THE SURROUNDING GAME

The much anticipated world wide release of THE SURROUNDING GAME is tomorrow, Febuary 15, 2018.

“The rules of Go are so elegant, organic, and rigorously logical that if intelligent life forms exist elsewhere in the universe, they almost certainly play Go.”

– Edward Lasker, Chess Grandmaster

(This is from the website [https://www.surroundinggamemovie.com/] and as most Chess players know, is a mistake. Edward Lasker was awarded the title of International Master, which is below that of Grandmaster, by FIDE, the governing body of world Chess. “Chessmetrics.com estimates his peak strength as 2583, a good Grandmaster by modern standards. The site also estimates his ranking as ranging between 18th in the world and 28th in the world for the nine-year period 1917–26.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Lasker] In addition, there is a dispute about the quote, with some attributing it to former World Chess Champion Emanuel Lasker, a distant relative.)

SYNOPSIS

The ancient game of Go is the most complex and elegant game ever discovered. Though the rules are simple enough to teach a child, the complexity that emerges has inspired millennia of study. For three thousand years, master players in East Asia have handed down the game as an art form to foster patience, creativity, and self-reflection. Today in the elite world of the pros, international tournaments offer hundred-thousand dollar prize purses, and top matches are broadcast on 24-hour “Go TV” to millions of fans in China, Korea, and Japan. But in the West, most people have never even heard of the game… until now.

THE SURROUNDING GAME follows the lives of three young Americans vying to become the first-ever Western professional players. Quirky, cerebral, and disillusioned with conventional views of success, they represent a new generation of players, on the doorstep of adulthood. As the competition intensifies and intricate patterns spill out across the board, the line between reality and imagination starts to blur. Their thoughts turn to anxieties about the future, and lead them on a journey through the game’s ancient past to ask what it means to live a meaningful life. Through an intimate portrait of these young players and interviews with the greatest Go masters of all time, the film explores the search for meaning that Go represents to its players, for whom the game is a distillation of consciousness itself.

Director’s Statement

THE SURROUNDING GAME (2017) is the first feature documentary about
the game of Go. Shot over 4 years in China, Korea, Japan, and the United States, the
film reveals the magical world of Go through the coming-of-age story of America’s
top Go prodigies.
Our protagonists Andy, Ben, and Curtis are gifted teenagers who have devoted
thousands of hours to the game. For them, Go is an escape to a world of pure logic
and mathematical beauty, a reminder of the ephemeral place human beings hold in
the universe. As they strive to become the first Western professional players, we
explore the search for meaning that Go represents to its players, for whom the game
is a distillation of conscious thought itself.

In East Asia, the game of Go is hailed as one of mankind’s great cultural
treasures. For thousands of years, masters and disciples have passed the game down
as a window to the human mind.
Now, for the first time, a group of Americans enter the ring, in search of a
prodigy who will change the game forever.

Go is the oldest board game still played in its original form.

Though its rules
are simple enough to teach a child,

the emergent complexity has inspired millennia of study.
In East Asia, Go is lauded as both art and national sport. Today, Chinese and
Korean students as young as five begin training in special Go academies; those with
promise sacrifice their high-school education, training for years to have a shot at
becoming professional players. In the elite world of the pros, international
tournaments offer hundred-thousand dollar prize purses and top matches are
broadcast on 24-hour “Go TV” to millions of fans in China, Korea, and Japan. But in
the West, most people have never even heard of the game.
Enter the American Go community: a ragtag group of gamers, Asiaphiles, and
aging hippies, captivated by the game. For decades, they have struggled to transplant
Go into American society with little success despite their burning enthusiasm. So in
early 2012 they take a gamble, striking a deal to launch the first Western professional
Go system. For the first time, America has a chance to compete on the world stage
against the Asian titans of Go… and everything rests on America’s top young Go
prodigies.

THE SURROUNDING GAME follows the lives of several top American
players, leading up to the competition to become the first Western professional.
Brooklyn-raised Ben Lockhart, America’s top white player, foregoes college to join
an elite Korean Go school. His close friend, Chinese-American Andy Liu, is the
strongest player in North America, despite little formal training. Introverted, quirky,
and deeply cerebral, Andy probes the limitations of his own mind in his quest to
transcend the tedium of normal society.

In the shadow of the game’s three-thousand-year legacy,

the American Go community descends into a small North Carolina town to crown the first American
pros. As they battle over the Go board, the players must confront deeper questions:
Can an intellectual art survive in the modern world? What drives their fanatical love
for Go, and why do they find greater meaning in the game than in real life?
Uncertain about their futures, they make a pilgrimage to meet the world’s greatest
living player, 99-year-old Japanese master Go Seigen.

Despite their diverging paths,
Ben and Andy face the same question: is a lifetime dedicated to Go truly worth
living?

To escape the intensity of the American Professional Certification Tournament, Andy Liu (left) and
Evan Cho (right) play a game atop Chimney Rock in North Carolina.

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AlphaGo and the Hand of God

I watched the eagerly anticipated documentary movie AlphaGo

on Netflix (https://www.netflix.com/title/80190844) last night. The IMDb (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6700846/) gives it a rating of only 8.1. I would give it a 9.9, but then I have never jumped through the hoops required to rate a movie on the website. This reminds me of David Spinks, who lived and worked at the Atlanta Chess & Game Center,

as he did jump through the hoops and relished arguing about how to rate a movie. Upon learning I would rate it so highly David would, no doubt, exclaim, “What? Have you lost your mind? Nobody rates any movie higher than a 9.5!”

I spent an inordinate amount of time watching each and every game during March of 2016 while greatly enjoying the commentary of 9 dan Michael Redmond,

an American who is the highest ranking Western player ever, and Chris Garlock, the editor of the American Go Journal.

If I had to use only one word to describe the movie it would be “poignant.” Many people with no interest in the game of Go, or any game for that matter, would have little, if any, interest in watching a movie, especially a documentary, about a mere game, possibly considering it dry and uninteresting. They would be sorely mistaken. Games are played by human beings and we humans are emotional creatures. Only a psychopath could watch this movie without having feelings evoked. When something is gained something is also lost. The computer program known as AlphaGo gained a victory for artificial intelligence when man lost yet another battle with a machine.

Lee Sedol,

a 9-dan, the highest rank, professional Go player, who has won 18 World Titles, and is considered to be one of the all-time great Go players, lost the match to AlphaGo, 1-4, but won our hearts. Lee Sedol said, “I want my style of Go to be something different, something new, my own thing, something that no one has thought of before.” Unfortunately it was the silicon monster that showed something new, something that no one had thought of before. It is now known all the world over as “Move 37!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNrXgpSEEIE)

“In Game Two, the Google machine made a move that no human ever would. And it was beautiful,” writes Cade Metz in Wired.

The move reminded me of the great Go Seigen,

considered to be one of the strongest players of all time, if not the greatest, because it was played on the inside, near the middle of the board, a type of move he made famous.


Lee Sedol vs AlphaGo Move 37 reactions and analysis

In the movie one hears, “Move 37 begat move 78.” From the aforementioned Wired article: “But in Game Four, the human made a move that no machine would ever expect. And it was beautiful too. Indeed, it was just as beautiful as the move from the Google machine—no less and no more. It showed that although machines are now capable of moments of genius, humans have hardly lost the ability to generate their own transcendent moments.” (https://www.wired.com/2016/03/two-moves-alphago-lee-sedol-redefined-future/)

Move 78 has become known as the Hand of God move.


Lee Sedol Hand of God Move 78 Reaction and Analysis

Lee Sedol won the fourth game, striking a glorious blow for humans. Unfortunately he lost the final game in a close, hard fought battle. It may have been the last game a human will ever win against any program as the next incarnation of AlphaGo beat the current world No. 1 ranking player Ke Jie,

3-0 in the Future of Go Summit in Wuzhen, China, played on 23, 25, and 27 May 2017.

Before the match it was commonly accepted that it would be at least a decade before any program was able to challenge the best human players. Beating Kasparov at Chess was considered child’s play to beating a human at Go. “The Game of Go is the holy grail of artificial intelligence. Everything we’ve ever tried in AI, it just falls over when you try the game of Go.” – Dave Silver Lead Researcher for AlphaGo

While watching the movie the thought crossed my mind that what I was watching was a watershed moment in the history of mankind, analogous to Neal Armstrong’s “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

“We think of DeepMind as kind of an Apollo program effort for AI. Our mission is to fundamentally understand intelligence and recreate it artificially.” – Demis Hassabis Co-Founder & CEO, DeepMind

A comment from a member of the AlphaGo team has stuck with me: “We do not understand enough about Go to understand what AlphaGo is doing.” I cannot help but wonder if, in the future when programs are exponentially more powerful, humans will allow the programs to make decisions for them while not understanding why those decisions have been made…

This is a great movie. The Chess player IM Boris Kogan said, “The measure of a man is how he comes back after a defeat.” In the two months after Lee Sedol lost to the computer program known as AlphaGo he won every match he played against human opponents.

We have truly entered a Brave New World.