Studying Weiqi in China

Monday, July 31, 2006

Siu's Last Day

We took Siu to the airport this morning. It was sad to see him go. Perhaps he'll add his comments to our blog entries when he gets back. I look forward to seeing him in Amsterdam when I visit Guo Juan while I'm living in London.

Last night Li Hao (one of the kids from the center) and his parents invited us out to dinner because he wanted to see Siu again before we left. They took us to a really fancy restaurant and we had some excelllent food. We came back to the house afterwards so that Li Hao could give Siu his parting gift: half of a Go game, to be completed when they meet again.

We played Yan Laoshi again yesterday. I felt better about this game with him than I have about the past couple of games I've played against him. We started in the morning, which I think is better for me than when we play in the afternoon, but we all try so hard against him and think for so long that the games drag on and we wear ourselves out. After a couple of hours, my energy started flagging and my moves got worse. We took a break for lunch and I got a bit of a second wind, but I missed a big opportunity and ended up with a big group which could only live in ko (at least the way I played it). He had way too many ko threats, and I had none that were worth so much, so I resigned.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


This week I lost almost all of my games. I'm not sure exactly why, although I don't feel very sharp lately. I keep on building up good positions, but then playing one move in completely wrong direction, so that it becomes a wasted move. One reason might be that I'm finally getting tired from playing 4 days a week at the center. Another might be that we haven't been doing a whole lot of tsumego lately. Last week was also pretty hard because we spent our 3 days "off" doing a big review of past games, playing difficults games with Yan Laoshi, and then hiking around Dong Hu.

This week I've also played a lot of games with positions that are unfamiliar to me. I had spent much of the previous couple weeks playing with or against the Kobayashi opening, and especially against the C group kids, I didn't see too many different variations (or they just decided to make a huge overplay). Against the B group kids, they first obviously make fewer mistakes, but they also will turn the game into something unfamiliar for me since they know a lot more variations. This way, even if I get a good position, I'm not quite sure what to do with it. I think that the games I played in the last week are going to be very useful for the future for me to look back and see what some of my mistakes in fundamentals are.

For some reason, my games in the last week are also very long. Twice, I've had to have a games sealed for lunch, and my games tend to run the longest out of the whole A and B groups. I don't know whether this is because of unfamiliar positions and new variations, or just that I'm thinking too long about the wrong things.

Yan laoshi hasn't given any lectures on principles of play for quite a while, but I think that's because the flow of our games is getting better, and he can just point out mistakes in principles here and there during game review. Sometimes he'll say that the idea is right, but that the calculation is not good enough.

Siu is leaving tomorrow. It will be a little lonelier here, since I talked a lot with Siu about Go and about how he runs his club. He is the president of the Groningen go club in Holland, and I've been asking him a lot of questions about how they do tournaments and activities. I hope that we can keep discussing this stuff in the future, and maybe fit in some studying for go. He improved a lot while he was here, and he's going to surprise a lot of people back in Holland.


Siu leaves us tomorrow, so yesterday was his last day at the center. It was sad to watch him take leave of the kids. We hope that our stay here has had a positive effect on them. Siu said that when he first got here, none of the kids wrote comments from their game reviews in their kifus (something that we always do for when we go back and review our games later). Now some of them do. I guess Yan Laoshi also said that after seeing us improving faster than the kids, the teachers are thinking about what they can change at the center to increase the pace of the kids' progress.

Yesterday morning I got to play Xie Er Hao (the 7 year old). I resigned, but I think it was actually a pretty good game. Yan Laoshi didn't have too many comments. I made a couple of slow moves, and then lost basically because my calculation wasn't strong enough. I have to do more problems. In the afternoon, I lost by just a bit but my game was much worse. It was a good game for me to play though, because my opponent played two 3-3 points for his fuseki. I always have trouble facing 3-3 points, because I never know what to do about them. I think I'll feel more confident about it from now on. Here are the games:

More pictures of the kids:

Yang Sui Ting (on the left) noticed that Siu was about to take a picture of him, so he sat up straight and proper. Usually (and at that time) he's slouching and leaning his head on his hand.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Advantages of Being Vegetarian

My vegetarianism here may not be strict, but there are some advantages.

Chicken feet.

Frog's legs. If it weren't for fear of offending our hosts, you might have seen some videos of dancing cooked frogs. As you may be able to make out from the picture, the frogs are served basically whole, so they looked like little people and seemed to us to make great action figures.

Not pictured here, but also (in my opinion) falling under the category of advantages of being a vegetarian are pig's brains and intestines.


Walther has been posting many pictures from dinner, but what about breakfast?

Usually we eat noodles for breakfast. When we eat at home, the noodles are usually served in broth, with some greens for me and some meat also for everyone else. If there are appropriate leftovers from dinner (mushrooms, say), these might be thrown in.

In these pictures, you also see a small bowl of pickled cabbage and peppers as a side dish. With our breakfast, we'll usually drink yogurt (pictured above), soy milk or this slightly sweet and ever so yummy split green lentil soup served cold. It's supposed to reduce your body temperature, a much appreciated side effect in the heat of Wuhan.

In the upper left corner of this picture, there is also a bowl of little bread rolls. These are very dense and difficult to eat when one has already consumed a large bowl of noodles and a couple of practically deep-fried eggs. Fortunately, they don't get the bread very often. Sometimes, they get larger bread rolls which often have some meat filling.

As mentioned above, they've taken to frying eggs for us for breakfast when we eat at home. I think this is Romain's fault, because he ate these when he sometimes wouldn't eat the noodles. At first, I think we all appreciated the change in pace, but now it's just really heavy.

Occasionally, instead of noodles, we'll get these little balls of rice dough stuffed with sweet sesame paste and served in a thin broth. I really like these a lot.

The breakfast pictures here are all from home, but we eat out for breakfast quite a bit. When we eat out, the most common breakfast is ru ga mian (hot and dry noodles), which is noodles with sesame paste. I love this. The boys will sometimes get beef with noodles or liver with noodles instead and sometimes I have noodles with fish broth. If Yan Sen is with us, we might get dumplings also (these have meat in them so I don't eat them).

Occasionally Yan Laoshi cooks for us (usually breakfast), and I finally got up the nerve to take a picture of him in his apron. The photo is a bit dark, but the kids at the center got a kick out of it when they saw it on Siu's camera.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Pictures from East Lake

This is before Yan Laoshi got splashed and moved to the other side of the boat. The photo on the right is of a more traditional boat that we passed on our way.

This is a bridge that I really liked. The boats dropped us off near this bridge. On the right, Liu yi and Li a yi climbing stairs to one of the temples.

These pictures are from the top of the set of stairs above. Underneath this pavillion there was a little room, open on both sides, where we found the chanting monks.

The guy on the far left (with Walther posing in front) is featured in another statue as a baby being protected by a tiger (apparently he was raised by a tiger).

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Drowning Soldiers

Yesterday, Yan Laoshi was talking to us about a game in the morning between Xie Er Hao (the 7 year old boy wonder who beat Jin Jing 2p (then 1p) even) and Zhang Pei Pei (the girl in the B group). He was telling us that if your enemy sends foot soldiers into the sea to fight against your ship, you should keep them swimming for as long as possible to wear them out and make the battle easier to win. When he first started talking about this, I hadn't seen the game and, though the theory makes sense, I didn't really see what he meant as it applies to Weiqi. In the evening, he showed us the game and explained the situation. Walther recorded it all in sgf so here it is:

Yan Laoshi also talked last night about different ways to deal with the san ren sei and styles of play in general. He had noticed that all of us have a tendency to take influence and that it can be difficult to use it well to get enough points out of it. Here are some comments and suggestions he gave us (also recorded by Walther).

In one of my games, I had played a 3-4 point, my opponent played a one space high approach, and I played a 2 space high pincer. He then did a keima from his pincered stone. I had no idea what to do, so I attached underneath and pulled back. But this is not right--I should have cut. It gets a bit complicated though, so Yan Laoshi brought home a book today that has some variations. Here they are:

The biggest excitement at the center today is that Siu beat Xie Er Hao!! Someday when Xie Er Hao is a famous pro, Siu will be able to say that he beat him.

Technical Difficulties

We're experiencing some fairly severe virus and spyware trouble on our computer at the moment. As a result, blog entries may be less frequent. I'll try to keep posting though.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

East Lake

East Lake takes up a pretty large portion of our part of Wuhan. Yesterday we went to visit the lake. We were told that it's the largest lake in China, but we didn't really believe them. They added some qualifier about it being the largest lake without an outlet to the sea. When we checked the map at home, it looked like there really aren't any very large lakes in China, so maybe it is true.

There are roads that run out into the lake on what might otherwise be islands. We took one of these out to a park and then took boats out to a little mountain. We climbed many stairs to a couple of temples, one of which had a small room with some monks chanting from scrolls. I didn't dare to take a picture of them though. I asked Li Chen if I could and she seemed doubtful. We wandered around the park gazing at (and taking pictures in front of) some statues commemorating ancient heroes. It was nice to get out and get a bit of exercise. The weather was a bit cooler too, with a nice breeze so that it was actually comfortable to be outside.

I learned to say, "This afternoon we walked really far around East Lake" in Chinese.

While hiking over the mountain back towards the car, we passed a plaque that told a story about how in 1999, a big white cloud rose up from the lake and destroyed 700 trees on the mountain. It said that some people later explained this phenomenon with some meteorological theory, but that there were some witnesses who claimed to see three UFO's, so we can't draw any conclusions.

Along the way, we passed many swimming areas in the lake: swimming pool sized areas marked off by concrete barriers. Many people were enjoying the water and Li a yi said she used to swim a lot when she was younger, but Li Chen said the water is dirty.

When we ate at our favorite hot pot restaurant for dinner, both Yan Laoshi and Li Chen burned their hands on the pots. Such a restaurant would not last long in the U.S.

I'll try to add some pictures later if I can.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Correcting Mistakes

Yan Laoshi told us yesterday that one doesn't really improve by learning lots of new stuff. Correcting one's mistakes is the way to get stronger. We've been having all of our games reviewed and mistakes pointed out, but sometimes it's hard to see the overall picture when working with all these details. To help with this, Yan Laoshi did something new yesterday.

We started in the afternoon and, with a break (of course) for dinner, we worked into the evening. Each of us had 5 of our most recent games reviewed again. Yan Laoshi was then able to go more in-depth in the reviews than he can at the center and, more importantly, he was able to point out trends in our play and mistakes that we make often and most need to correct.

I think this was really important for me. It turns out that I still make a lot of moves that don't really have any purpose or aren't making any points. This was something that I hadn't realized from our regular game reviews. Yan Laoshi asked, "How do you lose?" He answered that one way is that your moves don't make points. Another is that, while you are protecting yourself, your opponent is making points.

I also have to do a better job of analyzing the board and understanding what each move is doing. This will help determine what is most important on the board at any given point. One should do this by looking at opposites: strong vs. weak; big vs. small; attack vs. defense; dynamic vs. static.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

As Becci mentioned, we are beginning to play most of our games in the B group now. However, last week I still lost twice to Yan laoshi at 3 stones (I think most of the kids in the B group play him at 2 stones). His wife, Li ayi, said that at the beginning, he was pretty relaxed when he played us, but now he has to try a little harder.

I seem to be doing ok in the B group. I think my record in the group for the last week is 4-2. I hope that by the end of my time here, I can be near the top of the B group. The A group is still pretty far away though, I'm guessing I would need an additional half-year to one year of similar training to make it there. Still, I'm pretty satisfied that I seem to be making progress, although I don't really feel stronger.

The center has been getting a little rowdier lately as the kids who are here just for vacation are getting more comfortable. Zhang Pei Pei, the girl in the B group, has revealed a fan used more for hitting than for fanning. She got in a really good knock against Sang Pan Yu, who is as mischevous off the board as he is on it. During lunch, the kids in the C group are often screaming very loudly as they play games (look forward to a special post on non-weiqi games played at the go center). yesterday, Siu and I actually had to step outside because we couldn't hear each other talk inside.

Chen laoshi, the 5d who teaches the C group, was kind enough to get all of us Weiqi Tian Di magazines. He wrote some nice lines inside. He compared the variations on a go board to beautiful scenery, and the final position to a painting.

I'll post some more games soon.

Yesterday's Games

In the morning, I played Shang Pan Yu and made a couple of big mistakes, both of which I should know better. I resigned. Shang Pan Yu gets really impatient when I take a long time to make a move and has no qualms about showing it. He'll roll his eyes and give these big exaggerated sighs and beg me to play more quickly. So, just to tease him, I'll take even longer to play than usual. Yan Laoshi says that he has a good feeling for the game, but he makes mistakes. The kids who are stronger than him don't seem to be fazed by my playing slowly. I think it's an indication of their strength and potential compared to his. Yan Laoshi has also reprimanded him during reviews, saying that he doesn't need to listen because he already knows everything. (He has a tendency to make comments about the game being reviewed.) Here's my game with him from yesterday:

In the afternoon, Walther, Siu and I played against kids from the C group who had won their games in the morning. The kid I played has thick glasses and a tendency to start big ugly fights on the board. The difference in strength between the kids in the C group and the kids in the B group is really remarkable. I won this game: I was ahead by about 20 points on the board, plus, with white, I had 7.5 points of komi, but he played the game out to the end. Here it is:

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Novelty at the Center

The past couple of days have brought some unusual events at the center. On Friday, we had no power. This meant that not only did we not have air conditioning, but we didn't even have use of our ceiling fans. Furthermore, there was no hot water for tea and they couldn't cook lunch. We played in the morning and had our games reviewed, but then they sent everyone home. Here is my game from Friday morning:

Yan Sen and Li Zi had joined us at the center on Friday (I suppose they weren't to be left alone at home now that they are both on vacation from school). They picked a bad day, in terms of the heat and no power. On the other hand, we left and went out to a fancy restaurant for lunch. Li a yi met us there. In the afternoon, Yan Laoshi reviewed some recent pro game fusekis with us.

We had power at the center again yesterday, so we had a full day. Here are my games:

In the morning game, I avoided a complicated situation, but took a loss in doing so. I missed a big chance to come back by not playing an urgent point. In the afternoon, I killed a huge group and won my game, but there are plenty of mistakes to learn from.

After my first game yesterday, I was sitting at a table, recording the game when this little girl appeared in the doorway. She had long pigtails hanging from the sides of her head and a white sundress with green numbers printed all over it. She was shy. Her dad prodded her into the room a few times, but she kept turning back. Finally he stepped into the room behind her and this gave her enough courage. She came up to me and said in clipped memorized sentences, "Hello. My name is Yue." (I'm not sure if I heard her name correctly.) Here she stopped, and turned back to her dad for support. I asked in Chinese how old she was and she replied in English that she was 5. Then she started over with her speech: "Hello. My name is Yue. I am 5 (holding up 5 fingers) years old." She then recited a poem. I didn't catch all of it, and I think occasionally there was some Chinese thrown in. But it started with "If I could catch a rainbow (big rainbow hand motion) just for you, I would." and in the middle there was another stanza that went something like, "If I could build a mountain (hands folded prayerfully into a mountain shape) just for you, I would. But I cannot build a mountain." There was more, but unfortunately, I didn't understand all of it. Her dad took a couple of pictures after she finished and I indicated (in Chinese) that I'd like to have the picture. He said he'd give it to Yan Laoshi.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

More games

I'm going to try to post more of my games now. Here are the two I played yesterday:

The first is against Zhang Pei Pei, the girl in the B group. It basically consisted of my making a bunch of mistakes and then resigning. The second is against Bao Yu, another kid in the B group. His dad has been hanging out at the club the past couple of days, practicing his English with us in a very loud voice. In this game, Yan Laoshi said I played well, except for an overplay to which Black responded properly.

I resigned both games. I'm glad that we've started playing the kids in the B group now. It's clear that they are considerably stronger than the kids in the C group. I wonder if I'm allowed to play them only because Walther and Siu are strong enough to play them and I get to go along for the ride. But if that's the case, I'll take it. I think I will learn a lot from playing with these kids.

On a seemingly unrelated subject, the beds here are basically just slabs of wood with a thin pad over them. Supposedly firm is better for one's back, but this is a bit extreme. For the past month, I've been struggling with it. I've been waking up earlier and earlier with my back hurting, preventing me from going back to sleep. Not getting enough sleep is unacceptable. I need it to play well and learn efficiently. So I finally broke down and asked for another pad. It was readily supplied. Now I'm sleeping much better and I hope that will help me keep my energy up.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Mountains, Airports and Dumplings.

Yesterday, Yan Laoshi reviewed the games he played with Walther and Siu the day before. We had more time (this was our day off) so he went more in depth.

In his game with Siu, he exploited a weakness and started an attack on two stones. Siu ran away with these stones, starting a big fight running across the board. Yan Laoshi suggested that he consider sacrificing these two stones. It would give White about 20-30 points, but Black could build a big wall and use his stones on the other side efficiently to more than make up for the lost points. He did point out though that if Black had already been really strong on the other side, then it would probably be better to save the stones--if Black had already secured the points on the other side, then he wouldn't be making that much more with this strategy of sacrifice.

He compared this to an instance where Mao ZeDong led his troops across some big snowy mountains. They killed their horses, abandoned their pots and pans and took off. Travelling lightly was their only chance. Carrying all that heavy baggage can be too much.

Yan Laoshi also said that one has to be careful not to carry too much heavy mental baggage. We joke about how he says "bu hao!" all the time, but if you carry the mental weight of so much criticism with you into your game, it will be hard for you to play well. You have to learn from the criticism but at the same time not be weighed down by it.

In Walther's game, he talked about airports. If you have one big airport (framework), your opponent can just come in and reduce it easily. But if you have two big airports, then when your opponent comes in to reduce one, you can build the other one into a big territory. Here is an sgf file with the example he showed us:


We also learned the following shape:


Finally, Liu yi made more dumplings yesterday for lunch. She tried to get me to eat some, but I wouldn't because there was meat in them, so she made some vegetarian ones for me for dinner. She works fast and her dumplings are uniform and don't fall apart. Guo Juan taught me to make them just before I came to China, but I'm much slower and I often put too much or too little filling so they're not quite right. I've been asked about what we eat for breakfast, so I'm collecting some pictures and will post them soon.

Monday, July 17, 2006

My games

Here's links to my games for the past week. Some nice games and some really ugly ones. I'm trying to avoid the ugly moves since Yan laoshi will make a face like someone set off a stinkbomb. This face helps me develop a gut instinct for what's bad, it seems like these moves are physically painful to Yan laoshi. (except that that many of the kids seem to have developed an immunity to this face, they just look a little sheepish and keep on playing their terrible moves).


Hottest of the Three Furnaces

Wuhan is infamous for being one of China's "three furnaces" (i.e., very very hot weather) and is even said to be the hottest. I had been warned of this and the oppressive humidity here before I came, so I was prepared: I cut my hair short and brought only my lightest clothes.

But how hot is it really? I think the hottest temperature the papers have warned us of was 40 degrees celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and sometimes it gets down to a cool 30 degrees celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). Usually it's very humid as well. In my experience, rain is usually very refreshing, but here, after it rains, it just feels stickier.

However it really doesn't seem that bad to me. I think this is due to the air conditioning. We have a.c. in our living room and bedrooms, in the van (though we don't always use it and it doesn't always work) and at the Weiqi center (though, again, we don't always use it). I think that if we didn't have the a.c., and we had no break from the heat and humidity, I would have a better appreciation of Wuhan's nickname.

Teaching game with Yan laoshi

Here's a link to an sgf of my game last week with Yan laoshi:


I have a couple more games from last week coming soon, whenever they can be uploaded. I beat Ma Ding Rui twice in the last week, and on Sunday I also managed to beat Yang Su Yi Ting, a kid in the B group. In almost all of my games this week something very large died.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Chinese promotion tournament update

Jin Jing, who came around for a couple of weeks to give us teaching games, also went to the promotion tournament to try and become 2p. He hadn't played for 3 years or so since he became a pro (he was studying a lot to get into Beijing University). I think that not many people were expecting him to do well, since much of his preparation consisted of playing teaching games against weak people like me and going to the go center and losing to little kids like Xie Er Hao (although I'm sure he did other stuff too). But we're glad he did very well, he is now Jin Jing 2p. Hopefully he'll come by soon so that we can congratulate him.

If you go to and, you can see pictures of the tournament. I think these are all kids trying to become 1p.

Ten Commandments of Weiqi

These ten "commandments" are posted on the wall of Yan Laoshi's Weiqi Center.

1. Don't be greedy.
2. Think before you decide: when you'd like to attack your enemy's area or arrive at a new place, examine your surroundings first.
3. When you want to fight, you must protect yourself first.
4. If you want to run ahead fast, carry as little baggage as possible.
5. It's wise to take the big while throwing away the small.
6. Suppose you're in danger: your troops don't have enough food or water and are very tired. At this time, you have to give up your wish to attack.
7. We should be very careful and not be so anxious (similar to 6).
8. As in philosophy, we should consider the static state (defense) and the dynamic state (attack).
9. If you're facing a very strong opponent, remember to protect yourself.
10. If you are weak and alone, just settle down and live--don't run around first.

Another game

I've posted another game:

This one I played against one of the kids at the center. In the end it was close, but then I filled in my dame and killed myself. It was a fun game though, and I've added some comments from Yan Laoshi.

At the Center

We spend a lot of time at the Weiqi Center now and it was hinted that I should try to give an idea of what it is like.

Yan Laoshi's Weiqi Center takes up the third floor of a building. There are five classrooms, a kitchen (where we get our lunch, as do many of the kids and teachers) and bathrooms. The bathrooms leave much to be desired. They have squat toilets (usual here in China) but they're pretty dirty and the boys' room in particular usually smells terrible. Sometimes even walking past it is painful.

I think there are at least six teachers other than Yan Laoshi. They are generally about Chinese 5 or 6 dan. They give us 2 or 3 stones in simultaneous games, but some of the really strong kids play them even. We're told that there are about 150 students total, but most of them we don't know at all. Now that the kids are on summer break, our dan level group has grown to about 25 kids. These are the kids we spend our time with. Here they are diligently copying down their homework.

Our classroom is actually two classrooms connected by an opening in the middle. One of them you can see above (homework picture) and this is the other. Here Yan Laoshi is playing against a couple of the stronger kids. On the wall above them is a print of the "Ten Commandments of Weiqi". These are war strategies, like "if you are running away, take only the necessities: don't run with heavy baggage" or "if you are weak and tired and your resources are overstretched, you need to call off your attack". I'll post all of them in a separate entry.

On the walls there are charts like this one, listing recent results in our games against each other. You can see how Walther and I are doing (actually, maybe it's too small to read), and Romain and Siu are listed directly above us. The kids are occasionally ranked based on their performance and the top kids might get moved up a group, while the bottom kids might be demoted.

San Pei Pei was the first girl to appear in the dan level group. She's in the B group, so she's pretty strong. She works hard, as you can see here--she didn't notice me sneaking around to take her picture. Yesterday Yan Laoshi was reviewing one of Xie Er Hao's games from the tournament and was explaining that if you give away a lot of points to make big thickness, you have to find a target so that you can use that thickness. After showing examples and explaining the idea, he turned to her and asked her what he had said. She recited the concept perfectly in a schoolgirl singsong voice. Her favorite joke is to hold up bunny ears behind someone's head. She does an especially cute version where she makes oval ears with her first two fingers. My fingers don't bend as much so I can't do it as well.

Usually we play in the morning, have our games reviewed, play in the afternoon and then have those games reviewed. As more and more of us finish our games, the reviews get crowded. All the kids are squirming around and it gets difficult to see the board. Some of them are really paying attention and others are often doing the Weiqi equivalent of doodling: playing with the stones. They like to play a game where you each start with one or several stones on the board and you flick them at your opponent's stones, trying to knock the other player off the board without flying off yourself. Elaborate and disruptive games like these are generally frowned upon during review time, but you'll still see them at less conspicuous doodling like when they rub the stones together and then smell them. (I still can't figure out why they do this--I tried it and I can't smell anything.)

Here is an actual lesson. These happen more often now that we're at the center four days a week. The kids are eager to show off their knowledge. Generally, the kids seem happy to be there and to play, but clearly some of them have parents who push them really hard. They'll get yelled at if they lose or play poorly. Even the parents who are less strict are often seen hovering around the center. I think they're not really allowed in the room while we're actually playing or reviewing, but they come rushing in afterward to fuss over their child. When we're not playing, the noise level in the room grows incredibly. The kids' excited voices bounce off the cement walls and have no where to go, so it just builds. It becomes difficult to speak or even think, but it can be a lot of fun.

Friday, July 14, 2006

and then there were three...

Romain is heading home today. Yan Laoshi, Li a yi, Yan Sen and Siu left early this morning with him to go to the airport. Yan Sen is supposed to be in school, but is sad that Romain is leaving, so they let him go to the airport. Walther and I could not go with them because they are taking a small car instead of our usual big van. They had to trade cars with someone else because, in order to reduce traffic, there is a law that you cannot drive to the airport in a car with an odd numbered license plate on an odd numbered day.

Romain is happy to be going home. He is only 16 and feels that a month and a half away from home is a long time. The rest of us realize that our time to leave will be here before we know it. How will we return to our "normal" lives where Weiqi is not our primary occupation? And how will we leave this wonderful family? (Yan Sen is not in the picture because he had already left to do homework.)

chinese promotion tournament

Here's some numbers for the Chinese dan promotion tournament (for earning 1p rank):

300-odd people play in the preliminaries. 120 people play in the final tournament, 40 of who are the best non-pro finishers from the previous year. Of these 120, 20 become pro each year, with 2 slots reserved for the top 2 females who are not in the top 20. This year, the age limit is 17, but next year it might be lowered to 15. I think that this is accurate, but since I just heard this from Yan laoshi, there might have been something lost because of my bad Chinese.

Today, the top two at Yan laoshi's go school qualified for the final 1p promotion tournament. 7 year old Xie Er Hao came close, but he has good prospects for the next couple of years.

Most of the kids in the A, B, and C groups are between 9 and 11. It's sort of sad to think that all of them are at go school, but most of them have no chance of becoming pro. They don't really correct their mistakes, so they can't make quick progress. I don't think that there are any pro prospects in the C group I'm playing in; they would probably rush straight through to the B group at least. Hopefully all of these kids will still enjoy playing weiqi when the grow up.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Half-way Point

Walther and I have now been here about a month, which means we only have about a month left. I feel like I've learned a lot already, but am I stronger? I don't know. Sometimes I feel that I am, and sometimes I don't. Over the next month, I think we will continue to learn a lot more, but we will also gain much more experience, which I hope will cement the things that we have already learned. I believe that, in the end, I will be a stronger player for having come here. This learning environment simply does not exist in the U.S.

Perhaps the most important thing is that we are laying foundations for continuing to improve even after we leave. Yan Laoshi is working hard to make sure we learn the fundamentals, but also we are learning how to study. Of course, there is nothing like being here and having all your games reviewed and playing all these strong players, but we are learning how to really study problems and learn from our games.

Two months is not enough though. I wish I had much more time here. But perhaps I would then take it for granted, like the kids, and not work as hard. The teachers are always bemoaning the kids' propensity to make the same mistakes over and over again, while we will learn it the first time. (This puts a lot of pressure on us to learn it the first time!)

I'm afraid of losing what I'm learning, especially since, when I go back, I have to write my PhD thesis and will not have tons of time to devote to my Weiqi. So my motivation for getting as much as possible out of this now, and setting up a good study plan when I leave is high. I plan to make the most out of this last month of full-time Go study.

Dance Show

Last night, Li a yi, Li Chen and I went out to a dance show at a beautiful theatre. Li a yi said Yan Laoshi used to go to such things, but he's so busy now and doesn't like to anymore. The boys weren't interested.

It was clearly a family event. There were lots of kids there, whose laughing and screaming and chattering competed in volume with the music, which was impressive. There was one group of women who danced with yo-yo's, which made the kids laugh uproariously the first couple of times they were used.

The costumes were elaborate and beautiful and the dancing expressive, so that, with a little bit of explanation from Li Chen, I didn't feel like I was totally in the dark. The show was about life on the Yangtze River (which is appropriate for us in Wuhan, since the Yangtze cuts right through the middle of the city). Each scene represented different aspects of life near the river or some bit of ancient culture or tradition. There was a scene about a famous poet who drowned in the river, another about the bride-to-be crying on the day before her wedding, another about the people's relationship with fish.

Though it celebrated various traditions, this was no low-brow traditional show. It was a bombardment of the senses: projected images, ornate scenery, costumes with christmas lights (stars, wishing the Yangtze River the best in the final scene), costumes with black-lit flourescent pink flowers, moving boats, and energetic lighting. The music, including the singing, was all pre-recorded, but very powerful: drums and other percussion instruments, bells and gongs, sounds of the rapids, singing ranging from booming choruses to shrill solos and some fun sound effects like the fisherman slowly and cautiously plopping through the edge of the river, sneaking up on the fish.
Perhaps I am getting stronger, although it still doesn't feel like. Yan laoshi says that our level is getting higher, his analogy is that he's watching a movie while we're inside the movie, so he has a better idea of what's going one.

On Tuesday, I beat Yan laoshi again with 3 stones. I feel ok about the game, I even managed to play a "miao shou" or two. Afterwards, Yan laoshi said that my style is very steady. When there's a shape to fix, I'll fix it. Then when there's a place to destroy the opponent's territory, I'll do that. And if my opponent shows a weakness, I'll grab ahold of it. Overall, it's pretty rare that I give away points for free. On the other hand, Siu likes to play a little stronger and attack if he can.

Then today, I beat the kid nicknamed Ma Xiaochun, who used to play in the B group. He is strong at fighting (but atrocious at fuseki), and in my previous two games with him, I got hammered on joseki I didn't quite know. This time, I made it out of the first corner alive, and then even managed to kill a group later. It was pretty lucky, but I beat him at his own game so I can't have played too badly. Soon, I'll be able to set my sights on the kids in the B group.

Today in the afternoon, Becci and I played two of Yan laoshi's good friends. Yan laoshi told me that I should be able to win, which I did by killing another big dragon. Afterwards, I heard from Yan laoshi that my opponent couldn't believe that people from outside of China could become that strong, and that maybe he still couldn't believe that he lost to me. Yan laoshi said that I wasn't the only strong one, and that he should come tomorrow to play Siu, who should also be able to beat him. This guy is supposedly about 3-4d; he has a lot of experience, but often plays "random" moves. Yan laoshi also said that after another month, when we have more experience and better fundamentals, this guy wouldn't have a chance against us.

So far, the top two kids at the go school are about to pass the preliminary stage of the professional tournament (they have to win 5 of 8 games, and both are already 4 -2 after 3 days). Xie Er Hao, the tiny kid who's maybe 7 years old is 3-3. He's in the B group, but lately he's been playing pretty well: two of his losses are just by a half point. The other kids aren't doing quite as well.

I'll try to have a game up sometime.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

We should have done our research.

Yesterday, unbeknownst to us until dinner time, was Yan Laoshi's birthday! Shengri kuai le! (Happy birthday!)

Everyone tells me that you're supposed to have longevity noodles on your birthday, but I didn't see any noodles. There was a huge elaborate birthday cake. It seemed like something you'd have at a small wedding in the U.S. rather than for a birthday. Li a yi's brother's family was there as was Li Chen and her cousin. Yan Laoshi made a wish and blew out the candles. The cake was then moved aside for our feast of a dinner, which was festive and merry.

I wish we had known ahead of time so that we could have had presents for him, but nobody else was giving presents either, so maybe it was all for the best.

After dinner we walked down to our usual basketball court. Yan Laoshi loves to play basketball. Li Chen's cousin played too, so I wasn't the only girl. It was really hot though, so we were all soon dripping with sweat. We played for a while anyway and then returned home for watermelon (of course) and cake. I told Li a yi that I only wanted a little bit, but of course got a monstrous piece. After we had finished, we had only eaten about a third of the cake. I was hoping Romain, who eats a lot of ice cream would love the cake and eat all our leftovers, but he didn't like the frosting so I'm afraid the rest of us will somehow have to eat all of that cake. I'm not sure why he didn't like the frosting--it was just whipped cream, so I actually ate it. I have no idea how they managed to sculpt the whipped cream like that. I thought for sure it would be pure sugar.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Game Posting

Well, I've been lazy long enough. I've finally gotten around to posting a game. We can't post them directly onto the blog (they'll take pictures, but not my games which are really just text files). So here's the first one:

I played this game yesterday against Yan Laoshi, taking 3 stones as usual. I resigned, which is how my games with him usually end, but he said overall it was good. I've added his comments on the game as well.

If you aren't already equipped to read .sgf files, SmartGo, though not the prettiest, works and should be easy and fast to download.

We're not the only blog!

I just added a link to Romain's blog to our side bar. This one's in French. Siu's blog (in Dutch) is already linked there. Even if you can't read them, they have some other pictures up.
I think that I haven't updated for quite a while. Last Wednesday I beat Yan laoshi at 3 stones, but it was lucky, my entire game was so ugly except for one really good move. This wednesday, I hope that I can play a better game and still win.

From Thursday to Sunday, I played 2 games a day. I'm a little surprised that I felt so tired playing so few games, but I think that it's because all of the games are serious. I'm glad to have a couple days break now before we start playing again this weekend. It almost feels like I'm playing tournament games.

As before, I will almost always win against the weaker kids in our group, but I have a little more trouble against the stronger kids. The weaker ones will often play moves that are not just bad, but sort of meaningless. The stronger kids are generally much sharper. I did finally get a win against the kid who has a little tail of hair (he won the most games last month), I feel like it was like moving past a psychological barrier, so perhaps I will be able to get more wins now.

I feel like in the last week (and maybe in the last month) I haven't really gotten any stronger, but I feel like I learned a lot, and now I have the right mindset so that I will be able to keep on advancing. At the very least, the game seems much clearer to me.

I think that we are at a pretty significant barrier. When Siu came, he was 1k European, and he has advanced to our current level (whatever that may be, Yan laoshi estimates 3d for Siu) in just a little over a month. But he is having a harder time making progress now. And like I said, I don't really feel like I'm stronger either. But we're not sure how much of that feeling is a function of our being around so many strong players.

Becci has a post soon-to-be-posted about our book-buying trip. I'm just going to list the books I got here:

4 dictionaries (l&d, tesuji, joseki, fuseki), 2 volumes on the newest variations for attack and defense, 3 volumes of endgame (by lee changho), 2 volumes hard korean l&d, brilliant moves by lee changho, igo hatsuyo-ron (classical life and death, a present from Yan laoshi), 1000 L&D (the book the go school uses for the level beneath us), collection of best games from Go Seigen, and a book on stuff to know from Chinese 3d-6d.

Romain was having a little trouble packing for his return to France (this saturday). He also got a board while he was here, dark wood (cypress?), like the cracked board that's at the MGA. It's 13 kg, 6 cm, and he also bought 7 kg of books (about the same as me). Unfortunately, the weight limit for baggage is 20 kg, so we might be doing some finessing with his carry-on.


We eat lots of watermelon.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Another Food posting.

Here's some selections from our last week's meals:

I see fishballs upfront, then going clockwise: peppers, stir-fried green veggies, condiments, fried strips of beef (romain likes these), some kind of melon (like a cucumber), and in the center stewed eggs and pork meat.

Here we have fish, then moving clockwise: tomatoes and eggs, then eggplant, then some things i forget, then the green thing is dong gua (melon), then duck, then chicken wings, and the center is like an egg custard with meat.

This dinner is notable for its inclusion of chou tofu (stinky tofu) It's the black stuff up front. in the back left, there's also fried stuffed eggplant.


After four days at the center, we got a much needed break yesterday and stayed home. Our only excursion from the house was an important one though: Yan Laoshi took us to buy books.

It has been raining a lot here lately and though it wasn't raining when we left for the bookstore, it was pouring by the time we got there. Yan Laoshi backed the big van into this tiny alley, just squeezing in. When it was apparent that we meant to park there though, this woman came out and started yelling at us. We were parking right in front of her restaurant and this was unacceptable. My experience has been that professional Go players, though they might have to compromise a little, tend to get their way. So I wasn't worried. Sure enough, Yan Laoshi made it work. He moved the sign standing in front of the restaurant which was preventing us from backing up further. Then he pulled the van back a bit more and that seemed to be enough.

We climbed some stairs behind the restaurant to the bookstore, which was basically a little warehouse: they mostly sell online. Most of the books were Weiqi, though there were also a lot of Chinese Chess books, and a few books on Western Chess and Bridge. They had some equipment, but Yan Laoshi said they didn't have anything really good. We were there for the books.

I wish we had brought a camera with us. We were like kids in a candy store. I'm really glad we had Yan Laoshi there to help us though. It was a bit overwhelming and, since it's all in Chinese, I would have needed a really long time to pick out what I wanted. Instead Yan Laoshi quickly pulled out all the best books for us: 4 dictionaries (tesuji, tsume-go, joseki and fuseki), several tsume-go problem books, a set of Lee Changho end game books and a set of books on new attack and defense techniques. He also gave to each of us a really nice classical collection of (hard) problems. We continued to browse and picked out a few more. I also picked up a Hikaru kifu book, because Hikaru is awesome and because all the kids at the center have them and I wanted one too.

We each spent about 30 euros and each got about 300 euros worth of books. I figure if we buy enough books then our flight here will not have cost us anything. For the rest of the afternoon we spent our time getting better acquainted with our new books. In the evening, Yan Laoshi went through the whole pile and explained a bit about what each of them was for and how we should use them to study. He stressed that we should not just jump into the hard problems (which are tantalizing) but make sure that we do a lot of easy problems every day and maybe one or two hard problems each day.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


We've decided that Yan Sen (Yan Laoshi and Li ayi's son) bears a striking resemblance to Kramer from Seinfeld. Yan Sen is lively and funny and does that same stagger when entering a room. When Yan Sen starts acting up, Li ayi can often be heard saying "Yan Sen..." in a quiet but threatening voice. There's always a smile underneath the tone though.

We told Yan Sen that he reminds us of Kramer, but of course he has absolutely no idea who Kramer is.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Our Chef

This is Liu yi, who cooks all this wonderful food for us.

She likes to talk to me, emphatically and insistently, even though I usually have no idea what she is saying. Even when she says something that I should understand, I often don't. Perhaps I'm just intimidated.

She's always trying to get us to eat more and she still can't fathom the fact that I don't eat meat. "That's not meat, it's sausage!" (Yan Laoshi made this mistake too, but I ate the fried rice with egg and sausage in it that time because I didn't want him to go make more food for me.) The other day she served spring rolls which she insisted had only the tiniest bit of meat in them. I ate those too. I eat a lot of fish here and spend a lot of time picking veggies and tofu and eggs out from between bits of meat.

At the far end of the table, next to the beer, you can see the pile of bowls and chopsticks. We each have our own bowl. Since some of them look exactly the same, we distinguish them with tiny chips or marks. My bowl (blue with flowers) looks the same as Yan Sen's, but he sharpens knives on the bottom of his, so you can make out some faint marks from that if you look at the bottom.

We all have our own tea cups with lids too. I drink green tea and water and beer and usually avoid the coke and orange drink (occasionally I think orange juice sounds good, but when I drink it, I'm reminded that it's more like orange soda without the fizz). I decided before I came that I wouldn't drink any coffee while I'm here. Sometimes I really think that I could use the caffeine, but since our coffee option is Nescafe, it's not terribly tempting--especially compared to the beautiful green tea we have.