Go Weekend at Diego's
This weekend my parents-in-law Mark and Vickie traveled up from Charlottesville to watch my son so that I could travel down to Virginia Beach to spend the weekend at my little brother Diego’s house playing go. (We are both students of Yuan Zhou, which makes us brothers. Any student who began before me is my older sibling, any student who began after me is my younger sibling.)
Diego and I are very close in strength, but with different styles. We’ve played many games over the last two years and we take lessons together every two weeks via Skype / KGS with Shifu, so we know each other’s go very well.
Since Diego has to drive almost three hours up to Germandtown, Maryland every month to attend our group lessons, we decided to have a road trip down to his house near Virginia Beach to play as much go as we could fit into two days with him and three of his colleagues, who are all of similar strength.
Ben ended up having to stay home due to sickness, but I drove down Saturday morning in my little yellow Beetle. Since I drive to and from work every day with my sixteen-month-old son, whose daycare is right next to my workplace, it’s always strange for me to get in the car without him. But the drive was beautiful. The weather was mild and gray, like it is in Washington State, where I spent my teenage years. I thought a lot about how deep the satisfaction of playing go was. Its age, simplicity, and beauty give it a purpose and value unto itself.
There’s a story about a farmer who was traveling in the woods near his village one day. He came across two old men playing go and he stopped for a while to watch them play. Soon he became absorbed in the game and was startled when one of the players looked up and suggested that it might be time for him to go home. He walked slowly back to his village, still thinking about the game, but when he arrived found that he had not been gone for an afternoon, but for decades, and that everyone he knew had grown old. Go games reach toward timelessness.
Diego welcomed me to his home and showed me the sun room where he had his kaya (!) goban set up with a set of snow grade (!!) slate and shell stones. Diego’s wife treated us to delicious toasted roast beef and pepperjack sandwiches for lunch, after which Diego’s colleagues Sam, Zhaoyan, and Hyung arrived.
Using our iPhones as game clocks, we proceeded to play three rounds with 45 minutes per player on the clock and five byo-yomi periods of 30 seconds. My first opponent was Sam. He has an aggressive style and will frequently invade strong positions, challenging his opponents to prove that they really ought to get territory they might have thought they already had. Our game ended in a big fight in which I captured a large group, but there was plenty of back and forth until then.
My second match was against Zhaoyan, who hasn’t been beaten, yet, in Diego’s company and I would not prove the first to beat him. We were able to partially reconstruct a record from that game; sadly, it is more than enough to show the differences in our strengths.
My third match was against Hyung, and I was able to win in the end. Diego recorded the game while we played.
Sam and Zhaoyan went home and Hyung stayed for a while, during which time we ordered pizza and Diego treated me to a carefully crafted martini. We talked a lot about great Go players like Lee Chang Ho, Lee Sedol, Takemiya Masaki, Kitani Minoru, and more. And Hyung related the same story I told above about the farmer and the go game. It was pretty great: that’s my idea of good conversation to have while drinking.
Diego and Hyung played a game that I recorded, though I caught myself falling asleep on several occasions. It was a riviting game, but I’d woken up with my son at 5:50 AM, and that martini was doing a number on me.
Afterward, Diego and I played a final game for the day. It had been months since we played. Nigiri for color: Diego got black. And he had the audacity to play the mini-Chinese opening, which is kind of my thing. Well: I shouldn’t say it’s my thing, because the game proved that I do not understand it well enough to counter it. Diego developed a tremendous amount of territory in the corner and along the side. I tried to counter with a large central moyo, not a strategy at which I’m particularly talented. I tried my best to edge the game closer and closer, but at last I got too desperate, overreached, and Diego cut apart a group on the side and I resigned.
I was too tired and battered after that game to try to make a record of it.
I enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep and woke up (after sleeping late! parents know where I’m coming from) to breakfast and a fresh pot of coffee. Diego and I played another game of go, switching colors. This time I was able to win, which made it a little easier to hold my head up. Diego and I watched a lecture on breaking the bamboo (a fighting technique) from the Yunusseng Dojang.
At lunch, we were rejoined by Sam and Zhaoyan. Zhaoyan and I played again while Diego played Sam. This time I did better: I focused on choosing straightforward joseki that would make it harder for me to make a mistake allowing him to develop a large position. I also played black, which made it a little easier. Despite getting an inferior result out of the taisha joseki, which I worked on in my most recent lesson with Shifu and still managed to bungle, I thought that black came out ahead in the opening and most of the middle game. My only liability was a large group in the center made up of a pyramid of monkey faces which I thought was taken care of. But in the late middle game, Zhaoyan found a weak spot and cut. I wasn’t far enough ahead that I could give up one part of the group, so I fought for life. It was an interesting fight, but Zhaoyan played calmly, carefully, and left me with nothing. I resigned, all hopes of being the first to defeat Zhaoyan dashed.
My final game was against Sam, and, true to form, it turned into a big, fierce battle after a deep invasion.
Sam played the sanrensei, which I have a harder time dealing with than I think I should. After two approaches and two pincers, black had given me center influence while taking territory, but I had almost nothing but influence. Luckily for me, Sam invaded deep and gave me a target, making that influence useful, and I was able to win in the end.
And before I knew it, it was time to drive home. I’d played seven intense, timed games over two days. I was exhausted and happy, ready to see my wife and son again. I headed home, my mind filled with go.