At the beginning of August, I attended my first U.S. Go Congress. After a few years of telling people that "I'd like to go" and "I can never quite seem to make it happen", I realized that I simply wasn't trying hard enough. So, I did what I needed to do to make it to the Go Congress this year.
If you don't know what Go is, check out the American Go Association's description of Go. I also highly recommend The Interactive Way to Go, which will teach you about the rules and basics of the game, and give you simple puzzles to test yourself.
This year the 28th annual U.S. Go Congress was held in Colorado Springs. The Congress is a week-long convention where people from all over the United States (and in some cases other nearby countries like Canada or Mexico) come together to play, talk about, and study Go. Professional players come from all over the United States, as well as Japan, China, and Korea, to teach and to play.
Eight Days of Go, not Nine
Back when I got my plane tickets for the Congress, I made a rookie mistake: I scheduled myself to fly back home on Sunday night, figuring I wouldn't miss anything that way. Well, it turns out that after the banquet and awards ceremony on Saturday night, there's basically nothing else to do. People fly out the same night, or the next morning. When I mentioned this to people at the Congress, I found this is actually a fairly common mistake. This year's Congress went from Saturday, July 31st, through Saturday, August 7th.
The Main Event: The U.S. Open
The main event at the U.S. Go Congress is the U.S. Open. This week-long tournament runs from Sunday through Saturday, and consists of six games with a day off on Wednesday. The time limit is one and a half hours per side (2 hours per side in the upper dan divisions), with 5 30-second byo yomi periods. That's twice the typical time limit in a Go tournament! I wasn't sure if I could handle the longer game, but I actually used up all of my time in the first two games of the tournament, and hardly noticed that the time limit was so much longer.
Professional Game Reviews
In the afternoons, there are a lot of opportunities to attend scheduled game review sessions, where professional players would go over your game with you and help you to understand how to improve your game. I found this extremely helpful, and sometimes when a professional would point out the best move, it turned out to be the next move I played. Other times, the response would be "I played that later". In fact, it seemed to become kind of a running joke, with players admitting "I played that later" as opposed to as the next move in the game. Still, it's good to feel that we were finding the right moves, even if the timing wasn't perfect.
I attended game reviews by Jennie Shen, Mingjiu Jiang, and Xuefen Lin. In fact, I was lucky enough to attend a review by Xuefen Lin with only one other person, and it turned into something more like a private lesson, a game review where we had enough time to go over the entire games and lots of variations. She also shared a favorite tesuji from a recent professional game that she had studied. It was really a rare opportunity to get to know a professional player a little bit better.
There are a number of other tournaments that take place at the Congress, including 9x9 and 13x13 tournaments, the Die Hard Tournament (a 1-day tournament that takes place on the day off from the U.S. Open), the Redmond Cup (a youth tournament named for Michael Redmond, the only non-Asian in history to achieve the professional rank of 9 dan), and the Ing Masters Tournament (attended both by professionals and strong amateur players).
I attended lectures by several professionals, including Ryo Maeda, whose series of lectures has been very popular among kyu players for the last 10 years, Yilun Yang, and Mingjiu Jiang. I walked away from all of the lectures with valuable lessons about how to approach my game, and in my recent games I'm still applying the principles I learned.
There are other presentations at the Congress that gave me a chance to learn about events going on in the world of Go. This is another area where the Congress materials could be a little bit clearer! Before the Congress, I was wondering if there was room to do discussions about community projects, but it was hard to find anything about this on the Congress site. There were presentations from GoGoD, GoClubsOnline, and there was one scheduled for IgoLocal.net, but unfortunately Chuck Thomas couldn't make it to the Congress. If you're not familiar with IgoLocal.net, it's basically the same service as the PromoteGo.org project that I've been working on, on and off, for the last couple of years. I'll talk a little more about that in a future post.
I had a great time at the U.S. Go Congress this year! It definitely made me a stronger player, and it really inspired me to work on my game again. I also met some great people in the U.S. Go community, and made some new friends. I really wish I had gone to some of the previous Congresses now.
Next year's U.S. Go Congress will be taking place in Santa Barbara! Santa Barbara is one of my favorite vacation spots. Hopefully this beautiful city will inspire a lot of Go players to come, and to bring their families. We need lots of volunteers, from Saturday-only registration volunteers (which doesn't interfere with the Congress at all...there's not much that happens on Saturday) to Treasurer and Tournament Director positions, which require a much larger commitment. If you're interested, please see the list of available U.S. Go Congress Volunteer Positions.