Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Feng Yun Summer Go Workshop

Last week we attended the Feng Yun Summer Go Workshop in Somerset, NJ. I had noticed an announcement in the American Go Association E-Journal mentioning the workshop and decided to attend with my family on a whim. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. There are comparatively few opportunities for young players (or adults, for that matter) to play go and get exposure to strong players for instruction so I was really looking forward to having Richie & Alyssa get a proper beginner's introduction to the game. Having a chance to learn something myself was an added bonus. I was a little concerned that the attendence might be low, but the turnout was actually pretty healthy. There were over 20 players in attendence, and importantly, there were at least 7 that were about the same age as our kids, most of whom were absolute beginners. I was a little surprised that I was only one of two adults in attendence, but the healthy number of (mostly Chinese) kids, really added to the fun for our children who had an absolute blast running around the hotel with the other kids in between lessons.

The daily schedule was intensive but manageable even for the young ones. All meals are included and prepared in the hotel, which definitely streamlines the go experience. Each day after breakfast there was a 3 hour instructional session from 9-12pm, followed by lunch, a 2nd session from 1 to 4pm, an afternoon physical activity break from 4-6pm, followed by dinner and an evening session from 7-9pm. At first I thought this heavy a schedule would be too difficult and that our kids would get tired or restless, but surprisingly they had plenty of energy and seemed to enjoy even the late evening session.

The group was divided into 3 sections--a dan level group, a kyu group and a beginner group--and the activities were different for different groups. For the kyu players, usually the morning and afternoon session consisted of initial instruction (either a game review or solving problems) followed by an hour of ladder tournament games which continued all week. The dan level players spent most of their time playing teaching games with the visiting Chinese pro, Xue Lei 4p, who played 3-4 players simultaneously.

As a side note, I was surprised to find out that the Xue Lei had no problem playing several games simultaneously *and* could recall any particular game accurately hours or even a day later. All of the dan players could more or less remember their games as well.

I was especially interested in how the beginners were instructed and was pleased to find out that Feng Yun herself, a 9-dan professional player, actually taught around half of the beginner sessions while the rest were taught by Paul Matthews, himself a strong amateur player. Each of the beginners was given a book of problems which looked like material from a Chinese go instructional program. It consisted of an introduction to the rules of go, a few sections of basic problems (without answers), and a few sample openings. There were conceptual sections (corners, sides, center), meaning of the different lines, etc. and I was not that surprised to find out that it was very similar to the Korean books I recently purchased. The main differences seemed to be that the Chinese book was a little less entertainment focused (no cartoons), and had more exercises per section. Their lessons varied between working through the workbooks, playing each other, and playing handicap games.

I found out that the operator of the hotel is a go enthusiast and parent and had generously reduced the hotel rates which explains how the cost could be so low. At around $300 per person, including accommodation and meals for 5 days, the workshop certainly offers excellent value. The cost varies depending on whether you will need your own room or can double up with other attendees, but either way it's a bargain.

Probably the most difficult aspect of such a workshop (which it turned out was mainly for young players) is to balance serious study with fun. In my case, with such young children, I was only looking for them to have a better idea of how the rules of the game worked and some basic, beginner strategy. By far the most important thing was for them to like playing go and enjoy themselves. For some of the older children, some of the time, there were a few very minor discipline issues along the way, but overall I felt the right balance was maintained quite admirably.

I suppose the strongest endorsement of all comes from Richie & Alyssa who were both sad to leave. Richie wanted to know why we couldn't stay longer and Alyssa has said that she would like to come again.

It's too early for me to say if we'll be able to attend any of the upcoming workshops (which are held twice a year) but I certainly hope we can.

1 comment:

The Chess Dad said...

A sweet read! Glad that the kids also like Go.

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