Studying Weiqi in China

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Final Post

This is my last entry for the blog. I'm finally home after a long but uneventful trip. My arms and shoulders are sore from carrying, pushing and pulling all those books I bought. I seem to be doing ok as far as jet lag goes (I stayed up for pretty much the whole trip and then just slept when I arrived at my brother's place around 11:30 pm), but now I'm feeling kinda sick today. I haven't really had any time for Go since I've been back because I've been busy trying to get everything together for my visa application for England. There's so much to do before I leave.

Here are some pictures from our last day at the center. This first one is Zhang Pei Pei and Xie Er Hao playing "Guess the Next Move in the Pro Game". While we were playing this, I started doing "eeny meeny miny mo". Zhang Pei Pei loved it and made me say it every time afterwards. She even got Walther to do it a few times. I wrote it down for her on the back of her kifu book.

On the right, Xie Er Hao hiding.

For our last day, I requested to play Zhang Pei Pei again. As usual, I resigned quickly. Until just a few days earlier, whenever she played as black, she would play as if she was playing white: she'd take territory in different places all over the board. Also, she tended to play a bit slowly and wait for her opponent's mistake. Then she'd pounce on it and attack. Yan Laoshi told her that she couldn't do this against stronger players though, because they wouldn't make that mistake she's waiting for and she'd just get behind. She listens to Yan Laoshi, so in my game, when she got black she played the low Chinese opening. Playing me is easy for her, but since she was trying to get her stones to cooperate, Yan Laoshi was able to demonstrate that she got a lot more territory this way. Here, Walther is trying his luck against her in the afternoon. On the right, I'm getting crushed by Xie Er Hao.

Walther brought a lot of candy with him from the U.S., so we gave out candy to the kids on our last day just before we left. Earlier, I gave Zhang Pei Pei a necklace of mine and she gave me a little stuffed animal dog, on the tag of which she had written her name and the date. She had a matching one and had me write my name and the date on hers. We exchanged email addresses and birthdays before I left. I got an email from her when I got home, but all it said was "hello". I wrote back but haven't gotten a reply yet.

I will miss Yan Laoshi and his family and all the kids at the center. I think I've really learned a lot and, more importantly, I've acquired a better idea of how to study and learn Weiqi so that I can continue to improve.

Guo Juan
Time for some Oscar-style gratitude: thank you first and foremost to Yan Laoshi for being such a great teacher and spending so much time with us; thank you to his wife Li a yi for welcoming us and making us feel comfortable; thank you to Yan Sen (their son) and Li Zi (Li a yi's nephew) for keeping us entertained; thank you to Liu yi for all the wonderful food; thank you to Li Chen (Liu yi's daughter) for helping me to learn some Chinese and providing some extra English reading materials; thank you to all the kids at the center for playing with us and teaching us; thank you to all the other teachers at the center for the same; thank you to my fellow students Romain, Siu and Walther for making this first year with Yan Laoshi an excellent one and for studying and learning with me; thank you to Siu and Walther for translating so much for me; thank you to Rich (my first Go teacher) for his continued support; and finally a big huge thank you to Guo Juan for giving us this amazing opportunity!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Last Day

Today is our last day at the center. I told this to Zhang Pei Pei yesterday; she pretended to wipe tears from her cheeks. She didn't really believe that we would both leave. Walther too? Her mom seemed even more concerned that we were leaving. (Her mom's English is quite good, though she doesn't say much.) I think she just didn't really think about it. We've become closest to Zhang Pei Pei, who entertains us during lunch. Being a girl, she has a slightly better chance at becoming a pro than the other kids at the center who are about her level. I hope that at least both she and Xie Er Hao become pros, so that we can track their progress.

Yesterday I went 1-1 again. I lost to Mah Din Rui after a bad move in our running fight. He pounced on the opportunity to take advantage and I never got a chance to come back. In the afternoon, I played a kid who seems to be a bit older and who we think has played online a lot. I think he is much weaker than most of the kids in the C group. Even though I attacked him from the wrong direction, I won by over 30 points.

We seem to be experiencing the remnants of Siu's typhoon. Yesterday evening the sky turned a frightening yellow-orange color (which looked an equally scary purple through our blue windows in the living room). We didn't really get too much of a storm though. Now it's just raining really hard.

almost done

So, it's almost time to leave. I feel very sad, of course, but I also feel pretty satisfied with the go I've learned. Over two months, I may have advanced only 1 stone or so, but I feel like it is a very large stone. I feel like I'm beginning to understand how the game should be played, this is the first time I've felt anything like an advanced player. I'm afraid to lose this feeling, so I think that I will continue to have lessons from a professional teacher.

Of course, it would be nice to advance faster, but in terms of sheer knowledge, I don't think I could have learned much more. I feel like many of the right principles are in place now so that I can try to play a good game, but every game I play I see a new variation where I'm not quite sure what to do. How many more of these variations do I need to collect before I become another stone stronger? Well, I shouldn't be in a hurry anyways, I only have a couple of stones left to advance in my lifetime.

Yan laoshi had an interesting analogy the other day. Imagine that the go school is filled with students (of course) looking for the door to leave. Some students who are clever, like Liu Jia Yi and Zhang Ling Feng in the C group, know where the door is, but on the way out somehow manage to bump into the wall instead. When these kids are serious, they play well, but they often play without thinking. Other kids may be told day after day where the door is, but they still cannot find the door. These kids are also unable to correct their mistakes.

Isn't that game othello?

Here's the promised post on games using a go board and stones that are not quite go.

Here, the kids are betting on the next move in pro games. Li Di Wang, the kid who played in the dan promotion tournament (in the blue tank) is winning by a lot.

A lot of games involve flicking stones.

Another variation on flicking stones (like marbles). The rules for this one seem to be rather complicated.

Othello. It's not just because we wanted to get a picture of Othello, I've actually seen it quite a few times at the go center.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Games from Yesterday

Here are my two games from yesterday. The first I resigned early after a slew of bad mistakes. In the second, my opponent made some mistakes. Yan Laoshi said my endgame was good (though it's not properly recorded here). Later, when reviewing it, he said it was an easy win. He said I need to play stronger in some places and take more advantage of my opponent's weaknesses. He also said that I tend to play better with black. I'm sure this is true, but at least I don't feel totally uncomfortable with white, as I did when I got here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Weiqi Shi Jue

We have been memorizing the 10 Weiqi proverbs (I think "proverbs" is more appropriate than "commandments") in Chinese. We get quizzed often. Here they are in Chinese (I hope my attempt at the tone symbols is ok):

1. bù dé tān shèng
2. rù jiè yì huǎn
3. gōng bǐ gù wǒ (that's supposed to be a 3rd tone over the i)
4. qì zǐ zhēng xiān
5. shě xiǎo jiù dà (those are 4th tones over the u and the a)
6. féng wēi xū qì
7. shèn wù qīng sù
8. dòng xū xiāng yìng (4th tone over the o)
9. bǐ qiáng zì bǎo
10. shì gū qǔ hé

Right now, I pretty much have them all memorized, but for most of them I still can't remember what they mean. So now I'm going back and memorizing what they mean, both the literal translation (four words that give a general gist of the meaning) and what they actually refer to in terms of Weiqi. Since I started memorizing them in increasing order, I'm trying to memorize the meanings the other way, so as to learn the last ones as well as I know the first few.

10. shì = power; gū = alone/weak; qǔ hé = safe (sometimes two characters are lumped together to give one meaning). The idea here is that if your group is weak and alone, you shouldn't try to run, but just live.

9. bǐ = somebody else; qiáng = strong; zì = myself; bǎo = protect. Siu's translator said that this means when you are playing a strong opponent, remember to protect yourself, but it seems to me that it should be when your opponent is strong (i.e., has strong groups near yours), you should protect yourself.

8. dòng = move; xū = should; xiāng yìng = cooperation. Siu's translator (this is translating Yan Laoshi's explanations, but his translator was not a Weiqi player) said, "as in philosophy, we should consider the static state and dynamic state". The other day, Yan Laoshi used this proverb in jest, trying to get Li a yi (who was taking too long getting ready to go) to leave with him ("we go together" sort of thing). This makes me think that this proverb might really be referring to the idea that when you have to run, you should get your opponent to run with you.

7. shèn = careful/care for; wù = no/can't; qīng sù = too fast. We should be careful and not be so anxious; similar to 6.

6. féng = meet; wēi = dangerous; xū = should; qì = sacrifice. This should be pretty obvious. Through Siu's translator, we are told that if you are weak, you have to give up your plan to attack.

5. shě = throw away; xiǎo = small; jiù = save; dà = big. This, too, is straightforward: give up the small to save the big. Or, play the big points and not the small points.

4. qì = sacrifice; zǐ = stones; zhēng = fight; xiān = first. (I think Walther said that "fight first" refers to sente.) This is about playing lightly--if you want to move quickly, you don't want to be carrying a lot of baggage.

3. gōng = attack; bǐ = somebody else; gù = look after/careful; wǒ = me. We thought before that this meant that if you want to fight you have to protect yourself first, but this came up in a game review and we realized that it really means (or maybe also means?) that you should attack in order to protect yourself.

2. rù = enter; jiè = place; yì = should; huǎn = slow. This is the "look before you leap" proverb: if you want to invade, you should check out the surroundings first.

1. bù dé = no/don't; tān = greedy; shèng = win. If you're winning, don't be greedy.

Perhaps Walther or Siu or Guo Juan can comment further on what the meanings really are.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Game with Yan Laoshi (Perhaps the last?)

I think Yan Laoshi said that we would go over more fuseki stuff today, so our games with him yesterday may have been our last. I won this game by the smallest of margins, but not really. I should have lost. If nothing else, I had a problem in the endgame that should have cost me 4 points, but he didn't play it. At one point I almost resigned because I had not one, but two nearly dead groups (we're not dead yet!). Overall it wasn't bad though. Unfortunately, my memory fails me, so there are a few places where I have passes in the game record. I believe it's just a matter of having the order wrong, but I couldn't figure it out.

This may sound stupid, but Yan Laoshi mentioned some advice about dame points the other day. He said that when you fill your dame the first thing you should do is fix any problems you have. You can fill in the other dame afterwards. Not only that, but, like playing endgame moves, you should fix your biggest problems first and fix subsequent problems in decreasing order of points.

Monday, August 07, 2006

More (old) pictures from Huang Hua Lo

Since the computer & internet connection seem to be running a bit faster these days (knock on wood), I thought I'd post a few of Li a yi's pictures from our trip a while back to Huang Hua Lo, the most famous building in Wuhan. So here are some pictures of us standing in front of the various attractions.

This is at the top of the tower.

There was artwork on display (or gift shops) inside each level of the tower.

Li a yi and I in front of a big bell.

Li a yi and the mothers of Yan Sen's friends.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Less than one week left

We leave a week from yesterday morning. We have a few days at home and then only three more days at the center. It will be sad to leave the center and all those kids for the last time.

Li a yi bought us plane tickets from Wuhan to Shanghai (our flight to the U.S. leaves from Shanghai). Unfortunately, this flight takes us to a different airport in Shanghai than the one from which we are leaving. A friend of Walther's dad is scheduled to pick us up and bring us to the other airport. Hopefully that will all go smoothly.

Siu finally made it home after being stuck in Hong Kong for two extra days due to a typhoon. We were nervous for him because he was scheduled to depart on the last day that his visa was good. It ended up not being a problem because he was in Hong Kong instead of the main part of China.

Walther and I ordered kaya boards to bring home with us. They finally arrived yesterday after being sent to the wrong part of Wuhan, but it was quite a fiasco. One of the boards is beautiful and the other is smaller and painted yellow. It's awful. But the one that is really nice has a really big dent gouged out of one of the edges from some mishap in shipping. Both have a couple of smaller dents on the top. Yan Laoshi and Li a yi were furious. They called the company and kept grabbing the phone from each other to yell at them some more. Li a yi said she will call again today. They said they are going to send two new boards and Li a yi and Yan Laoshi promised that they'll be here before we leave if someone has to drive them here. They said this is why people in China don't like to order things online or over the phone. I would think that if you're going to try to pull something like this, you don't send one nice board and one bad board and also that you wouldn't try to pull this on the local 7 dan pro. I sure wouldn't have enjoyed being on the other end of that phone call.

Yesterday I got a much needed break in the morning while Yan Laoshi reviewed the C group games from the day before. I lost the only game I played yesterday--a big group died. In retrospect, I might have been able to save it, but I think my opponent would have obtained enough points in forcing me to live to win easily.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Only one game yesterday

As if to make up for my three games the day before, I only played one game yesterday. It took all morning and most of the afternoon. My opponent was playing as slowly as I do. I won the game, but I had a lot of mistakes and direction problems. In this game I played two moves that were half way between the two goals I wanted to accomplish. This is bad because then you don't end up accomplishing either goal. If you want to do something, just do it.

Last night Xie Er Hao came by again. Apparently he comes every week in the evening to have Yan Laoshi review a game for him. Yan Laoshi spends more time on Xie Er Hao than on other students because he really has a chance to go far.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Three Games

Yesterday I played three games at the center because I got a ridiculously bad result early on in my game against Mah Din Rui (the tortoise) and resigned. The other two games I won, but there are still plenty of mistakes from which to learn.

Food Favorites

The other night at dinner, Walther and I were asked if we had any food requests for our last few days here. We weren't allowed to say "everything's okay" -- a phrase I've found useful. I wasn't prepared for the question so we first decided that we'd think about it. Then I requested fish balls and Walther requested pork ribs. Both were delivered promptly last night. So I requested dumplings again sometime before we go.

I also remembered to ask them to teach me how to make ru ga mian (hot and dry noodles). They were really happy about this, because they all love ru ga mian, which they call the "hamburger of Wuhan". Li a yi said that whenever Yan Laoshi goes away, the first thing he eats when he gets back to Wuhan is always ru ga mian.

a game

Finally, another one of my games up. This one is against Xie Er Hao, the strong 7 year old. We've matched most of the kids we know at the go center to an animal, and Xie Er Hao is a groundhog. If you've seen the videos Becci posted, then we also have a pig and a tortoise.

Xie Er Hao is obviously pretty strong: he won 3 games at the preliminary to the dan promotion tournament (5 games out of 8 are required to move on). But most of his strength is in fighting, he often doesn't bother to "survey the lay of the land," as Yan laoshi puts it. He doesn't really care what's strong or weak, or where is the best place to play. He often relies on his power to get him out of trouble.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Stormy Weather

The night before last we had a huge thunderstorm. Walther, with his ear plugs in, slept through it, but it kept me up, which is impressive because I'm a pretty heavy sleeper and with our windows closed and air conditioner on, most outside noise gets muted. The thunder was like cannon firing in our bedroom and the lightening was practically constant. It lasted pretty much all night.

On Wednesday we went to the bank to get money. Walther brought cash to be converted to RMB and I had several options to try to get money. Unfortunately, I didn't think to bring my passport with me, so they wouldn't do anything for me. So yesterday morning we went back to the bank with my passport on the way to the center. I tried my check card, but they wouldn't take that at all. Then I tried my regular visa credit card, which Siu said I shouldn't have a problem with (he was unable to use his non-visa European bank card but they said visa would be okay). They agreed that this was actually a credit card, but said that it wasn't approved. They suggested calling first the credit card company, so perhaps it's a theft protection issue. We left because it was getting late.

We had to take a different route to the center because we went out of our way to go to the bank. This route was along the river and, after the storm, part of the road was flooded. We drove along the far edge through the water and many people were driving up on the side walk. We then got stuck in more traffic and ended up being about half an hour late to the center.

During lunch we tried another bank because I had some cash and travelers checks with me, so we thought that might work instead. The teller told me to sign the travelers checks, which I did, but unfortunately I also filled in the "pay to the order of" part. If I didn't fill that in, there would be no problem, but now they'd have to be sent back to the U.S. and it would take a month to get the money. Thankfully, Yan Laoshi got them to do this, so the money will get to him eventually. After endless paper work, we finally got some cash for all of our efforts and got back to the center only a little bit late for our afternoon games.

I played horribly yesterday. I couldn't read to save my life. I hope this doesn't keep up. My afternoon game was reviewed by Chen Laoshi (the teacher for the C group, who is about 5 dan) and then reviewed again at home later by Yan Laoshi. Here are both reviews (separately) so that you can see the difference between the two. I find that usually the variations they give are pretty much the same, but the difference is often in what they emphasize.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

For a Limited Time Only

We took a few videos of the kids at the center. Perhaps it's just because we have gotten to know and adore these kids, but we can watch these short clips over and over. Hopefully it will give you some idea of the personality of a couple of them. My brother has graciously agreed to host them for a couple of weeks, so check them out while you can. You can find them here:

Besides being amused by the videos themselves, it's great fun to watch the videos with other Weiqi players. They have a tendency to comment on what's happening on the board instead of the squirming kids.

Another Game with Yan Laoshi

Walther and I played Yan Laoshi again this afternoon。 I think this was my best game against him in a while。 I lost by only one stone,or two points。 I played a few slow moves and missed some opportunities,but mostly my game was pretty good。 I even had a winning position, but then lost five points in the end game and so lost the game. I'm pretty happy with it though, because I think my endgame, while still needing work, is much improved since I came here.

comments on the 5

For the kids at the go school, Yan laoshi mainly emphasises correcting mistakes. When he asks them, "what is your greatest weakness?" they already know to answer, "We don't correct our mistakes."

I think that #5 can also be translated as something about knowing your character, because your character will affect how you play on the board. This might manifest itself as a certain style, such as attacking or territorial.

I'm not sure that students come from all over China, but certainly from many parts of southern China (I would guess that in the north, all the students go to Beijing). Yang Su Yi Ting came here for the last year, and he's from Yunnan. With the start of the new school year coming up, we might get to meet some kids coming here for the next year.

Yan laoshi certainly does have a way with the kids. Li Hao went to the dan promotion tournament, and decided that he was very satisfied with the teaching he got at the go school. Some of the strong local kids, like Xie Er Hao and Li Hao, will come around to Yan laoshi's place every now and then in the evening to talk about weiqi.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

5 Steps to Improving at Weiqi

Yan Laoshi has been harping on the 5 things one needs to do to improve at Weiqi. The first two are things outside oneself, and the latter three are all things you have to do on your own.

1. Teacher. He's not saying this just for job security. You really need to have someone who can help you understand what's going on on the board and who can point out your mistakes.

2. Strong Opponents. You need to play people at least your own strength and hopefully a little bit stronger.

3. Fundamentals. This category includes tsume-go and tesuji, basic shapes, and learning things like fuseki and joseki and basic theories.

4. Correcting Mistakes. Yan Laoshi emphasizes the need to correct one's mistakes in order to improve. Simply learning new stuff is not enough.

5. Improving Oneself. You need to be a good person. Your personality comes out on the Weiqi board and Yan Laoshi believes that you need to have a big heart to truly play well.

This last step is something that is unusual of Yan Laoshi. Many Weiqi teachers, especially in the big schools, don't spend time on this sort of thing. Yan Laoshi has great relationships with his students. He is really their friend and mentor and not just their teacher. Li a yi said that many students will come from all over the country, away from their families for months or even a year at a time (and they're at most 11 years old) to study with Yan Laoshi.