Recently, I came across an article called “Playing opponents that outrank you” at Lose 100 Games. The author talked about how he had been hesitant to request games from stronger players and mentioned that one place where he has felt comfortable challenging stronger opponents was in the ladder tournaments on OGS (Online Go Server) . He gave great instructions about how to join, so I won’t repeat that here; suffice it to say, I followed his advice and started an account on OGS.
I must say, I really, really like OGS. I like it so much that I’ll use the word ‘really’, and I’lluse it twice in a row.
I’ve always preferred face-to-face games to playing on online real-time servers. I’ve played a lot on KGS, but I usually end up playing quick games against bots on those types of servers. These games always feel like ‘throw-away’ games; I’m plonking stones down rather than doing any thinking. I do play real people occasionally, but somehow, I feel more like I have to work up to it; I tend to do it mostly when I know I’ll be playing in a real-life tournament soon, and want to get some practice in.
OGS is set up for turn-based games, so the pace is slower and less hectic than real-time go servers. This really appeals to me as I can take some time thinking over moves. I sometimes feel a bit time pressured on real-time servers; I’m sure a lot of this is in my head, but I still sometimes rush into moves because I worry about making the opponent wait…particularly if that opponent is stronger.
OGS has a wonderful ‘analyse moves’ link that you can press which opens up a board that lets you play out variations. You can also download the .sgf at any time and play out sequences on your favourite .sgf editor. (I’ve found this very useful for games that move reasonably slowly. I work through a sequence and keep a record so that I can quickly refer back to the paths I’ve worked out for each possible variation, should I so desire. I hope this isn’t considered ‘bad form’!) One can also enter conditional moves in advance, so that you don’t need to be online if you’re playing pretty predictable hane-connect endgame moves or that-3-3-invasion-of-a-4-4-point-sequence or whatnot.
Although I am quite shy about playing people in general online, somehow the OGS ladder tournaments feel much less intimidating to me. I think it’s because they’re set up so that anyone can challenge anyone, and there’s the expectation that people lower down the ladder will challenge you. I’ve only just started and I’ve already challenged and been challenged by multiple people of all different sorts of ranks.
Also, the structure of the ladder tournaments gives one a nice sense of purpose and progression. I have only just started playing in the ladder tournaments, but so far it’s been a wonderful way to play a variety of people of different strengths. You can choose who you play, so you can choose weaker, stronger or evenly matched opponents…and anyone can challenge you.
My main goal is to improve my game, but I must admit, it’s nice to see my rank in the ladder change as well. I suppose it’s a sort of shorter-term reward. I get the sense that encouraging tournament play is important to the developers, which I really appreciate. I’ve found real-life tournaments to be very motivational organising study, and I expect the ladder tournaments will be very good in terms of keeping me in the habit of playing actual games online.
This isn’t to say I don’t like real-time servers. I’m sure I’ll spend just as much time on KGS, winding down after long days by playing quick games with GadgetoBOT and NukoBot and whats-his-face-bot who is always trying to avoid the headcrabs. Watching games between strong players unfold before your eyes in real time is also pretty nifty.
However, the bottom line is that on OGS, I feel more inclined to play real games of go against real people, in a format that I find very enjoyable. I’m hopeful that this relationship will last long after the honeymoon….
There are a couple little practical things to note about OGS.
First, the ratings don’t quite match KGS or BGA ratings. (I’m back to being a double-digit kyu on OGS! If that’s not motivation to improve, I don’t know what is!) There are several bots that you can play anytime who respond reasonably quickly; these guys were really useful for establishing and solidifying one’s rank. (I believe one needs to have finished two ranked games to start the ladder tournaments; playing a couple bots are a quick way to do this.)
Second, you can send a personal message to people to thank them for a game. You can also rate them by clicking on their name and going to their profile page. (I think it may be a good idea to add a subject to any personal messages. I’m not 100% sure my subjectless messages were actually sent…at least, they didn’t appear in my outbox.) Most of my opponents so far have been quite friendly and helpful. So far, it has felt like a very welcoming place.
Finally, I wanted to say thanks again to Lose 100 Games which introduced me to OGS.