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Introduction

Since the establishment of IGS (February 1992) lots has happened in the online world of Go and lots has been written about it as well, especially on the newsgroup rec.games.go, the traditional meeting place of Go fans world-wide.

These pages give you some of the history of IGS starting at the very beginning of IGS back in 1992 when the server was visited by some 10-20 people on average. The articles have been written by people who have visited IGS over the years. These articles reflect some of the joy they experienced.

The overview runs from the establishment through the first few months of 1995.

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Overview of IGS in 1995

The year 1994 has been great for the Internet Go Server. To understand what makes it special, perhaps a brief explanation of what IGS (Internet in general has been called "Acronyms R Us") is will help.

Go is an ancient game, invented in China, and popularized throughout the east in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. It has spread in more recent years throughout the world, but had always been handicapped by the fact that there are relatively fewer strong players outside the Orient, and so it has been difficult for players elsewhere to become strong. All this changed with the invention of IGS, a computer server where folks with home computers log on to find others who share an obsession with the game, and now players from all over the world can log on at any hour, day or night, 365 days a year, and find an opponent of almost any ability, or a game to watch.

My first experience with IGS is illustrative of who it works. The first time I logged on I played my first game against a player in rural Australia. I quickly became friends with some stronger players, and received lessons from two very strong players in Amsterdam, Netherlands. IGS is where go players can find players close to their own strength from New Zealand to Finland, Chile to Canada, and all points in between. By the end of 1994 IGS averaged 200 players or more during daylight hours in the continental United States, and 100 players throughout the night. An average of around 500 games a day were, with more than 170,000 total games played on IGS during 1994.

Now onto how IGS changed during the year. This year one of the least heralded changes was also one of the most important for the status of IGS as an international go forum. One of the worlds strongest go players teaches go in Los Angeles California. He has started using IGS to give his students lessons. This transforms the nature of IGS. The presence of Mr. Yang, a 6 dan professional go player, on IGS makes IGS one of the worlds finest go clubs in even a traditional sense of the word. IGS is inherently modern, and the fact that it can boast of this traditional mark of distinction is remarkable.

This year also witnessed the birth of the "Go Teaching Ladder." This incredible tool allows players of all abilities to submit their games electronically to stronger players to analyze. The stronger players then review the games at their convienance, and annotate them, and send them back to the player. When the teaching ladder was born, Jean-loup Gailly (the chief instigator, better known internationally as the author of a popular data compression program) was afraid that players would only volunteer to analyze their games if they could be assured that they would be able to get their games reviewed by stronger players in turn. It turned out that he underestimated the generosity of the international go community. There are many players who actively volunteer to review games for beginners. I personally have analyzed games for a law student at Duke University, a Systems Analyst in Chicago, and a computer student in Ulm Germany, and in turn have had a game reviewed by a top amateur go player in Amsterdam Netherlands.

A beginner can learn the basic rules of go in 5 minutes, but there are some strange situations that are theoretically possible as a result of the simple rules. Historically there have been 2 major rule systems, one from China, and one from Japan. Recently, an interesting character has tried to resolve all of the different systems and exceptions to the rules, and designed a common sense set of rules, a set that was "recursive" (sorry, it is a word I don't understand, but is important to mathematicians and computer programmers, among others.) IGS used the Japanese rule set, but this year IGS implemented the ING rules, working hard to ensure that all of the scoring and special "suicide" rules worked with all of the separate clients that are used to attach home computers to the server. Mr. Ing of the Ing Chang-Ki Foundation (the author of the GOE rules) then donated a generous prize fund to subsidize the worlds largest electronic go tournament, using his rule set.

This tournament was unlike any other go tournament. The tournament director lived in Finland, the playing area was in Pennsylvania USA, the results and mail were sent to Paris France, and the folks who ran the playing area were located in California, USA and Paris, France. Not only that, but the referees for the tournament were widely disbursed from Washington state USA; to Finland; Paris, France; New York City, USA; and Chicago, Illinois USA. The tournament was funded from Taiwan. The tournament was played all over the world. Most of the organizers have never met each other, and most players could walk right past their last round opponent on the street and not ever have a clue. The tournament awarded prizes, yet did not charge an entry fee. There were 604 games played for the tournament, and they typified the wide range of IGS go games.

The tournament featured lots of great go. Top players like artu and NING proved that you have to be careful from the beginning, as early mistakes can quickly become early resignations. The igs punks, bsdserver and raven, in round four played a game that featured vicious fighting. There was the incredible high level fighting of artu and jy23 in round 5, when artu made amazing life with the philosophically challenging shape that can be described as two snakes eating each other. This shape was so rare that most observers hadn't seen anything like it before. That game set a record for observers that stood until artu played jujo (a 9 dan professional) the next week. There was the more subtle game that artu played against nomad in round 4. This game can be thought of as a commentary on the 1985 Honinbo match played by Takemiya and Rin, since it followed that Japanese championship title game till move 21. Artu played one of the shortest and sharpest games of the tournament in the last round. Artu plays moves that throw the go proverbs into doubt. Against zhong, he played on the third line or below until move 25. Even beginning go players know the go proverb that you play on the fourth line to fight, and the third line to make territory, right? Wrong! Artu managed to kill a group after devoting the fuseki (Japanese word for opening) to the third line. Perhaps weak players should avoid watching games of this high level for fear of learning bad habits? Anyway, artu can use third line territory to kill and end the game at move 85. In round 2, lyu met kishiko in a close and hard fought game that lyu eventually won by 3 points. In the last round, again, jansteen played jiroo in what might have been the most 'fun' game of the tournament. Bigbug and christ played a strange game in round 3 that featured an early race to the hoshi (marked handicap) points, and a game that reflected that interesting fuseki choice.

The tournament was interesting even off the virtual boards. Who can forget when rich 23k* (a rank that means beginner) found a seki (sort of "undead" shape) when observing a game with several 6k* and 7k*'s (much more advanced beginners) that eluded the analysis of the stronger players until he pointed it out? Or the time when a 22k* was getting a friendly 7k* to go over his recent game, and sws 5d* (top level amateur) and nomad 5d* (also a top amateur and eventual tourney champ) pitched in to help teach?

The games attracted incredible interest, as 200 players typically gathered to watch the top boards either surreptitiously at work, quietly at home while their wife was sleeping in the bedroom, or in the University computer center.

Go is spreading from IGS itself on the internet. There is the usenet group rec.games.go where folks discuss, rant, analyze, ask about long lost friends, and try to order take out chinese food (this newsgroup may actually predate IGS.) There are now many go related "pages" on the World Wide Web, where you can access everything from information on go related computer programming, huge archives of professional go games, IGS games,lists of upcoming tournaments in the USA and Europe, pictures of many of the personalities on IGS, and the latest news on the professional go scene. A good place to start exploring is: http://gobase.org/.

The fact that there is now an archive of thousands of games provides fodder for many programmers and statisticians. There are now three rating systems, the one used by IGS, and two alternate systems that claim to be more accurate when dealing with the statistically challenging problem of beginners and weaker players (finger either mattson@dcs.gla.ac.uk or pett@diderot.ucsf.edu.)

As the year came to a close, probably the most important development was the move of IGS from it's old host at the University of Pennsylvania to Seoul Korea. With the move to igs.nuri.net came the addition of two new "net gods" to the traditional IGS trinity of tim, tweet, and fmc. Now taeha and artemis have joined the list of IGS administrators. I am sure they are doing wonderful work, but long ago I asked where I could order take out food in Seoul, and they have yet to respond!

When the server moved to Korea, the administrators worked to translate the "help" files into other languages. They intend to have the files available in Chinese and Japanese, as well as English. They have already added support for Korean.

IGS now features a new command, "bet." Bet enables the observers of a game to compete amongst themselves in guessing the next move. If you guess correctly, and someone else misses the next move, you win. On IGS, do "help bet" to find out more.

This year promises to be just as exciting. As I write this, the AGA (American Go Association) is running the "AGA/IGS winter tournament" where players can play rated games without those onerous entry fees!

Well, I hope to see you on the server...

angus (angus@halcyon.com)

--
"joke 'em if they can't take a..."

From: angus@halcyon.com (C. A. Steadman)
Newsgroups: rec.games.go
Subject: Report on IGS and the net in 1994
Date: Mon, 06 Mar 1995 08:31:31 -0800

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