Baduk and human life (Włodzimierz Malinowski)


I dedicate this essay to my father and to my Baduk masters. That’s why it contains so many personal details. It’s a recording of my personal experiences and reflections concerning Baduk. For most of them I’m indebted to people fascinated with Baduk. Meeting these people thoroughly changed my entire life. These were not only opponents I vigorously wanted to beat in order to become a champion. A contact with their personalities contributed to my development as a player and as a human being.
I would like to show you, summoned here due to love to Baduk, how does a man from Europe understand and get enchanted with Baduk. I hope it will help reach the important aim - to make Baduk popular all over the world and to make it the most famous game, because Baduk is really worth it.
Already as a child I was in touch with mind games. Chess were the beloved game of my father so they were also the main topic of discussions at home. My father devoted his whole life to chess. I listened carefully to stories of great players, brilliant moves, sacrifices of pieces, splendid combinations leading to victory. My father organized lots of tournaments in Gdynia and had me arrange chess sets. It was my first job in my life. I listened attentively to anecdotes about customs and games of great masters and thanks to my father I had the opportunity to get acquainted with many of them. The biggest impression on me was made by a Hungarian grandmaster Flesch who once played in Gdynia simultaneously on 25 boards – blindfold. Flesch was siting backwards to his opponents and was verbally responding to their plays until morning. Undoubtedly a great memory and imagination are indispensable to cope with such a task. My father was also fascinated with the rivalry of Bobby Fischer against Soviet grandmasters. Their shocking defeats surprisingly didn’t worry my father – communist. On the contrary – he was delighted and publicly admired the style of Fisher’s victories. He worked as the referee at the Poland – United States team match and caught the opportunity to conduct an interview with him. At home my father was solving and creating new chess problems all day long. He was also chess journalist in the biggest local newspaper of Gdańsk region. My colleagues were mostly juniors from local chess club. It was therefore natural for me that one of most important and most interesting things to do in the world for you and me is to play a game that requires thinking.

For a change my mother loved bridge and she enjoyed playing in company of good and amiable partners. No wonder that I played both bridge and chess with enthusiasm. To tell the truth I tended to follow my mother’s steps and she was proud of my bridge successes. At that time I heard a lot of Italian Blue Team achievements. As I studied extraordinary plays and masters’ bidding systems I had a lot of pleasure while discovering the highest level of playing. The joy of learning, comprehending, atmosphere of intellectual adventure used to be the essence of each day. For a young player climbing on the top, satisfaction derived from each victory are the experiences strongly encouraging to further strenuous work. I noticed then how important are: the ability to concentrate and to control one’s emotions along with everyday hard work in order to play effectively during tournaments. For a bridge player a tournament gave the only opportunity to meet and fight against better and more experienced players. These games taught me most. After several years I became one of the best juniors and I was sure that soon I would become a European level bridge player. I couldn’t predict an earthquake that would be created in my life by one anticommunist.

A meeting with my first master

Both chess and bridge are mind games and are known to everyone in Europe. Everybody either has tried to play those games or at least has had a chance to watch others playing, even if he can’t play himself. It’s not difficult to find opponents; moreover in each house there is chess set or a pack of cards. It’s much more troublesome to play Baduk, as few people know that such a game exists and what it looks like. Rules of Baduk are basically unknown and it’s hard to buy a set of Baduk. Nevertheless more and more Europeans start to be aware that there is a game more difficult than chess and more interesting than bridge.

When I finally met one well known Polish bridge player, an author of many books concerning bridge I was very skeptical and full of doubts having been promised to be taught a game more complex and absorbing than every other I had heard of until then. He didn’t waste time convincing me but seated me behind a board and explained the rules. My disbelief only rose. The stones don’t move? They are all of equal strength? The game is dynamic? Difficult? I’ll soon beat that jackanapes! My teacher was patient. After a few games I was discouraged because of my helplessness. After a few next games I was confident that the game was perplexing. In the next games I achieved a few small triumphs. I was illuminated: Baduk is an extraordinary game and I will be good at it!

Janusz Korwin-Mikke is a philosopher and mathematician of a mutinous soul and a bridge player known out of his unusual plays. He’s also been one of first Polish who can play Baduk. He is in favor of freedom of a human being and he fought actively against communist system in Poland. I’m indebted to him for teaching me Baduk and freeing me from the poison of communist ideology.

Baduk and other games

What’s the difference between Baduk and other games I know so well? What made me never come back to them in spite of their attractiveness, although still I like them very much? The deciding factor is philosophy of Baduk, which is very different from philosophies of other games. Due to this philosophy we find many direct links between Baduk and human life and the world around us.

A fight for territory without necessity to destroy the opponent is the most striking character of Baduk. I’d like to call your attention to a very important Baduk feature that makes it different from other games describes its character and is decisive in Baduk philosophy. In order to win while playing chess, bridge or checkers one needs to take away from his rival his pieces, tricks or pawns, and to force him to surrender as a result of losing his means of playing. The aim in baduk however is to win space, to conquer the territory on board. One can win the game without beating even one of his opponent’s stones. Conquering land is one of eternal human drives.
The aim of a Baduk game is natural and somehow reflects human being’s vital aspirations.
Summing up one can say that a game of Baduk is played not only on an intellectual plane but also on a psychological one. An engagement of all powers of mind, soul and character is required. It makes us describe some of Baduk games with one word: masterpiece.

More features distinguishing Baduk among other games

  1. The game begins when the board is empty. This is a warrant of free creativity, building one’s own image of each game. The rivals cannot rely on their memory – they build they play on their own. This makes Baduk not only a game but also an art with its own creation process.
  2. The space on the board is much bigger than in other games. The length of one game often makes the fight to victory very strenuous and tight. At each stage of the game the player’s chances are still open. Choosing a new way is not immediately punished with a loss like in chess. The players often follow some general laws, patterns and comply with some proverbs but they still make their own free choices. The beginning stage is most important for future possibilities just like youth in human life. The middle game is like maturity – then the outcome is worked out. The ending is like the downhill of life – each reckless move can put efforts of the whole life to waste.
  3. Simplicity of rules. One can say that Baduk is based on two rules – capturing stones without liberties and pae rule. I know no other game so difficult with so simple rules.
  4. A score reflects a difference of rivals playing quality in a game. It gives an opportunity to analyze one’s mistakes. It especially concerns final stage of a game. One can also devise a match, score of which would be calculated as a sum of scores of several games.
  5. Handicap system is unique and there is no equivalent for it in other games. The aim is to let two people of different strength play a game with equal chances to win. The stronger one bears a burden not to show his superiority but to strain his powers and use all his skills. It doesn’t let him neglect his partner. In short he has to do his best to defeat his competitor. Handicap games are interesting and exciting for both partners. I cannot give an example of a game during which the stronger player has to give so much in the beginning in order to win. It’s another proof of a huge room left in Baduk.>
  6. Modern Baduk has two more distinguishing features: a compensation of points (komi) for the white player that makes the game of Baduk more just then other games. For example in chess white player wins more often whereas black employs defensive techniques from the beginning. Compensation implies a fight from the beginning without a feeling of less chances to win. Moreover it makes a draw impossible. In Baduk there are no draw tactics and each game has to be decided so players try hard to achieve a favorable result.

Baduk – a universal language

Learning to play Baduk is like learning a language. First we learn marks and letters, and then we learn to pronounce single words. Only after years we can say a complete and understandable sentence. One has to devote his entire life to make others admire what we say or write and hear one day that we managed to create a masterpiece. Moreover a game of Baduk is like a discussion and moves are like reasons. My father used to say that truth was born in fiery debate. A score of a game shows who was right and who was wrong, whose reasons had better grounds. A similarity to language is even bigger. Players through their games discover and analyze their own personality. They also see their partner’s true self. Baduk is a kind of a universal language used to communicate by people who can play. Many times have I experienced myself that a game became a beginning of a friendship that lasts until now.

Natural ethics of Baduk

A good play is most important. It’s better to surrender than to play until the end and count on rival’s big mistake. This is one of the first views I heard from my master Janusz Kraszek. In the beginning I didn’t understand the full meaning of these words. Today after many years and many games played I do appreciate their importance. I remember games I won having played well and they are obviously a source of satisfaction. I also remember games I didn’t give up and still prevailed. These are a source of shame and constant qualms of conscience. Fortunately there were only few of the latter. A victory secured thanks to violating ethics is worth nothing.
A person learning to play Baduk starts to need not only victories but also good play. Baduk creates that need, and it is a source of it. Practicing Baduk induces not ideal human to behave ethically.

Baduk as art

I’m a graphic designer and I’m often stunned by beauty seen in each symptom: a gracefulness of architecture, a refinement of a sign or an image, an aesthetic shape of a letter. What is beauty and what are the features of a creation process? What can we call art?
For a human beauty is related to harmony and proportions. One can also notice beauty in logic of math equations, poetry or music. A creation process is featured by lack of limitations, often called “freedom of art” and work of imagination. Creation process is something that distinguishes us among other creatures living on earth. Art fills a vacuum, clear page with words, empty surface of canvas with painting. An empty board of Baduk is a beginning of a creation process as well. Art is a human want, as it is one of substances of human existence. Art is a beauty understood for everybody regardless of sphere of culture. Baduk fulfills these requirements, so it is an art.

Graphic beauty of Baduk

Baduk is also beautiful graphically. Black and white stones together with background of wood combine into intriguing patterns and beautiful shapes. Each time we manage to create a light shape full of harmony, that cooperates well with other stones, we are delighted. We feel like an architect, who designed a light, exquisite and firm bridge. When our group cannot extend properly we feel ill, constrained and limited by a bad shape. We lose a sense of humor. We see that we built a wrong structure and either we try hard to correct it or we leave it as worthless. Creating good shapes is one of the most important skills in Baduk. Good shapes guarantee success.
Therefore one can say that looking for harmony and beauty in Baduk is a necessity, because good moves are usually lovely through the created shape, simplicity and suitableness.

Rivalry in Baduk leads to elegance.

Masterpiece – a piece of work of two authors

Did you notice that like many pieces of art of painters, writers or composers, we call some of games “masterpieces”? There are games conducted ideally, in which it’s practically impossible to change the placement of even one stone. In contradistinction to other spheres of art, here it is a piece of work of two authors formed as a result of rivalry that in Baduk changes into sort of a cooperation. An effect could be a masterpiece. But to give birth to it both players have to reach peaks of their skills, use all the strength, and demonstrate their mastership. Such games find place in human culture beside other works.

Baduk – a game of imagination

Otake Hideo was asked once what is most crucial for a Baduk player, and replied: the vital factor is imagination. A good memory and counting skills are not sufficient. In Baduk imaginativeness is the key. An evolution of imagination accompanies a development of personality. To play well, one needs to be a unique individuality and individualist, to knowledge worked out and contributed by others one must add his own thought and mark his play with own style.

Character and style of the game

It’s fascinating to observe how a character of a player is reflected in Baduk game. One can investigate his temperament watching him for example putting a stone on board. His individuality is also manifested in inclination to rash attack or cowardly defense. There are players who prefer peaceful development of position, there are others who immediately want to upset your plans or try to destroy every piece of territory you strive to surround. There are others who only think of killing your groups anywhere on board.
In opinion of my master Janusz Kraszek the most important features Baduk helps to develop are temperance, psychical balance and patience. On one hand Baduk induces those characters and helps improve them, on the other hand a frame of mind thus gained lets us deepen our understanding of the essence of Baduk and rise level of our play.

Emotions and psychological problems

Baduk sets huge emotions free. A clash on the board for survival of groups seems to us to be as violent as a real fight for life and death. We scramble for security of their lives just as if we would defend our own. When our group is dying we feel as if we were dying. We feel relief having saved our group. Cutting off a part of a group is like cutting off a hand. Not mentioning a loss of an eye...
While playing Baduk we need to restrain our excessive emotions because premature joy after momentary success or a breakdown due to a local loss take away clarity of perception and weaken our will of fight. Serenity and composure are of use for an accurate estimation of situation, and thus they increase chances for good play and final success. It’s interesting that when we play we are so concentrated that the whole world disappears, it ceases to exist for us. Ability to concentrate though is largely reduced when there are problems in real life, for example an exam to pass. Then it is also harder to control emotions. On the contrary a stabilization, successes help play better.

Baduk and Friendship

Best friends in my whole life I’ve met due to Baduk. Those relations last in spite of distance and flow of time. Baduk means also partnership and mutual recognition that builds bonds of friendship. Baduk makes a barrier of language and culture disappear. It’s usual that on a tournament a chairman of a bank and a carpenter meet and learn together. Baduk doesn’t know social gaps. It requires sincerity in analyze of own mistakes in order to pursuit perfection.
Lim Yoo Jong said: “If one of the opponents played a bad move during a game, the other one cannot say he played a good game. If both play well victory and defeat become irrelevant. Good play is most important. Baduk is school of solidarity. It possesses magic might that makes us pure.”
1996 my elder friend Ph. D. Tanaka invited me to play in tournament in Shimonoseki Japan. I won several first games and happened to play with Li Byon Shun 8 Dan from Korea. I tried hard to play well because the game was watched by a few onlookers willing to see how will a stranger from Europe cope with a master. The fight was fierce and difficult although I had hopes for a peaceful ending. And then... master put down a stone with a quick light stroke. Immediately like in a lightning I saw and understood what would happen next. My groups would be crushed by a thunder. Quickly I resigned. Master just smiled. “What happened? Why did you give up?” Shouted kibitzers. It took me a few moments to show them an inevitable end of a series of moves. A defeat is never a pleasure but explanations of the master let me understand a source of my loss. Master appreciated my perceptiveness and invited me to his restaurant where exceptional taste of dishes and his smile enabled me to forget completely the bitterness of the defeat. But I think now that it was also a small victory over my own desire to fight until end.
In the end I would like to say a few cordial words about my wife and all women who friendly support us in our passion. Thanks to her all my children can play Baduk. I owe her gratefulness because when my friend Kristopher visits me we can play without problems until late. However I’d like to give a piece of advice to people less experienced. Patience of wives ends at about 4 a.m. when you are laughing aloud with your friend and when putting a stone on the board in silence of night causes a bang like a meteor falling down. Remember also to find yourself in bed after your wife’s intervention as quickly... as a meteor.

Future belongs to our game

A development of Baduk is now in a very crucial stage. Baduk gains popularity in the West quite slowly. It ceased to be an unknown game, but still it is far from being as popular as chess or bridge. In my opinion factors that contribute to dying off of those games are a great chance for Baduk. Computers and Internet. Deep Blue trouncing of Garry Kasparov sent shock waves through the West. Computers have not come close, and probably never will, to mastering a game that remains uniquely human. Everyday in Internet one can meet thousands of players. I asked my colleague, a chess player, if he played online chess. He said he didn’t, because he was afraid that his opponent would have used a computer chess application to beat him. There are plans to guard chess players during tournaments, even on their way to a toilet. The fact that we don’t have such problems shouldn’t comfort us. A way to popularize Baduk is still very long. Internet can be crucial in spreading Baduk playing skills. Although nothing can replace a contact with a master, but opportunity to find an opponent all day long is something completely new. I know very well how much it is worth, because to play someone of equal strength in Poland I must cover a distance of 300 kilometers. Internet gives an occasion to play and contact people from all over the world. It is our chance.
We know that baduk is uniquely a human game. We know that it is worthy to play Baduk. Professor Howard Gardner from Harvard University, who for several years has researched development of human intelligence, defined 7 kinds of “intelligence centers”. He distinguishes linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal and emotional intelligence. Practicing Baduk helps develop nearly all kinds of intelligence – we know Baduk does.
Many people don’t. Let’s open their eyes.

Włodzimierz Malinowski

Opinions of famous people

“Baduk reflects a fight of a human for happiness in life” European Champion, mathematician Janusz Kraszek.
“In Baduk the mind is dazzled by the beauty of the patterns unfolding on the board, and a sequence of moves can be as mesmerizing melody. The trick is to get a computer to compose and understand this visual music” Ph. D. Chen Zhixing, an author of “Handtalk”, the best Baduk computer program.
“If you are going to live some place for a year, it can’t be all work, and I think that Baduk is a game that appeals to the type of people that would fly on a space station”. Dan Barry, an American astronaut, who played Baduk with his Japanese partner Koichi Wakata for the first time in space during Space Shuttle Endeavor mission.
“I have not touched a stone for a very long time... But I still recall the clean sound of an aggressive stone being placed with a crisp, minimal, gesture”. Trevanian author of a book „Shibumi” - a bestseller with over 2.000.000 copies sold! According to Peter Shotwell this book contains the most beautiful sentences about Baduk ever written in English.
“I played nearly all existing games, but when I met Baduk I stopped to be interested in those games. Baduk is surely the most fascinating and most complex game I know. If one wants to treat a game as a reflection of life, Baduk is closest to ideal”. Professor Marek Hołyński, ex-Silicon Valley scientist.
“Instead of trying to win every game, I think one should try his best to make good plays and thus create game records that one can be proud of. In our lives, we are constantly faced with the opportunity of going the right way. Likewase, in the game of Baduk, the opportunity of making the right play appears at every turn. Life is beatuiful and so is Baduk” Cho Hun Hyun, Korean master.