I happily greeted my baduk teacher, who was drinking instant coffee in his office as usual. I was having an especially good day – I solved an algebra problem in front of the whole class, and my grandfather brought surprise ice cream cones for Jane and me after lunch at our grandparents’ place.
My baduk teacher also seemed to be in a good mood.
“Should I do life and death?” I asked my teacher, hoping he agrees. Solving life and death problems is my favorite part of studying baduk. Often times my teacher let me work on these problems, but once in a while he would give me some professional games to review instead. Studying these game records is my least favorite because it’s not fun. I look for the numbered moves in order, I read the explanations in the book, and I play it out on the board. There is nothing challenging about it.
“Sure, you can do some problems. You will have a game soon, though. There is a new kid starting today.”
“A new kid?”
There were always students joining and quitting in our baduk school. Yet, I didn’t remember playing with anyone new, because new students were mostly beginners.
“His name is Brad. I think he is about your level.”
“I see. When is he coming?”
“Soon. I asked him to come by two, so that he can play a game with you first, and with Colin later.”
When I was working on a third or fourth problem of the day, Brad walked into our baduk school with his mother. He had a round face, and was wearing a green polo shirt and jeans. My teacher welcomed them both, then asked Brad to have a game with me – an even game – and invited his mother into his office.
Brad sat in front of me, and I cleared the board and put my life and death book away.
“I have that book, too,” Brad said, looking at my book. I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just nodded.
“How old are you?” I asked, wondering if I should give him white or black to do the nigiri.
“I am eight.”
“Me, too. When is your birthday?”
“Oh.” I was kind of surprised, because his birthday was just one day after mine. In any case, I was older than him. So, I gave him the bowl with black stones.
“When is your birthday?” Brad asked.
“Really?” He seemed surprised too. I nodded, and took out a handful of white stones on the board, waiting for him to place one or two black stones.
I got white. Brad chose a rather slow opening, peacefully taking wide empty places in turn. I was tempted to try a complicated joseki or an early, overplay invasion to test how he handles it, but I resisted because my teacher could come out to watch our game at any moment. He always told me not to play those moves. I followed black’s lead in taking wide places and the game seemed well-balanced by the end of opening. When there was no obvious place to go, Brad pressed my side and jumped to the center to build a moyo. Then I invaded deep inside his territory. His attacking moves were textbook-like, just like his opening moves. I thought he was good, but somewhat predictable. I managed to take this group out to the center, and instead of continuing to chase it, Brad invaded my territory on another side. I wanted to attack his stone, but it was difficult with my weak group floating in the center. Eventually his group got out as well, and I felt he was not an easy opponent.
Other students began arriving when the game was heading for the endgame. They surrounded our board, with curious eyes on Brad. At this point, my teacher was also looking at the game. I knew it was time for the teacher to give a lecture, but it seemed like they were all going to watch my game instead. I felt great pressure to do extra well in the endgame.
The game was very close. When I counted during the endgame, sometimes I was ahead and sometimes I wasn’t so sure. We finished all the endgame, filled in all dame, and counted up the territories. The result was my win, by a half point. I quietly sat there, not moving. I didn’t necessarily feel happy, but more relieved that I didn’t lose. I also felt satisfied that I had played a good game. Everyone was quiet. Brad checked the result a few times, adding up the territories again and again. He seemed sad.
“Okay, everyone, take your seat. It’s time for the lecture.” The teacher didn’t say anything about our game, and we began putting the stones back into the bowls.