dnerra's Ideas on Improvement

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I liked DieterVerhofstadt/Ideas on improvement quite a lot, and if you come here, I hope that you have read Dieter's page, and that you have decided that you belong to category 4 (Dieter: in the meantime I've rewritten the page. Category 4 was: I want to improve and I want to do what is necessary for that).

I felt I had to add some things, and since Dieter's page is nice as it is, and as I am focussing on a somewhat different topic, I created this page.

Sometimes, when a player asks me what he should do (i.e. which books to read etc.) to improve, I feel the correct answer would be "Sorry, with your attitude towards go you won't become much stronger anyway." Now, I try to think of myself as a friendly polite person, and so of course I never say that. But what would my answer be if I were to throw away all tactfulness and politeness for a moment, just telling what I, from my biased and personal experience, would think is the most helpful approach towards improvement in go?

  1. Be serious about go. Take every game as a serious challenge, and try to make a conscious decision at every move. Read out where reading is required, and take time to evaluate thickness/weaknesses etc. Many players just play moves out of habit and without too much thinking. I have never seen any of them improve. It won't help you to prevent mistakes, but at least you can learn from them afterwards.
  2. Listen. If you are playing against a player of equal strength, and you have won the game by 10 points, there are still number of mistakes that you have made, and certainly your opponent will have noticed some of them. If you don't listen to him when you discuss the game afterwards, you have lost a chance to learn about them. Of course, listen even more carefully to stronger players.
  3. Always be prepared to revise you prejudices. "Do I overvalue thickness, or do I undervalue it?" As we do not understand go, we need lots of such prejudices ("This group will never die!") to make decisions, but one of the most important aspects in improving is to refine these prejudices.
  4. Accept mistakes. When making 150 decisions within 2-3 hours, some silly mistakes happen. When you have made one, move on. If you have lost a game due to one silly mistake, accept that part of the challenge of go is to minimize the chance of such a mistake, and try not to lose your concentration next time.
  5. Patience. A game of go takes 300 moves, and many amateur games are decided only in the early endgame. Force yourself to play forcefully throughout the game, and don't start compromising just because you become too lazy to read out the consequences. Accept that fights usually don't end with a kill but with a compromise, so don't go for the quick kill but start negotiating the compromise early. (Take the little profit here and there while attacking, etc.)
  6. Be ambitious in trusting your reading. When I play a handicap game with white against an improving player, black will not avoid the fights, and sometimes kill my groups, other times fail and lose badly. Other players will just willingly accept losses of a few points here and there, typically losing by a few points in the endgame.
  7. Be serious. And have fun!

I welcome any discussion. dnerra

Dieter: Thanks for the nice words. I was going to add an item about Attitude myself, mostly copying the inspiring ideas of Sorin Gherman's webpage, but your page suits very well. Myself I would slightly shift the emphasis, in that I think that - although winning is the ultimate goal of the game - the desire to win prevents many players of making good moves. Good moves lead to victory and so the primary focus should be on good moves. The occasions where a move gives certain victory are rare, so the ultimate goal should not blur our vision too soon. So I would advise any student who wants to improve to completely wipe out the desire to win or fear of losing (because so much desire is present that even doing so there will remain enough of it) and be determined to find good moves. The inherent danger is that people will play mildly to the point of softly, but that is one mistake I would soon point out as a teacher.

The desire to win prevents players from acknowledging the power of the opponent and the truth of the game. Fear of losing fails to acknowledge one's own strength and again the truth of the game.

This is not a disagreeing statement, but merely an addition to what you write, and one which you don't have to agree with. To come back to your writings, n░ 3 is the attitude that brought me the major progress once I started reviewing my own games.

dnerra: Yes, I completely agree. To add what you wrote: Many players are content enough if a move worked to win the game, even though it was a mistake. Again a lost chance to improve. If you don't mind I might at some point get around to a WME to add your point above.

Tamsin: I have two things on my little mind.

If somebody approaches you and asks you what they should do and what books they need to read to get better, then why should that indicate that with their attitude to go they won't get any better? Surely such a question shows that they want to improve and that they're willing to do something about it, and that has to be a good attitude.

dnerra: Sorry, that's not what I meant. What I mean is that I believe to be able to tell from knowing them that they won't improve much unless they change their attitude towards go. Btw, this is not at all a criticism of them, there are many ways to enjoy go, and if you want to be serious about it, you have to put more effort into it. But I think you get more out of it, too. In the end it comes down to the question why you play go, and what you want to get out of it.

The other thing that nobody seems to have mentioned is that not everybody can improve. If you've already pretty much gone as far as you can, then trying to improve is not only a waste of time, but also a way to become very frustrated. Not everybody can be really good at something; we all have limits. For instance, I'm good at singing, but I'm never going to be Kathleen Ferrier. Accepting limits is far from being a negative attitude--instead it can set you free really to enjoy something.

Dieter: You know, I used to think so as well but an established guitar teacher, Jamey Andreas, challenges this idea of intrinsic limits - much to my surprise and I am still not fully convinced. He's very positive about the almost limitless vault of improvement which is awaiting all of us in any area, if only we are completely focused and have the correct attitude. I think if you really charge to the point, he will admit raw talent not to be evenly distributed but he'll continue to make the point that way too many casees of excellence are explained by talent, whereas attitude and focus are much more to be accounted for.

Tamsin: Perhaps the truth is a bit of both. Perhaps sheer effort can compensate for a lack of special talent to some extent; but the effort required to reach the highest levels may be somewhat daunting to say the least. Yet, the best exponents of any art or game will be the ones with greatest natural aptitude for it. Extreme effort might produce excellence in those with ordinary abilities, but those with more talent will surpass them with reasonable application. Maybe I could be a top amateur one day; but I think I have the stomach for the sheer grinding work I'd have to do to get there.

Notochord: I'm fairly convinced that there is not much difference between talent and effort, or at least not enough to create a sharp dichotomy between the two. If you were to look at the peak of success in almost any endeaveur, you'd find placement there to be pretty much synonymous with peak levels of talent and peak levels of effort. Because we are privileged with only a superficial view of the successful individual, and perhaps especially because of particular cultural disposition, I think that there is a general bias towards defining talent largely as 'that which gives success' and effort as 'that which succeeds despite' When we see a success case, we only have objective means of comparison between the two, and since effort is rather fundamentally a subjective quantity, if we find little identifiable, empathizable evidence of great effort (such as 'hardships' or 'much time spent studying'), we will tend to lay the cause at something that we see as intrinsic, such as talent or any other form of proverbial predestination. There's something to be said for our ability to objectify talent. Cutting up the brains and bodies and blood of success cases will in general point to observable correlations that seem to scream talent (twas the wrinkliness of my cerebrum that made my first million) and not a shred of effort. If we can see much more of the clockwork of humanity, we see much less of effort, since clocks are mechanical, and do not ever 'try especially hard'. Lastly, there is a bias that seems to restrict effort to a very narrow realm. There seem to be some half-axioms that float around, most prodominant being: 1. You can tell how much effort is applied by how miserable you are: effort is synonymous with hard work. There is something of a misconception that effort always comes at a cost (talent no), often a somewhat self-destructive one. The succesful people who have a pleasant time are thus obviously not applying much effort. Really though, a strong interest counts towards effort: something which you can voluntarily choose to create, depending on attitude (unless we count disposition as inescapable, as a realm of 'talent'), and is pretty 'effortless,' all told. Anything that you can at least quasivoluntarily control that affects the degree of your focus on the problem is a piece of effort, not of talent.

Confused: I always had the impression, effort and talent complement each other. Effort determines your improvement while talents decide how far you can go. It might not be possible for everybody to play at 9 dan level, but I doubt that anybody can reach a level, where he can't improve any more. So effort is never wasted.

Tamsin: I think that as you get stronger, the law of diminishing returns sets in. That is, it takes more and more effort to go less and less far. You would have to really want that extra quarter stone in strength if you're going to be willing to work so hard for it, when there are so many other things to enjoy doing. There must be many very unhappy go players about putting themselves through tortuous training schemes, including force feeding (my own idea), and for what? Very little indeed, because they don't have the talent to go appreciably further. "Als hoy".

Notochord: But the same law of diminishing returns applies to talent: it takes more and more to gain that extra quarter-stone in capacity (with fixed effort), the more skillful your play currently is. There are plenty billions who don't/can't/won't put forth the effort needed, either, who are predominantly restricted by lack of effort or desire. We lay too much too often at talent's feet, though its easier to explain everything by intrinsic, nonvoluntary characteristics. And the stronger you are, the more a quarter stone is worth as a gain in strength. Taking four stones from god, then a quarter stone less, is pretty superhuman.

And what about Lee Changho? He is often contrasted with his teacher as being more untalented, but his success seems to be characterized by an alarming degree of concentrated effort. Less brilliant, more applied, but still very strong.

Gronk: I like to think of talent as the capacity to endure the hardships of extreme effort. The more you can take (talent) the better you can become. I know I can't take a certain amount of focus on go (or anything) because I will not be happy. That sets my limit, implicitly.

ilan: I think that talent is usually considered to be how good you are without working at it. When I was in University, I worked a lot and was considered untalented by my professors.

Notochord: Exactly. A lot of 'pure talents' are extremely applied to their specialty.

Tamsin: Well, if you want to work super hard at go like Lee Chang Ho, then it would be wonderful if you become as good as him, but I think you will find that you reach a more mortal level and will stay there. It is fine if you genuinely enjoy slogging at the game, but if you do not, then be ready to be disappointed, and cruelly so. Lee Chang Ho may not be a genius on the same level as Dosaku or someone like that (and I feel really out of my depth making judgements like this about such people), but I would defy anybody to say he is not an extremely gifted player (who also works very hard).

Notochord: The point is not that talent doesn't limit you, since it surely does, and not to firmly or realistically expect that you will become the top player in the world by wishing it were so, but rather that one shouldn't act like the apparent talent you have in a task is the only limitation to the ultimate degree of your success in it. We admit that effort and interest and motivation have an influence on skill, but will almost invariably hedge it severely, while holding talent's influence as nearly absolute. It's by definition that we can't shake the effects of talent upon us, (since talent is comprised of nonvoluntary traits) but that doesn't mean that it is the presiding factor in describing the real throughput of a real population. The truth is that both talent and effort play a part in determining how skillful we can become, and therefore it is generally necessary to have both to appear at the top of the market. The degree to which they have an influence relative to one another may differ depending upon the arena, but in the majority of cases, their influences are at least comparable. There are a lot of people who are limited for lack of talent, but there surely are a great deal who are not (who are instead limited by wavering effort). If I consider that most traits come in bell curves, it stands to reason that the majority of people with middling rank have middling talent, and a majority also puts forth middling effort. One can generally climb to a high relative rank (by percentile) from relatively average talent if one is exceptionally interested, applied, or effortful. Its unrealistic to expect to be the best in the world, in however many billions there are, but it is at least counterintuitive to say that exceptional effort cannot in general produce results that are somehow exceptional. Lack of effort and self-defeating behavior seem to have very strong effects on many of the go players that I have seen. Talent is not most what holds them back. A little bit of a disciplined disposition can go a long way in a world where, compared to aeons ago, many do not have to put forth much effort at all to live a fairly comfortable life.

Dieter This exposÚ entirely reflects my ideas on the matter but much better worded than I ever could, although I would include less multiple negations (i.e. more affirmative statements #:-7).

Moah: I'd like to bounce back on the need "to completely wipe out the desire to win or fear of losing" This is something I know I must do, not only to improve, but to really enjoy go, but thing is I have absolutely no idea how to do that. I'd welcome any hint or advice on how to develop my zen of playing go.

Tamsin: Jusk ask yourself, "Is it the result I'm interested in or the content of the game?" If it is the result, then you might as well play any game, and not only go, because they will fulfil that need. But if it is the content of the game, then you can enjoy yourself by seeking to do your best, to apply what you know, to try to outwit your opponent and overcome challenges, and to find out new things.

YarpsDat?: Before going online I practiced against igowin, and my first human opponent was a beginner, and I pretty much crushed him easily (he kept playing against my thickness...) About halfway through the game, I said that my victory was assured, and he asked to continue playing because he said it was a great experience, and he was learning a lot. When I heard that, I was enlightened. Now I play to learn, not to win.

Malweth: Talent is well and good, but it is an immeasureable. If you were to apply yourself and reach (even amateur) 9d, what ama kyu would disagree that you were talanted? Certainly you have to have some mental ability, and at least drive and focus (non go-specific talents to be sure), but natural ability in go isn't necessary. In other words, I postulate that one's maximum go ability is based solely on one's basic intelligence. There is a limit to everything, but it seems to me that most people are creating their own limits. Having a negative view of your own maximum ability is more effective against getting stronger than any lack of talent.

Personally, my goal is to reach a point where I consider all my moves to be beautiful (if you've seen the beauty of Go Seigen's games, for example). I may never reach such a goal, but I think that the beauty of the game is the purpose of the game.

Tamsin: My opinion has turned around 180 degrees since I wrote the arguments above several years ago. Back then I wasn`t really working. I went to Korea last week, and I see what it means to study the game with a good attitude. I haven`t studied the game properly before, and I wasted many years getting obsessed with my rank and playing lots and lots on go servers. I realise that there is much that I can still learn, if I put in the effort. I may not, indeed, have exceptional talent for go, but I`m sure that I have talent to become much better than I am currently, so long as I keep trying.

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dnerra's Ideas on Improvement last edited by Dieter on September 11, 2014 - 11:34
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