In the past few weeks I have been avidly reading a great go blog, BenGoZen. Recently Ben did an in depth, day-by-day report on his experiences at the New York City Go Congress this year. You can find the first post in that series here.
This was Ben's first congress. I was really impressed with the extent to which he documented his experiences and the detail he provided in his daily posts. It not only makes me want to do something similar next year, but it also sends my thoughts wandering back to my own first congress, which was markedly different from Ben's primarily because of the disparity in our level of experience at the time of our first respective Congresses.
This post is for Ben primarily, who is interested in hearing about what it was like for me, but also for anyone who would like to hear about a first time congress experience.
I don't have pictures from the Congress so this will be pure text.
It was 1997. I was 44 years old. I'd played my first game of go at the age of 17, but I had not been able to play more than a handful of games until 1996 when I discovered that I could play on IGS. It opened a whole new world for me that I had only suspected existed. I quickly touched base with a few AGA members on both IGS and NNGS. A real life affiliation had landed me at the Highland Park Go Club because the AGA assigned Robert Muldowny, then 2 kyu as my go mentor. He came over to my house to play a game of go with me. After that I ended up frequenting the Highland Park Go Club with regularity. That landed me at my first go workshop with Yilun Yang, 7p in the Summer of 1997 right before the Lancaster Go Congress. The Yang workshop was hosted by Don DeCourcelle, also from the Highland Park Go Club.
Heading Out to Lancaster
The Go Congress was at Millersville State College near Lancaster. I have no sense of direction whatsoever so it took a lot of courage on my part to head out alone without a cell phone. I only knew two people who would be at the congress. I knew Chuck Robbins in person because I had met him at the Yang Workshop, but I didn't know he would be at the Congress. I knew Evan Behr from playing online with him on IGS. He had encouraged me to come to the Congress. So I really thought I was only going to know one person at the congress.
Arrival and Getting to Know a Few People
I arrived the night before the congress started because Evan assured me that I wouldn't be the only one who would, and I wasn't. Evan greeted me and introduced me to Sam Zimmerman. I believe that Chuck Robbins was on hand as well that night. I helped them to stuff bags, and volunteered to help out at the registration table the next day. I was such a joiner in those days. There was an elderly 2 kyu player named Charles French who was helping out as well. He was on the lookout for a Pair Go partner. His long time partner, Polly Pohl, was moving on to greener pastures, as she had found herself a 6 dan, and was seriously competing to win the Pair Go competition. I had no idea that as a female 16 kyu my pair go partnership would be quite a hot commodity. Charles clearly took advantage of my lack of experience, and got a commitment from me before I knew what I was giving away. I might have saved myself for a stronger player, had I only known.
Meeting More People Throughout the Week
I am sure that I met more people at my first congress than I am going to mention here. In some cases I am just not sure if I met them at a later congress, so I will only mention people who I am certain that I met at that time.
I met Matt Lecin a 9 kyu, who like myself, had the bad luck to play many under rated children at the congress. We commiserated and went on to become fast friends.
I met Keith Arnold who helped me flesh out a song I was working on. When I found out how rare women players were at the Congress, rarer then than now I believe, I had been inspired to write a song about it. I had brought my guitar with me and I started working on the song Friday night using an original tune from a song that I had written myself. I subbed in words relevant to the pair go event to create the song. The entertainment for Saturday night had bailed and Sam Zimmerman asked me to sing at the Opening Ceremony. So I made short work of completing the song with Keith's help.
I met Larry Gross who was the Chapter Coordinator of the AGA. At that time Ing would provide equipment for the Congress, and it would be distributed to clubs at the end of the Congress. Just before the congress ended I ponied up my $35.00 to form the Wings Across Calm Water Go Club, and I went home with six Ing boards and six sets of Ing stones. Evan Behr had given me a fan for helping him during the week by knocking on his door to wake him every morning. (He'd forgotten an alarm clock.) Evan had won the fan in a previous tournament. Evan and I asked someone what the fan said, and they told us it read, "Wings Across Calm Water". I have a sneaking suspicion now that we did not hear him correctly, and it may have actually read "Winds Across Calm Water", which makes a lot more sense when you think about it. Be that as it may, Wings Go Club was born, and it existed for at least a year as a high school go club before it became famous as the first virtual chapter of the AGA with many active members and it's own room on KGS at a time when KGS was just getting started.
I met Bob Felice who introduced me to a piece of technology called the Palm Pilot on which he was recording his tournament games.
I met Gus Garcia who was selling sheets of stickers with numbers on them which people were using to record their tournament games by peeling off the stickers and attaching them to a paper kifu. Lots of people were using them, including me. This would have been a big technological leap if it had not been for the Palm Pilot. As it was, the stickers ended up being a technological stumble of sorts. It was a good product, but its time was going to be short lived. I asked Gus about a discount on a box of 500 sheets of go stickers because I liked them so much. He was willing to let me have a box for $400.00, which was a 20% discount over purchasing the sheets individually. But I took a good hard look at the Palm Pilot, which for the same cost, could do so much more. It was no contest. I bought the Pilot immediately after returning from the Congress. I no longer needed stickers, and a long love affair with small devices had begun leading me eventually to the Tablet PC, and then to the iPad, and eventually to the iPhone.
I met Polly Poll whose decision to change partners in the pair go competition had born fruit. She and her partner became the American pair go champions that year, and went on to represent the AGA at the international pair go competition in Japan.
Accommodations and Food
I stayed in the dorms. There was no air conditioning and it was a very hot week. I rented a fan for the room, and I survived. It was actually quite nostalgic to be in a standard dorm room again. I spent my first two years of college in a room like that at West Chester State College. One of the high points for me was when one of the Japanese female players told me in the hallway that she thought I was a college student. I guess I still had it "going on" at 44.
The food in the cafeteria was actually quite good.
The Bob High Song Competition
I had to write something and enter it, of course, being a serious song writer. I chose a song by the Beatles called "Gotta Get You Into My Life" and composed new lyrics for it. It was called "Gotta Get Two Eyes and Make Life." I didn't even get honorable mention, but Bob Felice, the editor of the AGA Song Book, told me at a much later congress that he remembered my entry, and particularly liked my refrain:
Ooooooh, then you kill with a placement.
Ooooooh, such horrendous abasement,
Every single place on the board.
Gotta get two eyes and make life.
How many times do you see the word "abasement" in a song?
The Main Event
The 1997 US Go Congress, the US Open, was my first tournament EVER. I had played relatively fews games over the board, and I had never used a clock. I was a total novice, and I did not know what to expect. Evan told me he thought I was a 10k. Yilun Yang had declared me a 16k. I think Yang was right, but no one had taken into account the extent to which I would fall victim to tournament anxiety, especially after spiraling into a series of defeats as white at the hands of under rated children. I was unfamiliar with playing as white, and I had no "loyalty" to the white stones at all. After I started to take lessons with Yang in early 1998 there was a period of time when he made me play white in our lesson games more often than he had me play black. I think he was trying to get me to establish a sense of loyalty to the white stones.
My first game was with a child who had a reputation as a sandbagger. I fell into his pace, which was fast even for me, and I lost quickly. I resigned that game. I was okay with it. I figured I would win one eventually if I was properly rated. It turns out that I was not.
I proceeded to play white except for one game as black. I lost every game up through my fifth game in the US Open. My games were mostly with under rated children, but I didn't know that. My fifth game was with a young girl whose IGS rating was 26 kyu. Her father was a go teacher and recommend that his students use their IGS ratings when registering at tournaments. He wanted them to have a good experience. They usually did. What bothered me was that he should have known better. This girl demolished me on the board. Afterward I actually cried in the ladies restroom after that game. The only thing that brought me out of the ladies room was that I had left my fan behind at the table and wanted to retrieve it before it walked away. I wasn't sure I ever wanted to play in a tournament again. I told the tournament director that I requested a bye for the last round of the US Open.
I showed up in the playing area for the final round anyway. I figured that I would observe. Chuck Robbins came to me and begged me to play. It was twenty minutes into the game and there was a little boy sitting without an opponent. It was his first Congress and Chuck didn't want him to go without an opponent. I told Chuck, "I'll do it for you." I sat down and we put four handicap stones on the board for the little 20 kyu. I was hardened by then, and I didn't give a crap anymore. I gave it my best shot, and I beat him too, probably because I didn't care.
Having one victory allowed me to come away from my first Congress with a rating. I was a 19 kyu. I think it was fairly accurate, at least based on the tournament anxiety I had built up, and still suffer from.
Other Events at the Congress
I think I played in the 9x9 tournament.
I don't remember how my partner and I did in the Pair Go Competition, but I know we did not win our table. We may have won one of our games. We went on to partner for at least one more year. Then Larry Gross and I partnered in San Francisco.
I don't think I played in the Die Hard, but I think I did play a couple of Self Paired games during the week.
I suffer from tournament anxiety to this day based on my bad playing experience at my first Congress, and I am left with an irrational fear of children. In spite of that, though, I had a wonderful Congress. I had a great time overall, and I soldiered on in the US Open in spite of my difficulties up through the 5th round.
If I met you for the first time at the 1997 Lancaster Congress, and I did not mention your name please leave a comment below. It isn't that I've forgotten you. It's just that I wasn't sure it was Lancaster where we first met.