Category Archives: Go game

The game of Go

Echando de menos de Corea

Vuelvo al Mediterráneo por navidad y echo de menos Corea. Por supuesto, echo de menos mi gente de Asia, pero también pequeños detalles que necesitan de un contraste para darte cuenta que existen.

It's me!Empezaré por las cafeterías. El precio de un café en Corea es de los más altos del mundo. Pero a cambio puedes estar toda la tarde tranquilamente sentado estudiando o trabajando, y nadie te dirá nada. En España, pasada 1 hora el camarero ya te pregunta “¿algo más?”, creando una situación violenta (consume o vete). Y si al llegar abres tu portátil y pides la WiFi, la situación se tensa más. Según mi percepción, el tiempo de tranquilidad suele ser de 45 minutos en España, mientras que podría ser 2 horas en Corea.

La experiencia de ir al supermercado es algo que todo viajero debe hacer cuando va al extranjero. En Corea puedes ver enormes tubérculos y secciones enteras con encurtidos, lamyon (ramen) y derivados de la soja. Pero lo que echo de menos es el etiquetado: en Corea todo producto lleva las calorías indicadas claramente. Eso hace que rápidamente puedas ver si lo que estás comprando son bombas de azucar o comida sana.

Friday nightNo echo de menos pasear por las calles de Seúl, pues es toda una aventura. Cruzas el paso de cebra y un taxista se salta el semáforo casi rozándote. Vas por una calle con acera y una moto con remolque aparece de la nada obligándote a saltar a un lado. La educación vial ausente contrasta con la educación tradicional. El rápido desarrollo tras la postguerra marcó una sociedad con la necesidad de rapidez, ignorando toda respeto al volante. Si paseas un buen rato acabas de los nervios. Contraste total con Barcelona, donde las señales se respetan y sabes que no te espera una sorpresa a cada esquina. El único punto malo de las calles de Barcelona es el omnipresente olor a excrementos de perro y el tabaco.

Sorprendentemente echo de menos la comida japonesa. Al respecto a la coreana, tengo un restaurante coreano fabuloso cerca de casa, que suple mi esporádica necesidad de kimchi. Pero Seúl está plagado de japoneses, que se acercan en sabor a los de Japón. En España se asocia la comida japonesa al sushi, y encontrar un japonés auténtico, con su ramen (¡sin maiz!) o su donburi (con cebolla caramelizada), es difícil.

Echo de menos la gente honrada, por ejemplo los caseros que te devuelven la fianza completa al momento de devolverle las llaves de la casa. Echo de menos la vitalidad de la ciudad, donde todo está abierto a todas horas. Pero no echo de menos el aire contaminado. Ni tampoco las horribles websites coreanas.

Finalmente, echo de menos el baduk. Poder ver partidas en directo. Físicamente en el mismo lugar, o desde casa por televisión. La diferencia horaria con Europa hace que todos los grandes encuentros sean de madrugada. Al despertar ya todo se ha acabado.

10 years to master

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog:

You need 10 years to become an expert on a field. No more, no less. 10 years of continuous effort. Think about a famous musician, a famous athlete or even a professional Go player. There is at least 10 years of hard-work in almost all cases before he becomes a star.

Looking at this video, I imagine those 10 years he spent improving his technique:

When you start with a subject, you experience different statuses, from novice to expert. But there is a key point that only an expert can do: he makes it look easy. As if you can take your bike and do same things showed in the video. Actually I could say I have 8 years of experience on Go, and perhaps 10 years on PHP, but I feel there is still a lot to learn. Despite sometimes people see that expert magic on me.

I wonder which new expert skills I’ll have in 10 years. Things that you start now doing often can become key points of your life. Things that perhaps you don’t really consider, like gardening or doing DIY. So, be sure to avoid wasting your time, and focus on practicing interesting skills. We’ll see what happens in 10 years.

Brain development in Go

The big tesujiPeople think that playing Go will develop your logical thinking power, that is, the skill used to calculate out sequences. Sometimes they say the effect of playing Go is getting a logical mind, other times the effect of having a logical mind is falling in love with Go. At least this is the usual feeling in Europe’s Go community.

Surprisingly I’ve met some professional and really strong Go players that don’t look like a “logical mind” at all. They are emotive, they make silly mistakes, or just in a word: they are “normal”. Actually, Go develops a lot of different parts of the brain, and not only the logical skills, despite what we usually think in Europe.

Let me quote some of those parts (extracted from a Korean book on Go education):

· Opening (fuseki): Building territory frameworks develops spatial sense.

· Corner patterns (joseki): If you study the reasons of the moves (in theory the best moves for both sides) you will get better comprehension and memory.

· Tesuji and life and death problems: Finding the vital point of shapes helps your logical thinking power, but also your intuition.

· Middle game: While deciding which battles are the correct to start you work your judgement ability. Of course, your creativity and your adaptability is highly stressed too.

· Endgame and final score: Counting the value of the last moves of the game, and counting the final score, helps your mathematical abilities.

· Game review: Replaying the game develops your memory (patterns).

So a lot of parts of the brain are touched, from left to right sides. As a brain exercise, Go is a quite complete activity. Compared to other so-called brain-helper activities, like solving sudokus, it’s obvious that Go is far better. Only complex games like Chess can be a subject of comparison.

P.S: I’m in love with Korean baduk books. In Europe we get only Japanese books, translated to English, and most of the time they focus on “the magic”, explaining things without order. Korean books, however, have an extremely good methodology!

How to sell Go? An amateur market study

Running to the centerAs I said in my previous post about spreading Go, looks like nobody has done a real “market study” about selling Go. It’s really easy to realize there are 3 separate “targets”, perhaps 4, based on the age, and for each case a different approach has to be applied.

· Children
They do not decide, parents decide for them. This means you have to sell Go to the parents, telling them that Go will help the kid become more intelligent. As a mental discipline, this is a reality, and actually some studies show improvements in IQ and concentration on children who started playing Go. Different parts of the mind are improved, from spatial sense to coherent judgement, and not only calculation abilities.

The problem here is the infrastructure, that is, the things we need to support a Go academy for kids. We need teachers, we need good books for kids in their mother tongue, and we need continuity. We have to train players to teach properly to children, because nowadays most of them are horrible at teaching. We have to create relations with Go books publishers and try to translate books for children to our local languages. And (the most difficult part) children should keep playing/studying. Usually in Europe an amateur player goes to a school and runs some kind of Go introductory course; then they learn to play. But later, when the the course is over, they do not continue playing. That’s because the only way they have to continue playing is in a real club (with people smoking or using bad language) or on Internet, and parents do not allow it most of the time. So the way to keep children playing is creating a children-focused space (real or virtual) for them, with some teacher/tutor/guard taking after them.

· Teenagers
Actually not so much work is needed with this group. They usually discover the game via Hikaru no Go, and start playing a lot, spending the enormous free time they have. The only problem they suffer is their tight budget. That is, it’s not easy to buy a Go book, which are quite expensive here, starting at 15€. Moreover, it’s not easy to travel to take part in a tournament. So the action to take here is try to lower the prices of books (perhaps prepare a grant for this), and help them to take part in real tournaments.

· Adults
Why don’t we just sell Go telling people it’s a fun game, instead of a complex one?. Usually adults looks for activities to enjoy with, in their spare time. If you tell them Go is a complex thing, most people will not look at it. So the idea here is selling Go as an enjoyable game, with a bit of “it will keep your mind young”. Think about all those “brain training” videogames that are succeeding lately; despite in theory they are boring (you have to solve maths) they sell them as an enjoyable game, and people keep buying. Of course, you also have studies on Go and brain activity to use as background. Moreover, Go magazines or newspapers could keep adults playing the game.

· Elders
Do you know that Go helps to prevent dementia? This could be a nice slogan to start with. There are studies which show that mental activities like Go help the brain to remain healthy. They have a lot of free time, so introductory courses could help. Also they can take part in tournaments, read magazines and such.

So summarizing, we should STOP telling people Go is a complex thing!!

How can we spread Go?

Go game The population of Go players in Asia, specially in Korea, China and Japan, is enormous, compared with the tiny group of people who plays Go in Europe and America. Why? How can we spread Go effectively in Europe? That’s the million Euro question!

In Europe people learn to play too late and too badly. Usually a Go player learns to play at the University, because he meets other players, specially studying technical degrees. Sometimes he learns a bit earlier, during High School, because he reads Hikaru No Go, and gets interest on Go. Usually a new player learns the rules and start to play games, lots of games, usually on Internet, without even read a book. The result is a careless style of playing, in which the luck most of the time decides the result of each game.

In Korea it’s just the opposite. Children learn to play really young. They have baduk (Go) academies, mostly like we have in Europe language academies or martial arts academies. Children don’t play a lot, but study books, specially life&death problems. Later they develop their own style, with solid foundations.

Moreover, in Europe people sell Go the worst way. Usually they say to non-players things like “this is like Chess, but 4 times more difficult”. Or “Chess is just a knife fight in a lift, Go is a real war, really complex”. So the idea people get is “Go is a rare thing, too complex for me”. Usually this kind of selling only works for logical minds, that is, people with a maths, physics or computer science background. As a corollary, there are not so many female players in Europe, because there are more males interested in technical degrees.

Paul Smith, from the British Go Association, did an interesting work [PDF], analysing the image of Go we’re creating.

Anyway, in my opinion there are 2 mistakes with this usual selling:
1.- comparing Go (rare thing) to Chess (well known thing)
2.- Go is complex.
As an analogy, imagine that somebody sells electric cars, telling you “it’s better than a normal car, and 4 times more complex”. People will choose the old well known thing, and supposedly easier thing, always.

So, we need a market study to tell us how to sell Go properly.

Barcelona Go Tournament report

Last weekend (February 20th-21st, 2010) 146 players enjoyed the 28th edition of the Barcelona Go tournament; including 80 players from Spain, 35 from France, 20 from Romania, 13 from Czech Republic, and more people from several European countries.

The venue was the maths faculty (FME) of the Catalonia Tech University (UPC), which kindly supported the tournament organization. 4 classrooms were arranged to held the tournament. Another room was used by Catalin Tanaru, Romanian 5 dan pro (from Nihon Kiin), who gave lectures and commented games. In another room, players could find the “Baduk Bar”, where all kind of snacks, Spanish “tapas” and drinks were served at cheap prices.

The winner of the tournament was DU Qing 7 dan, Chinese player located in London, who won 5 games out of 5 rounds, taking the 700 euro first prize. Second was Cornel BURZO 6 dan from Romania, with 4 wins, only losing against the winner. Third was Nikola MITIC 5 dan from Serbia. Our local baduk instructor, Lluis OH 6 dan finished 8th. Notice that only 3 Asians were in the Top 10, the rest of them were Europeans!

The first Spanish player was Oscar ANGUILA 4 dan, who finished 15th, only failing against LIU Yuanbo (Chinese 2 dan professional player). Oscar, current Spanish champion, spent 3 months studying baduk in Lee Kibong’s International Baduk Academy in Seoul. Special mention received the young DOBRANIS brothers from Romania, aged 5 and 7; the last one got 4 wins.

In my case, I got 3 out of 5, a quite satisfactory result.

Full results.

My pictures.

Local TV report.

Echoes from the past

[After some posts in Spanish explaining my feelings during my stay in Seoul, I’m returning to write in English]

Sometimes I like to see past pictures of people, before I met them. Before you discover the existence of a person, usually you have seen him/her at least a couple of times. I love seeing past Go tournaments pictures, and say “hey, now I know this person, but in that time I had no idea of who was him/her”.

What I never thought about is that somebody had pictures of me and later met me. Recently one of the people I met in Korea, Hwa-Seo (Hahn’s wife), sent me a link with pictures. Before I left Korea, I wrote down my name and email in a paper, and gave it to her. She told me my name rang a bell… now I know the probable reason. Among her picture collection, I found a picture of me and Jordi, 2 years ago, while organizing the 1st Alicante’s tournament!

That tournament was the “Korean Ambassador’s Cup”. Mr.Hahn was the originator of this tournament. Looks like Lluis Oh, or his wife Elena, took that picture and sent it to her. Amazing!

Más fotos de Seúl

La señora del profesor Hahn me ha pasado varios links con fotos mías 🙂

En la boda de Seulki, fotos de los novios, y de la gente de nuestra mesa: Fritiof, Sharif, Cho Mikyung 1p, Lee Hajin 3p y servidor

Tras la boda, mi despedida en casa del profesor Hahn

En la clase de Baduk English, con la gente de la clase, curioseando en la mesa de nivel avanzado, y con Seulki y novia.

Cenando tras la clase en un restaurante de fideos y empanadillas : con gente y más gente.

Boda final

Mi último día en Seúl, en Corea del Sur, fue una boda. Por desgracia, olvidé la cámara, por lo que tendré que esperar a ver las fotos de otros.

La boda se celebró en un edificio específico para bodas, enorme, con ¡un ascensor específico para la novia! Más de 500 invitados, la mayoría jugadores de baduk, pues la boda era la de Seul-ki 7 dan, famoso jugador amateur, y su novia Seunghyon, famosa comentarista en baduk TV. La ceremonia tuvo lugar en un gran pabellón, con una tarima central, redonda, que iba girando. Con cámaras de vídeo por todos lados grabando los tensos rostros de los novios, proyectados en tres pantallas en cada pared. Con una pequeña orquesta clásica que añadía una deliciosa banda sonora. Como maestro de ceremonias, el profesor Hahn, que dio un largo discurso explicando la historia de amor entre los novios, que empezó en un congreso europeo. Y Hwan Inseong a un lado, como lector de los procedimientos de la boda.

Tras la ceremonia en si, empezó la comida, mientras algunos iban subiendo a la tarima a hacerse la foto de rigor con los novios. Mi comentario fue: – realmente debería buscarme una novia coreana, ¡sólo por la boda! Estuvimos todos con la lagrimilla en los ojos. Aunque las bodas coreanas tienen un fallo tremendo: son demasiado cortas. Hubo gente que se marchó sin haber llegado el postre. Y tras el postre, la mitad de mesas ya estaban vacías. Así que no hubo ninguna tertulia de sobremesa. Estos coreanos están demasiado ocupados… demasiado trabajadores.

Como si de una película de autor se tratara, casi todo lo que me pasó en Seúl durante mi estancia se resumía en aquella sala. Sentado en la mesa del profesor Hahn y su mujer, podía ver a muchas caras conocidas. Sentada a mi izquierda, Lee Hajin 3p, quien por desgracia ha olvidado su español, pero habla perfectamente inglés. A mi derecha, Cho Mikyung 1p, a quien ya conocía, y quien me estuvo contando su próxima estancia en Singapur, donde la han contratado para enseñar baduk. En una mesa cercana, varias chicas de la clase del profesor Hahn, incluyendo una con la que la mujer de Hahn pretendió emparejarme (¡lo lamentarás!, me dijo cuando le dije que no me interesaba). Un poco más allá, Diana 1p. En otra mesa, Lee Minjin 5p, que se sorprendió al verme; le deseé suerte para la semifinal del torneo Kuksu femenino. Incluso podía ver a lo lejos a Lee Changho 9p. Probablemente éramos los jugadores más flojos de la sala.

Tras la boda, el profesor Hahn nos invitó a su casa, en una ciudad satélite de Seúl. También había invitado a un profesional fuerte (no recuerdo el nombre), que nos apalizó con 5 piedras de hándicap. Mi mente ya estaba de viaje a Europa, y no pude centrarme en el juego. Pero la sensación que me queda es que llegué pensando que era flojo, y vuelvo pensando que soy flojísimo… eso si, con una cantidad nueva de conocimiento que tardaré meses en asimilar.

Mientras pensaba las cosas que me enamoran de Corea, de pronto, Hahn me sugirió una idea… ¿qué tal si hacemos un intercambio de casa durante el verano? ¡Yo a Seúl y ellos a Barcelona! 🙂

Tes, palacios y más libros

Inside the teahouseDomingo de paseo. Mi idea principal era reventarme los riñones con té en las innumerables teterías de Insadong. La primera vez que estuve en Insadong me limité a la calle principal, que sólo tiene tiendecitas de porcelanas y otros souvenirs. Pero si te cuelas por los callejones, acabas en rincones de paraíso, donde por 6000 wons (3.75€) puedes pasar un buen rato tomando té y leyendo un libro de problemas de baduk, en un ambiente idílico. Además, compré unos cuantos tés: bamboo y crisantemo (baratos) y el oolong Da Hong Pao (difícil de encontrar); aunque me sorprendió el precio “demasiado” europeo (hasta 40€ por 100gr). Eso si, la variedad que encuentras en las tiendas especializadas es tremenda, a pesar de ser la peor época del año para comprar té (al menos para el té verde, que se recoge a final de primavera).

Main doorEl palacio a visitar era ChangDeokgung, el segundo más grande pero con un jardín secreto de gran extensión. Este palacio sólo se puede visitar con guía, no te permiten ir a tu aire; algo que descubrí después de comprar la entrada. Dicen que así se conserva mejor y los turistas entienden las cosas que ven. Pero la verdad es que la guía tampoco aportó mucho más que el folleto que nos dieron al principio. Curiosamente, en mi grupo había una pareja de españoles, los segundos que me encuentro en 24 días en Seúl. Esta vez no entablé conversación, y probablemente pensarían que nadie entendía español.

Tras hacer la ruta completa del palacio volví a Insadong, con parada para comer en un sitio que me dieron cerdo por pollo. Finalmente caminé unas cuantas calles hasta encontrar una librería que tenía marcada en el mapa (YPbooks), y por supuesto, compré algunos libros de baduk.