Soren Jaffe ’19 to step up his game at American Go Association’s 33rd annual US Open

Fine Arts,

Rising Lake Erie College junior Soren Jaffe is set to compete at the American Go Association’s (AGA) 33rd annual U.S. Go Congress tournament in San Diego, Calif. August 5 - 12, 2017.

There, the biggest annual US go tournament will attract international enthusiasts. It boasts professional lectures, game analysis and impromptu matches among attendees at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center.

Last August, Jaffe won his rank division at the AGA’s 32nd annual US Open at Boston University. He won six tournament games by resignation over nine days, making him one of seven undefeated competitors. As champion of the “3 Dan” division, he has advanced to “4 Dan,” the level in which he will compete at a tournament June 24-25 in Toledo, Ohio.

Jaffe names his “utter enjoyment of the game” as an essential element of his advancement. With more possible games than there are subatomic particles in the universe, go’s complexity is unparalleled in the gaming world. People enjoy playing go because it carries an ancient, prideful tradition of virtue. It presents opportunities for players to learn from mistakes and improve quickly.

The board game originated in Asia thousands of years ago. Its object is simple: surround your opponent’s territory and avoid being surrounded. Go players take turns placing black or white stones on a wooden grid. In Asia today, newspapers, magazines and cable stations cover go around the clock, and champions are celebrities. Popularity of the game has spread to the Western world.

Why has the rest of the world caught on? A host of benefits, as LEC students have found recently. A double major in mathematics and AYA education, Jaffe organized and ran a go tournament this past spring at Lake Erie College. The one-day, four-round tournament took place on April 22, 2017 and welcomed competitors as from the local community. Alumnus and former president of the LEC Go Club Richard Keay helped coordinate the event, which included a teaching booth for beginners.

According to Jaffe, go helps people develop problem-solving skills and increase mental stamina. Assisting beginners and veteran players alike has helped Jaffe, a future educator, ramp up his game. He said that he hopes the go tournament will become an annual event.

With the intent to go pro, as they say, Jaffe sets hard and smart goals. Win every game, win every tournament, and always get better. No easy limits.

“While the pressure can sometimes get to me, I want to continue to grow stronger mentally in order to achieve go greatness,” said Jaffe, whose excellence testifies to the value of a Lake Erie education. The Painesville, Ohio native is gaining momentum on a 3-year tournament win streak.

Jaffe began seriously playing go in 2011 as a student at Riverside High School. He said he continues to cultivate a mentality sprung from his running career–one that prioritizes strength, focus and flexibility of thought. Remaining undistracted by his opponent and the prospect of winning is key, he said. To prepare for tournaments, he practices controlled breathing and meditation. Weekly practice matches at the Cleveland Go Club supplement his routine.

Like strategic board games such as chess, go requires forethought and deep understanding. Players leverage sheer mental processing power to plan as far ahead as possible, often sequencing 20 or more moves ahead. “A good Go player is someone who understands the flow of the game too, and is able to control their opponent,” Jaffe said.

In recent years, an artificial intelligence (AI) go program developed by Google DeepMind, AlphaGo, defeated two prolific Korean world champions, Lee Sedol and Ke Jie. The self-learning AlphaGo can evaluate millions of positions and continuously improve its performance through millions of matches against itself. It is literally changing the game.

“AlphaGo plays in a very flexible and free form way. For centuries, go players have stuck to the same philosophies of go, but now AlphaGo has taught human professionals that there are many possibilities in go,” said Jaffe, who has adopted its freeform style of play.

Divergent thinking is the foundation of Jaffe’s success. Creative, determined students like him go on to become creative professionals who broaden the world’s horizons. Day after day, Jaffe spends hours watching and participating in online go matches on servers and websites like YouTube, studying professional gameplay.

As new technologies outmode traditional ways, this Lake Erie College student is utilizing a more analytical skillset. He believes standard memorization of moves is less effective than his approach – focusing on shape and pattern recognition. This move stands to drive innovation in today’s dynamic environment.

We wish Soren a triumphant week at the upcoming US Go Congress in August and at his tournament in Toledo, Ohio this weekend.

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