Go at Home
Information and Links for Parents of Young Go Players
These tips were put together for the parents of players at the McDonald Elementary Go Club. The McDonald club members know how to play and finish a game, but many of the Go resources online are too advanced for them. (They range from 1st graders to 5th graders. The strongest player in the group is about 20 kyu.) Here is my take on what might be appropriate for players at this level – Brian Allen, April 7, 2020
I hope you are starting to adjust to this new world of ours, as we take severe precautions to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Seattle Go Center is mostly closed. I do some office work there, but unfortunately, we cannot be open to visitors. I do have some ideas for playing Go at home.
Go at Home
If you already have Go equipment in your house, and you already know the game, you are set up. If you have the equipment, but the adults do not know how to play the game, I suggest having a club member teach you the game of “Capture 5”. It’s simpler than the full game, but it is still a challenge, and it is easy to score. If you want to play the full game, go ahead and give it a try! Most of our club members can teach the full game (with territory scoring). The hard part with the full game is figuring out when you are done. (The game is over when both sides pass, but when should you pass?) If you get confused, take a picture of the game, send it to me as an email attachment, and one of our teachers will tell you what happened, and who was ahead.
Cleaning equipment: Go stones can be cleaned in strong cleaners. This is true for our standard glass stones, plastic stones, and traditional slate and shell stones. At the Go Center we used dilute bleach (1/3 cup to the gallon) with a little dish washing soap. Inexpensive go boards and bowls can be cleaned with household spray cleaners, or cleaned with sanitary wipes. I would be careful with fine quality Go boards and bowls, however. Traditionally, they are just wiped down with a slightly damp rag. The issue is the finish: it may be dulled or dissolved by strong cleaners. In the past, I have talked to Go board manufacturers from both Japan and Korea, and they are always a little bit vague about how they finish their boards. It is proprietary information. But I understand that they use some sort of lacquer finish. If you have additional information on cleaning lacquer, please let me know.
If your young players want to play Go on a phone, tablet or computer, I suggest starting with Go problems, also known as tsumego. As their name implies, Go problems present a challenging situation with a clear answer. Sometimes the answer is the first move, sometimes it is a sequence of moves. The best Go problems are devised by professionals, so that the answers are unambiguous. In contrast, actual situations in real games (as in real life) can be muddled and confusing. Doing Go problems is one of the best ways to improve at the game. Many of the problems available online are for much stronger players, so start with the easiest problems.
Go problems are available as apps and programs. My favorite source is https://www.smartgo.com/ I use SmartGo Kifu on an older i-pad ($20), and SmartGo Windows on my laptop ($40). Both these programs have other features, such as an extensive library of pro games. SmartGo Player is an inexpensive app that plays games for Apple devices. It’s pretty good, but it doesn’t have many problems to play. Unfortunately, SmartGo does not have an app for Android devices. There is also a free website called http://goproblems.com This is crowd-sourced, so it is not as reliable. But it is free. I’m sure you can find other options if you search for “Go problems” or “tsumego”.
If your player wants to play Go games online, there are also many options. I think the best “go server” to start with is online-go.com You will have to set up an account with a password, but the server is free. Typically, players start by playing computers or “bots” to establish a rating, and then the server will match them with other human players who are about their strength. Please note that there are a wide range of time limits available. A lot of players are doing long games, which are correspondence games that can take weeks to finish. But then there are regular games, and “blitz” games. Our students don’t use clocks, so learning to deal with timed games can be frustrating. I recommend the regular timing to start. Students may enjoy the blitz games after they get used to them, but the clock runs out fast! The games have a text chat box, so this is social media, and young players need to be supervised. Feel free to email me questions about go servers, if you have them. I can also connect you with Alex and Peter, our teachers, if your student wants to play them on-line.
YouTube has many Go lectures. One of our teachers, Nick Sibicky has posted over 350 of them. They are intended for players in the 20 kyu to 5 kyu range; that is somewhat stronger than our players. But I think our returning players could make the stretch to understand them. Nick has a world-wide following among English speaking Go Players, and he was named Go Teacher of the Year by the American Go Association in 2019. Some of Nick’s lectures are quite advanced, but I think if you start with the early lectures you will be OK. They don’t need any supervision, except to make sure that your young player hasn’t switched to a different Youtube program. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/user/nicksibicky
Hikaru no Go
There is an excellent manga (graphic novel) called “Hikaru no Go”, which was made into a wonderful anime with the same name. It follows the progress of Hikaru, a Japanese middle school student, as he develops a passion for Go playing, and eventually becomes a pro. He is taught by the ghost of an ancient player, who is invisible to everybody else, and that causes all kinds of confusion. It is a quality production through-out. Adults will notice many nice touches in the plot. The visuals are great. The Go games they play are taken from famous pro games. However, it is probably more suitable for middle school students than for grade school students, so this is something you might want to watch with your student. The anime is available from various streaming services in Japanese, in Japanese with English subtitles, in Chinese, and dubbed in English.
Finally, there are two feature films about the Go scene that the adults will probably enjoy. They help explain why Go is “more than a game”. The English speaking Go world is pretty small, and members and friends of the Seattle Go Center are in both movies. I am not sure the kids would enjoy these movies, because they have a lot of dialogue in them. But I don’t think the movies are bad for the kids.
First is “AlphaGo the Movie” which is a tightly edited documentary about the Go games between Korean pro Lee Sedol and a computer network with Artificial Intelligence. At least Lee Sedol won one game! It includes interviews with the Korean pro Nam Chihyung, who has visited the McDonald Go Club in the winter of 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXuK6gekU1Y and elsewhere.
Second is “The Surrounding Game”, which is about the American Go Scene about 8 years ago, concentrating on young strong players in competition for “American Pro” status. It is an introduction to Go, and to the lives of contemporary Asian American students. Parental alert: the guy with the worst study habits wins. It includes Korean pro Kim Myungwan, who visited the McDonald Go Club last fall. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/thesurroundinggamehttps://www.netflix.com/title/81006598
Feel free to contact me if you have questions about Go resources!