Difference Between Pros and Amateurs


The purpose of this page is to list the differences between pros and amateurs. These differences have been organized into two categories: (1) Those that can be eliminated with relative ease by every amateur player and (2) those that are unlikely to be eliminated by a typical amateur player.

The idea is that if one removes all the differences one can, then one will become stronger. Some differences take very little effort to remove (other than the effort required to decide to do it), yet many amateurs don't do so.

AvatarDJFlux: Many of the ideas shown in this page have always given me a feeling of uneasiness. As Charles said in DifferenceBetweenProsAndAmateurs/Discussion, I think amateur insight into pro go is fairly rubbishy. I do agree, many so-called differences listed here are based on wrong concepts of what a professional is or does.
This page should be better named something like "Hints for amateur improvement".
I am aware that a page for discussing this page does exist, but I feel the uncontrollable urge to challenge some of what it is said in this very same place, in order to stop newbies building false ideas about go.
I have added at the top of the list what is to me the one and only basic difference between a professional and an amateur...

anon: It seems to me that the point of this page is to list differences, as perceived by amateurs. Some of these differences can be eliminated and many are easy to do so (merely a matter of attitude). That is not to say one will become pro strength by doing so. One can only hope for more rapid improvement. Explaining away the differences is not useful in this effort to improve. (Note: one can swap "pro" for "very high dan" and, perhaps, achieve the same thing.) Is there not a concept of a "professional attitude," regardless of whether it is adopted, in its ideal form, by all professionals? If so, what is it? Some of the items on this page attempt to explain it. Perhaps if an amateur adopted a professional attitude (or some elements of it) (s)he might improve faster, no?

Table of contents


Basic difference

From this difference many other are borne:

Go is a professional's job

A kishi's job is to play go: from playing go they earn their living. When playing is not enough (which happens more often than we think) they resort to other recourses, such as teaching, writing, ghost writing, etc.
Amateurs basically play go for fun (amateur is French for lover) NB: "lover" in the sense of Lady Chatterley's lover is amant in French--same root but different meaning. In Italian amateur is dilettante, one that does something for delight. Warder05: The [ext] OED online provides the second definition of Amateur as "one who cultivates anything as a pastime, as distinguished from one who prosecutes [performs] it professionally; hence sometimes used disparagingly" [1] Amateur players can afford to throw away games without risking to have no food on their tables. As an amateur, you can choose to not to play go on any particular day (not that we would necessarily make that choice, mind you). Professionals have no such luxury[2].

A job is not necessarily fun: when somebody said to Cho Chikun that he must have had an incredible passion for go in order to keep playing for so much time at such a high level, he replied that it wasn' true: he actually hated go. [5]

ilan: I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the distinction between amateur and professional, as used in Go (sport without pay) was developed by the French, in particular, with respect to the modern Olympic games revived by Coubertin. You may recall that the Olympics eventually became dominated by amateurism until the death of IOC president Avery Brundage in 1975. During that period, it was often the case in many sports that amateurs were equal or better than professionals. In particular, one of the goals of the Olympic Movement was: "Enseigner que le sport est un jeu et une distraction et non un prétexte à faire de l'argent, et que la dévotion qu'on y apporte trouve en elle seule sa récompense-la philosophie de l'amateurisme s'opposant à celle du matérialisme" (found at [ext] http://cbesnou.free.fr/jo/HistoireDesJO.htm ) I translate this as: "Teach that sport is a game and a pastime and not a pretext for making money and that the devotion one brings to it should be the only reward -- the philosophy of amateurism as opposed to materialism."

Differences That Can Be Eliminated

Things that pros (nearly) always do that amateurs don't always do.

Thinking At Least One Move Ahead

That is, taking at least five seconds to ponder the question "If I go here, (s)he will probably go there," then taking at least five more seconds to decide if that is okay. Taking at least 10 seconds to do this for every move not too hard to do but it is amazing how easy it is to forget to do it!

DJ: I do not understand this. A pro thinks so many moves ahead, with all branching variations, and after that he/she is able to estimate position, score, further possibilities and whatever. Some pros--Cho Chikun comes to mind--are known to make an effort to read thoroughly the whole position before making their move.
Of course it is true we, as amateurs, have to be reminded to think before playing, but the difference between our thought and that of a pro is so large that it's almost not worth mention it...

Tamsin: How about revising this to simply "Thinking before playing"? I am often guilty of moving first, thinking later - what about you?

Warder05: I think the distinction between pro and amateur play implied here is thus: Amateurs are can be guilty of playing a move before realizing how that move will change the board. Pro players--it seems--play moves fully aware of how their opponents' answers will change the board. This type of reading requires insight of the types discussed in the sections later on intuition.

Krit: I think it also means that pro rethink their worked-out sequence. If they read 5-10 moves ahead, even when the opponent answers as they want, they rethink again as the sequence is played out because there may be something you didn't see in your head.

Djaian: Fan Hui, 2 dan professionnal teaching on KGS once said something interesting while commenting a game of Lee Sedol. After the game, Lee Sedol was asked how long he thought to find a move that changed the flow of the game. He answered: "Oh, I found this move in about 10 seconds." But then he spent many minutes to check that his move was working, and tried many possible answers. That is the difference. We all have a move that come to our mind almost instantly after our opponent just played, but how many amateurs really take the time to check if this move actually works?

Needless to say, developping the intuition to have to correct move popping in your mind quickly also require hard work. But pros do that thing further than only having good intuition: they check that the move works! And they are able to reject the move if not. (Often amateurs see a move is not working, but play it nevertheless).

Not Playing Moves We Know Don't Work

So you've read it out and it doesn't work. But the reason is 5, 10, 15 moves deep (or something) and maybe your opponent won't see it (or so you think). So you try it. Would a pro do this? Rarely.

DJ: I would say never (unless maybe in high handicap teaching games...).

Not Playing Moves We Don't Understand

"Hey, I'll play here because it is wacky and I feel like being wacky. Never mind that I have no idea what the continuation is." Sound like pro thinking? Hardly. Go home and figure out what the continuation(s) could be and then come back and play it. That's what a pro might do.

DJ: See the basic difference I wrote at the beginning: I do not remember which pro said once that playing strange moves is the privilige of amateurs, meaning that a pro has to win games to make a living, and cannot afford to have fun for the sake of fun. He was seriously envious of such a possibility!

Bob McGuigan: The great Takagawa Kaku 9p, nine year straight holder of the Honinbo title, said when he retired that he was looking forward to being an amateur.

Alex Weldon: I disagree, here. You often see in pro commentaries things like "this move is rarely played; so-and-so must have been seeking a novel fuseki." To shake, or to seek complications also means to play into a position complicated enough that neither you nor (presumably) your opponent can read things through completely. And of course there are unexplored joseki. Pros understand things at a deeper level than we do, but they often do play moves they don't understand as deeply as the moves they usually play, just as an amateur might play strangely in a losing position, or try opening at 7-4 to confuse his opponent.

Migeru: On the contrary, a pro seeking a novel fuseki has probably spent many hours studying it in private. It is amateurish to try out the new fuseki just to make the game too complicated for both you and your opponent to understand.

tderz: The term "to understand" has a strong rational-reasoning flavour. Many different - mutually exclusive - playing styles exist among the professionals.
The opponent (Pro II) - with a different playing style - could comment on Pro-I's moves by "I don't understand them", but rather means "I disagree with them" (Takemiya "subway Go" on Kobayashi's style, a decade ago. Because both are Pros, both can likely grasp the underlying intentions of his opponent's moves and reverse-rationalize them. I think more in the line of Alex above in that the moves should fit into your playing style and the fundamentals of Go. IMO it is fully ok not to understand all one's own moves, as it is fully unrealistic to know, predict the outcome of a game.
What only should count is that you (the pro) should be convinced - have a good feeling - that under the given conditions (position, opponent (cf. E. Lasker), time) is the best for your (style, fundamentals).
Example: M. Tal, once chess world champion, certainly a professional, played many speculative and highly tactical sacrifices. Many were objectively, hours over hours of analyzation afterwards not the best moves. Neither did Tal nor his opponents fully understand his moves. Yet, the psychological pressure was so high on his opponents, that many faltered and gave way. Have they then not understood their own moves?
After all, they could not fully understand the threat in the first place, so why not accepting the sacrifice? They were intimidated by Tal's aura of tactician.
The reason is, that even in highly rational sports as Go and chess we are affected by emotions - first the move must feel good and fit your style, then you rationalize.

GoTraining: There is an explanation though. Pros have played a great deal more than most amateurs. Don't get me wrong, there are amateurs that have played more but the general is pros have played more. When pros were studying for becoming a pro, they had to experiment and figure what works. Amatuers do the same I guess but the pro level is much higher to analyze. You see pros make moves they do not understand only because they are still experimenting on what will work. This could be why many higher dan pros tend to play solidly. They don't try anything they don't know because previously, they've experimented and what they do works. In other words, ignorance is bliss.

Take Every Game Seriously

I'm sure pros play some games in a less serious state of mind. But, mostly, they take the game very seriously. It is a professional attitude, after all, and one that amateurs can emulate.

DJ: See again the basic difference. Survival is a serious thing.

Warder05: I find it unlikely that a professional would disrespect his opponent by not playing seriously. That seems like the definition of unprofessional[5]

GoTraining: Pros must win to make a living. Through their entire go career, they are in a sink or swim situation. Pros cannot afford to goof around. They need to play seriously to learn more and get that much closer to being stronger. That is why the attitude of pros is different from amateurs. Amateurs have nothing to fear from losing a game. Pros, could very well be on the verge of going hungry. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but this is the reason. Pros CANNOT afford to lose.

Learn From Mistakes

Learn from every game. Professionals cannot afford to repeat mistakes. I think DJ would agree with this.

Consistent Play

Amateurs play inconsistently, thereby failing to make all their stones work together to achieve the single goal of winning the game with every move. In contrast, amateurs change strategies midstream without either good rationale or the skill to handle the changeover. An example of this would be an attempt by amateurs to convert a moyo game into a territory game and vice-versa.

Settling Each Position

A professional will never play away from an unsettled position, unless the gain obtained immediately is greater than the harm suffered by allowing the opponent two plays in the same area. Amateurs will often skip from on area of the board to another leaving groups vulnerable without obtaining sufficient compensation elsewhere. In short, know and understand tenuki.

DJ: What do you mean by "unsettled position"? Of course pro do not leave around groups that can be killed with one move ("unsettled" as used by James Davies in Life and Death the book).
Settling the shape in the wider meaning of playing out a position is something pro do not like very much (at least some time ago...). Kobayashi Koichi was often criticised for his consistent strategy to settle the shape (to his advantage..) whenever possible.
Flexibility, the ability to keep open as long as possible as many possibilities as possible is a major asset in one's strength. A high strategic concept is yosu-miru, where you force your opponent to make a choice when he still doesn't have the elements necessary to make a choice. "Strong players are swifty" is a proverb and amashi is a strategical technique worth thinking about: you do skip from on area of the board to another!

Bill: I think that amateurs can be blind to the weaknesses of a local position, and therefore omit necessary protective moves. However, I think that a more likely error is a kind of myopia, focusing too much on one area, and not playing tenuki when other areas become bigger or more important.

Djaian: I will add my 2 pences. Fan Hui, 2 dan professional once commented a game between amateurs on KGS. Black had 2 weak groups, one on the left side, the other on the upper side, and he tried to escape in the center with both of them. What black didn't see, was that one of them could live locally, and make 2 eyes quite easily. Therefore, black added some stones in the center to flee with this group, damaging the other one.

A pro would never make such a mistake. Black player (KGS 3d), who was there during the after-game comment, said he wasn't sure his group was alive. But it was indeed an easy matter to see that this group was alive (not even a 7k tsumego). The fact is that black didn't even try to read, he just jumped in the center while under attack.

Of course, the correct attitude would have been to read both weak groups, see that one can easily make life, and defend only the other one, which would have made the game far more simple for black.

Know what is strong and what is weak. And add moves near your weak groups first to defend them, pushing your opponent towards your strong groups. A simple principle, many players have heard of. I tell that to everybody I teach go, but few amateurs really apply this principle (I count myself in the blind weak players who fail to this principle).

Having familiarity with the possible continuations from a large variety of positions.

Professionals simply don't have to spend as much time reading out continuations, because they are deeply familiar with what continuations are possible. This was vividly demonstrated in a game played on November 16th, 2003, at the Mid-Atlantic Go Tournament held at the [ext] University of Maryland between a Chinese 1P and an AGA 5d. The AGA 5d used over one hour of clock time. The Chinese 1P used 2 minutes. Total. And won.
This skill may not be obtainable for amateurs due the amount of time required.

Practicing Reading Skills Daily.

Professionals practice reading every day, at every opportunity. Reading seems to be a skill that can be developed much like a golf swing or swimming stroke. Frequent practice results in more efficient activity. A lack of practice means a loss of ability. Practice reading via life and death problems every day.

Klaus: I don't think this is easy to eliminate with a small amount of time!

SnotNose: I think most amateurs could do this. I am willing to believe that even 5 minutes per day matters (rather than, say, not doing any reading between weekly trips to the club). This will sound really silly, but I've even worked on reading during those moments when I have nothing else to occupy my head. (If you even go to the bathroom, you have these moments!) How did I do it? I took some time to memorize a position or two or even a whole pro game. Then I pondered and played through them in my head when I could (riding the elevator, sitting on the bus, in the bathroom, during a dull meeting, etc.)

Velobici: I have just finished working through 1001 Life and Death Problems. It has made a great difference in my play. My play is now more severe. Anyone can gain from practicing reading.

Klaus: Whenever you start that, you stop being (whatever your profession is). You will either not be able to keep up the everyday practice, or you will become a go player. You might still earn your money differently, but you will find yourself looking for Recent Changes too often, playing games on KGS late at night, when you should be sleeping and thinking about tsumego when your wife or you colleagues are talking to you. You become addicted by that everydaypractice crap. I've been through that with solving chess problems every day, and I am pretty sure, go can easily do the same. Amateurs should not do that!

SnotNose: Let's keep the focus here. We're listing differences between pros and amateurs that can or cannot be eliminated. Studying go every day is a difference than can be eliminated for many, even if it means only five minutes of study. A separate issue is whether one has the character to do this without becoming addicted. I think many can do this. If you cannot, then you should not.

Velobici: I would not recommend becoming addicted to solving go problems or to much of anything else really. Nonetheless, practice is recommended by a number of sources including the [ext] most recent (2003-10-23) edition of [ext] The Magic of Go.

Djaian: I have often heard (and I believe it is true) that doing 10 tsumego problems each day is better than doing 100 tsumego problems once a week. Often, when one wants to become stronger he thinks "ok, now I will do a lot of life and death problems" and he is motivated to do tons of them on a short period, then he wait several days, and starts again, and so on.

This is bad habit. You shall train EVERY day, even if it is with fewer problems than if you do it once a week. It gives better results on a long term run.

Differences That Are Not Likely to be Eliminated

Things that pros do (or have done) that amateurs can't easily do.

Get the best go instruction available in your country (or in the world)

Might be possible for some amateurs, but not to the extent of a pro.

Study go more than doing anything else

Maybe when we retire or if we're independently wealthy. But most amateurs have to work.

Know (or be able to figure out) nearly every joseki

Be able to see the result without playing (or thinking) them through. Okay, this is theoretically possible for an amateur but not likely (for nearly every joseki).

DJ: Here we go again: joseki are the Araba Fenice (WDYM[4]) of the amateur. The opposite may be true: pro strive to read possible variations move by move, even trying to find (often in study groups) new variations in old, well-established joseki in order to gain some advantage over the opponent. They create joseki!
Many pro have claimed (half-jokingly?) not to know joseki in more than one occasion. Rin Kaiho comes to mind.

Djaian: I think many pros know joseki, but they will not play a move because it is joseki. They analyse each situation and think if maybe another move would be better. For example, Takemiya is known for pretending not knowing many joseki. Indeed, sometimes he played moves that were not joseki because he judged them as having a better result for him (regarding the global situation).

However, not knowing joseki doesn't mean not to be able to see the result without playing. Pros have a lot of experience, they can see standard developpement of a sequence in a glimpse. Even if they do not know the joseki by heart, they played it, or similar sequences so often...

jwaytogo: My take on joseki. Joseki are not rote sequences for two players to recite when they play each other. Joseki are examples of good flow and good shape, and understanding the reason each move is played as such is important to garner the true value of studying joseki. The knowledge of joseki is not just applied in early game, but throughout an entire game of go. Studying joseki is like studying mini versions of entire pro games, where the moves are well thought out and meaningful. This gives you examples of shape that you can draw on when you play an actual game.

Memorize Hundreds or Thousands of Games

Not going to happen for most of us, though it is possible, I admit.

Seeing Bad Moves

I watched a number of lectures by high ranking amateurs, and they seemed to have a blind spot for useless moves or bad moves, in particular, the ones that beginners might play or find disconcerting. As far as English Go literature is concerned, the only book I saw in which such moves are considered is in the book by Michael Redmond (the book by Alex Weldon hasn't come out yet). I think I can explain this phenomenon: Amateurs are so concerned about improvement that they have deleted earlier badness from their repertory because of recent bad memories of how it slowed them down. Top players may be more comfortable with all types of moves because they are more comfortable with their game.

Djaian: I think is just the fact that when reading, pros consider ALL possible replies. They do not reject move because they make empty triangles. Amateurs only consider a few possibilities that may arise, thinking their opponent will only play one move similar to what they would play, therefore rejecting what they consider bad shape.

Top players also do not reject bad shape moves for themselves, since maybe it is a typical bad shape move, but the most efficient in this situation.

Stage in Development of Go skills

Being a professional is simply a different, later stage of a Go playing person (as answer to the very title of this page 'What is the difference').
Much of this page comments on

  • how professionals reached this stage (hard work, L&D, commenting/analyzing own played games, study groups), this part is not visible in their games; and
  • how, being a professional, can be perceived in their games (shape, aji-preservation, accuracy) or comments/reasoning ('here (100 moves before end) s/he knew that s/he was n points ahead', 'didn't like this (standard) development' etc.)

A professional knows everything what the amateur knows; and that deeper, more accurate , broader and invents him/herself.

A professional has simply risen to a higher development stage of Go skills than most amateurs. 'Most', as there are nowadays in Korea and China many super-strong 'amateurs' who only didn't make it 'pro', because the competition is high and only 9 can make it in Korea (20 in China) per year (fig. by FilipVanderstappen, 13.11.2006). tderz

[1] tderz: the 4th, perjorative meaning of amateur (French ) is dilettante (English) too (Langenscheidt FR-DE). Not being a French mothertongue speaker, I frequently heard a befriend director using this term for his (our) superiors ("travailler en amateur" =≈ not competent). The dictionary (Longmans) tells: " a person who amuses himself with an art or branch of knowledge, but without taking it seriously - compare amateur".

Warder05: As I understand it, the pejorative meaning is intrinsic to the understanding of the word. Things of amateur quality are rarely if never equally as well performed as those done by professionals.

Migeru: Both English and French have "to like" as one of the important meanings of "to love". French is more nuanced in that it uses two different noun forms of the verb to distinguish between "lover of the game" and "lover of Lady Chatterley".

Djaian: (I am a native french speaking). It is true that in french, the word "amateur" can mean several things. The person who likes something (Paul est amateur d'art moderne), a pejorative meaning near to unprofessionnal (travail d'amateur), and so on. But I think you shouldn't seek too far. In go (like in other activities), un amateur is just opposed to un professionnel by the fact that the professionnal is making money with the activity. Using one word or another doesn't suggest a difference in skill. It is not supposed that the professionnal is better than the amateur. However, it is also true that in most activities (playing soccer, playing the violin, playing go, ...), professionals are usually better than amateurs. Well, otherwise it is difficult for them to justify to be paid.

There is one thing that makes go different from other activities (playing piano for example), it is the fact that one is considered professionnal only if he is acknowledged by a professional federation (Nihon-Ki-in, ...). One amateur could try to get money from go (writing books, get paid for teaching games, ...), but other go players wouldn't call you a professional, even if, suppose, you make more money than a real professional. Therefore, in go, the difference between amateur and professional is not really the same as making money from the activity or not. But still, it has officially no relation with skills. However, I do not think this is an important matter, since nearly every go players know the difference.

[2] Warder05: I imagine that Hikaru's conduct during the series is not something that any real pro would consider. So hush, anime fanboys.

[3] DJ: The Phoenix, a mythological bird of the Egyptian and Arab tradition (later inglobed in the Christian tradition as a symbol for resurrection) which , beautiful as it was, after 500 years of life would be consumed in fire by its own act, and then rise in youthful freshness from its own ashes. It can be seen as a symbol of unattainable beauty. See also the second book of Harry Potter.

[4] Warder05: Just so we're clear, "unprofessional" does not really mean "amateur" it refers more to attitude than quality.

[5] ThorAvaTahr: This statement is controversial, it may have been a provocation by Cho Chikun or an agited reaction towards the presumptious line of questioning. (need source)

Herman: Source and context: [ext] http://www.msoworld.com/mindzine/news/orient/go/japan/archive/meijin25bts.html

Difference Between Pros and Amateurs last edited by on June 25, 2015 - 23:14
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