Advanced Study Section

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  Difficulty: Advanced  

Table of contents

A. Advanced study in go: scale of the problem

Suppose you are a player graded around 10 kyu - a club player, but still finding difficulties in defeating a dan player when given a nine-stone handicap. To improve further at the game you will need to play more, regularly. You will almost certainly also benefit from some study. Go makes more sense to players who think about concepts and patterns used by strong players, and apply them with understanding in their own games.

If the working knowledge of go you have as 10 kyu filled one book of 200 pages, which is reasonable as an estimate, how much should you know at more advanced levels?

There might be a correspondence like this:

3 books for 4 kyu

10 books for 1 dan

100 books for 5 dan

where amateur 5 dan is the highest level most amateur players can aspire to. That is, stronger players do know much more about the game. The questions one should ask are: what kind of knowledge, and how to acquire it?

As a 10 kyu you should set your eyes on a target level of 4 kyu, for various reasons. Firstly, most club players do reach this level by persistence. Secondly, while a 4 kyu player certainly is a much better player than a 10 kyu, there appears not to be any real discontinuity or jump to get past on the way. On the other hand it is commonly found that there is a 'plateau' around 4 kyu in most players' careers. Therefore it makes good sense to have this level as a target.

B. What to study to get to 4 kyu

In the light of what has just been said, it is probably sensible to try to define three 'books' or areas of study, if you aspire to get to 4 kyu. For example they might be

  1. Close fighting, particularly life and death, capturing races, shortage of liberties and so on.
  2. Patterns, in particular shape, tesuji and the simplest joseki.
  3. Strategy, especially for the middle game (influence, invasion, reduction, running fights), but also opening principles.

Opening theory, and the learning of many joseki, is probably not a great help here (less than 10%). Specialised knowledge of the endgame, likewise, is not as important as bringing your reading to bear on endgame situations.

C. How to study

It is not really how much you study, but the quality of your understanding that matters. Some people can improve by playing the minimum number of games with which they can absorb new concepts. Some play many games, and absorb a few pieces of wisdom from stronger players. In either case you will do well both to be critical about new ideas, and self-critical about the way you currently play.

D. Improve the quality of your play

Basic 'quality' concepts for becoming a good player are:

  1. Accuracy in reading tactical positions (not just guesswork).
  2. Learning how to match patterns and joseki to their context.
  3. Appreciation of direction of play.

The first of these is something one can work on by solving problems. The second and third can be helped by regularly playing through professional games, not worrying too much about deep analysis but looking for the overall flow and development.

In all of those, one has to learn that it isn't really possible to force the game your way. There is often much choice of how to play; but there are also deeper aspects of the game which one ought to respect: for example that the opponent is entitled to some territory, some attacks simply expect too much, starting a fight in the area of the board where the opponent has most influence should fail.

The idea that a go player should operate within some limits, respecting the real nature of the game and the opponent, is one of the many aspects of balance.

E. Improve common-sense aspects of your game

The following pages here are examples of useful advice to correct particular common problems:

'Mistakes you didn't realise you were making' describes many errors that aren't so hard to correct, but may take a stronger player to point out to you. Many players have found Lessons in the Fundamentals of go useful for that reason.

F. Becoming a more complete player

Some talented players are able to sustain a rate of improvement of about one stone per month in the single-figure kyu grades. These fortunate people probably don't have to focus closely on what they study.

Since such periods of continual improvement don't make up a large proportion of most go-playing lives, it is also worth talking about how to deal with 'stale' times, when it is hard to convince oneself that new ideas really add to the old ones. Some players seem to try to play through them, and excuse bad results in numerous ways. Others devote themselves to some very small corner of the game, looking to become expert in some particular aspect of problems or openings or theory.

It is almost certainly better to try to fill in gaps in one's understanding at such times. Areas such as proverbs and strategy offer nearly endless prospects for investigation. Along with opening theory not tied to special patterns, they are characterised by arguments which have two sides to them.

G. Finding a teacher

The simplest and sometimes the most effective step in getting teaching on your game, from an overall point of view, is to record a few games and ask a stronger player to look at them. This is an obvious thing to do, in a way. Surprisingly few players do it regularly, though. If you prefer for example to analyse your games afterwards with your opponent, you might wonder why. Is it for example more enjoyable to have a friendly argument?

Not everyone can find a stronger player to look at their games. The Go Teaching Ladder provides a free analysis service.

There are other forms of teaching, of course. Anyone who will give you a handicap game is acting as a teacher. There are now opportunities for distance learning in go.

Some pointers to getting benefit from teaching:

  1. Casual remarks from stronger players may help, if you think hard about them.
  2. On the other hand don't expect to be able to pin down everything you are told: it may be wrong, occasionally, but much more frequently be only part of the full story.
  3. Players who are three stones stronger can be expected to give you the advice that is best adapted to be of immediate help.
  4. Arguing with sensei, if you do it, ought to be more than showing what you already know.
  5. Assuming you know what 'didactic' (teacher-like) implies, the traditional way in the East Asian heartland of go is the opposite (this applies most of all in Japan).
  6. Therefore until you have reconciled yourself to this (what is the opposite, anyway?[1]) you may be spending effort on 'complaining' when you might be becoming the 'good pupil'.
  7. Over-educated approach: not really the correct description, but do remember that if you are an adult learner, particularly with a university degree, you bring intellectual baggage with you.

H. But, really, what do I study?

What is said at the Beginner Study Section will do fine. But you must treat the material not at the 'acquaintance' level ("I've heard of that", "I've seen a problem like that in a book, only ...") but as the tools of the trade. A smaller number of ideas which you have the insight to use well is better at this level than a larger number that you just know, or know of. Converting what knowledge into how knowledge is the main burden here.

I. Essential reading

Something on life and death, tesuji, and the middle game. Something about influence, for example in handicap play. Some game records to play through.

[1] Would be a sense related to 'cognitive', rather than 'unedifying' as one finds in Roget. Gnostic might do if it didn't have other implications.

See also new mythologies of study for a different overview. There is a Study index page.

Charles Matthews

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Advanced Study Section last edited by on October 20, 2006 - 16:21
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