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When we play a game of Go, we play a move, our opponent plays a move and so on, until the game reaches an end. The game ends when both players find no more useful moves to play. We count the territories and prisoners and score the game. Our goal is to play moves so that the final score is in our favor. In other words, we want to play better moves than our opponent.
In this process, we only control our own actions: our moves and our assessment that the game is over. We donít control our opponentís moves nor their assessment of the gameís status. We must therefore focus on our own moves first.
When itís our move to play, the following three things happen:
We then choose the candidate with the best evaluation after reading through a selection of candidates.
If we want to become better at playing Go, we should make better choices for each move. We can do this by improving these three aspects of playing a move: selection, reading and evaluation.
A priori, we could select any move. Usually we select only a few candidates. Our move selection is an intuitive process, based on our experience and knowledge. To improve our selection, we can learn good moves and we can unlearn bad moves.
To learn good moves, we can apply basic technique, study professional games? (or AI games) and read books about the opening, the middle game and the endgame, enhancing our knowledge about these stages and the moves that are common in situations typical for these stages.
To unlearn bad moves, we can let better players review our games and point out common mistakes in our thinking, or we can feed our games to AI programs for the same purpose.
To improve our reading, we must practice reading. This happens first and foremost in our games. A common way to practice reading is doing tsumego, or go problems, where the goals are usually clear, such as killing a group or making one alive.
If we do tsumego to improve our reading, we should avoid looking at the solutions, because the point is not to know the actual solution but to gain confidence in our reading. Looking at the solution prematurely gives a false feeling of confidence.
We can also improve our pattern search by learning common patterns, such as corner patterns in the opening (joseki) or middle game patterns or common endgame techniques. This can actually deteriorate our reading, if we rely too much on patterns we remember and omit the reading process.
In the opening and throughout the middle game, we evaluate sequences by the following aspects of the end position:
Understanding the relative value of territory and influence, whether positions are strong or have defects and whether it is valuable to take sente, can be improved by reading books upon the matter, or by feeding positions to AI programs which compute probabilities and differences between them before and after the sequence. The programs donít explain why a position is good or bad, so we need a theoretical framework that helps understanding such numerical evaluations.
If we have improved our move selection, reading sequences and evaluation of positions, we have improved our understanding of the game and our ability to play. Next, we must play up to our ability. This aspect of improving is often neglected. If our performance does not follow our ability, then we get no immediate measurable positive feedback and we become frustrated.
Our performance in a game is not only affected by our playing ability. It is also affected by the opponentís playing ability, which we donít control, but which we have to acknowledge, respect and fight. This psychological combat is moreover influenced by the game settings, our physical and our mental state.
For this purpose I have written the /basic laws of gamesmanship.
As a summary:
Just like our playing ability, we control our own gamesmanship. We don't control the behavior of our opponent. Especially in online conditions, we should not assume they are gentlemen or ladies. We are only responsible for our own actions. High performance will benefit from a composed attitude, both towards your own responsibility and your opponent's (ir)responsibility.