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Book Review – Outside the Board by Hajin Lee

When I became aware that Hajin Lee had written a book I wanted to read it right away. She is the Go streamer known as Haylee and I have been following her games on her YouTube channel. I know you’re thinking, what is a Go streamer, right? Haylee plays online games of Go, recording commentary (in English) as she plays, and makes them available on YouTube. She is a professional Go player in Korea and as well she is the Secretary General of the International Go Federation.

Here in Canada the idea of a professional Go player seems strange and exotic. Many people I know don’t know anything about Go or maybe can recognize it but don’t know how it is played. In Korea, China and Japan, there is a professional Go community in which “pros” are paid to play, whether they win or lose. Of course winning means playing more games and scoring prize money as well.

Regular visitors to this blog know I play Go and love the game, but I am a weakling by comparison. I’ve been watching Go lectures and following games with commentary in an effort to improve my game, which I felt needed a kickstart. That’s how I stumbled across Haylee’s YouTube Channel. Her games are very advanced for a weak player like me. Sometimes I don’t understand why she makes some of her moves until a few moves later when the complex sequences she has read out become clearer to me and I can see what she is aiming for. Other times, I’ll be thinking of an entirely different direction, but when she makes a move it becomes obvious it is just right. Still, I think I’m learning from watching these videos and I hope to be able to put some of the ideas into play in my own games. For sure I need to improve my own reading ability when I’m playing Go.

Outside the Board is a set of essays Hajin Lee wrote about her life in the Go (or Baduk as it is called in Korea) world. We learn about how she went away to Go acadamy as a child, studied hard for several years, and achieved the status of professional in her teens. To give you an idea of the intensity of her studies, here is a quote from the book in which she talks about studying life and death problems, which she refers to as L&D:

“As I was getting close to the pro level, my teacher came up with this special L&D training method. He assigned each of us a L&D book, and gave us one week. In the book, there were about 200 problems without answers, and we were to solve all of them and memorize the answers, without writing the answers on the book.”

For me as a social Go player, this seems impossible. I think the danger for a prodigy in any discipline is that it leads to a life which can be very unbalanced. Hajin Lee writes about a teacher who saw benefit in a broader education and as a result she spent more time doing other classes than some of her peers in the baduk world in Korea at that time.

In her essays, Hajin writes about wanting a wider range of life experience than she would get continuing to focus strictly on tournament play. She made a decision to go to university and study business, and also to study English, and she hatched a plan to use that education to work in the Go world later. As it turned out that is exactly what happened, an today she works for the International Go Federation. In fact, in her current role, she was working behind the scenes on the recent Lee Sedol vs AlphaGo challenge match. Here is her video about that experience.

Outside the Board was initially interesting to me because I like the game of Go/baduk, but this book would also interest anyone who enjoys reading stories about unique individuals and their achievements and experiences as well as anyone who enjoys learning a little about other cultures. Of course it helps if you also know a little bit about the game.

There is one aspect of this book I haven’t tackled yet and that is the appendix, in which the author presents a selection of her own games, with some very brief commentary. I’m looking forward to playing these out on my own Go board. I bet, combined with her stories the games will offer additional insight into this remarkable individual.



    • It’s a beautiful game. The rules are so simple but the game has mind-bending complexities. The other interesting thing is that the more you play and the more you study the game, the more interesting it gets. The challenge for a new player is the early learning curve is steep. There are a lot of concepts to get your brain around and it takes a while to get used to “reading” positions.

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