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 Post subject: Blind boy on the path to pro.
Post #1 Posted: Fri Apr 02, 2021 1:26 pm 
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I have included this item under Professionals more in hope than expectation, but....

12-year-old Iwasaki Haruto has just (April 2021) joined the insei league in the Nihon Ki-in's Tokyo branch. He is one of a handful of budding new pros who enter the league at the very bottom of Division D. Success means climbing over 50-odd other inseis to reach the top three in Division A who make it to the big leagues, once each year. That is a truly tough order for any insei. For Haruto it is a little tougher. He is almost totally blind.

I have taken a special interest in blind players over the years, not just out of admiration. More out of inspiration. I had a work colleague, Brian, who was almost totally blind, too. But he could make out printed letters if they were magnified about 1,000 times. Our employer nobly had a machine specially made, with the result that Brian could add to his skills as an audio typist, laboriously checking his typed results.

But that was far from the highlight of Brian's achievements. For a time I thought that was his award for representing Britain in a skiing competition. I accompanied him to the award ceremony at a local ski slope. Just standing at the top made me feel giddy. Brian went whizzing down with an instructor behind him shouting left, right or whatever. But that was peanuts. Brian had done the same thing on a real piste in the Alps.

Even that was not his highlight. At the time, there was some industrial action which meant bus drivers went on strike. We all assumed we wouldn't see Brian at work that day. But he turned up, only a fraction late. We all joked he must be knackered after walking all the way (without thinking that he couldn't know the way). But he just said, "No, I came on my bike." We waited for the punchline. None came. Gently probing elicited that "nobody is going to stop me coming to work!" He had basically followed the bus route (several miles) and trusted commuters to help him out. Strictly, he should have been arrested. We were in awe of the world's biggest idiot. It was only later that the penny dropped in my brain - he's blind and he owns a bike!? On top of that it turned out it was a racing bike. I found out later that he raced the same way he skied - listening to companions shouting out instructions. Or tax-drivers bawling abuse on that particular day.

As I say, inspiration. I therefore homed in on the first blind go player I met, Song Chung-t'aek, a Korean amateur 5-dan. That was at the European Congress in Prague in 2005. I met him again a few years later in Korea. There was a considerable difference between the two occasions, in that in the Korean event he had a much better board. It seems his achievements had likewise inspired other people, and huge efforts had been put into improving boards for blind players. These are still going on. The board young Iwasaki Haruto plays on is basically the same type that debuted in Prague - plastic stones grooved underneath so that they can clamp onto raised board lines. The black and white stones (plastics? :)) are differentiated by colour, of course, but also by one colour having a little knob on top. The blind players analyse the position by feeling the board with their fingers. They also have to train their memories superlatively.

To sighted players the boards look normal enough, if slightly toyshop-ish. But a major problem with these boards is that the blind player, like Zatoichi with his special sword, has to take his with him everywhere as clubs don't usually have them. They are bulky and awkward to carry. The latest design enhancement has been to make boards that come apart into four separate pieces. As you would expect, they have to be made with great precision, and tooling up a factory to make them is horrendously expensive in relation to the number of sales that can be expected.

Apart from Song, the most notable blind player I know of is the Japanese player Kakijima "Kakki" Mitsuharu. He is amateur 4-dan, but is now over 40 and spends most of his go time encouraging other blind players, especially in schools.

Haruto took a slightly different route (for one thing he is in Saitama City. Kakki is in Machida, Tokyo). His introduction to go came through the fact that his grandfather owns a building which he rents out to a go club.

Haruto had been blind since falling in with lymphoblastic leukaemia at age one. The usual treatments did not save him. The last-gasp treatment that save his life, but not his vision, was a stem-cell transplant from umbilical cord blood. He had to go to a special blind school and that is where he started playing go, attracted to it because of the connection with his grandfather's rent-out. He was about six. Like most 6-year-olds he adored Thomas the Tank Engine (as I did at 6), but go had even more pulling power.

Three years later, as nominally amateur 1-dan, he joined a local club run by a strong amateur 6-dan Sogabe Toshiyuki. Sogabe gave him special attention, and arranged games with a pro, Mizuma Toshifumi 8-dan. At first Mizuma was able to beat the youngster down from five to seven stones. But Haruto zoomed up to 6-dan in about seven months. This led to an introduction to pro 6-dan Nobuta Shigehito (around 70 now, but he was once a pupil in the Kitani school). Sogabe and Nobuta were internet buddies on the Yugen no Ma server. Haruto also plays there but, like my friend Brian, has to operate with his face almost touching a magnified display on the computer screen.

Nobuta noted the combination of talent and intense concentration in Haruto, and that led him to suggest trying out as an insei. He is the first blind insei. not surprisingly. And the journey only starts here. He will need to have, at long last, some luck on the way. For example, Tanaka Tetsuji is now President of the Japanese Braille Library. He recalled that when he was young, and partially blind, he too tried to devote his life to go but had to give up after three years because his vision deteriorated and eventually he couldn't make out the black stones.

Nevertheless, the modern blind boards have transformed the scene. They are called 愛碁 Aigo, which I think is a nickname rather than a trade name. Aigo means, more or less, "I love go" but is obviously also a pun on Eye-go. Nowadays, you might want to discern another possible pun with AI. I hope not. I prefer to see Haruto's talent as HI - human intelligence. I think we should thank him for showing us what our own deep minds can do, and for thus inspiring us. I am sure you will join me in hoping he achieves his goal of becoming a pro. Hikaru, Sumire, Haruto...

Whenever I write about blind players, several people pop up with questions about more information. I have no special access. But you may wish to try keitaigoban.19@gmail.com. This is an address for a society devoted to making portable go boards (i.e. keitai goban) for visually impaired people. They operate on a crowdfunding basis. The main contact, I believe, is Okamura Haruo.


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Post #2 Posted: Fri Apr 02, 2021 3:31 pm 
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There is also a french blind or almost blind player, I think about 5 dan.

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Post #3 Posted: Fri Apr 02, 2021 7:41 pm 
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At Ge Yuhong Goacademy in Peking,there is a 13 years old boy who practice go everyday,he uses specific go board for blind players so he can read the board with his hands,he is around euopean 3-4dan,his father helps him to put tsumego on the board and he has no trouble doing that,his counting skill is incredible,at least european pros level,probably better,he has a hard time perceiving moyos and open space close to the center,but its incresidle what kind of concentration must be required to keep track of the game,also he can track game reviews of the teacher without any trouble

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Post #4 Posted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 4:48 am 
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I'm a big fan of Scottish country dancing, and sorely missing it in lockdown - though lockdown did happily provide the circumstances for discovery by an aunt of photo of my mother and father in kilts on their way to an SDC ball.

The Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society produces a magazine, and the latest issue introduced me to the Early Dance Circle, who, it turns out, have a book called "The History of Blind Dance 1986-2002" by Junella McKay. Its blurb says: The story of the evolution of a disciplined performing troupe of partnered dancers, one sight and one visually impaired. with an accompanying DVD."
Shades of my friend Brian.

But that message of inspiration reminded me of Ignatius Sancho, who devised many Scottish dances, and operated at a high level. One published set was "Dances for a Princess, humbly dedicated (with permission) to the Princess Royal by Her Royal Highnesses Most Obedient Servant Ignatius Sancho." He also had his portrait painted by no less than Thomas Gainsborough in 1788.

Apart from his talent, one thing that distinguished Sancho was he was born as a black slave, but he was brought to London at the age of two and was educated in his childhood by the Duke of Montagu. There was no Underground Railway then in Britain, but when he was about 20 he ran away to the Montagu stately home and became a butler (why did Downtown Abbey overlook this?).

The Duke eventually gave him some property so that he could set up as a shopkeeper. Sancho continued to excel in the arts, through essays as well as dancing and music, but he was also active in the British abolitionist movement. It is believed that, through that connection, he was the first black Briton to vote - being a property owner he had the franchise.

That's something of a far cry from the picture painted by Meghangate, isn't it? Actually, it's not quite as unusual as it sounds. What is unusual is that the achievements of early black Britons are not trumpeted more. One that made a profound impression on me was Mary Seacole. I had a fabulous primary-school teacher (Scottish, of course) who would tell us takes of eminent heroines such as Flora MacDonald, Grace Darling and Florence Nightingale. But it was only about 50 years later that I heard of Mary Seacole, born in Jamaica of African heritage but of a Scottish father. She settled in Britain but was abroad much of the time as she was a nurse tending to British soldiers in the 19th century. She was famous enough to have her autobiography printed - and it's still in print. She was at least as active and as beloved by the soldiers as Florence Nightingale (whom she met). How come one is so famous and the other is close to neglected? Allow me to add my trumpet to the orchestra, not just for Mary but for Ignatius.

I have read about Sancho before, but with lockdown I have become something of a YouTube devotee, and so I just checked that, to my utter delight, there is also an hour-long documentary about him. That is my evening sorted out! For those who wish to watch with me in spirit, in more than one sense, I will have the dregs of my Dalwhinnie Winter's Gold single malt at hand. Now that spring is here I have a bottle of peaty Bunnahabhain from Islay waiting in the wings, but I'm expecting Sancho's story to put enough of a spring in my step.


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Post #5 Posted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 7:49 am 
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Inspiring post.

John Fairbairn wrote:
He had basically followed the bus route (several miles) and trusted commuters to help him out. Strictly, he should have been arrested.

I'm trying to understand this part. Did he follow the bus route on foot? On his bike? How did commuters help him? Why should he have been arrested?

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Post #6 Posted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 8:37 am 
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Harleqin wrote:
There is also a french blind or almost blind player, I think about 5 dan.

That would be Pierre Audouard. He became French champion in 2007, an impressive performance.
As far as I know, he was already a high dan player when his sight deteriorated.

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Post #7 Posted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 10:02 am 
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Quote:
I'm trying to understand this part. Did he follow the bus route on foot? On his bike? How did commuters help him? Why should he have been arrested?


Even a person with huge visual impairment can often see a huge red London double-decker, and because of the constant stops they go slowly enough to follow. But as I recall the main aspect for Brian was that he came to work normally on a bus, and blind people take note of things the rest of us don't e.g. where the bus turns left, right or goes straight ahead. He had memorised the route in a way we found hard to imagine. Commuters help by confirming he is on the right route when he stops to ask them. You are not supposed to be on the road (in Britain) if you are a hazard to other road users. Mind you, the roads were a lot quieter back then, and traffic cameras were still a gleam in the eye.


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Post #8 Posted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 11:22 am 
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John Fairbairn wrote:
...blind people take note of things the rest of us don't e.g. where the bus turns left, right or goes straight ahead. He had memorised the route in a way we found hard to imagine...


This seems perfectly normal to me. I'm not blind, or even significantly impaired.

It would be interesting to know if he had an internal map ( with a destination and a current location marked on it ), or if he simply has a set of rules that are indexed by location. ("at the corner of Oxford and 5th, which has a big green building on the left, turn right" )
The practical difference between the two is that the navigator with a map can cope with problems such as a road closed for repairs, or a turn accidentally driven past, and plot a new route to the destination; whereas the rule follower is lost once he leaves the domain of his set of rules.

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Post #9 Posted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 12:59 pm 
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Joaz Banbeck wrote:
John Fairbairn wrote:
...blind people take note of things the rest of us don't e.g. where the bus turns left, right or goes straight ahead. He had memorised the route in a way we found hard to imagine...


This seems perfectly normal to me. I'm not blind, or even significantly impaired.


What is hard to imagine is how he could memorize the route without seeing anything, or barely. Could you do that if you were blindfolded? There are stories in movies like that, the hero has been captured in a car and blindfolded, but manages to memorize "20 seconds... left... 135 seconds... right..."

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Post #10 Posted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 1:00 pm 
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Joaz Banbeck wrote:
John Fairbairn wrote:
...blind people take note of things the rest of us don't e.g. where the bus turns left, right or goes straight ahead. He had memorised the route in a way we found hard to imagine...

This seems perfectly normal to me. I'm not blind, or even significantly impaired.


Keep in mind, George Koltanowski was neither blind nor that strong a master (about 2450). But his ability in blindfold chess was something else. Playing one game blindfold is one thing, but simultaneous blindfold, hard to imagine how anybody could do it.

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Post #11 Posted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 1:10 pm 
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I think some people are overthinking this. Surely only a modicum of thought would suggest a blind person is hardly likely to rely on seeing a big green building, wherever it may be. I don't actually know how Brian did what he did. I have kept the newspaper clippings about him and they may reveal some answers, but they are stowed in the attic.

However, FWIW, I believe blind go players internalise positions in a way that is quite different from sighted players. I have heard this is so, but never pursued it. Still, it seems perfectly to be expected to me. Because I'm substantially deaf (and have been since early childhood), I instinctively learned to rely on body language. To the extent that I have totally unnerved some colleagues when I revealed this, and my accuracy with it, I infer that I am doing something most people don't do. I have also looked at some body-language books in airport bookstores and find them quite alien to what I do (and, I believe, generally are a load codswallop).

By chance, I had some thoughts on the wider aspects of this today as regards go.

I was with my youngest (pre-school) grandson this afternoon. I buy him a dinosaur or two every week, and he has well over 100, I think. The latest one, today, was treated in similar way to almost every other: an instant "Oh, a XXXosaurus!" At first, we were all chuffed he could say all these big words, but what has become more fascinating is his instant recognition. Now, I go to the dinosaur shop and have extreme difficulty remembering what he already has. I sometimes buy duplicates by mistake, and in that case his reaction is an instant upside-down smile. When I see all his dinosaurs on his bedroom floor, I can't tell even T-rex from all the others. Yet he, in contrast, instantly identified today's model by the correct name, and told me something about it. At this moment, about 6 hours later I can't even remember the name (or the colour). It was something like a ????Baroxynidon. He is not taught these names - I think he hears them in videos as he can't read yet - but he also knows the habitats and what they eat, and so on. This is for way over 100 dinosaurs, so it seems to be nothing to do with what we adults class as memorisation.

While he was on the swings I set to thinking about this. First, I don't think this is anything too unusual. Most kids can do something similar. Indeed, in essence, we have all done it with our native language. But what is it that they see, that I (and other adults) don't see? It's not just something different, because they are discriminating to a very high degree - it's something different with lots of knobs on.

It occurred to me then that probably people like Sumire are likewise seeing such things on a go board that those of us who have learnt go at a much older age are entirely missing. But what?

I know absolutely nothing about child pattern recognition (and would appreciate any pointers from those here who do know the field), but on the way home with Dinotot I tested him with some letters on a sign. I asked what sound the letter M was. He said wuh (W). He got the shape right but totally disregarded the orientation.

I don't really know whether that's significant, but I do know adults (me included) have a strong tendency to orient new objects before we analyse, or learn, them. We see this with people who learn josekis (or tsumego position) in one orientation and then get thrown when they are presented with the same position in a different orientation. Even in pro-land a player might use a fuseki in a new orientation to put off his opponent.

My hypothesis is that people like Brian (or myself with body language) have learned to do something from childhood in a way that defies comprehension by adults. I suspect this applies to Sumire, too. I stress "way" because there are Australian aborigines who do not use "left" and "right" and so on but instead talk about everything in terms of north, south, east and west. It is easy to imagine how this may have given them a quasi-biological advantage in their pre-modern environment, and they are apparently losing this ability by being taught English. I gather researchers don't actually know how they could tell the cardinal directions (but tests showed they were accurate), and their best guess is that the aborigines were seeing (from childhood) some sorts of patterns in nature that most of us miss. If so, these apparently weren't as simple as Boy Scout lore such as looking at the sun or which side of trees moss grows on.

Even if we know what the process is, I doubt we can ever make much use of that knowledge - unless we can use a time machine to go back to childhood. But simply out of sheer curiosity, I'd like to know what is involved. Anyone? (Somehow, I don't think green buildings will be in the mix :))

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Post #12 Posted: Fri Jun 04, 2021 3:00 am 
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Today, Iwasaki is playing Sumire in a series of games between insei and pros. It's a 2-stone handicap game, and right now I still don't know the result.

I read it here:

https://twitter.com/KK_joryu/status/1400716667378827267

It has a couple of pictures too. I don't know if there is time control, record...

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Post #13 Posted: Fri Jun 04, 2021 4:38 am 
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Thanks for the link. Sumire won by 4 points, if I read this other tweet well?

https://twitter.com/KK_joryu/status/1400743997610496003

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Post #14 Posted: Fri Jun 04, 2021 6:03 am 
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Mike Novack wrote:
Simultaneous blindfold, hard to imagine how anybody could do it.


Really ...

To this and to John's prior post about his grandson, there are many cases of exceptional abilities. As a mathematician, I've been dumbfounded by the abilities recorded of the illustrious Ramanujan. Almost self taught he had a kind of visionary insight into the behavior of numbers that went way beyond articulation and as such first escaped then baffled the academic world. Quite similar is the depth of insight, be it slightly more conventional in terms of conceptual thinking, displayed by 20 year old Evariste Galois, if he wasn't in a shoot out over a girl. I'm just another passer by watching in awe ... I can only explain this as "being wired differently".

Such wiring can be intrinsic but the more common way this happens is due to the environment, laying constraints or creating possibilities not present elsewhere. John developed his own kind of body language understanding. It seems the Inuit have 100 words for snow.

While we can subject ourselves to new environments, where learning is forced, we unfortunately can't go back to the days of childhood where our brains were still malleable and not laden with all kinds of knowledge, memories or plain noise. I find it quite disturbing how slow I have become in adopting new understanding, whether it's an AI joseki, the concept of miai counting or letting go of the table shape. And I can tell you how stressful it has been shifting to a new technological domain (surgical imagery, before digital maps) at 49.

A tangential hobby horse of mine is that language, or rather articulation, helps scaling the learning process but may restrain the individual development of expertise. It's the anti-Feynman-statement. I'm a writer/teacher myself and a big fan of Feynman but my experience in learning and teaching hasn't been in total favor of articulation.

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Post #15 Posted: Fri Jun 04, 2021 7:12 am 
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Of course, nowadays in the UK it's okay to make a journey on the road to test out if you can see properly or not.

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Post #16 Posted: Fri Jun 04, 2021 8:36 am 
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John Fairbairn wrote:
My hypothesis is that people like Brian (or myself with body language) have learned to do something from childhood in a way that defies comprehension by adults. I suspect this applies to Sumire, too. I stress "way" because there are Australian aborigines who do not use "left" and "right" and so on but instead talk about everything in terms of north, south, east and west. It is easy to imagine how this may have given them a quasi-biological advantage in their pre-modern environment, and they are apparently losing this ability by being taught English. I gather researchers don't actually know how they could tell the cardinal directions (but tests showed they were accurate), and their best guess is that the aborigines were seeing (from childhood) some sorts of patterns in nature that most of us miss. If so, these apparently weren't as simple as Boy Scout lore such as looking at the sun or which side of trees moss grows on.


It is interesting how research gets overlooked or forgotten. I recall reading about research done on people in Europe or North America in the 50s or 60s that indicated that they were able to some extent to orient themselves without external visual cues along the cardinal directions. It was believed that migratory birds and other animals needed such orientation skills. The explanatory hypothesis, as I recall, was that the neurological structure of the human nose allowed it to function as a weak magnetic compass. (I doubt if further research was done to test that hypothesis by, for instance, putting a magnetic field near the subjects' faces to see if that confused their supposed nasal compasses. Social science researchers of that era were not very thorough.)

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Post #17 Posted: Sat Jul 31, 2021 3:03 am 
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Over the years I have tried to post anything new or good about blind go, and I'm pleased to be able to add a small update about Iwasaki Haruto.

On 4 June he played Nakamura Sumire in a series of Dream Games to Bring Hearts Together. It was the first time Sumire had given a 2-stone handicap and she said it was much harder than she expected. She won by 4 points but only after pulling away in the late endgame when there were several kos and quite a lot of ko threats on the board. I'm guessing that such positions are especially hard for a blind player.

I still haven't seen the precise kind of board Iwasaki uses, though it sounds like a standard type (board with pits to hold the stones and Black stones having a tiny knob on top). But I'm curious whether thought has been given to allowing Iwasaki extra time to allow him to finger-scan the board in situations such as this game. Apart from the endgame, he didn't seem to put a foot (or finger!) wrong and it was a complex fighting game. In a series by Ichiriki Ryo on Sumire's games, Ichiriki remarks that her style is such that she shows to best advantage when both sides choose to fight hard, so that was maybe why she won.

Incidentally, the series just mentioned is a set of commentaries with various moves presented as next-move problems, and shows an excellent light touch by the multi-talented Ichiriki, revealing he picked up some tips from his time dabbling as a journalist for Daddy! Two things struck me in the series. One was that he gave fascinating insights into the styles of the young players showcased, and the other was (as I recall) the total absence of any mention of AI. Indeed, AI seems to be being mentioned less and less everywhere now, especially in commentaries, at least in Japan. More good news!


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Post #18 Posted: Mon Aug 02, 2021 12:04 am 
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Apparently he is not completely blind:

https://youtu.be/MQxG4ALULLI

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