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Teaching on KGS

I offered my arguments recently on KGS in my profile for the problems I see a trend in with volunteer teaching on KGS. I have received several complaints regarding its negativity and its seemingly personal attack on people. I think that this is largely in part due to the limit of 1,500 characters under which I wrote on KGS. At the same time though, remember that this is a critique, so it is meant to analyze the negative aspects. I welcome dissent and discussion regarding this, so feel free to tell me outright that I have no idea what I'm talking about, but give at least as much thought as I have and give your reasons at least so we may evaluate our differences.

As a disclaimer, I admit freely that I have to a degree all of these flaws, so this is as much a critique of myself as anyone else.

As a premise, I view teaching as a process in which the ultimate goal is to educate and further the progress of a student. Thus my arguments are geared towards that goal and with that in mind. Furthermore, I do not believe in the mutual exclusivity of reading and conceptual Go. My argument is not that you ought favor one over the other, but rather that we have placed a growing wrongness of emphasis on the latter.


Teachers giving terrible variations or misreads, then either refusing to address the wrongness of the reading or stating, "I'm teaching the concepts." The concepts are all backed up by reading. Without reading, we wouldn't be able to understand what concepts do apply and what concepts do not apply. I think it is important to stress here that I am neither against the idea of teaching concepts nor do I believe that reading is the only way to go about teaching. My argument is against what I feel to be the overemphasis on concepts. I think that in today's teachings on KGS, we have a tendency to overemphasis the importance of fundamentals at the cost of reading. Certainly, a 15k teaching a 20k cannot reading very far between them, but in teaching concepts we ought to recognize and at the same time stress the importance of reading to understand the concepts. It is important that we do not take a concept at face value else it becomes hindrance to the improvement of our Go. Furthermore, it is not so much the idea of teaching concepts that I am against, but rather using it as a justification to shield one's misreads. I think that to best teach a student, we need to freely admit our mistakes when shown proof of it and to critically explain our own mistakes when we recognize them. This is not to say that we should spend forever reading out long sequences to find out the specific correct way to play, I recognize that there are time constraints hindering us in that regards. I think that the problem is quite exactly the long variations themselves! We give variations that are too long! The argument is not so much we ought not give a long variation every once in a while or when it fits the need, but rather that some teachers have a fixation on variations in which they do not address the potential misreads within it. If we cannot read out a variation or do not have the luxury of the time to do so, I believe that we ought not! More importantly I think that we ought to avoid giving sequences on these issues because the sequence might be wrong and hurt the student in the long run. My argument is not that we ought not to give long, drawn out sequences at all, but that we ought to avoid giving sequences when we are not sure of our reading and to accept the mistakes we make in our reading when they do occur in giving sequences.

Teachers showing off random variations beyond one's basis of knowledge. This is a continuation of the previous point. It is a problem in that us volunteer teachers are amateurs, we have significant limits on our ability to read ahead. We must never forget that, thus my argument with regards to reading, we need not to stop giving variations, but to recognize our own limits in what we teach. Too often (and once again, myself being no exception) I think we have the tendency overstep what we know ourselves and teach what we think. While there is nothing wrong specifically with this, I find more and more often that it is taught as truth, as dogma. I do not think that we realize that often students accepts our variation as the proper way to play without critical analysis of it.

Students blitzing. It is a waste of the teacher's time to review the aforementioned games if the student doesn't take any time to think. What are they going to learn from the game itself besides that they didn't read? It is very prevalent in long-timer games, where people do not use their time. I note a time restraint on most people who do not have all day to play Go, however, it is the extreme here against which I am arguing. If a teaching game is finished in 20 minutes and the reviewer spends 40 minutes going over the game, that seems a bit pointless, since inevitably the mistakes would have been caught by simply taking more time. Moreover, the review itself tends to devolve into a "you misread here" or "you were careless here."

Reliance on books. We ought to realize that the purpose of books is to teach us concepts, not specific variations. The variations are merely intended to help illustrate a point. We must realize that given the pace of modern Go development, the specific variations are usually outdated very quickly. Once again, I recognize the lack of resources we have, especially since we cannot even get books as fast as it is readily available in the China, Korea, or Japan. This is why I stress the value of not treating the book as dogma and to recognize that it is often outdated. Books are excellent for teaching concepts and we ought to leave it as that. The specific sequences it gives are not meant to be treated as dogma, but simply as an illustration of the concept. We must never forget that while a concept or fundamental can remain unchanged, the sequences illustrating them can.

Reliance on proverbs. this only really applies to teaching the high level kyus and low dans. While this is great to teach concepts to lower kyus, it must be realized that ultimately everything resides upon reading and judgment. The stronger we become, the more we understand that those "rules" are in no way binding or to be relied upon.

As someone pointed out to me, we have a tendency to view Go as a hobby rather than a sport. This is an absolutely fine point and I applaud all who enjoy Go as a hobby,

Overall, my point was that we have placed a wrongness of emphasis on fundamentals. While it is absolutely crucial to the development of Go, I think that the complete emphasis of fundamentals that we see today, a fundamental above all else attitude, is harmful in the long run. I see many talented players now on KGS, due to an overemphasis on fundamentals, fail to attain the ranks they so desire beyond 1k or 1d. On the other hand, there are many examples that any of us who aspire to strength in Go ought to be able to attain it.

Please comment on this if you agree or disagree. I believe strongly in the resolution of a problem through discussion and dissent in finding an answer.


Dieter: I understand your point and agree with most of it. Perhaps the basic mistake is to think that game review is the only way of teaching and the only basis for improvement. As I have written on my subpage on improvement, DieterVerhofstadt/IdeasOnImprovement, game review is only one aspect, albeit often neglected. Playing itself and doing reading exercises are two other important components. A good teacher will guide a student for some time, including all aspects of improvement. It is hard to offer such teaching for free. If the teacher is an amateur, much of his teaching scheme will be assembled by himself. Such investment should be rewarded. But any financial reward will bring you in competition with the pros very soon.

So, amateur teachers will waive fees and seek other reward. Very often the reward lies in showing off your own skill, including variations in game reviews which are aided by the sgf-editor. "Black should play this variation" (the one that was kept after creating numerous branches)

Any teacher, apart from top pro teachers, should probably not teach a pupil for too long, for they will hinder the pupil's development more than boost it. I've been guilty of that myself.

DeaconJohn(8k) Great article on some of the pitfalls of teaching, GW. Only one personal thing I would like to add. For me, the greatest pleasure of teaching on kgs is when the student says that he would like to try to teach somebody else.

It seems to me that a central goal of good teaching is to encourage the student. Personally, I teach during the game. This gives me the opportunity to encourage the student immediately after they make a good move.

I always play even and allow unlimited undos. My concentration is focused on what will help the student and not on winning the game. Putting all this together, it turns out that the students win about half the games. If they don't win, the game is at least close. This is often a great encouragement to the student. (The students are 12-20k).

Of course I do not have the same understanding of the game as a stronger player, nor, can I read as accurately as they do. But, I somewhat compensate for this by asking for help from the stronger observers. In fact, I encourage all the observers to participate in the session, to make suggestions, ask questions, that sort of thing. If a stronger observer is really "getting into it," I ask them if they would please take over the role of teacher.

I think that for any go player who 3 or more stones stronger than another, there is a lot of technical knowledge the other can learn. The most important thing, though, is that the student feels accepted and is encouraged as a serious go player.

Last week a 12k player was reviewing with me a game that I had just lost and he helped me find my fatal fuseki error (it occurred on about the 20th move)[1] that led to a hopeless middle game situation about 40 moves later. I had narrowed my error down to a joseki where I played a counter-pincer. By elimination, I knew that the error had to be somewhere in that joseki. I just couldn't see it. He pointed out that maybe I should have played a double kakari. I knew immediately that he was right. I just had a real blind spot there and couldn't see it.

One more personal note, I was 1d before a traumatic brain injury in 2005. I could not even play go about 6 months ago. Now I am 8k, 8 stones weaker than before. Having been 1d at one time makes me more capable of teaching than I am at playing.

[1] With all due respect, but at our level an unfortunate choice in the opening (extending instead of pincering) can at worst lead to a slightly inferior position in the middle game. If the situation was hopeless at move 60, then surely other, technical, mistakes must have happened. It takes a 5d-6d to confidently lead an opening advantage to victory. But the main point of your message, that weaker players can always see something the stronger does not, I of course confirm. --Dieter

GeorgeW Great point Dieter! I neglected that in my writing, you are definitely right in that teaching can only do so much. Aspects such as reading can only come from self-training. In addition, DeaconJohn, I cannot agree more, the greatest pleasure in teaching is to inspire others to teach.

Though, I've seen another problem, shrugging off someone else pointing out a mistake as a "difference in opinion." No doubt this is true in some of the cases, but if a strategy/tactic is merely a difference in opinion, one ought to be able to provide a counterargument as to why your own strategy/tactic is the better one. That is to say, analysis of strategy/tactics is only an opinion, when it is not falsifiable, when it is impossible to clearly show through point-calculation/reading that one strategy/tactic is better/worse than the other.

Notes on Gameplay:

I don't really know how to describe my game anymore, it has changed a great deal from inactivity. I know for sure that I am still very yose-oriented though.

I think the hardest advice (to follow) that I have been given was the one from Alexandre Dinerchtein (breakfast) a long time ago: You do not need to try to ensure that every single move is the absolute best move, play what works.

It seems I am once again stronger as Black as compared to White, though perhaps that is just a sign of my rust.

Guest Comments (Feel free to leave a message!)

I've been told that if your rank is correct, you should only win about half of your games. Maybe that will encourage you. ^^ Also, I have to say thank you for all the teaching I've been able to see from you! The lessons have been wonderful! ~Ricky1

GeorgeW last edited by on January 26, 2015 - 08:02
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