American Go E-Journal

Not too fast, not too slow

Saturday February 27, 2021

by Fred Baldwin

William Cobb’s reflections on taking time to think about Go moves (Empty Board, 2/17) prompted me to, well, think.  I share his feelings about “speed” or “blitz” Go.  If you enjoy it, fine, but it’s not my thing and never will be.  Whether online or playing face-to-face, my mistakes usually result from playing too fast.  Up to a point, slower is better for me – worth a handicap stone or two where the quality of my play is concerned. 

But only up to a point.  Having too much thinking time once threatened to spoil my pleasure in the game of Go. It happened like this.  
Back in pre-Covid days a good friend and I often played on Sunday evenings at a local Panera.  We usually could time our games to end about when employees were closing the doors to new customers but before they needed to start cleaning tables.  Now and then, however, we’d still be in the middle of a game.  On those evenings we’d take cell-phone pictures of the board and any captured stones, make a note on whether Black or White would play next, and a week or so later, we’d pick up our game where we left off.   

One evening it occurred to us that we didn’t need to wait a week to finish our game.  With the board position captured on both our cameras, we could each set up the game on our Go boards at home.  We’d text moves to each other and respond at leisure.  It would be slower than face-to-face play but far faster than, say, correspondence chess.  What could go wrong? 

Technically, nothing.  The process worked fine.  However, I found it seriously stressful. At Panera we almost never used a clock, relying on our mutual instinct to decide when “slow” was becoming “too slow.”  At those times, I could tell myself, “OK.  I haven’t read this out the way a 9-dan would, but I can’t keep my opponent waiting. I’ll plunk down a stone and hope for the best.” 

At home that line of reasoning didn’t apply.  With no one across the board from me, I could take lots of time without keeping anyone waiting.  In the restaurant, especially with closing time approaching, a less-than-optimal move (not to say “dumb move”) seemed excusable.  At home, with lots of time for reading out sequences, mistakes began to feel embarrassing, almost shameful. As a result, I spent a lot more time on every move.  I may have played somewhat better than I usually do, but I enjoyed the game a lot less. I learned that my own Goldilocks game time is “not too fast, not too slow.”  “Too fast” means I make even more mistakes than usual, while “too slow” makes me feel ashamed to play so badly.  

William Cobb might point out – patiently, no doubt – that a Zen-like mindset might help me transcend that kind of puritanical self-criticism.  That thought somehow just makes me feel worse.