Sunday, March 7, 2010


Am I abusing the IRL (Indy Racing acronynm?


Some may use OTB (over the board) instead, but I've never met one.

But it's rare enough for me that I treat it as a special thing. Online go is very convenient, and without it I'd be 28kyu (well, I'd be not playing). These days, for me, online go means drag-on go server. I love playing KGS, but I hardly ever have the solid chunk of time. Super rare is IRL play, not many people geographically convenient to me to play.

There are things that are very specific to IRL play: gobans, stones, how to place stones, time keeping, the viewing angle of the board, the irregular placement of the stones on the board, ability to track opponent's gaze, scoring, recording, ability to kill the other player with a Chronos, possibility of passing airborne diseases, et cetera.

Following the recent tournament posts, let's talk some IRL issues.

Holding a Stone

Holding a stone appropriately is, to me, much like using chopsticks.

Actually, I'm better at using chopsticks than I am at holding a stone appropriately. In fact, I regularly use my thumb and index finger to hold it, and have no regrets.

I'm considering using my middle finger and pinky finger, just to make it more difficult and to intimidate the opponent with the unnecessary difficulty of my grasp.

Actually, it's not that difficult to do, but in the heat of an intense IRL game, I sometimes revert to my simple monkey grip.

Placing a Stone

This is where it gets interesting. Many people (especially those who learned about go via Hikaru No Go) believe that you place the stone down with authority onto the board.


If you are the sort to do so, you could even get caught up in the sound of playing a stone, the tonal quality of the wood, that mysterious pyramid carved (why can't I find a link?) into the bottom of traditional floor gobans and how it affects this tonal quality.

And do you slide the stone into position, or place it directly on its grid point? Do you whack it down or simply place it?

I've played people who will sometimes WHACK it down as to make a statement. If this is meant to intimidate, it seems to have the opposite effect on me. I believe this is because I've only ever seen an opponent really WHACK it onto the board when they are in dire straits (as when I played Mark Knopfler to a draw with a double ko and a ham sandwich).

I never do this.

I'm not sure why.

Possibly because I'm extremely passive aggressive (e.g.: "I'll burn the whole building down").

Possibly because I'm lazy.

Mostly because I figure go is a very rational game, and the idea of emotion entering into it can only be a bad thing. Don't get me wrong, there are all sorts of emotional and dramatic elements to go, one of the reasons why it's great. But, ideally, you should never let it affect you while playing.

When I play IRL, I usually place the stone very quietly and peacefully onto its position, possibly adjusting surrounding stones (obsessive compulsive too?) if necessary. The Chronos GX Touch really helps me with this, I place the stone quietly and then lightly touch the sensor, (then maybe record the last two moves on the EeePc) and that's it. Maybe fold my hands in my lap and stare at the board, contemplating the one-ness of the absolute value of i squared.

To me, a dramatic playing of the stone only seems to signal weakness and/or fear. Like when a cat arches its back and hisses.

Nothing is quite as unnerving as a cool lack of emotional response, e.g.: Gnu Go.

As long as they can't see me sweating buckets...

Angle of Viewing and Stone Placement

This totally screwed me up first time I played IRL tournament after doing nothing but online for a month or so.

Both the viewing angle of the board and the not-quite-orthogonal placement of the stones made it very hard for me to read it for a game or so.

IRL gobans are not actually square -- they are rectangular. This is supposedly so that the effect of viewing angle is not quite as severe.

There is an OSX app (Sen:te) that shows stones as slightly offset. I'm not sure if this is good or bad...

Swallowing Stones

The technique here is to avoid it altogether.

My 2-year old can't play go at all, but even he can meet this one requirement.

Although... I don't trust him on that, I will not leave him with go stones unattended.

Still... they do look like Mentos, especially the ING stones...

Hmm...never seen a black Mento... chocolate? Licorice? Only one way to find out. This leads to next section.

Passing Stones

Haven't had much experience with this yet, but I will refer those interested to the appropriate Seinfeld episode.

There are two forms of this, one can be avoided by not Swallowing Stones, the other form of which can apparently be caused by global warming.

I can't make this stuff up. Luckily there are others to do this for me.

Adjusting Stones

Scrotal humor aside (although... I could write about doing this during tournaments as well), this means to adjust the stones on the board to a more orthogonal form.

This is a problem mostly for 1) online players and 2) obsessive compulsives. If you are both (possibly myself), then you are constantly fiddling with the stones.


Is timekeeping necessary?

No, of course not.

Not until you play someone who will spend FOUR OR MORE HOURS on one game.

Then... yes. This is why game timekeeping was applied to go.

At the recent NOVA tournament, the amusing/enlightening advice given at the beginning was: "If you are young take twice as long as you are used to to make a move, if you are older take half as long".

I frequently fall into the trap of playing at the speed of my opponent. This means if they start playing fast, I do too.

That's one nice thing about recording IRL games, it keeps you from playing too fast.

Then there's all the issues about byoyomi and such. Canadian byoyomi (x moves over y time) seems to be most practical when you only have either a crappy egg timer, a sand hourglass, a wind-up chess clock, or a menstrual cycle for timing. Japanese byoyomi is more practical when you have either a digital clock or a dedicated time keeper.


So, this has only really come up recently, with more IRL stuff. As mentioned in recent posts, I tried recording some IRL games for the first time. Although I had kifu with me, I had SmartGo on the netbook, which worked surprisingly well.


Scoring is much different IRL. Estimating the score during the game is an important skill that is valid in both for online and IRL playing environments formats (except, possibly, 'turn-based' (e.g.: DGS) where there is time to download and SGF and use a score estimator -- the ethical issues of which are worthy of a standalone post).

Score estimation, in general, is also worthy of a standalone post.

I'm talking simply of determining the score once the game is over.

Interesting digression: my first IRL tournament game, I was beaten down by a 15 year old girl.

I'd been playing so much online / computer go, that I didn't really think about the real purpose of scoring in a IRL tournament game: who won?

The exact score there doesn't matter. Not knowing this, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to determine the exact degree of my pummeling, even though all we needed to report was the winner, which was perfectly obvious.

More recently, in an IRL tournament, I lost by 0.5 points (I had been given a 1 stone handicap, so komi was 0.5 -- the board was dead even). This was according to the recorded game in SmartGo. According to the board though, I lost by 1.5 points. We spent some time trying to figure out how we go it wrong (not that we could, we'd already rearranged all the stones, and some edges contained both black and white stones), even though it did not affect the only part that mattered: who won.

Another future post: winning by a little versus a lot, and why size of victory margin cannot be used in ranking.

The trick with scoring IRL, is you end up rearranging the stones. Or, for ING scoring, filling the board with stones. If you didn't record the game, it's very very easy to mis-arrange (less so in ING scoring) the stones so as to change the score. In small-margin games, this could mean the win.


One huge difference between online go and IRL go is gaze. You can tell where on the board the opponent is looking and vica-versa. Despite my lack of experience IRL-wise, (is my overuse of the acronym bugging you yet? It sure bugs me) I can already count several times where I purposefully looked at a different area of the board than what I cared about. 

I've even played in an area I wouldn't have otherwise (looked settled to me) because the opponent kept staring at it.

Very much like visually checking out a woman discreetly -- glance fleetingly, but make sure your attention seems focused elsewhere, while you process the visual information like a swimmer processes gulps of air.

I suppose you could lump visible emotional response into this too, but I won't. Wait, I think I just did.

Invalid States

More of a problem with raw beginners, but one big problem that can occur in an IRL game that can't (well, some rare exceptions aside) in computer refereed games is that the board can get into an invalid state.

I recall at least twice, as a raw beginner, I'd play a game then realize later that a group was not just dead, but completely surrounded (e.g.: no liberties) and still on the board. Possibly even having killed another group :)

What can you do at that point? Neither player saw it, you clearly both suck, start again.

I suppose ko could be a problem too.

The invalid state problem is not much of a problem after, say, 20 kyu (?) or so.

Nuclear Tesuji 

The nuclear tesuji is a skillful maneuver that, if performed correctly, can transform a losing game into a stunning victory.

No direct equivalent in online play (barring some sort of remote buffer overflow, perhaps).

There are escapers in online play, but I suppose you could do that in IRL too. This would be particularly amusing actually. Well, unless it was "I've got to go use the bathroom, can we stop the clock? I'll be right back...".

I could talk about sandbagging now too, but it's not really an IRL issue, and it'd make a good future post.

Sexual Bartering

This does not occur in go.

If it did, it may be more effective IRL, but that's hard to say.

I suppose it could make ko fights even more complicated though.

Stip go? Ewww.

Running Out Of Stones

I've never had it come up in go, but I have in other games.

If you have the official full complement of 181 black and 180 white stones, you are unlikely to run out (although that adds up to 361, the number of points on the board, this does not mean that you couldn't run out of them, in theory (because of capturing and removing from the board, to say nothing of ko fights)).

My guess would be, if you run out of stones, then you're doing it wrong. Possibly could occur if you are Swallowing Stones.

Drinking and Go

Unlike, say, video game murder or auto racing, go does not benefit from drinking (alcohol). Drinking and go are not good allies, although I suppose it could lead to an alternate form of handicapping.

In either case, not really an IRL-specific issue. Although, if you are at a restaurant playing go IRL and drinking you're being social. If you are playing go online and drinking then you are a filthy drunkard (and hopefully playing unranked games or a special account you reserved for such elicit purposes).

As for, non-alcoholic drinking and go, water is ideal. I drink coffee sometimes during tournaments, and it's arguable as to whether this is good or bad. I suppose it would be good if you planned on attempting IRL escaping, and wanted it to look convincing.


  1. Nice article. :)

    Regarding Goban Bottoms
    I thought gobans had a bell-shape carved out of the bottom, instead of pyramidal. Perhaps this depends on the design, or country of origin, or some other element.

    Placing Stones
    I agree about placing stones. Using the noisy slam all the time is like yelling all the time: Your dramatic moves will have less effect.

    Regarding perspective, I use an app called GLGo, which you can change the perspective in 3D. It helps to give a new perspective when playing tough matches online.

    Swallowing / Passing Stones
    I have to admit, I've been tempted, myself. I always thought licorice as the appropriate flavor of the black stones.

    I haven't looked into time / byoyomi much, as it hasn't come up as an issue in any of my games. Perhaps you should do an article on this? :)

    Elements such as this make IRL games that much more rich, especially when using a $3000 goban and $5000 bowl / stone set. Yeah, they're expensive, but wow are they gorgeous!

    Dirty Tricks
    You should bundle all these into one post: Nuclear, sandbagging, etc., as dirty tricks, as that's pretty much what they are (excepting killing your opponent by bludgeoning them to death with a 50-lb. goban!).

    Strip Go
    This could work, but the rules would have to be worked out to make it really work. Playing 6 hours of games just to get your opponent down to their undies seems like a lot of extra effort. The sake might be more effective.

    Drinking With Go
    Although considered impolite, smack-talk during drinking games of Go seem less so. I also consider Drunken Go as a particular way of keeping yourself honed while mentally handicapped. It also helps to develop your impulsive style and strength, much like playing multiple games at once.

  2. Very nice. Very funny. Kudos fellow go enthusiast.