I'm going to take a week or two off from playing. For the past couple months I've hardly felt like playing and done almost no studying. I've also spent a lot of time on running the local go club and web site. While I feel that it's a worthwhile use of time, lack of enthusiasm and participation from other members makes it very frustrating. On a couple occasions, I've been the only person attending meetings. And I think I'm getting sick.
In spite of all that, I do seem to be making steady, gradual improvement and have even flirted with making 3 kyu. Going by number of games played instead of time elapsed, I'm improving much, much more quickly than I did in the last half of 2009. I have a couple ideas why:
I don't "feel" like I'm improving. It just feels like most of my opponents lately make a lot of mistakes... Which is exactly what it feels like when you're improving. I am sloppy and inconsistent from lack of play-time though. So I'm hoping a little time off will make me hungry again.
It seems I am 4 kyu now. My record has been great the past few weeks and I really feel stronger; only one recent loss (to a 3 kyu). My rank may fluctuate back to 5 kyu now and then since it's near the boundary right now, but I feel like I'm solidly 4 kyu. In the past when I've had a plateau (though much shorter than this one), I got a pretty big sudden surge in strength as soon as it was broken, sometimes even skipping ahead a stone or more. I don't expect that this time, but I actually feel like I'm already stronger than the majority of 4 kyus that I've played.
If I go back and look at my games (almost 6 months ago!) from when I first got to 5 kyu, the difference is incredible. I'd say I have 50% more "knowledge" than I had then, and the improvement in reading skill has been even larger (if such things can be quantified.) There isn't a hard, bright line between "knowledge" and "reading skill" (e.g. knowledge of a particular joseki can bleed over into reading out tactical situations elsewhere with similar shapes, knowledge about life-and-death shapes can inform reading situations in games, etc.) But still, I feel like most of my improvement has been on the reading skill side, representing maybe 80% of that stone's worth of skill.
So, while I have learned quite a bit about previously unfamiliar joseki, opening concepts, specific openings, endgame, the direction of play, etc., and all those things make some difference, reading skill is really where it's at. And that means doing problems, doing them the right way, and reading patiently in games.
I seem to be creeping up in a regular way right now... I'm winning 60-70% of my games (even though automatch usually pairs me up with 4 kyus) and the ol' rank graph as a fairly steady upward trend for the last little while. I always feel like "oh, that win wasn't a a real win because my opponent made these big mistakes..." but that's really, that's what it feels like when you're improving. The only way to beat anyone is to capitalize on their mistakes. It's not like when I lose because I made big mistakes that it's somehow not a "real loss".
My game last night featured an interesting opening; high-Chinese vs. low-Chinese. Black invaded the top immediately in multiple locations. Both sides ended up with multiple weak groups engaged in running battles that chased down the board like dripping paint. I felt like white started at a disadvantage because the black invasions kept me from making much territory in the framework, and forced me to play a lot of defense on just one half of the board (none of the fight crosses mid-board until about move 50). But ultimately, black had at least one group too-many, and white was able to get a large territory on the right side of the board and a close game. I took the lead when I breached black walls at the bottom in multiple places, keeping him from getting much territory there. Black was forced to resign when a huge dragon died.
Stress and work almost completely kept me from playing last week. My schedule is changing, which gives me an extra free evening during the week, so hopefully that translates into more regular play.
I created a second account (pb4ugo) for playing fast games, in the hope that it will enable me to squeeze in more games when I don't have time for a serious slow game. I seem to be much stronger at fast games so far (I beat a 2k), but I'll have to wait for more games to be sure.
I've updated my roadmap. I seem to have a really serious problem right now where I'm playing overly cute moves, or even moves I know shouldn't work, instead of just playing the obvious correct move, so I've set that as my #1 primary thing to focus on. I feel like that seems to be an issue in almost every game I've lost and even most of the games I've won. I think it also accounts for why I'm doing better so far on my fast account. In a faster game I don't have time to talk myself out of the obvious move.
I really want to break 4k on my main account this month. It's a long shot, but I keep pushing back my goal dates which is painful. Back in April or May, I really thought I could reach 1k by the end of the year, now I'm wondering if I'll even reach 4k. On the other hand, I don't really feel like I'm likely to slide back to 6k, at least, I don't think I would for more than a moment. Hopefully once I break the plateau I'll have steady improvement again for a while; that's been the pattern in the past.
I've made some updates to my roadmap. I've added a number of new things to the "secondary" list, and have decided to move "make the right cut" to maintenance. I don't know that I've made incredible strides in that particular area, but I do know that I've shifted out of "just cut if it seems to work" mode to seriously thinking about how I'm going to cut. The main thing I wanted to achieve is thinking more deeply about the cut, and I'm doing that.
I've also made progress in terms of approaching strength, but still have a long way to go, and there are a lot of subtleties. For instance, maybe I can approach closer than I think if I have a contingency plan for making my stones safe, or maybe I can approach more closely if I have strong stones backing me up. Likewise, correctly judging the strength of a group is not so easy. Just because that wall is wall-shaped, doesn't mean it's strong. That item is going to remain on the primary list.
I don't know of my patience has improved appreciably, so that one also must remain.
The new item for the primary list is making shape while running. In general, I need to defend my weak groups more effectively, and improving in that area will improve my ability to invade and reduce, which is another area that's lacking.
I'm going to put together an organized, two-part plan for improvement. The first part is how I'm going to structure my go study time.
The second part is how I'm going to focus my attention during my games to learn and apply new principles. At the beginning of each week, I'll pick just 2-3 (no more than that) general principles that I want to try to apply in my games. I will focus on incorporating those principles (and their inverse, where applicable) into the games I play that week. At the end of the week, I'll look over my games and grade myself on how I applied each principle.
If I feel like I've addressed one of the items well, I'll set it aside and replace it with something new to work on. I'll check back periodically in the future to make sure it's stuck. The goal is to make them instinctive, like all my current go skills are.
There are a lot more than 2-3 principles I want to learn to apply right now, of course, but I will focus most intently on just a few and the others will just have to wait their turn.
For starters, I have the following list which will be my primary focus:
Back burner items:
It is difficult to choose what to focus on. These are all things I really want to improve, but if I have too many ideas in my head at once, I will make progress on none.
Of course, I'm open to suggestions.
sh: Hi Fwiffo, your approach looks quite interesting. I have also started an improvement program seven weeks ago, concentrating on tsumego to fix what I suppose to be my major weaknesses, i.e. lacking reading ability and missing vital points. Your program looks broader since it includes tsumego, reading books and playing. One thing I am wondering though is, how you found the principles you'd like to learn to apply and according to which criteria you ordered them.
I seem to be doing a bit better. I fell back to 6k for quite a while, but now I'm 8-2 in my last 10 rated games and 3 wins out of the 4 games I've played since I regained 5k, so maybe I'm actually improving. I've also managed to consistently contest or hold the top spot in our club ladder.
I've been playing with various Chinese formations, particularly the mini-Chinese which seems to be serving me well. It seems to have a lot more subtleties to it than other openings I've tried, such as Orthodox, which was my old stand-by as black.
I've also started taking lessons with Battousai. Having a regular teacher seems a lot more effective than just getting teaching games here and there from random stronger players.
I thought I was out of my funk and on the path to improvement again, but just can't play consistently. I don't know what I need to do to get past this plateau.
I went on tilt today and got demoted to 6k as a result. Must not do that.
I'm having some greed issues... I've gotten away with some excessive blood-thirst, but this time it cost me. There was this little guy in the back of my head telling me "let him have those two stones, sure he'll live, but you'll win!" Why don't I listen to that guy?
I'm very excited at having discovered a local club. I finally get a chance to play over a real board now, which is a real change. It's also nice being able to talk about go with people who are as passionate about it as I am.
I managed to get to 6 kyu by winning a game on time that I should not have won. I played terribly and knew it. But today I actually earned a good, solid, focused win with my new 6 kyu rating, so maybe it is not entirely undeserved. I'll hold off on marking it as a milestone just yet until I'm sure the rank is gonna stick, but if it does, that means I only was a 7 kyu for a grand total of two games. My play tonight definitely has me feeling optimistic about improvement.
I'm up to 7 kyu now; flew through 8 and 9 kyu in no time at all, hardly losing any games. I don't feel like I've deserved most of my wins though. Most of them have been because of colossal blunders on the part of my opponent. Of course, my losses have also been due to really dumb, elementary errors (which I have also been making in my winning games.)
I looked at the history of ranks of robots on KGS so I could have an idea of how strong I am compared to when I stopped playing in 2004. I wrote a post about it on godiscussions.com. Long story short, Fwiffo, 2004 edition, would be about 6 kyu on KGS today.
My opponent today played a move I'd never seen before in response to my approach to his 3-4 stone.
It turns out that I played a real joseki that I'd never seen just by following basic instinct. I'm obviously some sort of Go genius and not just lucky.
The most difficult part about rebooting my go efforts has been my attitude. I simply haven't been playing enough. Part if it simply the amount of time I have available to play, but I've also let the social anxiety aspect of playing and fear of losing get to me. I need to take it a little less seriously, worry less about winning and losing, and just enjoy playing. Instead, I've been letting poor performances (BQM468) keep me up at night.
Tamsin: Hi, Fwiffo. First of all, good luck and whatever you do, keep going! I am also making a big effort with my game right now, and I share your feelings. How about looking at it this way: no matter how good you get, you will lose lots of games. Even Lee Chang Ho loses many games, and when he loses it means one less luxury car for him! The point is not winning or losing, but in playing the best you can. If you play well, you can feel satisfied when you lose, as well as when you win. Reviewing games is very good for you, because unless you mark your mistakes, you will repeat them. Also, I find that reviewing my games helps me to not to feel bad when I lose, because then I can see that I deserved to lose because of my mistakes and my opponent`s better moves. I think it`s important not to be hard on yourself. It takes a lot of work to be able to do anything at a high level, and until you have done that work it`s not reasonable or fair to yourself to feel bad about not yet reaching a high level.
Fwiffo: It's a little like public speaking for me, in a way. It's also hard because most of the familiar faces and my regular teachers from "back in the day" (2004) are gone. And I'm left only playing strangers who don't stick around to review the game and some of whom don't even bother to say "hi", "gg" or "thx".
I'm also anxious to recapture the momentum I had before. I have no idea why I stopped playing; it must have been some other nonsense going on in my life. I was making big leaps in strength (my KGS rank was probably 1.5-2 stones behind at the time) and I was developing my own style. Now my game is so unfocused and confused. Things like my sense for connections and cutting are just completely gone. I think maybe I just need to set aside a big block of time to just play a whole bunch of games (maybe even a bunch of blitz games), just to get my feel back.
Tamsin: Please don`t be frustrated. (Easier said than, done, I acknowledge!) Rust isn`t a serious problem - it takes a couple of weeks for all the dormant knowledge to come back to life. If my experience with music is anything to go by, the good news is that rust becomes less and less of a problem the more you progress. Why? Because deeply-learned skills stay with you. Feel free to ask me for a game on KGS if you happen to catch me online, and I will be glad to try and help you.
Fwiffo: Don't worry, I mostly just have to get some whining out of my system. I'm really not so bad off. I don't even have a very good excuse to whine. I'm 6-1 in ranked games since I restarted (mostly because I grossly underestimated my rank; I expected to be like 20k after taking 4+ years off.)
OK, I'm back after many years away, and hopefully I mean it. It looks like my game isn't a complete disaster, considering how long I've been away.
Here are my first impressions from the first bit of playing I've done in a long time (of course, terms like "strong" and "sucks" are pretty relative, considering how much I suck overall).
OK, I'm not improving dramatically, but I have started to see where I'm going wrong. My reading is good (I'm doing very well at the problems I'm been trying), and I can read out good sequences in games I play. In fact, I think my reading is improving past where it was when I started my vacation, but my play in actual games has been reckless and I haven't been paying attention to strategy beyond the local situation. I'm playing impatiently and too fast. I'm getting greedy, launching too many invasions at inappropriate times and creating too many weak groups.
The worst thing is just carelessness. Instead of playing carefully read out moves that work, I'm playing speculative things thinking "hey, I wonder what this will do" when I've got urgent, important, big or safe moves to play elsewhere. That was a habit I had previously broken myself of (or partially), that it looks like I have to break again. When I do read, I do fine, but sometimes I just don't read or only make a half-assed effort. So, it's discipline and attitude as much as anything else.
I'm questioning now whether I should have even gotten started again. I've dropped to 17k and don't feel like I'm even getting the rust worked out. That means I've lost 90% of the skill I gained since this time last year. I'm not sure that I'll ever be able to get most of it back at this point, it might be six months just to get back to single digit status. I do realize that the KGS ranking system has changed, but losing 8 stones of strength is mind boggling.
jantiff: Don't lose hope, what about getting your games reviewed ? I think it's a good way to find out what's wrong, if you can't figure it out by yourself. And do some tsumego ! It's the best training ! :)
Fwiffo: Oh, I do all that, but I'm just kinda shocked at the damage to my skills caused by taking a few months away from the game.
Cheyenne: Take a look at the ranks of some of your usual opponents, see if they dropped the same amount. Try playing them with at the old handicaps. You might find that your rank change is more a function of the changes in KGS then in your overall skill. One thing also is that while you might have a temporary drop in your skill because you took some time away from the game, you should be able to regain that quite quickly, use this time to try some new things and look at your game in a different light.
Fwiffo: Well, that would include you CC. :-) Most of the familiar faces I know on KGS haven't improved their rank in my absence; indeed, many have dropped a stone or two even if they've been playing that whole time. My robot dropped two stones even. So, in addition to the most recent tweak, I think ranks have just gotten stiffer in general on KGS.
LukeNine45: My personal feeling is that ranks at KGS have gotten two, probably three, stones stronger over the last four months...
My game really went to pot without practice. I'm nowhere near 9 kyu right now and it might be weeks before I'm as good as I was before.
I decided to break down my page into subpages today.
I gotta quit it with these six month vacations.
Finally 9 kyu. Took about the same amount of time as the last several promotions, but felt harder this time. Seems like I've been playing really poorly and lost some games that were just sloppyness. Most of the games I've won have been pretty sloppy too. Either way, my avatar is quite out of date - I'm going to go for a big redesign this time to celebrate my single digit status.
Hopefully now that games are getting harder with my rank catching up, I'll also start playing more disciplined. I think if I can stay focused and careful throughout a game and not get sloppy, impatient or too bloodthirsty, I'll be playing at a 6-7 kyu level soon.
I've made 10 kyu officially now... I only have 13 days to make 9k, which should be easy. A strong player suggested that if I make 9k in 13 days, I should have loftier goals than 3k by Christmas. So, now the goal is Shodan by New Year's Day, 2005. It seems like a stretch, but not an inhuman task.
Hmm, I've got a strange problem. I'm clearly way underranked (I've been playing about the strength of 8k, but I'm only ranked at 11k). There's a 5k I play on occasion who would beat me with 6 stones only a few weeks ago, who I clobbered taking four stones recently - probably 2-3 is about right. I've played a couple good games against a 2d taking 9 stones (lost one by 10.5 and won one by 15.5).
I can't improve my rank fast enough - players near my actual strength won't play ranked games against me in an even game. I'm getting really sloppy because all my ranked games (either even against a person of 10-11k, or 8-9k with a handicap) are too easy - I'm winning them all even if I don't play my best. I guess the solution is to just keep playing until my rank catches up. Unfortunately, I think playing easy games is going to hurt my progress.
Also, I find it odd that I am clearly not stuck at the common 11k plateau, but was stuck at a plateau around 14k. It took me two and a half months to advance from 15 to 13k, and now I'm blowing though ranks faster than the ranking system can keep up. I can't identify anything that's caused my rapid improvement, but I'll just enjoy the ride - I don't think I'll be able to get used to losing again.
Neil: Hope you don't mind this question being put on here! What rating system are you using as your "rank" here? If it's KGS, then you're probably stuck with having an inaccurate rating until one of two things happens: 1. You get a new account or 2. Mr. Shubert modifies the rating algorithm to age games more quickly when the games are played at a lower rating.
My advice would be not to worry about your rating unless it really causes a problem. Of course, I would say that because I'm stuck with a rating a bit too high due to an involuntary break from the game and KGS's rating inflation.
Fwiffo: Wow, somebody's reading my page! Cool! Yes, it is KGS. Your problem isn't such a bad one - you get more difficult games, which though painful because of the number of losses, are helping you improve much more than easy games. Fortunately, I think my rank will catch up soon - every ranked game I win at the "suggested" handicap jumps my rank 1/4 to 1/3 stone. I doubt my actual strength is improving by near that much (if it is, I guess I don't have anything to complain about.) So, I guess I'll just play more in the hopes that my rank will catch up in a couple weeks. My understanding of the ranking system is that games drop off more quickly if you have a weaker ranking - perhaps they should drop off more quickly if your recent winning percentage is far from 50%?
Neil: The big losses help me only if I don't get frustrated, which is especially a problem when I'm giving a handicap. As for the rating system, I wasn't aware that the change to age weaker games more quickly was made. If it was, then yes, you shouldn't have any problem catching it back up.
11 kyu already... Gotta rethink my goals. I actually think I'm still underranked because I've been winning all my games against similarly ranked players pretty easily, even when I've played quite sloppily.
12 kyu on the Ides of March. I played today's game poorly to start, but I was given an opportunity and made a massive kill to win. I've been winning almost all my games against players near my rank, so I think I've been under-ranked for a while - we'll see how things go over the next few weeks. I'm thinking I need to tighten my short term goals - 11 kyu by my birthday is conservative.
Finally made 13k for real today. Several people tell me I'm more like 8-9k, but I don't buy that. Sure my rank is lagging behind my improvement, but I don't think I could really match a 9k on even terms. On the other hand, I don't think a 9k could give me four stones either.
Made a new avatar to celebrate... I'd like to get a better drawing of Fwiffo - maybe get an upgrade to a Black Spathi Squadron ship - especially if this persue and attack style I've picked up lately continues to serve me well.
I've gotten a bit reckless in my ranked games lately because my rank has been lagging. I've gotten lucky in a couple where I don't think I deserved to win, but pulled the game out of my butt in the end with something lucky (like a huge kill that I got because my opponent missed something.) I need to play stronger people to get my concentration back.