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Development of Time Allowance -- From Marathon to 100m race. An essay on the developments in thinking time written by Lee HongRyul, Baduk columnist for Chosun Daily.


Development of Time Allowance
"Is the player gone to the toilet? Who cannot win if one thinks whole day? ... " This is quite familiar scene when friendly rivals play against each other. Well, I kind of agree with him. I also think that I would not lose against anyone if time allowance is unlimited for Baduk games to make long research possible. However, high ranking players say "The thinking time for weak players are just resting time." Anyway, in Baduk, time allowance frequently becomes the point of contention even among weak amateurs. It is only basic to have strict time provision in professional games. Then how long would be the ideal time allowance?

It is Japan that formalized the game of Baduk first. But during the Shogunate period, there was no time provision for Baduk matches. It was common that a game between families took from 10 days, to 15 days. The famous blood vomitting Baduk game was played in this period. The longest time allowance was made for the game played in Japan in 1938, dawning era of Modern Baduk. It was the game between the last Honinbo Shusai and a young promissing player called Kitani. The Honinbo's retirement game. The time allowance was 40 hours for each player.

Due to Shusai's illness, the game was interrupted a few times. It completed in 158 days with 15 sealed moves. The record reads that Kitani spent 34 hours and 19 minutes while Honinbo Shusai Meijin did 19 hours and 57 minutes. Shusai Meijin passed away soon after the game presumably due to exhaustion from the ordeal. He literally took the game with life and death determination.

From this period onwards, the concept of time allowance settled down. 10~15 hours for a player which is used in 3 days. Then when the first Honinbo title match was launched in 1938, the time limit got reduced to 8 hours per a player. And until this day, 8 hour/2 day time allowance has continued in Japan's 3 major title games.

Japanese have worshiped Baduk as "the way" and "the national sport". And their perspectives and pride toward Baduk are undercurrent in insisting this tradition. Although they cannot reverse the time to Shogunate era when a few months were taken for a game of Baduk, "8 hours" is still standing firm for playing the best possible game. Japan as the "Suzerain state for Baduk" is deeply rooted in the consciousness of Japanese. That shows in their ranking of world championships lower than Japanese 3 major domestic ones. Lightening game Baduk championships crop up thesedays. But Japan maintains 8 hour time allowance for the 3 major title matches like their ancestral tablet.

Beginning the year 2004, Japan has made an important announcement. They revised the time limit from 4~5 hours for a player to 3 hours in the preliminary rounds for the title matches except lightening games. Although it does not appear very significant, for Japanese who have insisted the long playing time as the essential requirement for the Baduk development, it is a big compromise. More over, they confessed that it is to adjust themselves to "international standard".

Japan, as you know, has been struggling for nearly 10 years in Baduk. In the International competitions, the titles go to Korean players usually and Japanese players barely manage to keep their face. Shall we have a look at the time limits of various International competitions? LG cup, SamSung cup, Chunlan cup, and Fuzitsu cup all allow 3 hours for a player except Ing cup which allows 2 and half hours and when they use up their time allowance, 2 points every 30 minutes get reduced. Don't you find it interesting to see proud Japan struggling to find the way to end the continuous loss in the international competitions by bending their pride and adopting "international standard"?

It is understandable that public criticism was poured onto Japanese top professionals who had done terribly overseas. Cho ChiKun was asked regarding the time limit. Then even the preliminary rounds took 4~5 hours per player.

"Japanese players get warmed up slowly when they play games of 5~8 hour per a player. In Fuseki and middle game, tuning themselves into the rhythm of a bout takes long time. But Korean and Chinese players are used to 3 hour games. This is similar to the difference between 100m race and Marathon. The attitude and the strategy are completely different. This has a lot to do with the bad performance of the Japanese players in the international championship. Therefore, it is the shortcut to the solution of the problem that Japan adjusts its system to International standards as soon as possible by changing to 3 hour time allowance for titles other than 3 major ones."

Takemiya remarked in similar way. "Japan, although it imported Baduk from China a long time ago, added the handicap and the time allowance system to modern Baduk. A 3 hour game is totally different from a 5 hour game. It is not right that Japan who has been in the forefront in the development of Baduk, yet ignores the tide of the modern age." Their remarks can sound as excuses for their bad result in the international competitions. But I think, on the contrary, that they are brave to voice for the reform in spite of possible misunderstanding as such.

Cho Chikun, shortly after making that comment, took SamSung title in 3 hour competition. He proved that it was not an excuse for his poor result. His triumph was in fact the stylish transformation of the "Emperor of the 8 hour Baduk game". Experience through 3 hour games he had played outside Japan might have been good training. Anyway, it was an important turning point for Japanese Baduk system.

Changes of our time ask Baduk to transform itself accordingly. The time allowance system for Baduk title matches is getting diversified along with the advances of TV and Internet. Korea's KBS Baduk Wang championship, a well known lightening title match, allows 5 minutes and 5 times 30 seconds after the given allowance per a player. International lightening game title match(?), TV Asia Baduk championship, does not even give any time allowance, they have 1 minute for each move. In parallel with 3 major championships with 8 hour time allowance, Japan now has lightening games such as the NHK cup, lightening game title, YongSeongJeon, etc. Co-existence of the contemporary and the traditional.

I am curious about one thing. The correlation between the length of time allowance and the quality of the game. If the quality of 30 second - games are the same as the 8 hour games, then of course, all the Baduk events should be simplified and shortened. It is only fair in terms of incurring expense, and right service for the Baduk fans in this speedy era. But if the quality of the games and the length of time are directly proportional, Baduk games will be degraded to low level pastime. In regard to this, Lee ChangHo once commented "super lightening Baduk game serves well for Baduk fans, but due to its entertainment focus and high probability of mistakes, the quality of the game can be put at risk."

Lee ChangHo holds "best winning record" in lightening Baduk championships as well as in regular championships. So it is quite clear that he is not afraid of lightening games. Cho ChiKun, a well known long thinker also won a lot of lightening games. Lee ChangHo warns against lightening games in terms of the quality of Baduk games. And Cho ChiKun emphasizes the need to reduce the time allowance at least in some of championships for the sake of international viability of Japanese players. That leads us to think that. for the Baduk masters, the time allowance factor may not be such a big deal.

The great Kisei of the 20th century, Go Seigen once expressed his opinion on this matter. It was from the interview with Kawabata Yasunari, winner of the Nobel prize.

  • The maximum time allowance of 6 hours for a player is enough
  • Longer time allowance does not always result in better quality Baduk
  • Players' well-being should be respected
  • It is not easy to propagate a game which takes longer than a day to overseas
  • Baduk will become an international game in the future, then the playing time will get a lot shorter.

It is amazing that this interview was done in 1954. Japanese were stressing the loftiness of Baduk and therefore 2 or 3 day playing time was believed to be desirable to achieve the depth of the game.
But he already saw the essential points which was to be unfolded in 50 years. He was not only the master in Baduk skills but also in foreseeing the future. The true Kisei.

When we look at closely, Go Seigen's "6 hour time limit", Lee ChangHo's "Unsatisfying super lightening game", and Cho ChiKun's "international adjustment" do not conflict. Go Seigen limited the maximum time while Lee ChangHo talks about the minimum time, and Cho ChiKun scolds Japanese chauvinism that ignores globalized Baduk and suggests the practical compromise. But still no master provides the clear solution for this. They have just suggested the broad outline of the matter. They have not pinpointed the ideal length of time allowance.

In fact, even if the life time were allowed for a game, it would have left some regret. And even the 30 second time allowance could produce the memorable game. That is Baduk.
From a certain point, no matter how long the time allowance may be, the better move cannot be found. But if the time allowance gets reduced shorter and shorter, from a certain point, the Baduk moves no longer serve the essence of the game. Therefore, the optimal time allowance for a Baduk game is another quiz thrown to human society. The difference between Marathon and 100 meter race, The difference between Baduk title matches with longer or shorter time allowances,... well, we will only cheer and giggle like monkeys who clap for a few more bananas.

(By Lee HongRyul of Chosun Daily)


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