A Baduk Blog

Some musings on Go by BadukClub creator Devin Fraze

Baduk Retreat Centers

(aka places without internet)

Go managed to exist and spread for thousands of years because it was an excellent game to pass the time. Now that people have the internet, they have access to near infinite knowledge at their fingertips.

It is human nature for people to seek to engage their brains. It is also in our nature to be as efficient (aka lazy) as possible. Any Go player will tell you that the game does engage the brain in a firework show of activity. But unlike a YouTube video which can be passively streamed into our eyes, Go requires that we put forth a lot of mental effort.

This isn't going to change any time soon. And so, the question can't be “how do we make playing Go more easy/passive?” But rather, “how do we find an environment where Go will flourish?”

And so it follows that retreat centers, rural homesteads, and isolated communities become the perfect place for Go to flourish. The game would still have to compete against books as a form of “passive entertainment,” but books are a lot different than YouTube.

While it is true that all change happens bit-by-bit, the world needs big ideas. We need people working to solve large and difficult questions on things like climate change, political corruption, educational reform and more.

The Go community needs big ideas as well. It needs people striving to solve our communities issues and it needs people doing the work, day-by-day, to make those changes a reality.

Dreamers

I call those change makers with the big ideas “dreamers.” These dreamers are seeking to change things like the underrepresentation of women, people of color, and rural players in Baduk. Dreamers are investing their personal finances in ordering and storing large shipments of Weiqi supplies so that the rest of us can affordably purchase them when we are ready. Dreamers are pouring their life's energy into developing tools to help local organizers to help themselves energize their communities.

That last example is the work I'm trying to do with BadukClub. I am a dreamer and I spend every day striving to help, grow, and empower the worldwide Go community.

Skeptics

So you're a dreamer with a great idea and you’re pumped. It’s new, it’s different, possibly even ground-breaking. It’s such a radical idea that you know people will take some convincing. But deep inside you know it’s a great idea.

And, as expected, when you present the idea, there are some naysayers. Some push-back. But that isn't always a bad thing! Those people could very well be skeptics with valid concerns and feedback. And lucky for me, in the Go community there are plenty of skeptics.

According to the Oxford Dictionary a skeptic is “a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions.” People who value intellectual pursuits such as Go are commonly skeptics because skepticism is often just critical thinking applied in the real world.

Cynics

But dreamers should be careful because there is another breed of naysayer out there; Cynics. According to the Oxford Dictionary a skeptic is “a person who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest rather than acting for honorable reasons.”

I like that definition, but the heart of the issue can be seen from the definition used at the Free Dictionary: a cynic is “a person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.”

The difference is important

Skeptics look for holes in your idea because they want to help you plug those holes. Cynics look for holes so they can make them bigger and sink your idea.

Skeptics ask questions to try to make your idea better. Cynics ask questions to try to make you look stupid or incompetent.

Skeptics say, “I’m not sure if you have enough data to support that… lets do some digging and figure it out.” Cynics say, “You don’t have enough data to support that. You’ll have to prove to me that you’re right.” (And you never can.)

Skeptics have the “meeting after the meeting” to find ways to get past their doubts so they can jump onboard. Cynics have the “meeting after the meeting” to tear down the idea so no one is onboard.

From the founder of Hubspot Dharmesh Shah's article on LinkedIn

My experiences

Working on the AGA board I spend a lot of my time heatedly debating policy issues. But I am happy to say that these people are skeptics. They want to be convinced, to see evidence, and when that happens, they move forward.

I also hear from of cynics when I share my map, wheretoplaygo.com, with people.

As an example, one potential user told me that they didn't want to add their meetup to the map over concerns of data security. So I shared with him how we use a BAS (backend as a service) to make sure that novice code isn't protecting people's data.

Next he took up issue with our authentication process. So I shared with him information on our third-party authentication provider as well as all the best-in-class security measures they use to protect user accounts.

Next he took up issue with his privacy. So I made him aware of the Privacy Policy and of the Terms of Use easily found in our footer. It states that our site is GDPR compliant and that the user owns there data and that we won't ever sell it.

At this point, you may not be surprised to hear that he didn't sign up. He was just there to try and tear me down. To be clear, BadukClub doesn't even collect that much data to begin with and the information we do collect is stuff like “when their club meets” which I assume people want public anyway.

Furthermore, this person also lists their information on another website with no Privacy Policy and which lists their information in a way which is trivially easy to scrape (my site also does a better job at this).

Don't feed the trolls

So it's clear to me that this person was a cynic. They don't believe that I might actually just be creating a website to help make the world a better place.

Cynics are toxic. At a fundamental level they don’t believe in goodness. Cynics don’t believe in the capability of other people to overcome, to rise up, and to achieve. They don’t believe in new ideas because, at heart, they don’t believe in people.

So what should I do? “Shun the non-believers,” says Seth Godin and I agree. I want to serve those who align with my mission to make the world a better place. So if you are that kind of person, let's work together. And if people are skeptical, let's invite them in so we can all learn and grow together. If you are a cynic, I'm sorry, but you're not welcome here.

When I was 22 I sold my worldly possessions, strapped a backpack onto a bicycle, and peddled a few hundred miles to a commune in rural Virginia. I only lived in this hundred person commune for a short while, but it taught me many new life lessons.

Two years later, after traveling around the US and Asia, I found myself back in Ohio. I had grown weary of 'yet another' beautiful sunset with people whom I did not know. I longed for a connection to other like minded human beings that I knew was possible. And so I moved to the city of Cincinnati to be with a girl.

Well... I was still miserable. I didn't know anyone in Cincinnati because I had grown up in Columbus. So after another year, it was time for some more change. I went to Costa Rica to work on a farm for a few months. And after that, untethered from anywhere in the world, I decided to move back to Columbus, Ohio. I moved there because I knew people. I understood how things worked and how I fit into them, and because however loose it was, I had community.

I chose to live in an “up-and-coming” part of town, which a guy I met during another cross country bicycle ride lived. He moved away, but I moved into a house of 3 other people and I loved it. I had housemates, I knew my neighbors, and I made new friends across the city. In short, I began to find and build community.

I still miss the commune and I often think of moving back. But the part I miss the most was connecting with other human beings over shared interests and beliefs. I'm doing that now, right where I am.

Baduk is the greatest game in the world, hands-down! Over 2000 years old, it's one of the oldest games still played today. And on top of all that, it's probably the most challenging mind-sport of all time. To give you an example: as checkers is to chess, chess is to baduk. But for me, it's more akin to a philosophy and lifestyle than merely a game. Would you like to try it? —My standard “pitch” to new people

Clear and Concise

We all have our personal favorite way to tell the story of Go to others. But there is a constraint few of us realize. Humans judge books by their cover. Once that judgement is made it can take a lot of time and effort to change it.

Big companies know the importance of a good tagline. The Entrepreneur knows that that he or she will have 30 seconds max to explain their idea. The teacher knows to start each lesson with a “hook.” The podcaster knows to give a brief overview of the episode before the show starts. The list goes on...

The reality is that no matter what you share, you have to be concise and attention catching. Once people have agreed to give you more of their time and attention, only then you can poetically wax on about the mysteries of Go and it's underlying connections to our lives. Only then can you teach them the nuances of Ko's, life and death, ladders, and so on.

The Pyramid of Attention

Attention expires relative to how people feel you valued their time. Most people will give you 30 seconds. If you used those seconds well people might give you 2 minutes. If they enjoyed those two minutes they'll invest another 10 in learning from you. If that goes well, people can stay engaged for an additional 2 hours depending upon the situation.

So if you want to grow your Go community, practice your 30 seconds pitch. Refine your 2 minutes explanation of the rules. Hone your 10 minute interactive teaching game. And most important, build a community of connection that keep people coming back time and time again.

How to get people engaged

New people aren't going to spend much time trying to figure out where they can play this game. If they encounter enough roadblocks in trying to find information, they'll stop trying and give up.

That's why I made wheretoplaygo.com! I want to give organizers a concise, beautiful, and easy way to share information about their club and events.

Please consider asking clubs you care about to list their meetups on the map. That way, we can all benefit by making Go more easily accessible to new and current players!

(with a caveat at the end)

The secret is... deliberate practice (and lots of it).

As you can tell, I'm pretty bad at hiding secrets. Although, even if the answer is simple to state, much like weiqi itself, truly understanding it is more complex. So let's break it down.

Practice

You will never become a pro cyclist watching cyclists. It turns out, if you want to be good a cycling, you need to go out, get on you bicycle, and ride it. The same is true for Go.

But what constitutes practice in Baduk? Well, there are a lot of ways. Solving puzzles, memorizing openings, studying professional players are all things you can do. But the most important way is simply to play.

Thankfully, it is easier than ever to play Baduk these days. There are fantastic online servers such as OGS and maps were you can find an in-person meetups such as baduk.club.

Deliberate

Time spent merely doing something is not enough. Deliberate practice means practicing in a way that pushes your skill set as much as possible.

What constitutes deliberate? It means solving a Go problem without the aid of a computer. It means reviewing your games after you play them.

Another important concept here is one from educational theory called the “zone of proximal development.” The idea is that for progression to occur, you need to be pushing yourself the right amount. If you do things that are too easy or too difficult, then you won't get better.

And lots of it

“The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great because they paint a lot.” — Macklemore, from the rap song Ten Thousand Hours

Andy Lui, AGA 1 dan pro, can be seen playing 24 games of Go in 24 hours in the documentary The Surrounding Game. And it is well known that Korean and Chinese pros spent 10+ hours a day every day learning the game as a kid.

In my own experience, I went from 30 kyu to 3 kyu in 9 months because I was riding my bicycle across the United States. And so everyday I would exercise for many hours and then play Go in whatever town I was in or I would read Baduk book and do Weiqi puzzles. Rinse, wash, and repeat for months.

The caveat

I would be remiss if I did not mention the valid controversy around this bit of popular psychology. The 10,000 hour rule was popularized was Malcolm Gladwell and many people have come out against his work.

As it turns out, deliberate practice is very domain specific. Luckily for us, it just so happens that Baduk is probably the best domain for this type of thing.

“We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued.” — A 2014 Princeton meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice

It is also a fact that natural talent actually does matter as well. And there are many other contributing factors which aren't actually fully understood.

But one thing is for sure, if you want to be good at Baduk, you need to play.

Find a club near you at wheretoplaygo.com

If you dream, as I do, of a world with tens of millions of Weiqi players. Then it is only a matter of time before you will start to plan and scheme of ways to get the word out and introduce others to our beloved passion. But this is the wrong next step. Because you see, before we can convince others to join us, we must first examine why it is we ourselves are so drawn to this life.

To start my search I decided to investigate analogous sports such as chess and draughts. But my investigation was (mostly) a dead end and I wasn't able to unearth anything interesting. I kept digging, but over time I let the question go. Perhaps it was too grand and audacious a discovery to make.

A Clue

So here I am, I've moved on, and I am now researching how to grow and support BadukClub when quite by accident I come across the podcast Akimbo by Seth Godin.

In it Seth talks about whatever is on his mind that week and I can promise you, every single episode is interesting. And as I listened I noticed something. In his show he weaves a compelling narrative about the invisible forces underlying human nature and how they drive each us. This is where I had my insight.

To know Go, Study Nature

The question is not, why do people play Baduk? It is not even, why do people engage in intellectually challenging sports? The best question is simply “why do we do anything?”

In the end, it is all about the stories we tell ourselves. For example, some Go players are proud to play one of the oldest and most difficult games in the world. But this is actually a signal to ourselves. A signal saying, “hey, look at how smart we are! Look at how cultured we are!”

Many of us also enjoy the beauty and aesthetics of the game. And we enjoy the meditative focus it brings out in us. And we enjoy the logical challenges baduk presents. But these things still tie into the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. They too are a signals saying “I can be successful when faced with challenges. I value beauty and serenity.”

And as we climb the ladder of ranks in Go, our inherent nature to improve and learn emerges. Thanks to evolution, we get bursts of dopamine when we win or when we figure out a Go problem. And we enjoy seeing our perceived social status increase with our comparative strength.

Seth Godin also has some insights on why we play games in general.

  1. To think that we are smart, or physically talented, or have some sort of attribute that makes us feel good about ourselves.
  2. We want to feel lucky.
  3. We want to feel connected, part of something bigger than ourselves. Like a team where we can be the hero.
  4. To feel powerful, to feel like we defeated the other, to feel like we won.

He also has some insights about why people who try Baduk do not continue to play the game.

“What our culture has done, is taught people two things at the same time. One, that you're super special and really smart and probably smarter than everyone. And two, that you're a fraud. That when it comes right down to it, lots of people are smarter than you. So given the choice of investing in a game where you have to show you're the smartest, or investing in a game where you can rely on luck or hustle. Most people want the second kind. Most people want the thrill of imagining that they're going to win without the reality of discovering that someone is better than them.” —Akimbo, Games Matter, Seth Godin

Our most fundamental human trait

If you've read the popular book Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, then you will again see the power of how stories shape societies. He writes about how it was our power as storytellers that allowed us to group together in the ways that we have done. But there is another key element to humans seen here other than simply our love for stories and the power they hold.

More innate in us than the stories themselves is the underlying desire that the story telling supports: connection. Humans are social animals and we have always gathered together in tribes since the dawn of time. This is true even for the most introverted among us (and of those there are a decent amount in our community).

So you see, we are but a tribe of like minded individuals enjoying our shared interest together. We form national identities, we form regional packs, and we exist within local tribes we like to call Baduk Clubs. For many, it is the connection to this tribe that keeps them playing the game.

And that is why I've created Baduk.Club. To focus on this games most fundamental reason for existing... to bring us together.

At the end of the day, it takes two to play Go.

In Baduk, the board starts empty. We take turns choosing our life's path, stone by stone. At first, there is so much room to play! We strive for the corners, then branch into the sides, and eventually we occupy some of the center.

If we are lucky, all our choices work together. Our moves connect in goal and in spirit, our intentions align, and we don't leave any weak groups on the board.

The easy way to do this, is to be timid. To never stretch ourselves or explore uneasy places. But living like this we find that when it comes time to count our spoils, we don't have much to show.

But my issues has always been one of over extending. I get so excited by what is possible that I want to play every move, to expand into every territory, and to become a master of everything.

Humbled

It's not possible to do it all. On the goban and in life, we must find balance. I learned this the hard way. A few years back I opened my own alternative school. At the same time, I was running a real estate business. And on top of all that I ran my twice a week local baduk meetup, taught weiqi at three schools, and ran regional tournaments.

My relationships became poisoned. My physical heath suffered. My mental state crumbled. None of my stones worked together and all my groups were weak.

I found myself defeated and exhausted. But in life, as in Baduk, a stone played is a move made.

A New Strategy

Unlike Baduk, in life you don't get to start again on fresh board when you're defeated. But much like in Baduk, when you realize your strategy isn't working, you should cut your loses and refocus.

Since then, I've shut down my school (for now), scaled back my real estate responsibilities, and dedicated almost all of my energy into Baduk.

Yet, I don't spend much of my time playing the game these days. Rather, I meditate on its life-lessons, support existing communities, and dream of how to expand to new reaches of the goban.

My Latest Moves Played

  • Empowering organizers and energizing players with BadukClub
  • Sharing advice via YouTube
  • Consolidating wisdom and stories for the ears delight
  • This blog... I hope you find it helpful and entertaining. Thank you.

Baduk Clubs come and go. Many before my time and even a few before my very eyes. But why? The birth of a club is a fascinating mystery, but today I'm going to examine what it is that kills them.

Stagnation becomes death.

In the tech and business world there is a popular saying: “you're either growing or you are dying.” But this is true for more than the likes of Facebook and Amazon.

The universe follows the law of Entropy; things move toward disorder. Our memory has a half-life, like the atoms of isotopes. Our attention is the prize won in an ongoing battle between everyone and everything.

What can you do?

It is the honored duty of the Baduk Organizer to reverse entropy by putting energy into the system. To refresh our memory and remind us why we play. And to enter the battlefield of attention and defeat the Goliath's that strive to tear us apart

Doing this is simple in nature and complex in practice. We love this game, this mind sport, this way of life because of how it serves us. It gives us enjoyment, status, and fulfillment. But we must realize that Baduk is more than something we do. Baduk is a community and it is a story we tell ourselves and others.

Okay, but how?

The first step in growing a community is showing up, this is well known. But the next things you need to do are engage, connect, and cultivate. Reach out to players on a regular basis and invite them to meet up. Get to know them, who they are, and what makes them tick. Lastly, become their friend and help them connect with others.

After you've created a sustainable “tribe”, then you should focus on finding new people to join. To do so, strive to tell your story well. Focus first on being concise and impactful. If you can get a little buy-in, only then begin to weave the story of Baduk into their life.

If you do all that, your club will not only grow, it will thrive.

If you've ever watched Pokemon, you may have bought into an idea. The idea that you want to become “the very best, that no one ever was.” And so you rush out, and buy the game, and indeed become the very best after hours and hours of gentle button clicks and pixelated combat. But sadly, that is all Pokemon really is: a neat tv show, an addicting soundtrack over repetitive visuals, and maybe some card collecting if you're particularly loose with your cash (guilty as charged).

If you've ever watched Hikaru No Go, you may have bought into an idea. The idea that you desire to play “The Devine Move.” The characters, Hikaru and Sai, have inspired you to strive to become a Go Master. And so you Google Go and find... nothing. But then try searching Go Game... and that is where the story diverges from Pokemon.

Pokemon is awesome! It has good story telling, interesting characters, and all your friends know what it is. So I'm not hating on Pokemon. But Go, you discover, is actually a real-life game with thousands of years of history and culture and people far away from you who live the real-life version of what Hikaru went through (not including the ghost... probably).

And so, if you ever want a quick, fun, and enticing way to describe Go to a new person. Just tell them, “Go is like Pokemon, but it's real!”

In the story of Hikaru No Go there is famous scene where a young boy who is nearly professional looses to another child who has never played Go before. Little did the experienced player know, but the newbie had the help of an ancient Go playing ghost. I've always wondered at the shock and awe the losing player must have felt in that moment...


It was just another Wednesday for the Evanston Go Club when a curious newbie arrived to try the game for his first time. Long time club member Mark happened to be free, so he sat the young man down to explain the rules. After a short while they played some first-capture Go. The newbie started at 5x5, Mark attached, newbie wrapped, and Mark cut. All normal so far... until the newbie extended his cut stone and followed up with a complex sequence ending in a ladder and the death of Mark's stones.

Mark wasn't too fazed, although this is likely the first time he'd lost to a beginner, flukes do happen. So they began another round of first-capture Go; but this time Mark wasn't going to get caught up in such a fight. The newbie opened on the 3x3 and Mark played solid moves building a large wall that aimed to encompass 70% of the board. The poor newbie was sure to lose this game if only because he would soon run out of safe places to play. All normal so far... until the newbie invaded, connected under the wall, and then played out yet another successful ladder.

The young newbie asked to try the real game, insisted on using the larger board (13x13) and refused to take handicap stones while playing as black. Mark was familiar with the brash ignorance of the uninitiated and felt bad for the prideful young man he was about to crush. But even so, Mark isn't the type to hold back. A few moves in, the game was somehow looking good for the newbie. Mark found himself in yet another ladder and black had managed to take three of the corners. But white had a plan. He played a ladder breaking approach and the newbie fell for it by responding locally!

Mark pulled his stone out of the corner and skillfully played the key killing moves to ensure the death of black's group. This game was in the bag! Having captured the whole corner and 6 stones in a ladder, whites solid thickness radiated influence out over the board. There was no way a newbie could come back from such a disadvantage. All normal so far... until the newbie played a complex cross cutting sacrifice sequence which allowed black to swallow 3/4th of the board which he then secured with a perfectly timed net, all of the sente endgame moves, and some expertly played life and death that killed the invading stones.

By this time the other club members had taken note of this strange newbie and his silent teacher. Others had stopped playing their own games and instead watched this one as it progressed toward the end. And when the final score was tallied the newbie had somehow won by over 10 points! The newbie gratefully thanked his teacher for the game. No one else knew what to say. Nothing like this had ever happened before!

As it turns out, this “newbie” was none other than the author of this story, AGA 2 kyu Devin Fraze, who was passing through Chicago for the evening. Not wanting to hurt any feelings I revealed my true rank and my intentions to have a little fun trying to recreate the famous Hikaru No Go moment. We laughed at the odd scenario we found ourselves in and I actually had to further convince Mark that I was who I said I am. (The mind is an odd thing and I assume it took some effort to reinterpret the last 30 minutes.)

So if anyone else is curious as to how Akira Toya might have felt after loosing to the young Hikaru Shindo, pay a visit to Chicago's Evanston Go Club and ask.