Go: Adventures in kifu

Felt tip coloring pencils are not ideal for writing game records, but they will do in a pinch, at least for short games.

Today’s newbie Go player report is from the mysterious land of “kifu”. The word means a record or map of the game. It is usually drawn on a simple picture of a Go board. On each intersection you write the number of the move. The first move is number 1, the second move is number 2 etc, and you write them on the map where they were played on the board. That way you can easily reconstruct the game later. Seasoned players can even read the game directly from a kifu as if they had watched it, more or less. I am not one of those. Definitely not.

Do you need a kifu? Not if you are just playing for fun. You can play the game and forget about it. Well, you may want to reflect on particularly stupid moves so as to not do those in the future, or on particularly clever moves of the opponent if you can figure them out. But apart from that, it is all water under the bridge.

But if you are studying Go, and want to get better, there are two obvious uses for kifu. You can record your own games so you can reflect on them at your leisure later. Or you can use kifu from better players to replay their games. This is one of the time-proven methods of getting stronger at Go. Even young professionals do it, so I hear. I am definitely not one of them, though.  Still, I wanted to try it.

I did a Google search for “kifu paper”. There are a number of web sites which are eager to tell you to not use the phrase “kifu paper”. It is called “game record form” in English. But that is not a good search term as you will get lots of irrelevant hits. If you search for “kifu paper”, you come straight to the places where these sites tell you not to call it “kifu paper”, which happens to be right where you can download the form as well. ^_^

I picked the one from AllAboutGo.com, it was simple and to the point. Some have circles to write in, but I find it more natural to just write on the intersection. As recommended, I write the black moves in black (blue is fine also) and the white in red. It makes a big difference to how easy it is both to write and read. With this, you will not lose track easily or accidentally write 69 two times in a row. The black numbers are always odd, the red always even. Pure genius.

My first was an attempt to kifu an amateur match between a 9-dan and an 8-dan on the Internet Go Server. When you play yourself on the IGS, you can save a kifu that is made automatically, and download it at your leisure. It is possible you can do this with games you watch too, but the voices in my h… er, I thought it might be a good idea to write it by hand, involving other parts of the body and brain in the process.

I found out that fiber-tip coloring pens are not ideal for writing kifu. Who would have thought it? It worked, for the most part, up to 99. After that things became iffy.

Next out was coloring pencils. These worked well enough, although you may want to have a pencil sharpener around after a while. And who has pencil sharpeners in this age?

Eventually today I caved in and bought a red and a black Pilot V5 Hi-tecpoint 0.5. Because the quality of your Go obviously depends on the quality of your stuff. Well, to humans that may actually be true, since science has proven that people borrowing cheap imitations of brand sunglasses tend to cheat and not act with the dignity of those who borrow the real thing. So it is entirely possible that having an expensive Go board in real kaya wood, and writing your kifu with a quality fountain pen on original printed kifu forms will make you take your Go more seriously. But I like to think I am not like that. I am not saying I am not human (although sometimes I have wondered), but hopefully I am human in a different way than that. Still, a good pen is nice to have around. I haven’t had one in the Chaos Node for years.

So that’s my story. I am kifuing, as I call it, mainly to involve other parts of the body and brain, to improve subconscious learning. But is learning Go a good use of the sunset of your life? The Japanese certainly seem to think so, it is very popular among the elderly there. Millions of Japanese can’t be wrong! OK, they can – millions of Japanese were wrong during World War 2. But not about Go. In fact, if they had come to Pearl Harbor with Go boards, they would probably have won…

#go #igo #baduk #weiqi #kifu


Instead of the traditional bowls to hold the playing stones, this goban (Go board) has a slide-out empty triangle to keep them in. Not recommended for families with small children, as the lightweight plastic “stones” are almost exactly like M&M.

I finally bought a Go board – or goban as they are called in Japanese – from Amazon.com. This board was made from cheap and lightweight wood, not something a professional would want to be seen with, but better than just printing out the board and playing with buttons. Of course, I have used computers (and tablet) up till now. I just felt that it would capture the feeling of the game better if I could have a physical board. I was thinking of replaying other people’s games on the board.

I am not sure it was such an awesome idea, but it seemed reasonably harmless. A healthy hobby, at least by my standards. Now that I am sick with Mysterious Illness, I am no longer so sure this was a good investment. Good thing I bought the cheapest model I saw. (It does not seem to have any problems beyond the stones being more lightweight than I had expected. So, tentatively recommended, unless you have small children. Choking hazard, swallowing hazard etc.)

My subconscious and I

In the anime Hikaru no Go, the boy Hikaru can actually see the great Go player that resides in his subconscious. No one else can see him though. I can’t even see mine. It’s OK, he is probably not as good as Sai – just better than me, and that doesn’t say much.

I sometimes say to my subconscious: “There is a reason why you are the sub.” But this is not one of those occasions. Sometimes it just shows off. This was one of those times. Make that TWO of those times.

On my bus commute, I took the opportunity to watch a Go match on my Android tablet. It was a 7-dan player against a 6-dan. For me, that is comparable to a first-grader watching two English majors debating Shakespeare. While I find it vaguely interesting, I don’t really aspire to understanding a game on that high a level. My subconscious may disagree: At a certain point, it basically said “Black is going to play there”, pointing to a spot on the (virtual) board. Plop! Black put down a stone right on the spot.

I looked closer at that particular move, and actually it was pretty clear that bad things would have happened had black not secured that spot right away. But the thing is, I had not seen that by thinking logically and reading ahead. Rather, some corner of my pattern matching brain must have picked up enough Go to expect the next move based on what it had already seen of successful (and, in my own case, utterly failed) games. Now, as high-level games go, this particular move was one of the more obvious. But the fact remains that I did not see it with my rational conscious mind, but instead a “voice in my head” (not literally, but more like an independent thought) spotted it straight away.

Later in the day, I took a look at the opposite: A lowbie game, still on the Pandanet-IGS (Internet Go Server). A 17-kyu – the lowest rank on IGS, but still way above me – was playing someone in the Beginner Class. As it happens, the beginner was in the process of winning when I arrived. Looking over the board, I quickly spotted a large group of white stones that were dead as a doornail. (We say that a group is dead when it can be caught by the opponent and there is nothing to do about it.) In this case, black could kill it in three moves, and there was nowhere else on the board where such a big opportunity existed. (Or if it was, neither I nor they found it!) I watched intently, but neither of them seemed to pay the slightest attention to the huge group, 15-20 stones by my counting. In the end, they both passed, which ends the game. They counted the territory, and still no one of them made a move to remove the dead group.

It was glaringly obvious to me as an observer, so I thought by myself: “If a 17-kyu player does not see something as obvious as that, and I see it, I must have made quite a bit of progress.” So I fired up the Go-playing robot program in my tablet. It crushed me again, just as badly as it usually does. I had made no progress at all.

And this, dear congregation, is the story of my life. I can see things that are above my play grade, with the help of the imaginary voices in my head. But when it comes to myself, I seem to make no progress at all.

Go (igo) on Android

One of these two players is an idiot at playing Go. And it is not the tablet. -_-;

It has been a long time since last I wrote about the Oriental board game of Go. The game is deceptively simple. It takes two minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. Since more and more of those lifetimes are spent on the move, it makes sense to have the game available on your mobile phone or tablet. With the Android operating system becoming more and more widespread, several high-quality Go programs have become available for it.

There are basically three types of Go program for Android. One type lets two players use the same mobile phone or tablet to play the game against each other. Basically the device is used as a Go board (Goban in Japanese). Since I don’t know any local players, I have not downloaded this type of program.

The second type lets you play against your cell phone or tablet. These processors are less powerful than desktop or laptop computers, so they will not provide a challenge to the experienced player. I am not an experienced player, so I downloaded one of these. It is called Godroid. This is probably a pun, there’s nothing godlike about this program. Well, not by today’s standards. I suppose it is indistinguishable from magic. But that’s business as usual for today’s telecommunication devices. Using it is simple: You tap on the board where you want to play your stone, and a shadow of the stone appears. Tap once more to confirm. The device will play next. The first time I started, it directly opened a training game rather than taking me to the New game dialog where you can set board size, handicap, black or white, strength, komi and scoring. This made me think initially that these options did not exist, but when I started a new game, they did.

The computer is a computer, obviously, so it will surely become predictable once you have played long enough. But with ten different levels of strength, this should take some time.

Godroid is just one of several programs, but it is free and has built-in artificial intelligence rather than running a separate program in the background as your opponent.

The ultimate challenge (for the time being at least) is another human player. Luckily this is also possible on your phone or tablet! Panda Tetsuki is a fast, clean and simple program to connect to the “PandaNet” IGS (International Go Server), which is what you would expect, a place where you can play Go against people from around the world, day and night. It also has limited chat / comment capabilities. You can connect as a guest right away, but if you have an account (as I have from my home computer), you can use that to log in as yourself. You need an account to participate in games, but you can watch games even as a guest. If you want to play, I recommend you first go into the menu and set “confirm moves”, so you don’t accidentally place your stone in the wrong place and ruin the game for yourself and your opponent.

The functionality is simple: Players who are online are sorted by strength. Your name is highlighted in blue. Players available for play are listed in black, unavailable in gray, and a symbol of a tiny Goban shows those who are playing a game. By clicking one of these you can watch their game. Click on the small arrow to the right (not very obvious!) to get the game board up and watch them play in real time! You can also wind the game backward and forward to catch up to what has happened before, use the phone’s menu button to get the option to jump to the start. I’d expected that to be in the action line with the back and forward keys, but I guess that would be a bit crowded?

There are less options than in the official client for the PC, but you can watch games, chat and look at statistics. And once you have an account, you can play against other registered players. As far as I know, it is still free to register. The ranking system on the IGS is based on your games, at least unless you are a verified pro, in which case you are marked as such. By consistently winning against players of higher rank, you will eventually move into that rank. Correspondingly if you consistently lose against a lower rank, you will fall into that rank. This assures that other players can easily choose you as a suitable opponent. It is possible to challenge someone of a distant rank. A higher player may play a teaching game. There is however no provision for a strong player to play against several weak players simultaneously, as far as I can see.

I apologize for not having more detail and for not having tested more programs. But since I have complained in the past about the lack of such programs, at least I can now eat my words. They are tasty. ^_^ By that I mean that I am glad to see there are now several good programs available for Android. Perhaps one day I will watch one of your games on the IGS?


This entry is actually closely related to the last few ones. Back when I read (and wrote) about deliberate practice, one of the things that occurred to me was the Oriental ancient board game of Go.

I know I have written about this a couple of times over the years, but there is a 75 episodes anime called “Hikaru no Go” about a boy learning this game and his deliberate practice to become one of the best players in the country. It is a very inspiring series, especially for those interesting in that particular game, but also more generally inspiring towards deliberate practice. The essential message is that you can learn both from loss and victory, but this requires that you always challenge yourself, that you always try something that is beyond what you should be capable of.

In other words, you should always seek out challenges where you have a small but nonzero chance of winning, and then seriously try to win. You should try so hard that there is a chance you might start crying if you lose. But whether you win or lose, you’re going to learn something. In fact, you are going to learn a lot if you practice that way. This is the fastest path to progress.

But thinking about this in my current life phase, I realized that there is nothing on Earth that I feel so passionately about, except possibly life itself. If I were to look at my life with those eyes, as a challenge which I have a small chance of not losing – the loss of this lifetime, this incarnation as Easterners would say, the loss of my soul as the Bible would put it – that would be the one thing that I would be sure to cry over. Thus my recent reflections on Gnosis (which, incidentally, is not related to Gnosticism except linguistically.)

But I cannot maintain such a high perspective for long, because I suck at being serious (except if I am sick and rapid getting sicker, at which time I tend to be super serious, imagine that! But that is not the case now, and I appreciate that.) So instead I have been watching this anime and downloading Go programs for Android.