Fault Tolerant Play
Jan: (written on 2003-01-11): OK, I seem to be 14 kyu now. But, as David Byrne once sang: "Well, how did I get there?" Surely not by letting the days go by...
Playing against IgoWin or TurboGo helped. Reading Sensei's is helping. Reading Charles Matthews's articles helped. The Internet helped. The FAQ helped, but it wasn't much use. Tesuji by Davies helped a lot. Life and Death didn't. Neither did studying professional games.
What really helped was playing people over the board and, most importantly, learning what aspects of the game I was good at, and at what parts I sucked. I now know that I don't know very much of joseki, that I am good at playing with a handicap, that my opening plans don't work out very well most of the time, that I spend too much time in the endgame looking for one point gote plays. But fortunately I can spot a lot of tesujis and I understand the concept of miai. This has led me to develop a style of playing I like to call Fault Tolerant Play.
It works like this:
- I don't plan fuseki, except trying for a sanrensei opening. Most of the joseki I know a little bit of involve the 4-4 point, so it makes sense to use at least two of them. Even if I don't "understand" the points my opponent plays, I'll be handling known problems 50% of the time. If he plays a 4-4 point as well, so much the better.
- In the middlegame, I muck around a bit, attacking my opponent's weak groups, strengthening my own weak groups, as I see fit. Not too much invasions because I lack the technique.
- As soon as a tactically interesting situation evolves, I start making two (or more) plans. One usually looks like this: "My group's going to die, I don't want that, what can I do to prevent that?", the other "OK, my opponent is the stronger player (and/or has a better outside position), so my group's going to die anyway, what use can you make of that fact?" . Another scenario is 'Connection underneath' versus 'Connection on top'. But whatever the scenarios I try to find a move which helps me in both cases. Most of the time that move also carries a threat against one of the scenarios - that helps a lot.
- I count, count, count. Not how much territory I have, but how big I think a move is. I may be off by some ten points, but once the margin gets that big, it's probably worth playing.
- In the endgame, I estimate the size of the plays and whether they're sente or not. I then play those moves in what euphemistically could be called descending order;
- I don't like ko fights since I tend to lose them :-)
This is an interesting article. I wonder though if avoiding plays purely because you feel your opponent has a chance of outplaying you is such a good idea. Sometimes such pragmatisim is called for yes, however there is surely a danger of losing out in the change to build experience of complicated positions. After all you need to learn how to kill and sometimes how to be killed. Besides which I always try to make my play universal - the same regardless of the opponent.
Bildstein: My thoughts on this seem to be much the same as ian's. I feel that playing to your strengths and trying to play away from your weaknesses sill leave you stuck in a rut. I'm especially worried about your attitude towards ko fights, for two reasons. Firstly, if you keep avoiding them you can have no hope of getting better at them. Secondly, there should not be a "loser" in a ko fight :) Rather, whoever loses the ko should gain somewhere else, so generally the result should be fair. The only time you will be a real loser is when you let your opponnent have a picnic ko, in which case you did make a mistake by not avoiding it :)
My approach to playing to my strengths vs. being experimental is something like this: There are four types of games play: Normal games where I'll occasionally try a move because it is interesting and I think it has a chance of working, even though it might not be the move I'm most sure of; Games that start out as normal games but where I come to a point and think: "I think this should work, but if it doesn't I'll learn something", and then I play the rest of the game in the spirit of learning; Games where I experiment from the beginning, for example with manego or a GreatWall; and games where I really try to win. In this final category, I play as you suggest, fault tolerant.
Personally, I think you need a balance. In tournaments, I suggest people use the fourth approach (of course!).
Sorry if this was a bit of a rant.
Alex: Allow me to add my voice to the rising chorus proclaiming that "playing to avoid your weak points will win games at the expense of progress and should be reserved for tournaments and tournament preparation."
I do have something a little bit new to add, though. I would suggest playing honestly, which is not quite the same thing as either playing normally or playing experimentally. Playing honestly means playing the moves you believe to be correct, to the best of your Go knowledge, even if you feel shaky about the continuation. These are the moves that you think your sensei or your favourite pro would tell you to play. That means avoiding trick plays and speculative "let's see what happens" moves, but also means not pandering to your faults.
I firmly believe that honest play is the best way to improve, since it's the least likely to result in bad habits and the most likely to lead you to play a balanced game. Of course, the occasional experimental game is useful (mostly to understand why certain things don't work), and before going to a tournament, you should practice with a few "win at all cost" games (and learn to force your favourite kinds of openings), but for steady improvement, play honestly.