- Added CyberORO/World Baduk to the Go Servers section, where I review Go servers I’ve played extensively on.
- Added a Tsumego section, which doesn’t have much for now but will basically contain problems I’ve composed. There’s already one there, so see if you can solve it.
- Added a Links section, where I just post favorited Go sites and my bookmark.
Yesterday I made a thread over at Lifein19x19 forums to discuss the question: What makes someone a 9-dan? I intentionally left the definition of 9-dan a bit vague for discussion sakes, but for this post I’m going to have it mean “anyone strong enough to reach 9-dan on a Go server”. In the thread I provided several characteristics such a 9-dan has in their Go:
- They can read with incredible depth and width.
- They have a massive joseki database in their minds.
- They can remember games they played eons ago.
- They can adapt to various time settings and utilize it efficiently (since not all pro tournaments have the same, or even similar, time settings).
There are some others I’ve posted in the thread, and some of the response posts in the thread are excellent – so be sure to check it out if you haven’t already. I think most Go players can agree with the first three points I made, but what about #4? How can 9-dan players be better not only on the board, but with the clock as well?
First off, I’d like to note that regarding overtime systems, byoyomi is by far the most popular choice in Asia for Go players. The big servers in Asia only support byoyomi, and most tournaments use byoyomi as well. It’s also very popular in America and Europe, but nowhere as dominant. So what I’m about to write only applies for byoyomi overtime.
9-dan players know how to utilize their byoyomi periods more efficiently than weaker players. This is especially noticed online, but can be seen in televised league games between professionals as well. There are a handful of such videos you can find on Youtube, including a game between Umezawa Yukari 5p and Ishida Atsushi 9p seen here that illustrates my point. Pay close attention to how much of the byoyomi period they use before making their moves (and sometimes using ko threats at the last second to gain more thinking time, a tactic some people call a “timesuji”). The majority of their moves either spent nearly all of the byoyomi period, or was played quickly – the latter for many reasons, such as a move to play was obvious or was what they read.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, this is also noticed in online games. When you watch 9d vs. 9d games on Tygem, you will notice that many players, especially the top 9d players, won’t make moves, especially in middle-game, until the countdown voice just finishes saying “9″ (it counts up to 10 once you have 10 seconds remaining). It’s very exciting to see especially when they’re down to their last period and they continue to get it down to the wire regardless, brushing against the reaper of time losses. Take a look at the bar plots below:
I observed a game between two top Tygem 9d players (along with nearly 800 others) and paid attention to their byoyomi (time settings were no main time, 20 second byoyomi x 3). Every time they used up a period, I just counted the time they spent on their next period instead. I kept track of how much of their byoyomi period they spent for every move, went over a recorded video of it briefly to ensure accurate measurements, then threw the results into R to spit these bar plots out. I did the same thing in a game that was played between a KGS 2d and a KGS 1d with identical time settings. The blue barplots are for the 9d players, and the yellow barplots are for the KGS 1-2d players.
You can clearly see that the KGS players, whose IDs I’ve removed for privacy reasons, didn’t utilize their byoyomi periods fully, the KGS 1d player only getting down to 2 seconds once on a period. Meanwhile, the 9d players got it down to the wire more frequently than for any other time leftover except for the 20-second mark, or moves that were played instantly. However, if we look at the third row of blue barplots, where I took out the last 45 moves in their game to not count time spent filling dame and playing 1/2 – 1 pt. moves, you can see that the players got it down to the last second most frequently.
Now I know from a scientific point of view, two game samples are absolutely, nowhere near enough to start making claims, but these results are consistent with what I’ve noticed over the years. Next time you see high dan games online or pro games on TV/Youtube, pay attention every once in a while on how they spend their byoyomi. And it makes sense; whenever I’m in byoyomi I find it difficult to stay paced and read calmly (or at all?) because I keep worrying about the time. Many players will, instead of trying to improve their reading under heavy time pressure, try to avoid the issue by playing the instinctive moves, or the moves with the best feeling instead when they hit overtime. They figure there isn’t enough time to do anything except shallow reading, or god forbid counting (PS: it’s very much possible).
Below you will find observations I made for only one side in two other games that show similar trends. I was on another computer at the time and didn’t have recording software, so I just wrote down the values as the game progressed, which is too difficult to do for both players. Oddly (and fortunately), the one side I observed for both games turned out to be the winners.
When I had Cho Seokbin stay over at my house a few years ago, I remember him giving a lesson to a player who was on the brink of reaching SDK and asked for some general suggestions after their game and review. When the player told Seokbin that he played mostly slow games on KGS and DGS, Seokbin strongly recommended playing faster games. Not blitz, but 15-30 second byoyomi with minimal main time. Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to get more games in, this also helps increase the efficiency in your reading by putting more time pressure on you.
As a result, it also helps remove the bad habit of reading and re-reading the same sequence repeatedly to assure yourself that such-and-such is dead/alive (because you won’t have the time to do so). Pros and strong players do not play like that. Once they read something as dead or alive, that’s that – they don’t go back to re-reading it unless a surrounding situation changes, because they’re confident in their reading abilities. And we can try to emulate them in this regard by learning how to make more use out of both our opponents’ and our own time, especially in overtime.