Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Coffee, Go, and Pente [1]

What I could see of the sky was black polygons, edges fading into the yellow-pink glare of streetlights. These same lights poured gold into the Jerusalem stone on the sides of every building. I walked into The Coffee Bean, Tal in tow.

Since Rachel was going to be home late, and since Tal had a voice lesson, I asked her to meet me downtown so that we could go to the Go club together. Tal is not enthusiastic about Go; mostly because she's not very good at it. I hoped that she would be inspired to play, anyway, assuming she didn't have too much homework.

The Jerusalem Go club had been changing locations every few months. This was the second meeting in its new location, a coffee house on the corner of Jaffa road and Heleni Hamalka Street. It was a beautiful location.

However, it was also expensive, with coffees ranging from 15 to 25 NIS ($3.50 - $6.00). Rather steep. Nevertheless, I bought a vanilla coffee for myself and a "hot vanilla" for Tal. It was good; I'll grant them that.

We could see the Go players from the outside as we passed through security. An old friend/acquaintance Josh was instructing a group of others, running through a complete game that had been played recently at a tournament. This was well beyond my level. It's not that I didn't understand what he was saying; it's that I was so far from playing at that level, yet, that the techniques he was discussing simply didn't apply to me.

Altogether, there were around twelve club participants this evening, including myself and Tal, and not including two people who came only to watch. Others, including the waiting staff, gave occasional curious glances. To my surprise, one of the participants was Adam, a regular from my own club.

While Josh continued his teaching in preparation for several games to start [2], Adam and I played on an 11x11 grid. Adam and I knew that he was the stronger player, so I played first and Adam declined the bonus points for second.

When I play Chess, I don't mind losing, but I mind playing well and then forgetting somewhere in the middle of the game that my queen is under attack. Losing that way doesn't give me any lessons learned (other than to always watch for stupid oversights) nor satisfaction if it happens to my opponent. So when I play Go, I don't mind losing, but I want to take back a move if I do something that was obviously stupid. Adam, and Go players in general, wasn't used to that, but he let me.

I did it twice during the game, both times rolling back about three moves. So I don't mind saying that he won, because I took back my moves. After I took back those moves, I concentrated more carefully. The end result was my winning by about 18 points. Next game I hopefully won't make the same stupid mistakes, as I now know what to look for.

The 11x11 board is still largely tactical, as opposed to grandly strategic, but it's still more strategic than the 9x9 board. I was definitely getting into the spirit of the game. I began to look at each pattern and count the liberties, carefully considering different plays that I could do to extend my liberties by more than one, and carefully looking to see what plays my opponent could make to trap me against a wall or another one of his foundations.

I'm always amazed at the game. It's just so beautiful. Although there exist variations other than changing the board size, Go is probably the one game that really doesn't need any variations.

While I played, Josh managed to convince Tal to play a game of "elimination Go", where the winner is the first person to take one of the other player's pieces. Tal declined to play with any handicap, and lost, but she played well.

After my game with Adam, I figured we should split and play with other people. Adam played with someone and I challenged Josh to some Pente. This is a great tactic to use when playing with a Go player who can wipe the floor with you. I am a reasonable Pente player, and Josh had barely played. I won two games off of him, and he immensely enjoyed the games.

While I played Pente, Adam played Go with Tal, and Tal again declined a handicap. This time they played a regular game, and with Adam giving a few nudges here and there, Tal played to an impressive loss of only 15 to 8 (Japanese scoring). That's pretty impressive; it's about what I would expect to score against him.

I played two more games of Pente with someone else at the club (Eli) who had never played before, again winning both. And then Tal and I had to leave.

OK, so I really should have played another game of Go, but I'm not yet an expert at Pente, and it really is an enjoyable game, too. My respect for it goes up a bit each time I play, actually.

High on a great evening, and looking forward to game night tomorrow night, Tal and I left to catch the bus home.


[1] I wanted to use the heading "Coffee, Pente, and Go (Oh my!)", but Tal nixed it.

[2] Josh generally gives his opponents about a six stone advantage.

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