Interview With a GO Player | Pt. Four

        This is the final instalment of our interview article series with Bob Song. Here the first & second & third parts can be found. In part four we discuss some about how the Dan ranking system is earned in China and abroad. Bob brings up some interesting points on the psychological strategies used in GO. And we learn about the phenomenon of signed GO fans by professional players, and much much more.

Read on to find out!

The GO Interview

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GOjiBroccoli: I'm curious, have you ever been to and watched a professional GO tournament in person?

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Bob: I have watched professional tournaments many times online, but have never been to any tournament halls in person.

In professional GO games, not everybody can be close to the live game. Reporters and team leaders can be that close, but typically in China, GO has a channel on TV (should be channel 78). Or sometimes I watch it via CCTV. Though not very often does CCTV broadcast a GO game. CCTV is China's official press media. Channel 5 is in charge of sports shows, but GO is not as well known as compared with football (soccer), basketball, volleyball, baseball, swimming, boxing, or ping-pong.

Like here on espn, imagine if espn had GO for one of the broadcasting options? How can a GO game have more people to watch than American football?

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GOjiBroccoli: Well, of course. Seemed like a lot of people tuned in to watch the AlphaGo game though.

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Bob: Do you know American GO history too?

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GOjiBroccoli: No, not really.

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Bob: Me either. I don't know too much about American GO history, but I know a few strong players. I know modern GO history, since the 19 century to now and some GO AI history.

Chinese English Go Dictionary

On GO forums users write a lot of articles on players. Great for news.

Check out this GO book of Chinese-English Dictionary of Weiqi Terms recently released!

I found it through the Chinese GO app article forum for news.

The Golaxy developer Dr. Xiaochuan You is the chief editor. I am very happy that Dr. Xiaochuan You (Golaxy co-developer) is the author

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GOjiBroccoli: I was wanting to ask more about your rank as 5 Dan?

How is that done? How did you earn it? Like do you get a certificate? What is the process for conferring standardized GO ranking?

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Bob: I do have a certificate!

Typically you earn it via competition.

In China we have contests like amateur 1 Dan contest to amateur 4 Dan contests, these test people who want to be 1~5 Dan. (Note: amateur 1 Dan contest may aim to 1 Dan players to 2 Dan. Or players who don't have a Dan to aim to become a 1 Dan.)

For most people becoming 5 Dan is not extremely hard, it may take 2 or 3 years of consistent work. But to become an amateur 6 Dan is way harder!

Additionally, Dan contests have a lot of differences in different places. Considering the fact that different places have different requirements to reach different ranks. Also considering junior contests and senior contests, then it will make a lot of difference.

For example, in Beijing and Shanghai, where a lot of people play GO. So they have higher requirements to get Dan ranks in contests. Less people play GO overall where I am from. Therefore the requirement for Dan contests is nowhere close to the big cities.

And speaking of junior contests and senior contests, the junior contest for Dan is easier than the senior contest for Dan rank. My rank is from the Junior contest, so I am weaker than senior people who are also 5 Dan.

I received 5 Dan in 2014, so I couldn't compare with the likes of my teachers in terms of GO ability.

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GOjiBroccoli: There’s something about having such a formal system of ranking that is very appealing. Especially on a cultural level.

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Bob: Well, 5 Dan is a wild rank in China! 5 Dan is very strong, and you can use it to apply for a job with it.

However, too many 5 Dan want to be 6 Dan. Which they couldn't be. So those are stronger. Chinese amateur 6 Dan is no joke! Since contest requirements are even stricter.

To become Chinese amateur 6 Dan, either you go to a national amateur contest where a lot of people will be in, championship rewards for money, Or do regional contests. At least 3 provinces (or 3 states) of people to participate in. You have to be the champion if you want to receive 6 Dan. So either way it is difficult.

In the national contest the top 10 players are able to become 6 Dan. And it is stronger than regional contests players. As for 7 Dan, No regional contests allowed.

Chinese amateur 7 Dan is for people who are the champions of Chinese amateur contest. Aka, national champion, the best amateur player in China. Not me...

8 Dan is for the Japanese system. Whoever is the world amateur champion is whoever is amateur 8 Dan.

As for how strong are Chinese amateur 6 Dan? If you meet some young people, like 20~30 years old, they are able to beat professional players. Even some later 30s people can handle professional players

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GOjiBroccoli: What do you mean 8 Dan is for Japanese system? Doesn’t China have 8 Dan ranks?

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Bob: In China, the highest rank is 7 Dan. In Japan it is 8 Dan. Doesn't mean too much. Honorary rank, or emeritus rank (meaning not retired).

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GOjiBroccoli: So Japan just decided to have more Dan ranks? How does a player get the Professional “P” rank added to their level?

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Bob: Amateur ranks in China, Japan, S Korea are all up to 7 Dan.

However if you are a champion of world amateur players, aka the best amateur player in the world, then they will give you a 8 Dan rank. For what you got for the contest.

More referring to "the best amateur player in the world is 8 Dan." Doesn't necessarily mean strength.

In China, you have to be an amateur 5 Dan to compete in professional rank entrance contests. Then you have to be in the top 20 players in male group, and the top 5 in the female group. It is too difficult, countless people tried and failed.

Guys who are young and highly ranked in national amateur contests, like 6 Dans, are those who couldn't be professional players.

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GOjiBroccoli: You mentioned having a 5 Dan rank helps with getting jobs?

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Bob: Yes!

Rank means less than actual strength though. However, being without a rank is not good. Then think about how years of effort is nowhere close to a laptop with AI…

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GOjiBroccoli: Hmmm, so could a foreigner go to China and get a 5D rank?

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Bob: As long as you can have a good rank in contests you'll be able to receive it. 5 Dan needs effort too. When I was participating in these contests there typically were 3 contests a year. Contests are aimed at different Dan ranks. And it is usually 7 rounds (in my city), you have to win 5 out of 7 games in order to receive the rank.

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GOjiBroccoli: What kind of changes in the world of GO do you anticipate or look forward to happening? Like how AI GO programs have been over the last five years, what’s the next exciting development in the future of GO?

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Bob: I'd say AIs solving tsumego without setting up specific sharps. However the best feature to help people to improve GO via AI is if AI can instruct why it plays specific moves, with explanation, it will save a lot of people's work.

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GOjiBroccoli: Fascinating! AI is bringing us very far. GO has been around for thousands of years? How was it created?

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Bob: GO, it is said that emperor Yao created the game of GO.

Ancient Go Master

About 4000 years ago, Emperor Yao wanted his son Danshu to calm down and learn something, instead of being so annoying and lazy.

He took DanShu to a mountain and used rock to make the board, and found little stones for Danshu and himself to play with; he taught him how to play the game.

Yao based the way of playing the game from his experience of commanding armies to fight others.

Even though there are a lot of other books or people saying Yao didn't create GO, but others did. However nowadays people usually use the “Yao created GO” rather than other stories.

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GOjiBroccoli: So what do you think the future of GO will look like?

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Bob: I can't say what exactly it looks like.

GO itself is a growing community. Indeed we need people to learn how to play GO, then inspire more people. And develop AIs. Having more casual fans is good for anything,especially likes of GO, it is a dry game for most casual players. Unless you know the spirit of the game itself, only then you will know the excitement and enjoyment inside of it! What matters is having more people to play GO, know GO, enjoy GO, not anything else.

The future of GO relies on how many people would like to learn GO. Nowadays, the likes of Japan has decreased in a lot of the population of GO, they have switched to chess and other video games. In China and Korea, things are much better, but the impact towards elite players can also determine how good the GO community is going to be. Fans are usually excited for what elite players achieve, sad to see when they fail, but it is better to have no feeling of it.

Hopefully more people can learn GO and spread GO to more people, not only for themselves, but also for civilization.

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GOjiBroccoli: Yes! Very true!

What is something of interest you would like to include or discuss about GO?

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Bob: The role of psychological impact on GO.

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GOjiBroccoli: Of GO on psychology, or of psychology on GO? How do you mean?

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Traditional Honinbo

Bob: Psychological impact on GO.

It plays a vital role in human games!

In human game, performance is not only determined by your skill set, but also on your psychological state.

For example, LeeChangHoo usually played games without any facial expression. So his opponent couldn't know what exactly he is thinking.

Some players use tactics like mumbling, which seems like complaining, but it could lead opponents to think the wrong way, and some may think they are winning or losing.

Or even strong players typically overplay a lot towards weak players. It is to scare weak opponents, then they can take a lot of advantage. Make your opponent scared and hesitate about what they are planning to do.

Or things like, when you are losing, you may still play calm and not let your opponents know what you are thinking. Then they may make mistakes.

Like Hon'inbō Shūsai!

Traditional Honinbo Playing Student

See the undefeated honinbo. He is a small guy. His weight is less than 100 pounds. However when he sits and plays games... Do you think he is less than 100 pounds?

Look at the way he plays games. He never lowers his head while he is thinking. Opponents lower their heads to think hard.

But if they look at Hon'inbō Shūsai, it could make them think he has seen everything in this game. He usually delivers the pressure outside of the game while he is playing games.

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GOjiBroccoli: Yeah, wow, I see it! And so you think psychology will play a greater role in GO in the future?

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Bob: It will usually be so, as long as human games exist. Since humans aren't machines. Machines have no emotions, so they couldn't be affected at all.

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GOjiBroccoli: Good point!

Do you have an image we might use to put next to your name in the interview article?

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Bob: How about this:

Old Chinese Fan
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GOjiBroccoli: Cool! Is that Japanese?

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Bob: Chinese "素心"

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GOjiBroccoli: What does it say?

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Bob: Haha,it is difficult to find a word for it.


It's about the mind. About "metaphysics."

It means your mind is not impacted by anything. Or your heart is not impacted by anything. And stick to what you do.

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GOjiBroccoli: Sounds deep.

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Bob: No matter what happens, you like what you do, and to describe the mind, a lot of people use 素心

It's different from toughness. Mind is influenced by anything, pure and simply do one thing.

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GOjiBroccoli: So it would be good to have “素心” while playing GO?

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Bob: He (the person who wrote it) is a professional GO player.

Came from South Korea and left very early. He went to Japan about 6 years old. Learning to speak Japanese was difficult, and he suffered a lot when he learned GO.

ChoChiKun Playing Go

When he became a pro, he was very tough in every single game, and he has the faith to play GO in his style for his entire life. One time he was injured badly (car accident) and he had a best of 7 match for his championship title defense.

Others suggested that he not go, he didn't listen, so in a wheelchair, he came to the match. He has not quit any games, so 素心 is about how he considers himself. He is very popular in English GO community.

He is Cho Chikun! A true Legend!

In the wheelchair match, he said "God let me play GO, so my right hand and brain is okay." That's why he didn't quit even if he was badly injured.

It was 9 days after the accident. Injured on January 6th 1986, and the match started on January 16th 1986.

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GOjiBroccoli: Dang!

So would "素心” be like being in the “Zone” ??

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Bob: Yes.

Some particular zone.

Cho Chikun has a record. He has the most championship titles among all the Japanese GO players. And he is the first player in Japanese GO history to capture all the 7 major titles.

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GOjiBroccoli: That’s pretty good! Like of all time, or just with the current Go players of Japan?

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Bob: That’s pretty good! Like of all time, or just with the current Go players of Japan?

Well, there are 3 players in Japan to capture all the 7 major titles. Cho Chikun is the first one. Cho U is the second one. Yuta Iyama is the third one.


There are differences between them. Cho Chikun and Cho U didn't hold 7 titles at the same time. Yuta Iyama held 7 titles at the same time and he did it twice.

So only Yuta unified Japanese GO titles. But his competitors were weak. That's why until today, he is still the best player in Japan. Cho U and Chikun's opponents were way tougher and better.

Lots of titles and stuff

Even though Yuta has done the impossible, but his opponents were easy. That's why it looks impressive.

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GOjiBroccoli: Ah! So Cho Chikun wrote "素心” on the fan? But the fan, is it a Japanese fan?

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Bob: Yes. I bought it in Beijing and took it back home.

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GOjiBroccoli: So this is your fan, but with Cho Chikun’s calligraphy? Is it a copy or the original?

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Bob: Haha, only a copy. The original will be way more expensive. The copy was about 30 dollars.

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GOjiBroccoli: In America it is very common to get the autographs of baseball players or other athletes. Is that something people like to do with famous GO players?

Ancient Chinese Fans
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Bob: Quite common. Nothing special since everybody can buy it though. Japanese players like to do this.

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GOjiBroccoli: Those are nice! So did you get Cho Chikun’s because you like him as a player most, or because of the "素心” saying?

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Bob: oh, it's a random fan that I bought.

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GOjiBroccoli: Haha, Ok, I see.

I edited the image a bit. For your interview avatar.

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Bob: That's good. Things like this are always fancy. But, less Chinese players like to do it.

NieweiPings Chinese Fan

This one is from NieweiPing! 冲天 reflects Nie's character

It means when the time a bird is on the ground. It is nothing special. But if it flies. It will go very high.

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GOjiBroccoli: Wow, very poetic.

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Bob: Players like to hold these while playing.

9 Dan Chinese Go Player

Do you know who he is? He is ChangHao 9p. The former best GO player in all China.

He usually uses a fan while playing. He is NieweiPing's student.

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GOjiBroccoli: I see! So that’s why he is so good!?

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Bob: Well, he is talented, but he has a lot of flaws.

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GOjiBroccoli: I mean, he’s a 9p! So he must not have too many flaws

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Bob: He is unfortunate.

ChangHao is very very talented. But he came up short a lot of times when he played with elite Korean players. A lot of people said he is like "bread."

He became 9p at the age of 23 in 1999. He became world GO champion in 2005. Before he attempted it 6 times and came up short.

He reached his prime at the tail end of his career. He is a very nice person, people like to listen to him. But being nice doesn’t cut it in GO.

ChangHao Go Game

I personally don't like his game. Nothing special, and a lot of times he shows his weak mental strength on winning games. Because when the time he was young he was already the best player in China, beating a lot of Japanese guys who weren't in their prime.

However, to compete with Koreans, he couldn't rise up at all. That's why people call him "weak" like bread. If he could be mean in his games, then he can capture more world titles.

3 world championship titles, 2 of them beat over the hill Lee Chang-ho and an inexperienced Choi Cheol-han. However he is still Chinese GO hero. Even though he is not tough in games, he didn't stop trying to capture world titles. So even after 6 unsuccessful attempts, he is still willing to be a world champion. He is not fortunate enough since when he was young, Korean players beat him badly. His prime is overruled by Koreans.

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GOjiBroccoli: Perhaps so. But he still got to be champ for a while.

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Bob: 3 World titles!

He couldn't get it when he was young. At that time he was like a star in the late 90s. Since he terminated the Japanese Chinese super matches. However Lee Chang-ho ruined him.

Lee Sedol also ruined him. He is particularly scared of Lee Sedol. His mentor was scared of Lee Chang-Ho... Speaking of his mentor, that was really a waste of talent.

Do you know who that is?

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GOjiBroccoli: No, but I bet you’ll tell me.

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Bob: He is MaXiaoChun.

The first Chinese who captured the World GO Championship title. His prime is “very long.” Once, my father met Ma before, and they ate together.

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GOjiBroccoli: Wow, that’s very cool!

We appreciate you doing this interview with us Bob. You’ve been a massive help for our effort to spread interest in GO.

We are all lovers of GO here, and we know that the average new player in the west will be really interested in learning from your knowledge of GO, and hearing about your experiences with GO.

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Bob: I simply like to share what I have experienced towards GO.

Since not so many people would seek what exactly GO community looks like outside China. Even if some are involved, they typically are not interested in finding out the difference between all the different GO communities.

As the USA community is usually quiet. But Growing!

Thank you GameOfGO community for your effort towards GO.

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GOjiBroccoli: Thanks Bob!

Have a Good Game.

End pt 4

This is the end of the Fourth and final part of our interview series with Bob Song on the Game of GO. Thank you so much for reading!

We would very much like to hear from you.

Please come and discuss your thoughts in our Discord, and give Bob a shout out.

He is always happy to talk anything GO, with anyone!

Thank you Bob!