Fear of Losing

    Keywords: Opening

I guess fear of losing might cause too cautious play when you're ahead (thereby allowing your opponent to catch up). That's small stuff. If you figured out how to get ahead in a game in the first place, overcoming this fear should be easy.

Sometimes when I feel a fear of playing/losing I think of this quote: "Sometimes you win and sometimes you LEARN. When you don't think of losing as LOSING but learning it helps a bit...I think."

Real fear of losing is agonizing over your next move for days (playing on a turn based go server), all the while not being able to sleep or work because you're convinced that your next move will decide the outcome of the game. Fear of losing is finally being able to set aside a few hours to logon to KGS and play, but deciding to go over Graded Go Problems For Beginners again instead.

It's also found in the attitude "I'll start playing at the Go club when I get to 15k" and in the practise of escaping. It's related to the fear of a decrease in rank.

Things I try to remember to help me overcome fear of losing:


Myself, I've noticed fear of losing can manifest itself in playing the simple instead of the correct move because things might get complicated. --BlueWyvern

In my case, logging on KGS but no playing at all... or just playing a free game once a week... I should stop it soon or I'll lose all my level, being as little as it is by now. RBerenguel

See also: online Go anxiety

Bellicose: I definitely have found myself on KGS watching games and not playing because of a nervous feeling, whether it is due to my rank dropping or whatever, it is annoying. i have found (like others) that playing a tutoring game against a weaker player helps a lot; it can relax you and helping others helps you to. also something important i have found is that i feel stupid losing, as if my opponent is thinking "what a crappy player" but i doubt this is the case. when i win a game i think "hmm i played well (insert pat on the back here) and never think "what a bad player" so really ther is nothing to fear in playing a game win or lose. i guess the ultimate goal is being very Zen about it all, not caring if you win or lose and having the ability to enjoy a defeat as much as a victory.

HighQ: Wow, I tried to create this page because I thought I was the first to be such a chicken - it was already here!!! I'm with RBerenguel - I prefer to watch games on KGS, even when I see weak players getting better, rather than risk shame myself! What a loser (I am)! I'd rather play someone weaker and win than have a real challenge! Haven't done this yet, but seems like lots of folk recreate themselves regularly to get to play beginners.

What's the cure? I forced myself to play three rated games yesterday and got wiped out on the first two due to stupid mistakes and lost a grade (18k -> 19k). I nearly didn't play the last, but ended up winning it just and I was back (just) to 18k this morning . . .

I used to study Taekwondo (Korean form of Karate) and get the same physiological effects when playing a rated game: sweating, bowel movements (!) - the classic 'flight or fight' response. How can I chill out and enjoy it?

Is it just a few of us or is this common?

Bob McGuigan: I think a lot of people feel this way. It might stem from having too much ego invested in the game. If you lose it has some implication for your self-worth. In fact, mastery of the game of go is completely beyond human ability. Yes, 9p players play better, in general, than 25k players but 9p players such as the great Cho Chikun have repeatedly said that they feel lost in the face of the immensity of the game. Nobody is really any good at it in absolute terms. In view of this all we can do is enjoy it. We can try to understand a little more, and feel some satisfaction when we do, but it should be in personal terms, the way athletes celebrate personal bests. If you don't play and accept the risk of losing you also lose this opportunity. Everyone makes mistakes when playing and even 9p players make mistakes that a kyu level player could see. It's only human. Nakayama Noriyuki 6p, a famous teacher and go writer, said "Winning is enjoyable, but losing does not detract from the pleasure of playing." That's the attitude to strive for, I think. So where does the pleasure of playing lie if not in winning? I think it is in the search for understanding and for finding good moves.

Fwiffo: I've been guilty of this in the past, and sometimes find excuses to not play on a given day. So, instead of stressing about it, I play a free game, or if I'm particularly edgy, warm up by helping out a newbie with a 9x9 game. I try to make myself play one game every day (not counting any teaching games with newbies). If I lose - no biggie, it's just a free game. If I ever get confident or feel particularly "on", that's when I'll play rated. If you get in the habit of playing on a regular schedule, the desire to "stay in training" will beat out the fear of losing. Eventually I'll learn to relax - if you do anything often enough it'll stop being stressful.

HighQ: Thanks for the above comments - I'll try and force myself to play regularly and see if the stress gets less.

With me, I think it's linked to the need to set targets: I want to get to, say, 10k by the end of the year. Rather than help (as targets usually do) this additional pressure seems to crack me up. Maybe I need to set a "play 200 rated games by December 25th" target and let the rank worry about itself?

Niklaus: I agree, don't put yourself under that much pressure. Why don't you, instead of setting a rank as a target, say: "I want to get stronger at life & death", or "I want to improve my opening" etc.? Having something concrete to work on might help. Your rank will follow automatically. And don't worry about how fast you're advancing. Some people take half a year to get to shodan, others 20 years. Just try to enjoy playing and learning (of course, the game does get more interesting, the more you understand, but the cool thing about go is that you can have exciting games at any level).

Malweth: I definitely think forcing yourself to play can help! If you have a set schedule (I will always play every day at 4 pm) and try not to break it, you'll generally feel better about it after it becomes habitual.

It's also good to play some interesting games... play some simultaneous or just against someone playing simultaneous - it's a free game and you have a big advantage because they're distracted by multiple boards... try an odd board size ... play in a tournament (which helps espeically if you actually win a few games :)

I'm still trying to get over "fear of losing" - though I think my problem is closer to fear of playing poorly... I don't care if I lose and I'm outmatched, but I hate when I have a bad go-day and play poorly from begin game to L+D.

RBerenguel: I'll try to play more consistently, but... as everything go needs time and it's something I won't have after next week (start of second semester). Thank you all for your advices!

axd: before I started playing via Internet, I was not aware of the feelings associated with losing a game as strong as I experience when playing rated games. I think the main reason was because I had no rank at all (and I still don't play in a club). (To be honest, another was I didn't have strong opponents.) Whatever the reason be, my rank has introduced pressure in my games now. This effect made me think about my personality, but I also started considering to play more as in real life: play mainly rows of unrated games, and schedule personal 1-2 day rated "tournaments" every x weeks/months to "quantify" my progress. There I would experience the same (normal) pressure most people have (I assume) when participating in tournaments, which they will not experience while playing "informally" at the club. So in the end, to take a big leap: the advent of Go servers is maybe yet another example of our civilisation advancing at a pace that is far too fast than humans can handle.

However, I think players behave differently in unrated games than in rated: I would not be surprised if playing style depends on the rating of the game (because anyway, it's not rated, so one can try unusual things). If one trains mainly in an unrated environment, I wonder how (s)he would perform in a "rated" arena.

puripuri: One thing that gets left with little attention on this page is an "obvious" solution: In Internet Go we can create a new account and play with it. In the long run there's nothing to argue against this, and the pros are anonymity (no one can point a finger at YOU even if you lose), and with a rating system like KGS has, it resets the weight of the old games pressing down the rank of accounts that have improved a lot over time (I think, not know).

As a personal goal, I decided that I'm going to lose 100 rated games. I mean... Just playing normal rated games with correct handicaps, and trying to win to the best of my abilities every time... Until I have lost 100 times. While doing this, I find it highly amusing to note how my behavior changes after losses (I become generally "nastier" for no reason and sometimes some sort of headache starts to burn behind my forehead), and if I have any control over these symptoms. Probably over time these effects will get held down better, making for a healthier attitude towards life in general. Very similar problems have risen in all other hobbies I've tried over the times... Only 92 losses to go anymore too. ;)

Peterius: Yeah I have real trouble losing if I feel like I should have won or should have done better. I'm okay losing to people who are officially, clearly much better, but if its someone who is below my rank with a handicap or "?" on KGS, etc.... nothing ruins my whole day faster. I can feel great and then I play a couple stupid moves and I end up losing every game after that I play that day not to mention feeling horrible the rest of the day. I just feel totally worthless, I end up thinking of old girlfriends and ugh. I try to play people who have listed ranks considerably higher than what I think mine is so that I expect to lose and can just try and do my best. But its difficult. I mean I often ask myself, it causes me so much pain, why do I play Go? Most of the time I'm just fighting with my own mind, trying to focus when I feel miserable about the last move. I think the key is that I expect to play at a particular level, not neccessarily beating my opponent by any amount, but I expect my moves to have a particular feel and a particular level of efficiency. When I lose things that should have been easy for me to take, etc... its like I can't do anything right.

rmsp: Here's my take on this: rather than Fear Of Losing, I think the phenomenon described here could be thought of as Fear of Conflict. Fear of the battle itself. Starting a serious game with someone can feel very similar to starting a conflict with your boss or deciding to punch someone in the face. The sympathetic nervous system gears up, and it's pretty hard to ignore. All of us have been conditioned to dislike this feeling and avoid it.

One of my hopes for my Go is that it will train me to better deal with conflict, to be more confident in general. Hating yourself for fearing the game and trying to nullify your emotions is probably not as productive as using the game to face (and win) conflicts without practicing actual violence.

Calvin: One thing I find helpful is to switch the venue where I normally play games once in a while. Because ratings will differ from server to server or club to club, it's easy to find a new place to play once in a while where you don't care about your rating, because you're not there enough to form an emotional attachment to the setting or to particular opponents. Try playing on one of the Korean servers if you haven't tried it (you know, the ones that assume you're 18k at birth. :-) Even if you lose (and you will) it's hard to feel bad about losing to someone who is immersed in a culture of Baduk. Just be happy that they've allowed you a brief visit into that world, if only as an anonymous opponent.

Jesusin: In my opinion, what we feel is not fear of losing a game, but fear of losing our rank. I have overcome this problem by creating a second account. My true ranking is the one of my first, true account. I feel personally attached with that account. My second account has a ridiculous name, so that I do not feel it is really me. I just play for fun with this second account, so I do not care about its rank. As a result, I have played more games with the second account than with the first one, and the rank of the second account is always equal or better to my true rank. In addition, I play in a more natural way with the second account and I have the courage to try new ideas, so I am learning much more now.

Stormer: Make friends on your go server and play them regularly. I find playing rated/serious games against friends much less stressful than a serious game against some anonymous stranger.

ilan: One thing that I've come to understand more and more is that a 19x19 game is not to be taken lightly. It is an epic battle that requires your full attention and the right frame of mind. One reason I had to adjust is that Go is quite different from Chess in this respect in that all Go games are handicapped, so there are no easy games. Once I realised this, I started winning more and losing less. If I just want a casual game, I play 9x9, plus the handicap in 9x9 is not as precise, so many games are essentially unevenly handicapped, making for easier (or harder) games.

Josh?: This page is very interesting. It is funny that so many people experience such similar emotions about this game. I have felt this way for a while. I have tried many of the suggestions that people have mentioned here, but I still fight with this irrational fear. For me it is not a fear of losing rank. I guess that might be the root of it for some people, but I am more focused on how I played versus how I feel I ought to have played. I believe my fear of playing is really my fear of letting myself down. Why get so worked up over it? It's only a game after all. Of course it is a game, but I'm someone who focuses on my performance in whatever I do so why would this be any different? Yes it is an unimportant game, but knowing that doesn't help :-) Well, that is my two cents worth...

Peterius: Ugh, it never gets better. It never gets easier. I've been playing now for quite a while consistently, and there are still days when I sign in and just lose like 3 games in a row and then am completely unable to play anymore. I feel like shit all day and if I try to play, I purposely make stupid moves so that I'll lose again. I can't get out from under it, I can't play through it unless another Go player magically talks me out of my funk. If I stop playing that day, take a break, everything in my life is messed up for a day or so. I thought I'd get over it, thats why I've been playing Go, but no, it doesn't go away, it doesn't get better. And then, after a few days, when I'm over it, its much much harder to start playing Go again. I have this fear of even logging in because these experiences are so painful. I would really rather be burned to death then caught in a losing streak like this. I'm serious, these things feel like parts of my mind are being ripped out, like my whole life is a giant waste of time, like someone is scraping their fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul. And its not the losing, its the knowing that my moves are bad, that I could be playing so much better whether I win or lose.

Ectospheno: Peterius, it sounds less like you have a fear of losing and more like you are a bit too much of a perfectionist. You might find it helpful to read up on the [ext] problem and see if they are describing you when it comes to go. Keep in mind that I'm not saying you are neurotic, just that the article may provide insight into this particular issue.

ilan: Funny article. It was written by psychologists with the goal of making others accept mediocrity as a way of life, probably because they had to do so, due to their own shortcomings. The point is that perfectionism is not at all possible in Go, because it is a game characterised by making practical decisions under severe time constraints. If you are too much of a perfectionist to play Go, try mathematics.

Dieter: Maybe the pain is identified as coming from having played bad moves. But do you go in with the intention of playing good moves? Do you have a predefinition of good moves when you start? Do you analyze what you thought was good but turned out to be bad? Do you try something different next time, based on the analysis? Or do you just play anything, then lose and then lament bad moves?

Tamsin: Are you playing a game? Or is it a fearsome test upon which your whole destiny as a future depends? For amateurs, go is just a game; and even for professionals, there's always another game, another title, another tournament...

ilan: Back when I was a little and playing in chess tournaments, I used to play much better when I was terribly depressed, I think that anxiety made me look for all the ways my opponent could threaten me. On the other hand, when I was in a good mood, I would often be overconfident and lose terribly. In general, I did well when I played every game as if my life depended on it. Now, I am much older and more confident in myself, and I don't feel that my whole life depends on the result of a single game. Maybe this explains why I am not doing so well in Go as I was in chess.

Phelan: I sometimes get fearful as well, and stop playing because every move I try to make seems weird and disconnected with the rest of the board. It's as if I had lost my playing style. This usually happens after I have read some Go Books, or some outside influence makes me feel bad for myself.

I've found that changing your playing environment helps, either by switching from online play to playing on a real board, switching to a server with a different environment, or changing the people you play with. I've jumped a lot between KGS, where I like the game discussions, and DGS, where the larger time limits help me relax about time problems, and sometimes I even go back to Yahoo, since there I don't care about my rating. I've also started to enroll in more Internet Tournaments, since I have to organize my time to play, or lose a round.

This makes me care less about the way I play, and just have fun seeing the game develop. Of course I lose a stone or two in strength, but when I start to play seriously again, I find it easier to rise in the ratings.

Tamsin: I was an absolute one for getting wound up and angry while playing. I used to mutter stuff under my breath and felt sick with tension. What fun, eh? That was a lot to do with a major medical problem that's now pretty much been dealt with.

Now, I hold on to three things: first, losing is normal (it will happen about 50% of the time if you're playing with people your own strength or with the right handicaps) and second, you learn from your defeats. Also, the pleasure in the game really is not in the 1 or the 0 of winning or losing, but in the game itself, the struggle, the clash of ideas.

DSimpson: I get into the exact same kind of funk when playing on KGS. If I log in and lose two or three games straight I am ruined for at least the rest of the day. If I play beyond that, I make stupid mistake after mistake and keep adding up the losses. I have to take a break for at least a day or two. For some reason there is also a huge disparity between my "real life" games and my online games. I play much better in person and it doesn't bother me if I lose a game at the club, but online it gets under my skin and I can't shake the feeling for a while.

"Mr.Somebody" :I want to confess that I'm perfectionist in Go, thanks a lot to Ectospheno. You pointed that out for me, thanks. I am professional wannabe so when I hear that Go is just a game...I'll just deny it. How will I become pro if I didn't play VERY GOOD in my games? I've even feel bored in Go, but after I've read this page (and the page at mental help site) I'll try to lower my expectation. Really thanks, Ectospheno.

QWerner Well, I know, losing is no fun. But your rank is your strength - so or so. If you loosing you rank means that you have to learn. There will be always stronger players. You get a rank up and the same is going on. So there is no problem - the only problem is not to learn. Playing rank games means to use that what you have learned. Having fear for rank games mean you are not learning. And if you learn you will rank up.

Chariot Hehe, this kinda pointed out to me that I have a fear of not learning, more than a fear of losing, so if I'm not actively gaining ranks, I generally stop playing. Last time I hit a brick wall I stopped playing for 6 months, other times my fear makes me go seek what it is I'm missing, and I usually find it. There have been times that because of this 1 game can make the difference between barely holding on to a rank, and jumping up 4 ranks. (That was in DDK, but in old KGS ranks)

Galatia I think my biggest fear is that I'll stop getting stronger. Im at a point where many people hit a wall, so I don't play because i don't want to lose and find out i'm at my limit. However, I think I am slowly overcoming this fear.

okvonnegut: since this page already so messy and I don't want to make it even more so, I put my experiences and musings about fear of losing on my own homepage.

Jadelink? Some of us somewhat selfish people actually don't mind if you wait until 15k, or at least 20k, till you come to the go club, as it means we don't have to handhold someone on a 9x9 board, and can at least give an interesting teaching game instead.

cliftut: Is there a place to discuss "Fear of Running Out of Time While Playing A Game"? I've barely played at all since school started last year because of this. Summer's here, though; time to catch up to all my rivals ;)

There is a simple solution to all of this, and it has to do with self-confidence and drive.

  1. Realize your unseen potential. People may say you have no talent or you might just say it to yourself. Don't. Every person has potential, and it is only limited by how far they think they can go.
  2. Don't play ONLY to win. Winning is something we all strive for naturally, and many can't accept just playing for playing's sake. What must be realized is that loss IS an acceptable outcome, but only if you prevent it from being a loss by learning from it. Playing to win can't be avoided completely, but don't play to beat your opponent!! You can't be so obsessed with victory that you forget that go is a two player game. If you lose, don't beat yourself or your opponent up for it. It's a learning experience, and may help you in your next game.
  3. Treat every game as a free game. You will play more fluidly and discover that your rank won't suffer like you expected. And if it does? Then keep playing and it will return to where it was and get even better! If you treat even a ranked game like a free game, then you will be learning while your opponent bashes their brains out trying to play "perfectly". People might bug you about making "stupid moves", but you can just tell them that you're making all your mistakes early so that you don't have to make them when you're 3 dan and counting. ;)
  4. Drive is everything. A go prodigy with no drive is nothing next to the clumsy but determined beginner who proudly boasts "I'm going to beat him!" and sticks with it despite countless failures. If you don't think you have drive, make some. Put heart into your game, and no one will ever beat you, even when they do. ;)

So many words for a simple concept; Refuse fear. If you're afraid, just start refusing that fear. I know you might think "that's easier said than done", but if you keep rejecting that fear, you will probably find that it will all but disappear when you face your opponent.

omg...thats so weird that a lot of people feel the same way as i do...i just get stresses out about the game and winning but i have finally realized that it is just a game and that i can learn from my mistakes...and i'm not that only one that is going tho this kind of stress so i don't feel alone ...!!!

William: I also fear losing. Sometimes I even log on my account while shaking. My mouse wont stop moving and i'm not calm. What I then do is; i motivate myself. If the other player is the same level as me I used to aim for the win. But i quickly noticed that once i had the lead i got soft. As a result i often ended up losing by a few points. but winning a lot of games in a row also causes the same problem. You end up getting overconfident and your game slows down, you lose the pace.

Its hard to lose but it helps ^^. For example, I play my brother a lot. But because he is weaker than me I give him handicap stones. And when he loses he gets mad. Now I always go for a game of max 7 points difference, sometimes it leads to a loss but it makes my brother happy and helped me improve my counting. it makes me feel better.

You learn more by losing than winning

Sean: It's understandable that people want to avoid playing a game because they fear the mortifying feeling of losing, but I want to provide you guys with some perspective.

You know those strong professionals that everyone's always talking about? Those 9dan title-holders? Even those legendary players from history? Most, if not all, of those people have lost more games than the total amount of games anybody who is reading this page has played. But that didn't stop them.

A Loser: Hi, hope I donīt mess this up. This is my first input to senseis. Anyways. I to felt, and still feel the fear you talk about, tried almost all of the above mentioned things. But the thing that helped me the most is to actually play "stupid" games on purpose. :-D It totally takes away the serious part of the game, I still learn stuff, and I have even won a couple of games that way :-).

For example I might put my corner on a ridiculously high point. Sure, I probably get pushed to the middle and face a hard time surviving, But itīs ok, because I was prepared to lose since I just went to play stupidly. But in the meantime, I learn to survive. Next time, I play "seriously" I get ten times more comfortable on corners and sides, since I remember the "stupid" game. Other times I suspect my stupid moves make me win because they stump the opponent. But hey, that also counts, and that means they have to work on their fear of losing. Because a stupid move following a stupid move Is probably induced by fear. Sort of: OMG what's he up to, I must do something radical to stop him" Which sometimes leads to me winning.

Just play around some, ;-). That might give you a more relaxed attitude towards the game, and in the end improve you :-D.

Fear of Losing last edited by on January 25, 2015 - 21:24
RecentChanges · StartingPoints · About
Edit page ·Search · Related · Page info · Latest diff
[Welcome to Sensei's Library!]
Search position
Page history
Latest page diff
Partner sites:
Go Teaching Ladder
Login / Prefs
Sensei's Library