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Well, another year is nearly over already. I was quite unwell in November (adventures with new germs), and I've been busy with other things, and when I got my internet connection set up I found that I couldn't make full use of my strength on KGS. But, I'm sure that I'll get back up to speed and beyond.
I learned to play shogi a few weeks ago, from a lovely but very shouty professional player. It looks like a very exciting game indeed, and I hope I can find somebody to play with. I've not yet looked into the situation with local clubs.
My Japanese is getting there, too. I can have quite a reasonable conversation now, and follow what's going on in many situations. Little by little, you pick up the words people actually use, rather than simply the first entry in the dictionary. For example, in my dictionary the word 'each' is translated as 'mei mei no', but the other day I found out that the word that most people use, at least around here, is 'sore zore no'. Again, while I can inflect verbs into base 4 to make a potential form (e.g., 'tsukaemasu' means 'I can use'), I've noticed that in speech it's much easier just to say plain verb plus 'koto ga dekimasu', e.g., 'keitai o tsukau koto ga dekimasu' means 'I can use a cell phone'. Oh yes, and in Hiroshima Ben (the local lingo), the answer to everything seems to be 'nai n' (short for 'nai no desu', or 'the thing is, we don't have any *whatever you asked about*'. Also, a difficult one for us loquacious English-speakers, in Japanese brief is beautiful. Thanks to the magic of context and 'harugei' (non-verbal understanding (misunderstanding?!)), you only need to use a word or two when in English a whole sentence would suffice.
I like watching NHK go and shogi programmes when I'm in on a Sunday. NHK is sometimes described as the 'Japanese BBC', and I suppose it really is like BBC2 before the BBC got all trendy and image-conscious sometime in the mid-80s. The format has obviously not been changed since the 1960s, but the old-school look and feel of these programmes is strangely comforting. There's a solidity about the magnetic go displays, and a elemental directness about the presentation (one man and one woman), and a simple charm about the playing set (a shogiban or goban and a few flowers), that takes things right back to the essentials. Classic things don't need to be dressed up with the latest technological gimmickry - they speak for themselves.
By the way, back in August I went to pay my respects to Honinbo Shusaku at his shrine in Innoshima. I prayed for his help in my go, but maybe I've not opened myself fully to it yet! Still, the museum on Innoshima is quite fascinating, and it is very moving to see the go board and stones that Shusaku played with as a youngster, and to see other personal effects such as his letters and fans. Also, Innoshima and the Inland Sea really are staggeringly beautiful and worth visiting just for the ride.
I would counsel against coming to Japan only for the sake of go. This is not a go player's paradise, although it is naturally much easier to find go clubs and materials here than in the West. Unless you are coming to be an insei, then you'll probably not find enough stimulation to justify the journey. Although it is true go ignited my fascination with Japan, I'm here for many reasons, and I feel that I could get by quite happily without go. I suppose what I mean is, if you're young and single and love go, think twice about coming here to teach English or take up some other job, if you think that your real goal is to hang out in go clubs every night and be like Hikaru. I guarantee that you won't find it satisfying. Go is great, but it's not the only thing in life, and it's certainly not the only thing in Japan!
A picture of me
I like cats very much and my hobbies include reading and wine. Back in England, I have two beautiful puss cats called Dusty the Donut (girl) and Zhin Zha (pronounced 'ginger', boy).
I have realised that over the last five years my progress has been fairly slow: I am about 2 stones better than I was in 2002. I got this mainly through doing a lot of tsumego. But I've done very little else, although I've started taking lessons with Alexandre Dinerchtein recently.
And you know what? Is there anybody who cannot benefit from studying? Have you met many good players who have not studied much? If many people are honest with themselves, the reason they get stuck at a particular level is because they stop working at it. Flipping through the latest book casually is not studying. Memorising pro games and joseki from time to time is worse than not studying, in my opinion. If there are still crucial areas such as joseki and haengma and yose, and even non-game-specific issues such as attitude, that you don't know very much about, then the odds are that there is rich potential for you to improve...by studying them.
Tammy's Thoughts on Improvement
I have nothing much to do for the next six months, until I begin my new job. Therefore, I have set myself two goals:
1) Become conversational/fluent in Japanese. 2) Improve my go by 3 or 4 stones.
To accomplish goal 1 I am using many methods, including grammar books, vocabulary lists, songs and movies and books in Japanese, and best of all socialising with my Japanese friends.
To accomplish goal 2 I am now studying a lot. I managed to improve by 2 stones in the last five years even though I did no study apart from drilling tsumego (the forcefeeding technique) and flipping through go books (usually in the bath). Through taking lessons with Alexandre Dinerchtein it has become searingly obvious that to become a strong player the key is to study: knowledge and understanding are power, and anybody can get them...IF THEY WORK AT IT. In contrast, trying to improve by playing daily and casually skimming books is like trying to learn Japanese by watching anime and buying textbooks and flipping through them without doing the exercises or making notes.
Even in the short time I've been at goal 2 I've noticed changes: seven consecutive wins at time of writing (something like 10 out of 12 games overall), usually by getting crushing positions from the opening (who said studying joseki makes you weaker??). I know I can improve: what I need to do now is put in the work to deserve it. I want to come up to world of the high dans (to use slightly Hikaruvian language).
In addition, I don't think I'm being entirely selfish devoting so much effort to go. As, all being well, my new job involves emigrating to a certain land in the Far East, I would think that obtaining high-level go skill would prove handy for making friends and integrating better into society.
Now I have found a fantastic study resource: www.361points.com by Sorin Gherman. His lessons are full of 'nuggets', such as a little-known and VERY LARGE endgame tesuji. Easy improvement!
Perseverance pays off: if you keep on trying, things start to come together. Last night as I was studying, I noticed that what were novel ideas to me a month ago were now a "matter of course".
I'm adding many patterns and techniques to my repertoire, but I would like to comment on principles for now. By studying joseki, pro games and other resources I feel I have attained a greater appreciation of several fundamentals:
Many pincer josekis teach you how to do this: there's a technique I like to call the "rap 'n' trap". Instead of responding directly to a threat, you rap an enemy stone on the head. If the opponent answers, you now have enough strength to fight back against the original threat. If the opponent executes the initial threat, then you proceed to play again against the "rapped" stone (this part is the "trap").
However, there are many times when it is urgent to defend a weakness. Leaving the weakness alone to take a big point is like taking out a loan: you're going to have to pay it back, and probably with a lot of interest. The key is to defend actively: don't just patch up the weakness, but look for a move that adds to your territory or increases your influence, or supports a later adventure behind enemy lines.
Other things that I am starting to pay attention to:
1) Positional Judgement. I'm guilty of playing too much by intuition. From now on I need to get into the habit of estimating the score when it's time to make a strategic decision. Taiji provided a useful bit of advice here: the easy way to count is to count in twos, but not "2, 4, 6, 8" etc., but rather to count the pairs. It's simple and fast, and all you have to do is double the count once you've finished (19 pairs equals 38 points). Add 3 to White's score to account roughly for komi.
2) Apply the "thinking test". This is an idea from Sorin Gherman's site. Always read through a line of play before you play it, and see if the result is what you want. Don't simply play out a joseki or other easy sequence because you know it or because it's forcing the opponent! Always play with a plan.
Hah! I reach 1 dan on KGS by using my compass technique, and how do I 'celebrate'? By going on 'tilt' and having a nine-game losing streak - that's how! So, back to 1 kyu...for the time being.
KarlKnechtel: If there are still crucial areas such as joseki and haengma and yose, and even non-game-specific issues such as attitude, that you don't know very much about, then the odds are that there is rich potential for you to improve...by studying them.
This is interesting. How might one "study attitude"? (This is a serious question; if there indeed is a good way then I would expect to find it helpful.)
Tamsin: Hi Karl, thanks for your comment. By attitude, I mean the way you play, your at-game demeanour. Are you calm? Do you concentrate? Do you walk around? Think about every move? Do you find yourself thinking disrespectful thoughts about the opponent?
I have been guilty of many sins. From now on, I intend to play the game with a good attitude. For me, this means concentrating hard, not getting up every three minutes to make cups of delicious Earl Grey tea, not hoping for my opponent to make silly mistakes. It means consciously taking the time to think about every move, instead of merely responding. It means getting a grip of myself so that I can give the opponent the hard and exciting contest that he or she deserves.
I find it can do wonders for my concentration if I spend a few minutes choosing my first few moves, even if they are obvious or forced. It gets me into "the zone" for making good decisions later. In contrast, when I have played speed go or rushed my moves, I have played shockingly badly, even for a UK 1st kyu.
So, by studying attitude, I mean indentifying all the bad habits of thinking and correcting them, and I mean taking positive steps to play the game with a better frame of mind.
WillerZ: I find that I play better if I think of the game as a contest between Black and White, and find the move which Black should play. If I ask myself "What is the best move for Black?" rather than "What is the best move for me?" it is easier to stay emotionally detached.
TeeSushi: I think playing daily games is still the most important part of improving. even if you learn all the josekis that are existing you never would know how to use them if you use them often in games.
Flower: Hiya, remember me talking about the Laphroaig bottle pn KGS? What do you think of this crop of the pic. It is slightly sharpened and resized so that it it is not as obvious that you are out of focus as well as that the pic is easier to digest (not as huuuge) when one visits this page. Oh btw, if you like this edit it might be best if you host it yourself as I abused a friends serverspace for this. Tamsin: thanks! have changed it.
Bill: Hi, Tamsin. If you do not mind a comment, you are right that a probe reduces the possibilities of a position, but when people talk about a probe creating aji that's not really what they are talking about (or what they should be talking about). First, very often after a probe sequence the play moves elsewhere, leaving aji behind. In such a case it is this specific aji that is created. Second, there is the question of timing. The possibilities of a position may be reduced otherwise, making a later probe ineffective. The probe, then, may create aji that might otherwise not be there. For instance, a player may respond to a corner probe on the outside, leaving the aji of life or ko in the corner, and later play elsewhere may leave that aji unaffected, whereas if the probe were made after that play, the player would protect the corner.
ilan: Well, if the idea of a probe is to gain information, then by definition, it reduces the possibilities of a position. I am referring to the formal definition in Information Theory invented by Shannon, that information is a reduction of entropy and entropy is essentially the number of possibilities, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_theory (I hope that article doesn't mess it up). From that point of view, you are correct Tamsin.
Tamsin: I don't mind at all. From now on, I'm on a mission to get stronger, and if you want to share your wisdom with me, I'm more than happy to listen! I suppose it's a similar situation to kikashi: there are times when you need to "strike while the iron is hot" and play the probe, play the forcing move, etc., before the opponent has the chance to prevent it.
This chimes with something else I've been thinking about: aji. In the past, I've trained myself to resist the temptation to use up aji too soon...but, I think I overcompensated. It's quite possible to be so reluctant to waste aji that you end up not using it at all! Therefore, the right time to use aji is when it's the right time. If you keep an eagle eye on weaknesses, then you can spot opportunities to use them for big gains when they come.
Yesterday, I found myself in a position where I had to deal with a large framework quickly. If I had stuck to simple reducing moves it would have meant allowing 60 points of secure territory. I would have had a larger framework myself, but it was too loose to count on. So, the only option was to destroy the enemy framework. Remembering a pro game I looked at earlier in the day, I saw the one weakness (a cutting point). I peeped at it (normally I hate doing this, because I fear making a raw peep). The opponent resisted, but that peep gave me a foothold to go in deeper. The invasion worked out very well.
This is what studying does for you: it sharpens your mind. It's not enough to say "oh, that's just aji for later". If you keep studying it, you may just find that it's aji for NOW!
Bill: Good point about the time to use aji. :-) BTW, two of the best players of the last century, Sakata and Takagawa, were poles apart on the question of when to play kikashi. Takagawa waited, while Sakata played it early. One nice thing for studying this is the fact that they played several games against each other.
Not to make too much of it, but your phrase, simple reducing moves, tickles my antenna. Recently I have begun to appreciate the power and depth of reducing moves. (And I was already more likely to play them than most amateurs.) Remember, the most famous move in go history, the ear-reddening play, was in part a reducing move. --- I now live in Japan, in a town called Hiro, near Kure City in Hiroshima Prefecture. I'm working as a language teacher in local elementary and junior high schools. My goal is to make my Japanese fluent, and to be literate in the language. I want to improve my go, too. So, I'll do my best.
So far, I can say that Japan is a fantastic place and everything that you`d expect it to be, but it`s also completely different from everything you`d expect! I haven`t found anywhere to play go yet in my neighbourhood, but if all else fails then I can join a school club. At least the other players won`t be smokers in that case. By the way, I bought a big thick traditional floor-standing go board in one of the local recycle shops, complete with slate and shell (!) stones, for just 1.8 万円, which is about the same as $180 or 85 pounds. I`m having to clean it up a bit, but I think I`ve got a bargain. Also, go books here are extra-cheap -- about 700 yen a piece.
I have joined the local go club. There are some very strong players, but they`re quite elderly men who speak rough Japanese in a way that sounds like chewing marbles. I have been invited to take part in a team tournament in central Kure, though, so I`m looking forward to that! The go club is also non-smoking, which I`m very pleased about. An interesting thing about Japanese go clubs is that people will comment quite freely on your game, and discuss various possibilities with your opponent while things are still in progress - it`s a trifle unsettling! I did say that I`m being to understand Japanese (nobody actually talks in the polite way shown in textbooks), so hopefully they`ll be careful what they say!
I`m also reading Hikaru no Go in the Japanese. Since most kanji words have furigana, I`m finding it a useful way to learn how to pronounce many common kanji. It was a children`s comic, so it`s fairly easy for me to understand. Manga is very cheap - if you go to a second-hand book store, of which there are plenty, you`ll pay something like 200 yen for one volume - the whole set would set you back 4500 yen, which is about 22 pounds UK.
If I can, I`m only ever going to return to the UK occasionally to see my family. While Japan can be frustrating from time to time, e.g., I`m STILL waiting for my internet connection (though at last I have found a place with free access I can go to), I love this country too much to want to leave. The people are lovely, the living is inexpensive, and I never have to watch Coronation Street again.
I go to Hiro Go Club about 2 or 3 times a week. I`m ranked about 3 dan there, and take 2 stones from the 4 or 5 players at the top of the tree. I`m making an effort to apply the Ten Golden Rules of go, and I think it`s paying off. Certainly, the idea about being sure to `respond to the opponent`s move` is a good one -- it means rejecting passive replies, and choosing instead to match blow with blow. The thing is, of course, my opponents know this principle too, so sometimes I get into wild, never-give-an-inch struggles that get the juices flowing. That said, I`m also learning the value of `making thick shape` and `playing safely near the opponent`s strength` - these players have got a good grasp of the basics, and they`ll punish you if you omit a necessary move.
Slight advert time: if you want me to get hard-to-find-outside-of-Japan books and don`t mind covering postage and a small reward for my time, then please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org It`ll still work out cheaper than buying it on Amazon, and I can hunt for anything you think you might need - e.g., you want good books on sabaki, handicap techniques, opening dictionaries? Well, I`m your girl.
By the way, I`m going to learn Shogi tomorrow. A pro is visiting Kure and giving a special workshop for international residents, and I`ve been invited along, so I`m looking forward to that.
Bob McGuigan: How did you come to move to Japan, and for how long will you be staying? Enjoy the go culture there!
Bill: Medetai, medetai! :-)
Bob McGuigan: The Nihon Ki-in yearbook lists 32 branches of the Nihon Ki-in (=official clubs) in Hiroshima Prefecture, but most of them are in Hiroshima City and I can't tell which might be close to your location. The telephone number of the Hiroshima Prefecture main branch is 082-241-5377. Someone there might know of a club near you.
Tamsin: Thanks Bob! I`ll give them a ring.
Sorin Gherman: It's nice to hear that you are living in Japan now, Tamsin! I'm enjoying a lot reading about your Japanese language experiences - it reminds a lot of my own stay in Japan as an insei. It's also interesting that you are in Hiroshima: that's were I went for my first visit to Japan (the WAGC in 1990). It's a small world :-) Genki de!
Tamsin: Hi Sorin! Thanks for your comment. Hiroshima's a lovely place, isn't it? I played a fair bit of go when I first arrived here, but in November I entered driving school and have been really busy with that. Now that I've got my driving license, I have time to play go again, but I'm feeling very clueless. Have you anything to say about rust and what to do about it? Yoroshiku ne!
Sorin Gherman: I know I enjoyed Hiroshima a lot when I was there, but I don't remember a lot (it was 17 years ago) except for the tram, the A-bomb museum and the building that survived the impact. As for "Go rust": I don't think there is anything special, if you enjoy playing it'll come back to you. I think that during such breaks a lot of knowledge gets "internalized" so that you end up knowing more than you think you do. Gambatte kudasai! :-)
Tamsin: Hi again. I think you're right about internalisation - I've only played a handful of games, and lost most of them, but I feel clearer on strategy and joseki-selection. In fact, I'm swinging back to the opinion that learning too many joseki is bad for an amateur, because most strategic mistakes seem to come from trying to be too clever. I'm trying to keep things within my limited understanding, and I'm sure it's a good thing - my losses are coming from tactical errors rather than poor planning. If I can get a bit better at reading, then I think I'll become two or three stones stronger. Sometimes, as you suggest, a lay off can have positive effects - like the stomach, the mind needs time to digest what you put into it.
I hope you'll come back to Hiroshima - I'd be glad to treat you to some okonomiyaki or oysters. I can assure you, too, that the local go crowd is very welcoming and kind.
Museki Hi Tamsin. I have been using your compass-concept for the last months, and it has been working out for me. I have left my examples on the compass page. I have read your profile-page... it reads wonderfully; your perseverance and attitude are grand! -all the best & take care.
NN: Hi Tamsin, would you be so kind and make a new page for the book you mentioned 'The Invasions that Amateurs Don't Know?' and include ISBN and picture (and, if possible) link to amazon.co.jp page? I did search based on Japanese tittle, and found several different books, so I am not sure which one is the one you mentioned. Is that this one http://books.yahoo.co.jp/book_detail/31970980 Many thanks.
Tamsin: Yes it is!
isshoni Nice to hear that you can start reading go books in Japanese :-) You'll find bargains on Yahoo! Auction Japan. The old Takagawa, Fujisawa etc. are often bundled along less interesting volumes/magazines at a low price. Small homes have some advantages! (Or you might find them in a cardboard box somewhere at your local go club!)
 isshoni re 21st July: maybe the young do not play much outside of their Elementary/Junior/High school go club?
You could consider visiting one the main universities' go club to find out which go saloons students hang out at (if any). They could have good advice for you anyway, since I suspect they're not keen on 'elderly male atmosphere' either.