimes you need to take a step back to make 2 steps forward. It seems as if go-knowledge is structured in layers, every time you restart playing you are putting a new layer on top of the previous knowledge. All what is behind becomes an instinct by doing so. And instinct is more reliable and faster. Every time the previously learned concepts have become instinct, there is a chance to start exploring new concepts. My play became more reliable, knowledge became wider and all-round, experience grew and I felt more confident.
In June I graduated as a bachelor and I had to make an important decision. Searching work, continue studying? ... I felt that I could do better and continued my studies to become an industrial engineer (master) in the electronics and computer science. Good for my IT-career, but terrible for my go-career.
Suddenly my time to play disappeared again, and so did my strength. At the end of November on a Wednesday evening I was surfing the internet and I read the following on the website of the Belgian Go Federation "Preliminaries of the Belgian Go Championship" (in Namur). I made the very impulsive decision to do some life and dead exercises and to participate the day after :). It was also the first time I played dan players in real life.
I was totally out of shape but three days later I was amazed by the results of my efforts in that little time. The tournament took 2 days. And I was 1 victory away from being qualified.
After that I started making time for go again, although I didn't have any actually. But I forced myself to play at least a couple of games every week. But I didn't play on KGS any more, because it took me too much time to find an opponent there. Instead I played on Orobaduk. And very soon I become 3k, ... 2k, 1k, ... The rating system of orobaduk is so much more transparent. On kgs it can take over 15 straight victories to gain a rank. On orobaduk only about 6 victories are needed. The consequence is that solid 5k players on kgs could as well be 2dan in real life.
In mean time I tried to retrain myself on KGS too and my ranks were improving again. I had been doing a lot of life and death practice during that year and I grew into a real life and death monster. I was starting to feel more and more confident in my play and I saw myself playing very beautiful games.
In September I broke up with my girlfriend (Nathalie). She had actually always been the bottleneck of the time I could spend on Go. So, I knew right away what to do and I reached 1d on KGS just about a month later. I remember that my friends at school didn't understand why I was spending so much time online. Yes, I was playing on KGS.
But strangely enough reaching 1-dan didn't give me satisfaction. It more felt like "Is this now really it? Is this what I've been trying to reach so hard???". I had put up too high expectations and was kind of disappointed. Now when I look back on it, I have no idea what had gotten into me to think that I would find "inner peace" when crossing the dan line.
I was so disappointed that I just quit playing go. For the Belgian readers: yes, that's why I wasn't at the Belgian Championship Preliminaries in November 2006. I simply didn't play any more. It didn't interest me any more
A couple of months later during my exams I restarted playing Go in my breaks. The game felt fresh again, but still familiar as if it had been waiting on my return. As always the damage caused by the long break was big.
At that time I was living in Kortrijk, and I got informed about a game-club just 3 streets away from my room. So, I went over there to have a look and played regular with Bjorn (aka Doneagle) in his club. There was a lot more people over there than in the go club of Bruges (which is dying and reviving all the time, and which I visit a couple of times a year). But only 2 players where actually playing go: Bjorn and I.
What really annoyed me was the new release of KGS. My computer started crashing during the first 5 minutes of every game. As a result of that I had to play on other servers. I started to slack, and played only weaker players on small go servers. But I did make some new friends who supported me and pushed me to play more and more. Eventually KGS got repaired and I restarted playing on KGS where the rating system was heavily changed so that I was suddenly 2d (?!). I decided to create a new account to get a more realistic view on the situation. I played and played and finally I became a real solid reliable dan player.
What happens then? In July 2007 I graduated (Industrial engineer in the field of MIT) and I picked up my go again. I beat several dan players, at peaks I even reached a solid 3d rating. Still I was more focused on my career as a Software Engineer. I programmed more than I played go. Then in September 2007 I met a really cute Belgian go playing girl, who motivated me to pick up go and to take it serious again. I try to coach her (technically) and to motivate her. (Later we would end up in a big argument which in the end made her not want to talk to me again ... which is really unfortunate. Because I really enjoyed the many games that we played online. She got really good in a very short time, and it seems like by getting better she started to have troubles taking all my criticism. Also, as she got better I started to criticize the small details in her play. She took lessons from 6d players in mean time. ... So really things just had to end I guess.)
March 2008 I went on a trip to Japan where I visited the Nihon Ki'in (and of course many other cultural places, temples, ...). I bought myself some very nice (but expensive) stones in the Nihon Ki'in. And I bought 4 japanese exercise books in the local go shop (of which 3 are of 3dan level, and 1 is of 6dan level).
From my point I still had the feeling I was not at the level I was. My rank went up and down. I won a lot of games, but always seemed like a small miracle. I guess I'm good at making comebacks and starting big fights. Well, I just didn't have time to take it as serious as before. I guess I'm not a go player but a software engineer and I always will be. ... With that in mind I decided to put more effort in designing go related software than playing itself. My current project: http://www.brugo.be - An online joseki dictionary.
I think it was November, we started a new club in Roeselare (West-Flanders, Belgium). Kristof, Dries, Jo, Bjorn, Ivan and myself played go every Friday evening. Actually I never was part of a club which played every week, and with players of reasonable strength. Once I played a game of 4 hours. We started at 9pm and finished it at 1am. We even had visitors from Gent once. And our team had a 6-0 victory. So I am really proud of the level of our club!
Nevertheless it has to be said that Gent has always been important for the several Go clubs West-Flanders had. While our clubs closed and opened the club of Gent has always been far more reliable.
On a Wednesday evening (must have been the 18th of March) I decided to visit the club of Gent. At that time I was playing twice a week in real life, (luxury). I had no idea what had happened that very morning. 2 days later I heard that one of our key members and friend Ivan had passed away in a traffic accident. I guess we should take a lesson from this about how short life can be and to enjoy every minute of it. We'll miss you Ivan, things will never be the same at Roeselare.
The more I play and study go, the more I understand that nobody really has a fixed strength. Sometimes I easily beat 2 dan players, the day after I make stupid mistakes against 1k players. Officially when asked I say I'm "1k or maybe 1d", but I think if I want to be fair to myself I must admit I am certainly stronger than 1 kyu. I am at least 1 dan. But at dan level it are the little things which make the difference, being in shape / silence / concentration / health / energy /... So, I can not assure I am ALWAYS stronger than 1 dan, only 80% of the time.
So In November 2009, I participated in the preliminaries of the Belgian go championship again. My first games went really well. I won a crucial game against Kristof (another member of our club). In the opening there was a slight joseki mistake from my opponent which made the game easier than expected. I lost 3 games all together: (Kwinten 1d, Michael 1k and François 3d). Because of that I ended only at 8th place. I had to be in top 3 to be able to participate. But it was a good performance for my rating in the Belgian go federation. From a statistical point of view. I was slightly dissatisfied nevertheless, because 2 of the games I lost were only lost by 6 points difference.
Usually the top 5 players of the preliminaries join the top 5 of last year, to play the finals. However there were 3 players who could not participate. Because of that I suddenly was at 10th place and could participate as last member. A delightful surprise. "I'm playing with the big boys now" :) hehe. So I went to Brussels to play in the finals anyway, and the results were far better than expected. I expected to lose every game, but nevertheless I was looking forward to learning a lot. But to my big surprise I won my first game anyway (from Christopher 1d), the 2nd game I played François (3d) again, whom I lost to in the preliminaries and lost to again by resign. The game started a bit too aggressive. The next morning I lost from Alain (3d) by only 4.5 points. And again lost from Kwinten (1d) by a couple of points. So even though I'm satisfied of those results there was a bit of a turning point, I was on a losing streak.
The second weekend I unexpectedly won 3 games in a row (Wang 2d, Thomas 3d, Won 1d). The game against Wang was a big fight which was in my advantage from the start. I think maybe Wang thought that any fight would be in his advantage against a (officially) "2k player". Oh well it's hard to predict and I did feel a bit like a "sand bagger" running around with a 2k rating winning from a 2d. I started the next game with the right attitude: "make influence, tempt them to take small risks, play with power, not territory". The next game was a success as well. My best result in official tournaments so far, beating a 3d player (Thomas, who later became Belgian champion again in 2015 !!). The victory was big, but there were lots of phases in the game where it could have turned around at any point as big groups were on the stake all the time. Maybe my life and death knowledge saved my day. The day after I lost from Pieter (2d) and finally I had to play Jan (4d) but lost. Jan became champion because of this. If Jan had lost the game François would have been Belgian champion, so nevertheless there was some pressure. In fact things looked in my advantage for a while. I pushed 2 groups of Jan in a position where I honestly thought they would die, but Jan's reading ability outclassed me, he found key points I didn't know they were there.
I moved to an apartment with my girlfriend (Bieke). During the first days internet connection was really bad so I couldn't play. So I bought a 30 meters UTP cable. Because of that I was finally playing with perfect connection and was suddenly winning about 70% of my games. I managed to play about 20 games/week. All my 1d accounts climbed to 2d. And I kept excel files to keep track of the number of games I played against equal or stronger player (results are less important than the actual number of games).
I made myself a member of the club of Gent as well, and tried to visit both clubs. Although I probably learn more from playing an evening at home ... So, I was invited at the birthday-party of the tournament of Gent. And also played some inter-club games for Gent. Although the level in Roeselare is higher than the level of Gent, the number of players in Gent is higher and it's more about go, less about chatting.
I participated in the Preliminaries of the Belgian championship again, hoping to break through the finals in an honest way this time. I am pretty sure that I should have been qualified but again, I placed only 6th. The first day went perfect and I won all my games as expected. The 2nd day I had to start out against Lucas (4d) and expected to be slaughtered. Nevertheless, we played a very exciting game and I found myself winning by 3.5 point. An unexpected result. But I must have been really exhausted, I lost my next 2 games. As I result I was only placed 6th. Unlike last year, nobody cancelled their appointment, so I did not manage to qualify. I did follow the finals on the internet which were very exciting.
June 2011, It looks like there's a new wave of strong players is coming (Stijn from Bruges has almost reached kgs dan level and the same can be said from Wout (Gent)) Stijn beat me a couple of times (I think 3 times now). Which is no reason to be depressed since we played perhaps 100th games. But it does show that his level is increasing. At the same time Wout has been very near at winning and has played some really strong games also against other players at the club. Still if I'm honest I think I have to admit that my own level has decreased. This is perhaps because I've been very busy with writing an iPad application for the brugo website. Now finally the application is available in the apple store and I hope to pick up go again. Although keeping a serious level, while having a hard job, and performing 24h support at the customers and maintaining a website, and taking care of my girlfriend is VERY hard to combine. No wonder the last 4 years have passed so fast.
The tournament of Antwerp and Gent were both really exciting this year. I had a nice result in both tournaments and I am slowly approaching 1 dan BGF level again. At the same time I realize that it's not good with my go level. I'm not improving ... I hope to change this soon nevertheless.
November 2011, myself and Stijn were participating in the preliminary of the Belgian championship. The results were amazingly good. The first day I had to play against Kris Boyen, who seems to be slightly out of shape lately. There's been a time that he was about 2 or 3 kyu, but looks like he has lost the spirit a bit. The next game was against Daniel French (4k) which was harder but still a clear victory. The third game was against Kevin Prist who defeated me last year very closely. But this time I managed to win it. But I lost the last game of day 1 against some 2 dan player who just restarted playing. A heavy day. Luckily we could stay with the sister of my girlfriend. This saved us a lot of travelling time. So the day after we continued at full strength. First against Yue Wang, who I had won against last time. But this time he played a much harder game. There were a lot of exchanges back and forth. In the end I had killed 3 big groups of him, he one huge one of mine. But then I made a silly mistake which made one group of him back alive. In the end I was 4.5 points short. So I was a little irritated with the result. With only 3 wins and 2 games to go, I now had to win all games that would come. First I had to play against Kevin Annachachibi who has improved a lot since last time I played him. He has also reached 1 kyu level now. But I must say even though I had tons of bad luck, dead groups of him managing to get back alive, I still won by a huge margin in the end. But he's still very young and already 1 kyu, so I think he has a lot more potential. My last game was against Alain Wettach, which is a former Belgian champion and with 3 dan level clearly one of the best players in the running. But somehow he lost already 2 games, so also for him it was very important to win that last game. But somehow I managed to win this almost impossible battle. Perhaps Alain was a bit tired, I don't know. Nevertheless, thanks to this result I came in 3rd. On top of that I think a promotion to 1 dan will probably happen as well.
So indeed I reached 1d level as expected. Months went passed and I started hiring teachers from time to time. I must say it changed my way of thinking in several situations. But especially I found it interesting that when 2 strong players review the same game without knowing of each other's comments they will often pick out different moves to criticize. From experience there grows decisiveness: "there is only 1 correct move here". It is better to have multiple teachers than to have 1. On the other hand the advantage of playing a lot against the same player is that you tend to make the same mistakes again, making it easier to discover them.
The Belgian championship 2012 was a big success. Well, that is to say, I ended in 5th place. That means, I do not have to go through qualifications to take part next year. Again I had to play against Alain Wettach and managed to win again, thanks to a slight endgame mistake of Alain, without the end game mistake the game would have been very close, but I do think I was a bit ahead. Secondly I beat Kwinten because of a middle game reading mistake of my opponent. The game was really complicated and in the end it was very exhausting. Usually Kwinten has a very solid playing style with no weaknesses what so ever. He is a very patient player. The third game (1st of second day) was against Wang Yue. A very big capturing race which I had miscalculated and cost me the game. Thanks to an aggressive "overplayish" counter attack I managed to get back in the game and indeed it looked like the tables had turned after all, but at the crucial point of the game he found a tesuji to decide the game. One of the most exhausting games of the tournament. Being so exhausted I played a bit too reckless against Kevin Prist. He won with a very small margin of points, I should have been more patient in this game. But I took a little too much risks, and a couple of slight reading mistakes as well. Finally I was way too tired to play against Jan Ramon. Jan showed me I was absolutely not ready to win against him. He outplayed me in early middle game with perfect timing of attacking and defending moves. The next weekend I started of by having 3 straight wins against François Gonze, Christopher and Kevin Annachachibi. I have troubles remembering the game against François probably because François has a very steady style of playing (just like Kwinten). Christopher and Kevin on the other hand purely play on fighting spirit. I think Kevin played a bit too fast, in the beginning I was dragged in his high playing pace, but I made up by taking my time to solve the problems I had put myself into. In the game against Christopher I played very soft all game, but bit by bit I came back and in endgame I was just half a point ahead (I played white). This is in fact the second time that I won from him with just half a point. And then finally I had to play against Lucas (broadcasted live on kgs). Most people watching this game seemed to have no clue at all what the game was really about. They made it seem like I was lost after 3 moves, but in fact it was only in late middle game that I lost because of a reading mistake. I was kind of irritated after reading all poor kibitz. :) Perhaps this is all part of becoming stronger. Either way, Lucas his level is extremely high and I can only show much respect for his humble appearance.
A couple of months later I participated in the tournament of Gent again. My expectations were high, too high. The tournament turned out to be a total disaster. I started of by losing to Joost, who clearly improved a lot, but still I should have an easy win against a 3 kyu player. The next 2 games were versus Jean Rey and Dominique. My arch rivals for the tournament. I had a clean win against Jean, but Dominique won once again with just a couple of points. So basically after 1 day the tournament was over for me. The next day I had to play Stijn. Since I know Stijn very well I knew he would be a difficult opponent so I took my time and played the game very carefully. Apparently Stijn on the other hand (I think perhaps it was the pressure) played a bit inpatient. The result was an early fight that was in my advantage. So, the game ended soon with some disappointment from Stijn his side, although I must say I am convinced that he has all knowledge and skills to become a dan player very soon. The next 2 games were supposed to be easy ones. But once again I disappointed myself by making a reckless move in endgame of my last game: sinking even deeper, losing from a 5kyu player. The tournament was a disaster.
I was totally disappointed and right at that moment I received an invitation from Kristof who was looking for a third guy to play in Lille (World Mindsport Games). Basically it is a team-tournament. Each team consists of 3 players. The Belgian team had Benjamin Gigot, Bram Vdb. (me), and Kristof Bossee. We were clearly the underdog versus teams like Korea, China ... But in the end we managed to win 2 rounds (versus Italy and versus the Netherlands). That last victory was enough to call the tournament a success. Afterwards we took a quick tour trough Lille (by foot) following a Chinese masseuse that Benjamin ran into. She showed us the way to the best Chinese restaurant of Lille. The whole experience was great.
Not so long after we had a visit of Antwerp in Gent for the inter-club in which I had to play Tom. I had played him a couple of times before and had both lost and won. I knew he was a strong player and we had a fun game which I managed to win after an aggressive middle game fight. So, I was finally getting over the huge humiliation that I had experienced during the tournament of Gent versus 2 Antwerp players (3k, 5k).
But later that year we visited Antwerp for the same interclub tournament. And I had to play Joost again, and again I lost. So in the end I learned that I really have to watch out for Joost (and for Damian as well).
During the winter of 2012-2013 I really did not play much go. That also explains the defeat versus Joost. In fact I didn't feel like playing go any more at all. Perhaps this is a normal reaction when one gets the impression that it will take 2 or 3 years to improve to a higher level and that it will take weekly study and games just to stay in shape. But when March came closer I had no choice but to restart playing go. I had to battle in the Belgian Championship once again. I think I took it easier on myself than other years. No crazy marathon's. Just a lot of tsumego and a handful of internet games. I also get a game versus Kristof and versus Stijn. But those did not really have much effect this time I think. In the tournament itself I played every game with a different approach. The end result was better than I hoped for. Again 5 wins resulting in 5th place, just like last year. (win versus: Wang, Kris, Wong, Dominique and François) (lost versus: Kwinten, Kevin, Lucas and Jan). I do think that both Dominique and François are stronger players. So I was very satisfied with the result, felt on the top of the world again. Also for my rating the result was really good. I just need 1 more victory against somebody in 2k+ to reach the 2 dan level. That would be sweet.
July 2013 I had some doubts whether or not to participate in the tournament of Gent, because I did not play any serious games in long time. But as the tournament came nearer I gathered all my courage and decided to do so any way. I especially feared players such as Joost and Stijn, because their ratings are below their actual capabilities. The first day I won my 3 games without much difficulties. (vs Steve, Joost and Maarten). But the 2nd day would of course be the most difficult one. I lost versus Oscar Vasquez (a 10-year old boy full of talent). He was a notch too strong for me. (I'm having our game reviewed this evening with the aid of Cornel Burzo). Actually I think this was the hardest game in a long time. I think I lost it on time mostly. Apparently my opponent took better care of his time and when I came ahead in the game he decided to blitz the end game forcing me into a difficult position where I finally lost a group. The next game (versus Dominique) was also a very important one. But I think Dominique was not in his best shape this year (possibly due to the illness of his son). The game was a bit messy because I was very tired as well (recuperating from the game vs Oscar) In the end I won with a reasonably big margin. The last game was vs Dennis who I hadn't seen for a long time. He has improved a lot (and he even managed to beat Stijn in this tournament). So I knew I had to be very careful and managed to win it. So the final score = 5/6 wins, and an overall second place in the tournament. Unfortunately for my rating the tournament was not so good due to the fact that Oscar is still rated at 3 kyu now. Statistically the chance of losing from a real 3 kyu player is about : 10%. Oh, and Oscar, he won all his games, so he won the tournament. Congratulations to him he certainly was the best player.
In March 2014 I participated in the Belgian championship once again. My 5th place of the year before granted me the privilege to participate without having to play the preliminaries. The tournament took place in Antwerp this time. I was aiming for 5th place again. New participants were Joost (3k) and Roel (8k). There were some difficulties the day before the tournament because somebody cancelled late. So, Roel got the chance to fill this spot. The first weekend I lost to both Dominique and François even though I won both these games the year before. So, it was looking nearly impossible to reach the top 5 now. Especially because the hardest opponents were still to come.
The next weekend we had a study session at my place with the GGG (Go club of Ghent), which was really good fun. And thank you for the books dr Vlummens. :) ! This weekend made me realize that I had to find myself a good go teacher to prepare for the next weekend (the 2nd part of the Belgian championship). I was happy to get help from Ilya Shikshin (who is a legend). We played 4 games to prepare for the last weekend. We had a lot of discussions and he made me realize again that go is about the small things. We had some discussions about "the value" and "the urgency" of moves, and perfected some of my kobayashi opening moves. It was an intense week.
Then the final weekend came. I had 2 losses already, and still had to play Joost, Kevin, Jan and Lucas. As a miracle I only lost to Jan. So, I managed to beat Joost, Lucas and Kevin. In the game vs Lucas I had the chance to play my "perfected" kobayashi opening (the one I had studied with Ilya) and that clearly gave me an advantage. The game vs Kevin I played white and adopted a 3-3 opening move (that I copied from my game vs François). Apparently François played all his games this year with 3-3 stones. Thanks to my victories, I reached 3rd place in the tournament (very unexpectedly). And on top of that received a promotion to 2 dan level. Of course I was very happy with the result.
Belgium has a point system to decide who will represent Belgium in international events. Every participation uses points, every victory gains some points. I am not sure exactly why (perhaps by finishing 3rd in the Belgian championship) I managed to collect some points. And I received a friendly invitation to participate in a tournament in Korea. Unfortunately, that very same week my brother would arrive in Belgium (coming over from Japan) so I just could not participate. Nevertheless I was quiet surprised to see that somebody at my playing level actually had the chance of participating in these kind of events. Because I could not participate, Dominique V. participated.
In the absence of Dominique, I managed to play and win the tournament of Gent (also in that same period). I had been 2nd so much time that it felt like a huge relief to win it just this one time, and without losing a single game. The tournament was again a lot of fun, there was a 2/3dan player of the Netherlands which was challenging.
The week after I payed a visit to "Schaak en Go winkel het paard" in the Netherlands. Apparently the man behind the counter was the person who would review some of the games of the tournament of Gent. (it's a small world).
A couple of months later I received an invitation to participate in the Korean Prime Minister Cup. (wow !!) Of course I couldn't refuse. My plane leaves on September 16th 2014 and I'll be back on the 22nd.
Korea was a dream. We were brought to the hotel by bus. The hotel was in the olympic park, a nice room too. On receival they had prepared gifts for us. The player from New-Zealand (who was born in Korea) was very kind and helped me to visit several places. I also met a player from Austria (Daniel) who is working on the electronic go board project in Vienna. The tournament was perfectly organized. In the end I won 3 games and lost 3 games. I first lost from Japan, next I lost vs Finland, I won vs Australia and Peru, next I lost vs the Netherlands and I won vs Norway. The player from the Netherlands was Kim O. the shopkeeper of the "Schaak en Go winkel het paard", who I met just a couple of months earlier. We also participated in several events. I lost to a very young kid at a Korean go school. And also played in several simulataneous games vs pro players (of which I lost everything as well). I managed to get an autograph of Lee ChangHo and met Lee Sedol. The referees were famous go players as well.
During the last months been posting a lot of messages on twitter. And studying a lot of japanese. A lot of side activities, and not playing much go. However, I play a game about once/twice a week on WBaduk and been improving there to a 5 dan rating. And maybe if I continue to play like this, a 6 dan rating can be expected any time soon.
Last weekend (21/12/2014) we played some games at "KerstGo?" organized by Ph.Vlummens. I had the chance to play a teaching game with Gerald. I won the game (however I guess I should not be too excited about winning a teaching game). But the least I can say, is that I was satisfied with the game, and learned a couple of small things. I am sure though Gerald did not play to his full potential. He went easy on me.
(11/03/2015) Unfortunately I have not been playing any decent go since my return from Korea. If I scroll though this page though, there is an obvious pattern. The older I get, the less go I play. And the more I regret not playing it. I made a small "come-back" in February, and played about 30 games with dan players in a period of just 2 weeks. Nevertheless, something is missing. I feel like I have degraded in every aspect of the game. Something is wrong. This weekend I have to play the Belgian championship again. Today is Wednesday, and I have taken 3 days off from work. I hope to find what I am missing. I am not hiding it, I am very afraid of what will happen this weekend. I expect a losing streak.
Tody I've been going through the database of BruGo. BruGo contains more than 10.000 sequences. And while I did enter every sequence manually, move-by-move, I entered them in a timespan of several years. A lot of information just slipped my mind. What I am focusing on now, is to review all moves that are tagged as "mistakes". I don't really have the intention to learn how to play new joseki, I just don't want to fall for obvious traps. I have reviewed about 50 sequences now. But I think there are about 500 "mistake" sequences in the database.
In mean time there are 5 new Go players in Gent. 3 of them have a chess background and are learning go incredibly fast. I guess that the fact that they can practice playing each other helps a lot. Also the fact that they like to play blitz games seems to boost their learning process. They have been playing on 19x19 boards since a couple of weeks. Some of them are relatively good at tsumego, which gives me high expectations. During a rengo game, I realized that their tactics/shapes are maturing and that they are just starting to build a basic knowledge of strategic insight. I played a 9 handicap game with one of them, which I lost. Also it seems to inspire other players (such as Stijn) to restart playing a bit of Go as well.
My results at the Belgian championship (2015) were pretty bad. I ended 7th or was it 8th(?). Well, it didn't come as a total surprise. I did win all 3 games vs lower ranked players. I only lost the ones against higher ranked players. But from a statistical point of view, if you play 6 stronger players you are supposed to win at least one of them. So, I was a bit disappointed, also my rating dropped. The fact is that 2015 has been a really bad year so far. But I do have some good excuses: We are building a house at the moment, and it's supposed to be finished in September. And that also increases the pressure on my job. In a sense, I'm doing 2 jobs at the moment. I have a daytime job, but also perform software support services outside office hours (24h). Work pressure has increased and I'm seriously considering to quit the 24h-support job, because it takes too much time. But at the moment I just can't because our financial status is unknown. There are an immense number of expenses (also unplanned ones) going back and forth. We expect that in September our situation will become more transparent again. On top of that, 2 of my grand parents passed away during the last 3 months. I used to have some "holy houses", untouchable principles regarding the time and effort that I put in go. Principles like: "always attend the weekly session in Gent". The point is that most of these principles have been broken this year due to the high working pressure. At the moment there is a tournament in Antwerp (this very moment). And I decided not to go, because I haven't played a good game in months.
During the past years I've come obsessed with the idea to build an electronic go board. That would be a board that exists of LEDs and push buttons (or maybe touch). Just a couple of weeks ago I made my first prototype and posted it on youtube. I guess I wasted a lot of time on this project without a real finished product. In mean time I've also been working on a new database and a new website, and something about neural networks to build an AI. In fact, I've done about everything related to go, except the playing. Even right now (while writing this, a database generation script is running that takes about 24 hours to make a 55GB database file which contains indexed joseki positions and a lot of meta data). The idea of this database is to actually study joseki more efficiently. I am trying to make a database that will allow me to study joseki positions in order of relevance. In fact, while building this database I'm learning a lot about how to use modern software development tools (e.g. hibernate/jpa, h2db). But at the moment it's not really helping me to become stronger at go.
In mean time I've started playing go on the http://online-go.com server. The ratings seem to be harder than other servers, even though there probably are less active players. There is something motivating about this server. I've actually already played twice on this server during lunch-break at work.
2015 has been a bad year. I've lost 2 of my grand parents, and also my grandfather on my mother's side is in bad shape. He's been to hospital and it turns out that he has some kind of lump in his brain. Because of his old age (93) it's unwise to operate. The result is that he's back at home and having a lot of memory issues. He sleeps most of the day, and when he's awake it's difficult for him to have conversations, mainly because he mixes up words or can't find them. Anyway, in about a week there are preliminarees for the Belgian championship. I've decided to train hard for this. I feel like I have something to prove. I made an excel sheet to count how many games I had played so far this year. Because the numbers were pretty bad, I decided to compensate this in the month November. I played about 40 decent games in the last 30 days. I'm pretty proud about that. In the mean time I've also solved a tsumego book (3d level problems published by the nihon ki'in.). And now I'm having 1 week of vacation before "judgement weekend".
Unfortunately bad news continues. I did not manage to qualify. I had one unexpected loss vs Vincent Q, somebody I never met before. I had no idea of his playing strength. I managed to take a lead in the opening, but I spoiled it by giving too much away in the center. In the end, I lost by half a point, which I did not expect at all. This puts me on 6th place unfortunately. In December I again managed to play a lot of games. But shortly after I lost my grandfather. His condition got worse real quickly.
On top of that I've been struggling with illness, maybe also some kind of burnout or depression, I'm not sure. February was a good month for Go though. We had a lot of visitors (e.g. Bas 2d, Gerald 6d, Wouter 2d, ...) Thanks to their presence, I had the chance to play some really exciting games.
In March we had the famous AlphaGo battles, which I followed very closely. I got up early to watch these games live on YouTube?. But during this same period I had a training which made me work late on Tuesdays, which made my appearance in the Go club of Gent impossible. This also caused another relapse of illness. Unfortunately it took me a week before I could get back to work, and I'm still not fully recovered. In mean time the Belgian Championship started and since not all players could participate I had a chance to do so. But due to my illness I had to refuse. 2016 really had only bad news so far. On the other hand, I did manage to play an average of about 1 game / day in February and March, which may make me stronger in the long run. Yesterday evening I played 3 blitz games vs Bas, and managed to win 2 of them (one of which I gave 2 stones) But I lost one (where I was giving 3 stones handicap). Earlier that day, Bas played a strong game vs Joost (he won vs Joost giving him 3 stones handicap, what an achievement!). He played really strong, I made several reading mistakes while watching their game.
During the months February and March I've been trying to keep a list of mistakes that I'm making during games. Just before playing a game online, I go through this list, to get in the right mental state. I'm not sure if this helps at all, but I did spot the fact that from time to time I'm making the same mistakes. One of them: not using the full potential of the aji of the opponent when I'm under attack. Another one is that I sometimes underestimate the fact that games can be decided by losing small groups of stones. And maybe I'm sometimes foolishly thinking that any 2-space-jump group will just live without any doubt, which often turns out to be wrong.
My average of 1 game/day was kept from February all the way to June (so far). Bas left to go back to the Netherlands, and I didn't see Wouter back. Gerald continued to show up at tournaments from time to time. Luckily we did have some visitors from Moeskroen (Benjamin 3d kgs is one of them). And we did manage to play a game, which I won after taking back a move in the opening though, so it could have gone both ways. I also played a game vs Dieter the 28th July which we didn't finish, but looked favorable for me. And I managed to play and win a game vs Kim Ouweleen on KGS. So, I had a good preparation before I went on to play the tournament of Gent 2nd and 3rd of June. And to my surprise I won all of my games: game1 vs Dominique V. , game2 vs Joost (Antwerp), game3 vs Benjamin (Moeskroen), game4 vs Steve (of Antwerp), game5 vs Voja and finally game6 vs Kenny. All games were exciting, but none of them needed counting. Needless to say this boosts my confidence, and is a nice reward for my hard work. In mean time, I can also tell you that I am going to become a daddy in December. (really proud) But of course becoming a father means that I'll have less time to play go. So, I'm trying to make the best of it for now.
I am just back from my vacation in the Dordogne. The week before we left I had troubles finding time to play go. But while I was in France something amazing happened. At an evening, I logged in at KGS and played a bot. One thing led to another and pretty soon I was downloading LeeLa bot, which is a free application which plays Go, but unlike other applications uses the GPU of your computer. That makes it possible to do matrix calculations extremely fast, which are very useful for artificial intelligence. The result is that LeeLa bot must have a playing level of at least 4 dan amateur level. I played it A LOT since then, and I am convinced that its playing level is above 5 dan actually, maybe professional level. You can let LeeLa think for hours, the longer it thinks, naturally the stronger its moves. But even in the weaker levels (500 simulations) it plays as strong as 2 dan amateur. If you put it in 20 000 simulations, then it's unbeatable for me. (correction: Sometimes I do win, but that's because it it plays inside its own territory after the game. I think this is because it uses chinese counting. However, I don't regard these as real victories.)
My obsession of creating an electronic go board also possesses me again. I have designed and ordered PCB's for a 3x3 version. I also ordered a hot air soldering station. I hope to create a working 3x3 version really soon. When that works, I'll order a 9x9 and 19x19 version next.
Half September I was able to finish the 3x3 prototype. Everything works fine, and looks smooth. You can see the pictures on my twitter account. I would really love to make a bigger version now. Perhaps even a 19x19 version. In parallel, I really want to find a way to create an enclosure/case for the electronics. And I want to make it look like a finished product, not something that is put together by a hobbyist (even though that's just what I am). - About Go itself: In September I played about 30 games vs Leela bot, And I haven't even won half of them. Leela is really strong. But today I played it and gave it 4 hours of thinking time, and still I won by about 15 points. Last time I played it during noon, and lost by 10 points. I think it has more to do with my own mindset. LeeLa probably plays consistently and the amount of time you give it may be less important than I thought originally. I also discovered that my laptop GPU actually isn't that strong compared to the graphical cards of modern desktop computers. I would love to get my hands on one of those. Later I found out that the developer of LeeLa actually lives in Gent (a city nearby), which I didn't expect at all. - It's a small world.
In November I participated to the Preliminaries of the Belgian Championship once again. And to my big surprised won all my games. In advance, I would have signed for 5th place, but ended first unexpectedly. Of course I feared the consistency of players like Nelis and Kwinten. From my perspective they are always ahead and rarely make mistakes. What did I do different this year ? - Well, I am on a strict regime of 365games/year. To achieve this, I've lately switched to playing bots. PS: Joost, Steven and Joris were no easy opponents either.
In mean time I started playing Zenith (the commercial version of Zen Go). I'm not sure if either LeeLa or Zenith is stronger. When I'm at work, I play LeeLa during lunchbreak, but when I'm at home, I play Zenith. I do like the GUI of Zenith more.
December 7th 2016, I became the proud father of Ewout.
Oh, and I did manage to play 366 games in 2016, and I'm currently on track to reach it in 2017 as well.
Maarten Vst. has made a lot of improvements lately. From time to time we play games in Bruges or Zedelgem, and he actually beat me once in an even game. I am also happy that Dirk M. participates in the go club of Gent again. This brings back a lot of memories.
The Belgian championship in 2017 was a bit of a disappointment. I have the feeling that I did play a stronger go than in previous years. Unfortunately due to lack of sleep I didn't manage to stay concentrated for the full game, and made some stupid mistakes. I have the feeling that I should have won the games which I played vs Gabriel and Nelis, but I failed in both of them. Mixed feelings all by all, and not happy at all with 7th place. I should have been able to make top 5.
Later that year I was able to win the tournament of Gent again. (flawless) I do have the feeling that this becomes a little bit easier every year.
Then there were the releases of the AlphaGo selfplayed games which showed new insights in joseki. I watched some of the Michael Redmond reviews. Google claimed that the AlphoGo? project was over and that they wouldn't release anything new. I remember putting a twitter message called "the ascension of AlphaGo". But then October 18th 2017 (the day before my birthday), there was the announcement of AlphaGo Zero. This bot reaches the strength of a professional player in just about a day without using any human data. So, it looks like Google Deepmind hasn't quit go yet.
Although I had a good qualification tournament in 2017, and I was looking forward to it, I just had to cancel my participation to the 2018 finals of the Belgian Championship. There was a lot of weight on my shoulders (girlfriend been ill for a long time, taking care of Ewout, work related pressure), and it became clear that I was in no condition to play this tournament. On top of that, lately I did no longer keep my pace of 1 game/day.
I got invited for the KPMC again (see 2014). At first I did not feel confident at all. My playing style has changed a lot ever since I played my first game with a bot. I do think it actually improved in terms of opening and midgame.
Thanks to Dominique V. it became clear to me that I had to play more games against humans as well. Especially when humans are losing, they tend to be extremely sneaky. Even though (confirmed by bots) I took an early lead in almost every game, I only managed to finish half of those games with a victory. Sometimes I got carried away in fights that I should have avoided all together. At other times I just got lazy and didn't read things carefully. Those games made me realize that I had to play more games online, which I did. Pretty soon I regained my 7dan rating on WBaduk. I must admit that from time to time I have some fears about my potential as a go player. It is possible that I have reached my peak. That's for sure. I have the impression that my opening improved tremendously during the last year. But I need some results to prove it.
Other news: Since July 2018, there is a new Go club in Mariakerke, nearby Gent, founded by Jonas. The players seem very motivated. And Jonas probably has what it takes to reach a dan level. There is some potential for sure.
I've been a member of the GGG since 2010. The reasons why I went to the GGG have varied from time to time. But for most of the time, I did it because I had the feeling that I was doing something constructive. Recently though, I have the impression that the whole "bot" thing has driven us apart. I have some very strong opinions about this matter. And I received some strong reactions against them as well. All of that did me question myself, and since I do have some strong ambitions left, that did me realize that perhaps it's time to give the GGG a break, and to use this time in a more constructive way.
In September - as planned - I participated in the KPMC for the second time. September 7th I took the plane to S-Korea. This time the KPMC took place in the county of Buan. I spend the first and last night in a hotel nearby the airport of Incheon. From there it was a 3,5 hour drive to the hotel in Buan. From the hotel in Buan to the tournament venue was another 40 minutes drive. So, needless to say, we spend a lot of time traveling. So, there was less time for tourism.
The result was slightly better than the previous participation: 25th place this time. The first day, I had a victory versus Chile and a loss versus the Netherlands (2.5 points). The 2nd day I first got slaughtered by HongKong? and then lost versus Italy. That loss against Italy felt a bit undeserved. Fortunately, the last day I managed to get 2 wins: first against Mexico and finaly a win versus Argintina. So, that makes a 3/6 score.
I could easily write a page about each individual game, they all had some memorable moves and moments for me. Instead I prefer not to get carried away here. But the red line thru this tournament was clearly: AlphaGo/LeeLa joseki and fuseki influences. I do believe we are in a 2nd shin fuseki movement right now. It is beautiful that both professionals and strong amateur players are studying these new moves and are experimenting with them. Even long before new joseki/fuseki books are available.
As you can read above, before I went to Korea, I had a lot of doubts about my playing style, about my level, and that I hoped to find a way to find some confirmation of my progress. So, of course I am very satisfied with this result.
End of November, Maarten Vstk. and myself started a go club in Bruges. Right now after about 5 (?) sessions we seem to have an average of 6.5 participants every evening. And about 10 people who participated in more than 1 session.
In mean time I am working on a new Go website (angular front-end, node.js back-end).