Contradictory Information

    Keywords: MiddleGame

Contradictory information is a recurring frustration for Go players, who are used to treating the suggestions of stronger players as authoritative. This frustration can be especially acute for a beginner, who does not yet have the tools to sift through the advice he hears and separate the wheat from the chaff.

Table of contents

1. Weak advice

If you are receiving advice from other amateur players, which is normal in the Go community, the advice you receive may be bad. If some of your Go partners are giving you mistaken advice, often enough this will clash with good advice.

As a student, you should aim to seek out teachers who are significantly better than you - perhaps five stones stronger - and no weaker than 10 kyu. It is possible to learn a great deal from fellow beginners or rivals of a similar rank, but try to learn from them as you would learn from a peer in any field, and don't be disappointed in them if some of their advice turns out to be misguided.

As a teacher, you can avoid giving weak advice by focusing on fundamentals and basic instinct. Try to correct mistakes that recur often or that were particularly damaging, not mistakes that are particularly subtle. Avoid responding to questions as though they were challenges. Be sure to distinguish between principles, suggestions, and guesses, both verbally and in the tone you use.

2. Learning style

Different people learn in different ways, and so they may have trouble distinguishing between what worked for them (and their past students) and what works for everyone else. So, for example, some beginners learn best on a 9x9 board; most beginners improve rapidly while doing tsumego; most beginners do not experience much improvement from memorizing joseki or professional games. These are common trends, but for each of them, there are people who champion a different approach.

As a student, it is your responsibility to discover your own learning style by experimenting with the different suggestions that your teacher makes. If your teacher encourages you to engage in one form of study, this is probably an expression of his personal learning style, and the style of his friends. If you find his recommendations dull or deadening, try something else.

As a teacher, familiarize yourself with the range of opinion on how to learn Go. Avoid using your student as a guinea pig. If you are suggesting a certain course of study because you enjoyed it, or because you wish you had discovered it earlier, make that clear to your student. That way, if you have to reverse course later and recommend a completely different study plan, your student won't be confused.

3. Proverbs and exceptions

Every general rule in Go has exceptions. This is part of the depth of the game. When you have a weak grasp of good play, it can be frustrating to determine when to apply a proverb rather when to break it; and it can be equally frustrating to have teachers sometimes quote a proverb to you, and sometimes chide you for not breaking it.

As a student, you should remain calm. Remember, there are no rules in Go that apply 100% of the time; anyone giving you advice probably assumed that you knew that already, and was not trying to mislead you. When you are trying to decide whether to apply a proverb, read out as far as you can. Does the result look good or bad to you? Even if you make a mistake, careful thought will allow you to ask better questions about your mistake during the review.

As a teacher, you should be sensitive to the level of your student. For a beginner, you can praise a move that follows a proverb or makes good shape, even if you are about to show the student why another move was better. Giving their misplaced instincts some recognition minimizes the dissonance caused by your criticism. (With a more advanced student, jeering at his lazy reading might be more appropriate.) When offering general advice, proverbs, and pointers on good style, it is worth reminding the student that stylish moves will not make up for bad reading.

4. Local context

One stone can make all the difference. (See contact plays?, for example.) A beginner who has been told that a certain shape is good in one game, and bad in another game, may easily miss that one added stone completely changes the meaning of the move in the two games. (Similarly, moving a stone by one point can make a big difference.)

This would be a good place for examples.

As a student, try to pay attention to the relationships between all of the local stones and the sorts of moves they permit, instead of focusing solely on the relative positions of two stones. If you find that you can't get any value out of game reviews or reading books because you can't distinguish between diagrams where the positions of crucial stones have been changed, there is no sense in banging your head against the wall. Play more games, and in time these subtle differences will be more clear.

As a teacher, try to tune the complexity of your point to the level of the student. When the student seems confused or bored, change course; remember, if you offer your student the most complex sequences that you are capable of reading out, they will be far to complex for your student.

5. Global context

Ladder breakers, direction of play, etc.

6. Different goals

Endgame versus middle game moves, and so on.

7. Fashion

Different decades, different countries

8. Personal preference

Bias towards thickness or thinness, territory or influence, fighting games or peaceful games, etc.

9. Keen insight

Learning from both a partially mistaken sequence and a better sequence that improves it

Discussion prior to beginning of 2013 WME

Imagine having two math teachers; one who tells you to solve word problems in your head, one who tells you to solve them on paper. Each time you did one, the other would chew you out.

This is how I often feel about Go. I get advice from six hundred different people, all of whom seem to be giving me contradictory advice on how to play -- especially during fuseki. For instance, I've been hearing over and over that I'm not aggressive enough during the opening. So I've been more aggressive, and I've been losing.

So I go to KGS and this 1-dan offers to help me. Lo and behold -- the problem is that I'm being too aggressive.

Ultimately, I know the secret lies in finding the balance, but it's very infuriating to have six different people tell me six different things about what I'm doing wrong. I wish I had just one sensei who would train me all the time..

-- Scartol

For what it's worth, AvatarDJFlux says:

I can see two cases:

  • Your six teachers are "weak" players (no offence intended) so the spread of data is due to their need to learn some more... ;-)
  • Your six teachers are "strong" players (no flattery intended) so this demonstrates the depth of Go: you can be strong and still play in many different styles...

Just find your way, or in other words the style you feel most at ease with... I personally have shifted from overaggressiveness (playing Chinese or sanrensei fuseki) to oversteadiness (playing komoku and san-san with Black!). I won some, I lost some, I win some, I lose some...
But I always enjoy attacking in a steady game, or making territory in an aggressive game, whatever%%% As the great Takemiya said, always play moves that give you pleasure. Remember also: the proverb says that it takes 1000 games to get to shodan, and I would add: you have to lose 1000 games...

Your game on KGS I saw being commented by a shodan last night (July 29th) had many bad-shape moves: you cannot be aggressive with a bad shape, as chances are that your opponent will counter-attack and slice through your holes...
If I can give you the n-th advice, try to absorb the concept of good shape: it is of the utmost importance (it is one of my main difficulties too) and it allows you to attack and defend properly.
In addition to the usual books to read, I would advice you to subscribe to Go World, and play through pro games: you won't understand much at the beginning, but try to feel how their play flows, which are the shape points, and so on.

Good luck!

"For instance, I've been hearing over and over that I'm not aggressive enough during the opening. So I've been more aggressive, and I've been losing."

This isn't necessarily a contradiction. When your play is stuck at a particular level, you will need to try new things. When you first start trying new things, you will get it wrong most of the time -- and thus you'll lose more often, until you learn to use the new method better and make it part of your play.

-- Bignose

"Ultimately, I know the secret lies in finding the balance, but it's very infuriating to have six different people tell me six different things about what I'm doing wrong. I wish I had just one sensei who would train me all the time.."

So choose one!


It seems to me that "you're not aggressive enough during the opening" should be read "learn more about how to play aggressively during the opening and then apply your new knowledge". Don't just translate "aggressively" as "risky", which would result in moves that you don't understand in-depth.


I've had similar experiences with certain invasions where one strong player tells me it's good and another strong player tells me it's bad. I had the epiphany that it's not the move that was good or bad, but the timing.

This may be the same for any advice, including aggressiveness. There's a time to be aggressive and a time to be defensive. If a player saw you being passive when you should be aggressive they will say be aggressive. If you were aggressive when you should have defended, they will tell you to be less aggressive.

Contradictory Information last edited by tapir on May 28, 2015 - 11:46
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