My AGA rank leading up to the tournament was 13 kyu, but my last rated game was in the summer, and so I explored entering at a stronger rank: 11k. However, because I was disappointed I'd lost four of my five online games played to prepare for the tournament, I entered at my official rank rather than punching upwards. It was also the very first time I'd be playing with a new time setting: Fischer time. After playing these four tournament games, I am quite fond of it! It's a definite improvement over this tournament's previous time control, Canadian byo-yomi.
White vs Coby Praytor, 7 stone handicap
My first game was against a friendly young teenager. He'd played in a few tournaments before, but we hadn't run into eachother before.
We reviewed the game together afterwards. I pointed out that several of his moves (e.g. 28, 58, 64) were poorly timed; in each case, we were in the middle of a fight. Each time it let me take a huge advantage. I suggested that a key takeaway from the game is avoid playing away from an active fight. I also pointed out an opportunity he'd lost by connecting unnecessarily on move 48; he could have cut and captured my three stones to make his group alive. Sometimes offense is the best defense.
He was surprised when I played the 3-3 invasion in the top right on turn 115. He said he didn't know any joseki, and I'm impressed that even so, he played the first several moves perfectly. Unfortunately due to not protecting against the clamp on move 126, I was able to break out into his territory. My other suggestion for Coby was to learn that basic 3-3 invasion pattern as it will happen frequently.
Result: win by 220.5 points
Black vs Stijn Brand, 2 stone handicap
My next game I thought I'd heard the tournament director announce a seven-stone handicap for me, but I'm glad I confirmed my opponent's strength, as our rank difference suggests only two stones. I do wonder what would have happened to the tournament if we did play that hugely inappropriate handicap. 🤔
This game was quite exciting for both of us, as we were an even match. I do think Stijn was a bit stronger than me, which worked out well with the handicap.
After move 18, I quickly became unhappy with my choice of joseki in the bottom left, as it gave white a large left-hand side while my bottom-left corner felt cramped between two groups.
I wasn't prepared for white's shoulder hit on move 27 after pincering. Even though it's apparently the most common professional move in this situation, I didn't know it. I'm happy with how I improvised though, especially because my first two moves afterwards were also the most common. In the end, by sacrificing two stones, I was able to start to build a framework on the right side, and I left the exchange with sente letting me shoulder hit his third-line stone.
However as soon as I played that move, 38, I realized this is exactly the sort of game I'd been losing a lot lately: letting my opponent take solid territory while I build thickness, but then not using it effectively. (And sure enough, at the end of the game, my center had been reduced down to only a measly 16 points!) The memory of all those recent defeats is what led me to pull back on move 42, which felt extremely passive and pessimistic.
White's monkey jump at move 81 surprised me, as it seemed entirely too early to play such an endgame move. But as we played the next few moves out, its value became clear: it was planted as aji to break out into my framework.
Stijn lamented making a mistake on the sequence of 192-202; he didn't have to give up his four stones. And I made a similarly-sized blunder at move 222. I meant to play the connection between my top-side group and my center group, but instead I put the stone in the wrong spot! I described it later as a real-life misclick. Luckily it cost me only nine points; if I had been just a little bit less lucky, a shortage of liberties leading to capture of my top center group would have cost me the game.
Where I won the game was in managing to secure a large territory on the top side of the board. I was unhappy that I was unable to reduce white's large territory on the left side, but even though it's large, it doesn't make up for the top.
I played a significant portion of the game with less than a minute on my clock. Several turns, including my final "pass" were played with only two seconds left on the clock! However I'd managed to build up over a minute of time after being in countdown, due to a series of obvious endgame moves. And so, despite having only a small pool of time, I felt the game was well-paced. Fischer time does seem to work surprisingly well.
Result: win by 20.5 points
Black vs Eva Casey, 8 stone handicap
Having spicy food for lunch turns out to have been accidentally lucky preparation for my third game, where I took eight stone handicap against Eva, a much stronger player. My plan was to keep her on the defensive by attacking and taking profit as territory (rather than thickness, as I flub that) wherever possible. My first five moves demonstrate this plan nicely. I treated the middle star-point stone as a pincer on both approach-stone groups. And I knew that even though my middle group would be sandwiched, I could lean on one group to attack the other and not be in any danger.
With the wedge at turn 30 I was elated that maybe I was able to kill white's group and take the entire top left quadrant as territory. Unfortunately that did not come to pass.
The fighting from move 42 to 60 is the sort of sequence I am hoping demonstrates my graduation from double-digit kyu level play. By being mindful to make good shape, I am surrounding instead of being surrounded. And I am particularly happy that I was able to cut white into two with move 58; I had been eager for the right moment to follow up on the peep.
Move 82 was difficult to play as it gives up a few stones, but in the end it seals white in, and so I think it was right.
The sequence from 93 to 103 involved several mistakes on my part. I am glad I came away with sente, but I not only let Eva's group live, but I gave up a big corner in the process.
I was concerned about getting cut off in the upper right and having to make two eyes in a small corner. That's the sort of situation that favors the stronger player's ability to read more deeply. I don't think I had to burn too many points to do so, though.
The situation in the bottom left caused a bit of a ruckus. It was my first time having any kind of dispute about the alive/dead status of a group in any game, and in a tournament setting no less. In the end, it didn't matter too much, but a photo of the situation was requested for posterity.
Move 186 is a pure gote move that I was comfortable playing, even though it cost sente and a point of territory, to help squash any potential of white's middle group struggling to come back alive.
Result: win by resignation
Black vs Graham Higgins, 8 stone handicap
After greeting Graham I immediately lamented to him that "I just finished an eight-stone-handicap game, I'm exhausted!". And it was certainly true. In such games white's M.O. is to overplay and try to get away with more than is deserved, and so black must be constantly at full attention to call shenanigans.
The game opened with me again kicking a knight's move approach stone. I'm starting to wonder if that is ordinary for high-handicap games. In any case it worked out because white was effectively sealed in, and black took a decent amount of profit.
Though I certainly did consider kicking the second knight's move approach in the opposite corner, a more ordinary joseki instead seemed prudent.
By turn 78 it was looking like a great game for me. Graham made five separate groups, four of which were completely sealed in, and the fifth would suffer if it tried to get out. And the rest of the board was looking like it was going to become mine.
Move 81 decided the course of the rest of the game. By playing in the middle of the board like that, Graham staked the entire game on whether he can live. Very exciting!
I am incredibly proud of how I was able to keep white from getting two eyes. There is a straight line between my rewatching of the famous "shape lecture" last week and winning this game. Moves 94, 96, 98, 100, and 116 were directly inspired by the material in that lecture. I'd made Anki cards for many of the shape moves in that lecture's example games, and recalling them here paid off in a big way. (Spaced repetition for Go is a story for another day.)
When white (temporarily) shifted from trying to live in the center and invaded on move 125, I was able to relax a little bit. I needed to conserve brainpower for any followup fighting that would again threaten to save the center group, so I played the obvious responses in this corner.
Move 152 was a pure gote move, much like the one in the previous game, to compensate for the huge difference in rank. While it may not be strictly necessary, I needed to take every advantage in fighting that I could get, due to my reading ability being weaker than Graham's and Eva's.
The ko starting on move 160 was particularly taxing because any move might lead to a breakthrough allowing white's center group to live. So once the ko began, I immediately felt the urge to just give it up. Which was an unusual feeling for sure. In the end, Graham gave me the upper right corner back in exchange for the upper left corner, and thankfully the center stayed dead.
Result: win by resignation
I was one of the three players with a 4-0 record, so I was declared a winner. After having lost my previous bunch of games, this really cheered me up and inspired me to study harder. I quickly spent the token prize money on several books on SmartGo: Making Good Shape, Five Hundred and One Opening Problems, and Attacking and Defending Moyos. I chose these three because they felt incredibly relevant to the four games I'd played today!