Hitting the Wall Part 2

One of the Ten Minutes to Go members recently sent me this chat message through the game we are playing on OGS.

Hi Robin…a question for you… I’m feeling lately that my game is slipping. I don’t mean just this one, but also in general. Any advice for me? To be clear, I know that the best way is to just play more games, but I’m curious about any other techniques or suggestions you might have. It’s hard to want to play more games when I don’t seem to realize any improvement.

I thought that this was such an important question that it was worth giving it some real thought. There can’t be a single Go player, amateur or Pro, who has not at some point, arrived at the same feeling of: “I’m just not making any more progress, in fact I think I’m getting worse!” I know that I’ve been there on multiple occasions, and I am sure that every single member of this group can identify with that same sense of frustration.

So, what can we do about it?

Study and Practice

The first thing my student mentioned, was to play more games with the aim of improving their performance. I can’t disagree, but there is more to it than that. Playing Go is a skill that involves a study and practice feedback loop.

Someone once said that “Practice makes perfect.” This has always puzzled me, as practice on its own, doesn’t make ‘perfect’ what practice does, is make ‘permanent’. If you practice and repeat good habits, then they will indeed become embedded in your Go style and become permanent. The problem is that bad moves and habits will also do the same!

Of course, we need to play lots of games (practice), but we then need to review those games (study) with a stronger player, in order to identify those good and bad habits that we can then either eliminate, or indeed embed and make permanent. This is what we do each week at the Nottingham Go Club, and it was one of the reasons I set up Ten Minutes to Go as a learning community. Ashley and I will always be happy to review a game for you in order to help identify there good and back moves, you just need to ask, and we will respond.

Do something different

As a wise man said, “Do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got.” I believe that it’s important to realize that these flat periods, when we feel we are simply not making any progress, offer us the opportunity for the kind of ‘out of the box’ experimentation that will lay the foundations for our next leap. When we are on a winning streak, it’s easy to keep repeating the same formula. We just think we’re clever and have finally cracked this crazy game! It’s when we are struggling and have nothing to lose that we have the freedom to explore new ideas. For example: if we routinely play our first two moves on the star points, then move to the 3-4 and see what happens. If we always play the same moves in response to a corner approach, then get a book, or look online and try to find some alternate moves or josekis and experiment with those. Pincer with a two-high stone, rather than a low knight move and note how the game develops. The game of Go represents a complex system where a small change in the initial conditions can lead to a hugely different outcome further down the line.

I can’t emphasize this enough. We all like to win our games, but that’s a short-term hit. Our long-term goal must remain focused on how we become stronger Go players. And in order to advance that goal, it is essential to experiment and try out new things. In doing so, we will inevitably stumble, make mistakes, and lose games. But those self-same mistakes then become the raw material for further study. The stepping-stones that take us closer to our goal.

Understand how you learn

One of the reasons (among many) that I love Go, is that it acts as a mirror to help us better understand ourselves. If you want to become a better Go player, then figure out how you like to learn. Some people like to learn from books, in which case a volume on Joseki’s would add clarity and variety to your games. Other people like to watch videos, in which case there is a huge range of material on YouTube and elsewhere. My problem with most of the YouTube stuff, is that it lacks organisation and a decent editor, and so you can spend a lot of time searching for a specific topic. For some people (me included) an online Go School works best. Go is my main hobby and so I am happy to pay the equivalent of two or three cups of coffee a month to the Online Go School (https://internetgoschool.com) for their lectures and training system. There are also lots of Go problem (Tsumego) sites out there, such as BadukPop.com. Commit to doing five problems a day, as this cannot fail to improve your reading and ability to resolve life and death problems to you advantage.

Whichever way you learn, figure it out and stick with it. But please be aware that whenever you make a change to your game, your performance is likely to drop off until you integrate the new learning, and it becomes a further step towards that long-term goal.

Summing up

Is there a short cut to becoming stronger at Go? Sorry folks, but the bad news is that simply isn’t one, not one that I’ve ever found anyway. The good news is that if you follow these three principles: 1) Play games and then have them reviewed and analysed by a stronger player 2) Do something different – experiment and try out new ideas and 3) Figure out how you best learn and stick with it on a daily or weekly basis, including Tsumego practice, then you will get stronger – guaranteed.

The reason I set up Ten Minutes to Go, was to create a learning community around the game, where we can study and share our insights, relish our victories and commiserate our defeats. Go is an extraordinary game. As your knowledge broadens, the game gets wider, as your skills increase its complexity deepens. Its just like mountain climbing. As you struggle to reach your current summit, a new peak comes into view, shining through the clouds and beckoning you onwards. Together, we will all get stronger…


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