Monday, December 05, 2005

Movin' on Up

As previously mentioned, I am learning the game of Go. It's a very complex and intricate game, despite its simple rules.

One of the attractions of the game is having a clear ranking system. The top amateur players are dan (pronounced "dahn") ranks. These roughly correspond to "greater than black-belt" ranks in martial arts. They range from 1 dan all the way up to 6 dan. (Professional ranks are confusingly also dan, although a professional 1 dan is better than an amateur 6 dan -- most of the time.)

Below the dan ranks are the kyu ranks. 1 kyu is the top sub-dan rank, and the higher the number, the worse the player. Different on-line ranking systems have different upper limits -- I've seen 22 kyu to 35 kyu. My favorite go server puts the most novice players at 30 kyu.

One of the great things about Go is how easily it can be handicapped between players of different abilities. For every difference in rank, a player gives (or gets) roughly 1 handicap stone. So a 2-dan player would give a 4-kyu player 5 stones handicap, a 24-kyu player would get 3 stones from a 21-kyu player, etc. (Beyond 9 stones, the difference in rank is generally too great to handicap properly.)

I probably should have started out as a 30 kyu player, but based on my reading of the instructions, I set myself at 27 kyu. As you can see from the graph below, it took a couple of months of losing games for me to end up at 30 kyu. Fortunately, my stay there lasted less than half a day. Ever since then, I've been climbing, if unsteadily. Right now, I'm 24 kyu.

These ratings are based on the results of games versus other players on-line. They fluctuate as I win and lose. One of my biggest jumps came when as a 28 kyu, I beat a 26-kyu player. My biggest drop came when as a 27 kyu, I lost to a 29-kyu player. These ups and downs diminish as time goes on, and the server gets a more definite idea of my ranking. They also depend on the handicap in the game. If a 25 kyu beats a 20 kyu, but has gotten a 5 handicap -- that's expected, so the drop is not as great as if it were an even game.

As of today, I'm 24 kyu. On the one hand, I'm happy -- that's definitely much better than where I started. On the other hand, I've put a lot of effort into trying to get better, and still haven't moved beyond the "beginner" ranks. " usually thought of as 20k or weaker."

I just started up a bunch of games...almost 20 in the past week. So my rating will fluctuate even more in the coming weeks. Hopefully more up than down -- eventually. I can already see several games in which I am in clear jeopardy, so I fully expect to see 25 kyu again before I hit 23 kyu. So I'll play some more games, read some books, and try to get better.

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