Accepting Defeat


Obviously, losing games is an enormous part of Go's path. Those who seek improvement will lose many, many games -- and such loss can be frustrating and discouraging. I think it appropriate to share some ideas and tactics for approaching this common occurrence.

I'm not a big fan of feel-good pseudotherapy, so I don't want this to be a "Why do bad games happen to good players?" kind of page. However, as a teacher I consider assisting enlightenment to be a prime directive; hence, this effort.

It should go without saying that what follows is a collection of my thoughts; as someone who loses frequently (and has overcome an explosive post-loss rage), I believe it may be useful. I claim no authority or training other than experience.

  • Perspective. It is of urgent importance to view each game of Go as part of a much larger picture. Just as we struggle with simple two-word sentences as children, so too must we conquer the basics of the game as we refine our skills on the goban. Cliche though it may be, it is indeed a truism that we must fail in order to succeed. Many senseis have told me that losing streaks indicate learning in action. I don't know if I agree completely, but there can be no question that each loss presents the opportunity to improve. Perspective, therefore, is an absolute necessity.
  • Mental Review. After losing, take a second to quickly review your play. Did you play too quickly? Did you follow your opponent around the board blindly? Did you take unnecessary chances? We can usually pinpoint several mistakes without ever having to review individual moves.
  • Game Review. If you have a game record, review the game. Explore variations and try to remember why you played the way you played. Then, try to adjust your thinking so that you do it right the next time.
  • Step Away. For a while, I would play and play and play until I won. Each loss made me more determined to score one win before leaving the goban. Obviously, this is silly and self-defeating. I forced myself into unimaginable fury and self-loathing through this process, and did nothing to improve my Go skills (to say nothing of my mental clarity). Basically, I just hung around until I found a weaker opponent or one who would make a mistake. Instead, take a break. Go for a walk. Meditate. Wash the dishes. When you return, you'll be able to look more clearly at the whole board.
  • Win Well, Lose Well. I've come to realize that my ability to handle a loss is directly related to my ability to handle a win. Obviously, everyone likes to win -- but the thrill of winning can be destructive. The more elated and ecstatic you are after winning, the more dejected and frustrated you are after losing. If, instead, we can temper our pride after winning (which is appropriate) with a knowledge that our opponent made sub-optimal plays, then we can also temper our fury after losing (also appropriate) with a knowledge that we simply made mistakes. Bankei said: "Hell, hungry ghosts, karma, demons and fiery chariots simply do not exist independently."

Finally, some words from the ages.

"Great lords, wise men ne'er sit and wail their loss But cheerly seek how to redress their harms."

 -- William Shakespeare, King Henry the Sixth, Part III

"Know contentment
And you will suffer no disgrace;
Know when to stop
And you will meet with no danger.
You can then endure."

 -- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Book Two: XLIV)

Zarlan: Here's some more:

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

 -- Winston Churchill

Accepting Defeat last edited by Zarlan on March 13, 2004 - 20:32
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