Tournament Time Controls

If competition brings out the best in people, then tournaments give us a chance to play our best Go, with peers who also are trying to have their best games of Go.  It’s an awesome experience.

Like most things human, tournaments are an engineering trade-off between conflicting imperatives.  On one hand, we want to play great Go, which implies that we need sufficient time to think deeply.  On the other hand, we want to be able to play in future tournaments too, which implies that we need to finish our games in time to attend our more mundane responsibilities (like getting home for dinner, or at least on time to sleep before the next workday).

Also, some players like to play fast, slapping down stones intuitively in a thrilling neural jazz dance; others like to play slowly, attempting to methodically account for the likely full-board ramifications of each stone.  So, this increases the tension of opposites.

To our (the stalwart tournament organizers’ and directors’) rescue comes the concept of time control, enforced with electronic or mechanical clocks.  (This is becoming lengthy, so I’ll save clocks for another post.)  This gives each player an amount of time generally agreed to be sufficient for high-level play, along with a reasonable assurance that games will be completed before [divorce / eviction for non-payment of rent / death from malnutrition / expulsion from school / time-and-inattention-related disaster of your choice] occurs.

(It’s worth noting that some games from Japan’s “Golden Age” dragged on for weeks, or even months, including some that were never finished.  That’s what happens when there are no game clocks, and there is a rigid social hierarchy, and the socially senior player can call a recess at any moment, and the socially junior player has no recourse — which is some of the backdrop for Kawabata’s classic The Master of Go, a thinly fictionalized account of an actual 1938 match between two titans of the Go world.  Hmm, I haven’t read it in years, and I’m surprised to find that I have a lot to say about it.  Perhaps in a future post.  Or perhaps I’ll just lend you my copy of Fairbairn’s The Meijin’s Retirement Game.)

In general, it takes a minimum of an hour for a full 19×19 game of Go wherein evenly matched (either because they’re of similar strength, or because the playing field has been leveled with handicap stones) players both are trying their best to win.  So, divide that in half, and each player should have a minimum of 30 minutes.

Many of us (including myself) would find 30 minutes to be rather brief, especially if faced with an opponent who plays quickly (because then there’s not much opportunity to think during the opponent’s time).  So, after rigorous and passionate debate (I assume — I wasn’t actually there), the American Go Association settled on this schedule of time controls, which I’ll further describe in a future post.

That’s all for now. Hoping to see you across a goban soon, –Mike M.

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