Interview With a GO Player | Pt. Two

        Continuing where we left off last week, this is the second part of our interview article series with Bob Song. In here we have a fascinating conversation about GO AI programs, and the Chinese GO player Nie WeiPing. Read on to find out more. If you missed the first part, it can be found here.

The GO Interview

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GOjiBroccoli: So Bob, who is your personal favorite GO player of all time?

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Bob: Well, I don't have a favorite GO player of all time. Just as long as they are strong.

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GOjiBroccoli: Is there a GO player you’ve found the most inspiration from?

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Bob: Well, I am not particularly inspired by any specific GO player, since I have seen many great players who have a lot of inspiring stories. Whoever has an inspiring story can inspire me.

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GOjiBroccoli: Very true!

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Bob: What's your favorite GO AI?

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GOjiBroccoli: Golaxy!

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Bob: Why?

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GOjiBroccoli: Haha Honestly, mainly the name.

Can’t say I know enough about them to judge the subtleties between their algorithms.

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Bob: I like AlphaGo since it is the first AI to reach superhuman level!

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GOjiBroccoli: Oh yes! I like that one a lot too for the same reasons. AlphaGO is classic.

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Bob: Golaxy is the first AI whose style is non-conservative.

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GOjiBroccoli: Oh yeah? Can you explain what that means?

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Bob: Have you watched how Golaxy plays games?

Not the one everybody regularly uses, but the one who went to the tournament. How do you feel about it?

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GOjiBroccoli: Well, they seem like they’re really thinking. There seems to be a personality behind the moves. It doesn’t feel like a computation, but an intention. With long term strategy.

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Bob: What do you think of the personality or the character?

Do you feel it’s only aim is to win? Or it seems like aiming to kill?

Or like, do you feel it likes to fight and deliver pressure?

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GOjiBroccoli: I’d say it takes a lot of risks. More than you’d think a computer should. Like strategic gambles.

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Bob: Typical programs aim to win only. They may not care how big they win. However if you see how likes of Golaxy plays, it may make you excited.

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GOjiBroccoli: Oh yes! The moves are surprising!

But I don’t know if my judgment on a good or bad move reflects much on that. I am still a beginner at GO. Would you say these AIs each have their own distinctive personalities or styles?

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Bob: Well, typical superhuman AIs, like AlphaGo, care less about how much it wins.

They care only about the win itself; for instance LeelaZero and Fineart. However likes of Golaxy and KataGo tend to play aggressively. And they take as many territories as possible. Aggressively with accurate execution,

And it plays fast!

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GOjiBroccoli: Could those aggressive strategies be too risky against an AI that only plays to win? Not every battle is worth the war.

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Bob: Certainly!

They like to take unnecessary risks, because they play greedily. Only Fineart can offset Golaxy's aggression. And Fineart uses your typical AI style.

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GOjiBroccoli: Could you explain in short, as best as possible, how these algorithms work? How do they think? How could someone who knows nothing about computers understand how these GO AIs function?

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Bob: Well, they all use MCTS and nonlinear fitting.

Playing style can be modified, likes of KataGo has a PDA (points double advantage). Means it aims to win more points when it is dominating.

Monte Carlo Tree Search Algorithm

[Neutral network is "深度卷积神经网络”]

Based on the technique introduction, Golaxy applies "area network and score network." It helps the program to play games more comprehensively. And what determines style is the "area network " and "score network." The program plays moves based on the most score leading when it is winning. And plays the least score increasing moves when it is behind.

In layman way of thinking, Golaxy plays moves based on how many points they receive.

If a move can gain 100 points and another move can gain 99 points, It will play the 100 points move every time. And if it is behind, like 5 points or 10 points or 50 points, then it will play the 50 points moves in order to decrease the score gap. All in all, whatever move benefits territory or score, it will play like that. But it is not 100% non-conservative.

The developer had an interview on why it lost to LeelaZero in 2019. He said Golaxy was in fully non-conservative mode, and played very fast, 113 moves within 3 minutes! Eventually it got caught and lost. Now the moves are more technically aggressive.

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GOjiBroccoli: Ah Sounds complicated.

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Bob: It's like you’re driving a car, in a car race. You are ahead of the opponent by miles. And so you choose to drive even faster. Then suddenly you crash.

Or let's say another car is ahead, and you are trying to catch up to it. Then the gas runs out, or you couldn't catch up. Philosophically it is about balancing. Likes of Fineart can always offset Golaxy, and even counterattack Golaxy. You remember you watched the last game between MyrtleGo and Golaxy?

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GOjiBroccoli: Yes. Refresh me.

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Bob: MyrtleGo was killed by Golaxy badly. The big dragon died. However in the post game conference, they revealed MyrtleGo can survive this dragon. And Golaxy can only lead 10 points after the process.

If MyrtleGo is playing with a human, the human wouldn't keep the dominance. But on the other hand, they also showed Golaxy has another plan.

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GOjiBroccoli: What’s that!?

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Bob: In the article, Golaxy revealed if MyrtleGo played moves from where Golaxy stands, then it will come to end game. And it planned to play the biggest move in the end game in order to make sure there were 10 points ahead. However MyrtleGo didn't continue last year's tournament. In Chinese community, people are scared by Golaxy's power. Some say "mismatch."

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GOjiBroccoli: Why are they scared?

World Go AI Competition 2020

Image of the Tournament Listings

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Bob: The way Golaxy finishes others is devastating for these fans. Especially the open source AI supporters.

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GOjiBroccoli: Haha Are there any active American GO AIs competing?

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Bob: KataGo ELF open Go ( retired)

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GOjiBroccoli: Wow, looks like most of them are Japanese and Chinese? Which makes sense. Since that’s where GO is the most popular.

Do you think everyone should learn to play GO? Would playing GO be beneficial for people and society?

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Bob: I can't say everybody should learn to play GO. Different people have different interests. But the more people learn to play GO, it is good for themselves, and good for the GO community. And it can benefit the society.

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GOjiBroccoli: How would playing GO benefit society? I've heard that in Russia they train kids in school at Chess. Is that what you mean?

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Bob: GO itself has benefits on helping kids with developing intelligence. Adults can learn it, and at least they can find a job by teaching GO. And it can calm a lot of people down while playing GO. Therefore both on intelligence and jobs, it is beneficial to the society!

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GOjiBroccoli: GO has had a huge influence on Eastern culture. But still is relatively unheard of in the West. Especially in America. Do you think GO would have a positive influence on American culture?

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Bob: It is difficult to say, since not very many people play GO in the USA right now.

As for positive or negative influence, it is too early to say. At least In China, GO has philosophical influence, whereas in the USA, I have not seen it so far. It may take a very long time to ultimately find the likes of GO's influence in terms of culture and philosophy. Chinese people have been playing GO for thousands of years. So it has an impact towards Chinese culture and Chinese philosophy. USA may take the same amount of time if it wants GO to integrate into "culture.” In China, GO's longevity has not been badly broken yet. And even in China's worst time, there were people still playing GO. By the early 60s it was re-established by the government, and the Chinese GO association started to organize players to reset ranks and participate in Japanese vs Chinese contests.

Earlier 60s Chinese could not compete with Japanese. Until 80s, Chinese people started to catch up with Japanese. And at that time, with the likes of NieWeiPing. A lot of people started to learn GO, so that's why GO in China is revived strongly. NieWeiPing played a very significant role in Chinese Go development.

NieWeiPing is a Chinese GO hero!

He was born in 1952. Born in Shenzhou, Nie began learning GO at the age of nine and won the inaugural World Amateur GO Championship in 1979. Nie was given 9 dan rank in 1982. He became famous in the GO world after leading China to victory in the China-Japan Supermatches, beating several top Japanese players including his teacher, Fujisawa Hideyuki. He earned the nickname "Steel Goalkeeper" for his ability to string together wins as the last Chinese player left. Nie won the Tianyuan twice, in 1991 and 1992. However his achievements are coming from his father, without his father, he wouldn't be able to rank up so quickly.

His father once served as a teacher of the Academy of natural sciences, deputy director of the planning department of the Northeast Economic Commission, and deputy director of the machinery bureau of the Northeast Ministry of industry. After 1953, he successively served as deputy director of the Second Bureau of the first Ministry of machinery industry, President of the Research Institute of mechanical science, Secretary of the Secretariat of the China Association for science and technology, director of the information bureau of the State Science and Technology Commission, director of the China Institute of science and technology information, and first vice president of the China Society of science and technology information and Chinese information society.

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GOjiBroccoli: Wow! That’s a lot!

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Bob: Well, that's why Nie himself can meet a lot of people who work in Chinese government. Nie improved greatly from when the time he was a farmer in BeiDaHuang.

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GOjiBroccoli: I’ve heard that GO is required learning among Chinese military officers. Is this true?

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Bob: Well, in movies, or tv dramas, GO exists. But I don't know if now officers need to learn GO.

But Nie, who was a farmer, with his father's help, he could leave the farm earlier. His political background is strong. He used to play poker with former Chinese president.

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GOjiBroccoli: I see. What is he doing now?

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Bob: NieWeiPing is talented. However he is not hardworking. Plus he overlooks opponents and over-rates himself. So he came up short to become a GO world champion. He even missed the plane to Singapore (the place where he and his opponent played for world championship title).

His prime was very short, from 1985~1988. And by 1989 he couldn't become world GO champion. Well, the reason he missed the plane included this. And later on, he thought he was the best GO player, and disrespected the organizer. So he couldn't be in the next InGo cup.

InGo Cup is the tournament for world GO champion.

His wife divorced him, and his son became a Japanese… So he got a new wife who was way younger than him. Now, he was not active, but he had a GO institution to promote upcoming talents to become professional GO players.

I am not saying he is no good. But his, is a character from the past Chinese era. His biggest achievement is beating all elite Japanese players while in his prime. Though because he was not hardworking he couldn't achieve more.

Here is a fun fact:

Whenever NieWeiPing went on a talk show or any big events for the public, he would fall asleep.

NieWeiPing sleeping during interview

Once during an interview A Reporter asked him: Some people summed up that when you fall asleep in public places, if you have images to check, you have at least 5 or 6 times of frequent dozing. What is the reason?

Nie WeiPing responded: First of all, the program is boring and boring. Other reasons? Don't people sleep when they are sleepy? Can you stay up when you are sleepy? Last time I recorded a program for CCTV, it was totally wrong for CCTV. Record at 9 am, call me up at 4 am, call me at 5 and 6 am respectively. Why do you call me so early? It's so inhuman!

Reporter: But the other guests didn't sleep.

Nie Weiping: That's because they dare not offend CCTV. What's so great about CCTV. I don't like it. People sleep regularly. It's just entertainment news. It's also said that some people call it "Sleepy scandal". Alas, it's different.

Reporter: You are very cooperative with many activities, but sleepiness also happens at these times. Does this mean that you are not very interested in this kind of activities?

Nie Weiping: to tell you the truth, I really don't have much interest in these things. But what can we do? Refuse your interview? If you refuse every time, it's not very good. Moreover, we can publicize, go through the media. Some activities may be good for the society.

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GOjiBroccoli: WOW! I suppose he is right. Sleep is very important.

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Bob: You can easily see his personality based on this interaction.

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GOjiBroccoli: Guess he let some of the fame get to his head?

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Bob: Not only that. "Fame" to him is not too important. Though he has let "fame" get into his head for years.

The current Chinese president used to asked him to teach him how to play GO.

And Nie would refuse!

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GOjiBroccoli: Ha! He refused!?

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Bob: Yes! President Xi asked Nie to teach him GO. Nie said, No.

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GOjiBroccoli: WOW So Nie thinks he’s really important?

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Bob: Well, you can check what his father did.

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GOjiBroccoli: So he’s entitled?

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Bob: Very very entitled. Because of his father He played with a lot Chinese leaders, government leaders.

Xi Jinping was the secretary of Geng Biao. Apart from their work, they had a common love of playing GO.

This kind of game, which is closest to the art of war in ancient times, has such a kind of magic that all men who are addicted to strategy can't stop.

Geng Biao asked all the staff around him to learn to play GO, which he thought could train their overall outlook. Xi Jinping's friend and GO player Nie WeiPing said Xi Jinping had learned "GO rules" very early. In the early 1980s, Nie WeiPing was a brilliant man. He broke the monopoly of Japanese chess players and at once became a national hero in China. When Geng Biao visited Japan, when Chinese chess players were participating in the China-Japan GO arena competition, Xi Jinping met Geng Biao and loved to play chess. He asked Xi Jinping to learn to play GO with him as soon as possible. For this reason, Xi Jinping also specially asked Nie WeiPing to learn how to play GO.

NiePingDeng playing with XiaoPingDeng

^ This is Nie, who was playing poker with former president XiaoPing Deng.

"At that time, he (Xi Jinping) wanted to learn a way to improve quickly," Nie WeiPing recalls later. "But I didn't teach him. I was afraid that he could not go out, and give me a shame." Geng Biao and Xi Jinping may be fiercely competitive, but in Nie WeiPing's view, the level is not high. Later, if Nie WeiPing came to visit, Geng Biao and Xi Jinping moved the GO board away. "They played GO when I was not there (in his office)." Note: If you read it carefully, you will know president Xi is his friend.

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GOjiBroccoli: Wow! Is this all common knowledge in China?

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Bob: No He is not that popular. Not popular now at least. In his prime he is very very famous

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GOjiBroccoli: So how do you know all this? Are you just an expert on GO history?

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Bob: No. I am a casual GO observer. I knew it before. Since I researched his personal life. Plus my father and my teachers told me some things about him before.

NieWeiPing has a big heart, and is mentally very very strong. He was the best GO player in all of China. Even if his prime was cut short.

He is a special case because of his personal experience. His personal experience is unique, so that's why he is a character. You can see his personality stand out.

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GOjiBroccoli: He kind of reminds me of America’s Bobby Fischer. Our Chess champ who finally beat the Russians.

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Bob: Bobby Fischer?

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GOjiBroccoli: Big in the 70’s.

He was the world chess champion back in the day. He helped us finally beat the Russians at chess. The Russians had dominated at chess for ages. Still do in a lot of ways. Bobby Fischer was a wild guy; to say the least. He became paranoid later in life, and his mental health may have suffered.

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Bob: Did he also have a political background?

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GOjiBroccoli: Not in his family I don’t think. But his games were used for geo-politics a lot.

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Bob: NieWeiPing is president xi's friend. In their childhood years, he used to get in fights with people with president Xi.

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GOjiBroccoli: How do you mean fight? Like at GO?

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Bob: Physical fights.

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GOjiBroccoli: I see! Wow. very Gangsta

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Bob: President Xi and Nie would often fight others when they are kids.

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GOjiBroccoli: So they were close.

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Bob: Certainly. Otherwise how can a GO player play with Chinese president?

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GOjiBroccoli: I guess that’s why he could tell him no?

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Bob: For sure.

You can see his personality through his language. He thought president Xi is not talented in GO. Only president Deng made him be quiet. Nie said he didn't speak anything when he played poker with Deng.

Have you ever seen any singers or Chess players play with any American presidents? Or use the language he had.

That's why Nieweiping is aggressive and disrespectful towards a lot of people.

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GOjiBroccoli: Well, I saw Magnus Carlsen play chess against Bill Gates once. Magnus beat him quickly and easily. Haha

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Bob: Nie only respected a few people in his life.

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GOjiBroccoli: I can see that. Though he sounds like a liability for Xi?

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Bob: Well, he just said Xi is not good in GO. And if Xi learned GO from Nie, and then Xi lost, it will be shame on Nie.

Nieweiping is incredibly talented in GO. If he is hardworking enough, or aka disciplined, then his prime would not be so short. But Nie cared less of such things in life.

For example, he doesn't care about his wife. His wife divorced him and his son became Japanese. And he cared very little. Well, for the first wife.

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GOjiBroccoli: Doesn’t sound like he cares much about anything. And he reminds me of the attitude expressed by the mafia, when they get a power trip they feel like they can get away with anything.

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Bob: His father was very powerful.

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GOjiBroccoli: Why did Nie’s son want to become Japanese?

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Bob: So you know Nie divorced his wife.

Well,Nie didn't care about his wife. There was a Scandal. It is said Nie cheated with another woman. And so his wife went to Japan. Nie didn't have a good relationship with his son before. Since in Nie’s son's view, his father separated from them, and Nie was not responsible.

His first wife is Chinese professional GO player as well, 8P. He married her in 1980. And Nie regretted it, usually. Then they broke. Nie remarried to the woman he cheated with. Then divorced again. He then married his current wife, who is 23 years junior to Nie. He has 3 children to 3 wifes. His youngest daughter was born in 2004.Nie was 52 years old at that time.

But, he was incredibly talented in GO.

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GOjiBroccoli: So he lived the “rockstar” life of a son of a powerful government official? Was Xi’s father also a powerful government official?

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Bob: Both Nie and Xi's father are intensely powerful. But Nie's father was extremely powerful.

When Nie learned GO, his teachers were the best players at that time. And so he played with a lot of big names both in GO, and politicians. Nie however has no talent, business or interest in politics.

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GOjiBroccoli: Smart move.

What a story that Xi and Nie have. Two great life stories who grew up together. And both very talented in their respective skills.

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Bob: Xi is very disciplined. Nie has very very little discipline.

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GOjiBroccoli: Haha, So one doesn’t party? And the other parties too much?

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Bob: Well, Nie can certainly do a lot of things outside GO. Drink, eat…

That's why he lost a lot of games that he shouldn't have lost. And he doesn't care about the money either. Some used to ask Nie to do some coaching games. About 150 dollars a game. And he wouldn't do it.

He also played with AlphaGo Master as well. And he is the only person that dominated the opening with AI. At the age of 65~66

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GOjiBroccoli: Wow. That's impressive. So he’s still got it!

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Bob: Certainly! Such wasted talent.

He had one of the best openings of human players. His opening is the best in China, especially during his prime. It is difficult to find another person who is as good at openings like him. Nie learned GO very differently from everyone the way he grew up.

His powerful family provided him with the teachers. But more importantly is his improvement over time.

During the Chinese cultural revolution from 1966~1976, Nie was impacted; though not as much as others since his family was powerful. But he became a farmer in 1969. Came to a farm in HeilongJiang province. The farm was called ShanHe farm. So all he did was farming. Didn’t have time to play many games. And Nie said, he improved a lot during the time he was a farmer. It enlarged his personal experience in life.

For most of us, it is not possible to improve when you are a full time farmer.

And he couldn't play too many games, since farming is too tough to him. Because he has Congenital heart disease. So any longer physical work is damaging to him. Even when he came back to play with others years later. He needs an oxygen bottle.

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GOjiBroccoli: Are Nie and Xi the same age?

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Bob: Xi was born in 1953. Nie was born in 1952.

Less than a year apart. Nie was born in August 1952, Xi was June 1953. But Nie doesn't have a good health.

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GOjiBroccoli: That’s unfortunate. Health is very important.

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Bob: Nie WeiPing doesn't have enough discipline.

He had cancer too, rectal cancer. Due to eating seafood and drinking. He liked to eat crab a lot. He used to eat 13 crabs in one meal!

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GOjiBroccoli: Holy Craboli !!

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Bob: Smoking and Drinking.

Ultimately a few months ago he was sent to hospital.

Plus from drinking Alcohol, used to drink almost 5 pounds of alcohol in one meal. He is amazingly still alive.

Doctor suggested for him to not drink and smoke and eat crab.

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GOjiBroccoli: Good advice.

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Bob: He is not afraid of death.

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GOjiBroccoli: Doesn’t sound like he would be.

Maybe he should be a vegan. Meditate more. Drink tea. And turmeric!

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Bob: Not in his life!

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GOjiBroccoli: Sounds like you had some inside scoop on Nie. Did your Father and teachers who told you about him, did they have some reason they knew so much?

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Bob: Well, my father and teachers told me about his personal life cause he was famous in their time. And I read a book about him. Nie also has his autobiography.

Nie WeiPing is known for his big heart and Mental strength. He indeed regretted a few things in his life. But it didn't change his personality.

Do you know any of his achievements in GO? He held multiple Chinese national GO championship titles during his prime.

He participated in the China -Japan GO supermatch.

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GOjiBroccoli: Could he beat the Koreans too?

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Bob: He could have beat more Koreans…

He couldn't beat Koreans not because he is scared or afraid. However no discipline ruined him.

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GOjiBroccoli: That’s unfortunate. He sounds like a Mozart of GO...

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Bob: Well, His mental strength is great. He didn't care too much about losing, as long as he played with someone. He could do anything.

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GOjiBroccoli: I wonder what his thoughts were when AlphaGO beat humans?

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Bob: Previously he didn't believe in AIs can beat human. It shocked him. But he said, AI moves didn't inspire him very much.

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GOjiBroccoli: I can imagine that would be so.

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Bob: Nie still has the strongest mental strength in China among all the players.

He said if he played AI in his prime, he would beat AI. Nie WeiPing is well-known in Chinese GO community. He played with a lot of people when he was active. And he even stated, he was the closest person to beat AlphaGomaster.

NiePingDeng in his prime

This is Nie in his prime. ->

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GOjiBroccoli: Wow. He has indeed lived a very interesting life.

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Bob: Certainly!

End pt 2

This is the end of the Second part of our interview series on the Game of GO. There will be two more continuations on this informative and intriguing interview with Bob.

Tune in next week for part three!

Thanks for reading!

You can discuss our interview in our Discord, and even give Bob a shout out. He is always happy to talk anything GO, with anyone!

Thanks Bob!