Player's Age

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Is Go harder to learn if you're over 50 when you start?

-- Facts and discussions about age-dependent Go topics --


See also mental activity.


Frs: I don't think that improving is a matter of age but that it relates to the current rank. When playing in the 25 kyu league, it is more likely that a player plays occasional weak moves. The better opponent can exploit it for his advantage. But the stronger the players get, the less likely it becomes that they will play occasional weak moves. Thus it is more difficult to improve from 10k to 9k than to improve from 25k to 24k.

HolIgor: Avoiding a direct answer for to the question: you touch an interesting point here. When I was IGS 5k* ( now this corresponds to 2k*() I asked myself: "Do I know every tactical trick in the book? Does the rest depend on your ability to read correctly?" I could see that studying yose I could become one stone stronger. Study of fuseki about which I did not have a clue could give me one more stone. And at that point my progress would stop. Is it so? I don't know. I've learned a lot of further little tricks, so I did have a margin for progress in that direction too.


exswoo: I'm not sure if it's harder, but I did notice a whole series of Go books titled "Learning Go for players over 40" while I was browsing in the Junkudo in Osaka...I should take a closer look next time.

Frs: In people who suffer from senile dementia an area of the right brain begins to become stunted. Dr. Kaneko Mitsuo, a Japanese neurosurgeon, has taught Go to patients in the beginning stages of the disease. He is convinced that [ext] Go can reverse the development of dementia.


Andre Engels: I think there is a connection, perhaps even a strong connection. Just looking at the Dutch top-level players, I see that whereas most weaker players tend to have learned the game as a student or even later, the top players (5D and above) almost invariably were active players well before that. There's even a saying that one's age when one starts Go equals the class that one will reach if one keeps on playing (see my remark at Steps between ranks for an explanation of what is used by 'class' here).

Charles Well, 5 dan is hard (and Dutch 5 dan probably harder). But the experience in Asia of retired people getting to average club level (kyu counted on the fingers of one hand) is that they do.


Tamsin I am always very skeptical about commonly-heard claims that learning new skills, be they go, music or whatever, is significantly harder for people over a certain age. I have always contended that the critical factors are not age but the way in which the individual studies and that individual's raw talent.

One reason young people tend to pick up skills more quickly is that they tend to be much more in practice at study techniques. Young people are forced to learn constantly: at school they are taught academic skills in a disciplined manner, and elsewhere they must meet the challenges of learning to fit in socially. Older people, in contrast, may have got out of the habit of tackling new material on a regular basis, and also have to face the distractions of work and family responsibilities, not to mention gradually declining physical strength.

However, growing older can bring advantages: if you enjoy study, you can develop or relearn methods of studying effectively, and you can apply your accumalating experience to the task. Being older, you are probably better able to assess your life as a whole in a sober way, and to decide to what you really want to devote your spare time and efforts. Motivation is key to making progress in anything. You may also recognise, from having succeeded or failed in other areas over past years, where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and thereby tailor your study programme to them. Persistance also pays dividends: if you keep seeking new things to learn and keep trying to understand things better, it will eventually happen, even if it takes a long time. Every little trick you encounter and take note of, as HolIgor said, is a step forward.

To summarise: getting older does not guarantee significant levels of cerebral decline. (A current TV advertising campaign stresses that a 70 year old has 97% of the brain cells that they had at 25). On the downside, it can mean adult distractions and rustiness at study skills. On the positive side, you can learn or relearn effective ways to study, and experience, motivation and emotional maturity can be powerful aids. Moreoever, God loves a trier!

As a personal testimony: I gained a Ph. D. in music at 28 and I have performed with several leading choirs in England, but at the age of 17 I was still only a beginner in music who could not sing in tune or time. I learned most of what I know about music as an adult. Likewise, I was a complete beginner at go at 27, but now I've just turned 31 I am around 1k/1d by the UK scale. You can do whatever you want to if you have it in you to do it. Being an adult does not, by itself, mean that you've missed the boat.

Bill: I saw a letter in a go magazine around 1970 by a Japanese man who had retired in his 50s and then devoted himself to go. He advanced one stone per year, from 1 kyu to 5 dan. (And a 5 dan then is worth at least a 6 dan now.) :-)


Dieter: I wholeheartedly agree with Tamsin, even if my belief may be inspired by mere survival.


Joshual000: I like to think learning Go has more to do with letting go of your current conception and adjusting to fit the new knowledge gained through experience.

People who insist that their view is correct, but their implementation is flawed have a harder time progressing...

This trait may or may not be attributed to ones age or range of previous experience gained.

This of course is my humble opinion. It may be proven incorrect through future experience ;)

Grauniad: My personal experience is that it's been much harder to learn Go in middle age than it was to learn Chess as a child. It's just so much harder to remember what you learnt last week. And it's harder to concentrate for long periods of time. Though I take Tamsin's point that I'm out of practice at studying anything intensively.

Rakshasa: Even if a 70 year old has 97% of the braincells, it does not mean they have the same potensial. After birth, it is the connections between the neurons that increase the size of the brain. Losing 3% would not do any noticable to a persons abilities, assuming the number of braincells was the primary factor.

When you get older, it get's harder to learn new things because they got to fit into the framework you already have. It's also harder to grow new connections. F.ex LSD, which stimulates the growth of those connections, can make you look and experience things like a child. It's the same feeling.

ilan: I have been learning go almost exactly 30 years after learning chess. I believe that my progress at go is just slightly slower than at chess, or maybe it's just that things seem a lot slower when you're actually going through the process. In fact, I think it's about the same. The main deterioration is that I am not able to memorise things as easily now, and that I cannot concentrate on doing two things at once like I used to. The main improvement is much stronger analytical and conceptual ability. In terms of playing, this means that at this point the endgame is my strongest point but at the equivalent point in my chess career, exactly the opposite was true. On the other hand, the strategic part of my game seems equally weak, so much for conceptual ability... I don't know about loss of brain cells, and I've never taken LSD, though I've heard that one symptom of Alzeihmer's disease is inability to finish your

I have just gotten some evidence that Go keeps your brain in shape. I had to work on some Math Olympiad type problems this past week without having any practice at all for over two years, and I managed to do them in a few days. Usually, it would take me a few weeks to get up to speed for this type of thinking.


Dieter: [ext] Here is what Kikuchi, Japanese contestant in the 2005 WAGC says about it: no matter what you age is, the ability to be surprised is key to improvement; of course, children are in constant state of surprise, while for adults it is difficult to put themselves in this mindframe


tderz: Has s.o. mentioned already the aspect of available time? In their 50's, some will have still children living in. With a family you cannot be so selfish as to play all day long (even if you wanted to (motivation)).
Neither is it so that food is served and clothes washed as for a 12 year old.
If you're a student you can tell your girl/friend "I'll see you in 3 weeks then, cause I'm heading for the EC and spend some time there afterwards as well." Whatever happens in the meantime or when you come back - life goes on.
Going less on tournaments, means that the Go is less intense. Intensity is good for learning.

Brain cells might affect short term memory - ok, motivation (you might have more hobbies when youre 50) still can be high.

--- ds m.d.: in my work, if an infant doesn't hear by a certain age, he will never learn the ability to interpret sounds well even if hearing is subsequently restored. the same thing goes for vision (look up amblyopia on the web). as such, it is not unreasonable for some skills to be easier to acquire earlier than later in life. i cannot say if this is the case for go (and at 45, i'd like to think i still have a chance to learn!). i do suspect that people who have "learned to learn" may have an easier time acquiring go skills, but i also suspect that early exposure to go may be even better. (for those with kids, this does not mean that the "little league syndrome" of parents pushing kids works - there is much evidence to suggest it may not. however, early exposure - preferably with an exposure to people who enjoy go - may be useful.)

Ninten: It is easier for a 11 year old to learn the game than a 30 year old. Trust me I know this (I'm 11) because I have gone from 27kyu to 19 kyu (KGS rating) in 2 1/2 months.

Mahasattva As a 55 year old relative beginner at Go, I found the discussion above entertaining, infuriating and discouraging. Although I have been aware of Go since my teens (my mother bought me a set with instructions but I quickly gave up as there was no-one to play against and there were no books (or very few books) in French or even in English back in the late 60s) and played chess instead.

I re-discovered Go when I started going to Japan for work and became interested again.

I'm a reasonable Chess player (around 1970 ELO, playing mainly on the Internet) so have some aptitude for strategic board games. I took up Go about three years ago, recently attending a Go club and playing on and off, now reaching 9 Kyu, aiming for 7K by Christmas 2010.

Learning Go is a new experience, requiring one to "unlearn" a lot of mental patterns one uses in Chess: that, for me, was an obstacle. Now that I've learnt to "read" positions in a different way and to approach strategy from a novel standpoint, I feel the barriers to improvement are coming down.

Age, if one can really call 55 "old", is not a barrier in my view: plenty of people I work with seem to be intellectually productive and agile at this and later ages. My work as a lawyer requires me constantly to absorb new facts and regulations, reacting to new clients etc. Far from age being a slowing down factor, I feel that general experience helps greatly: I find I master a new case far more quickly than my (younger) assistants. Fitness and energy levels can be a factor, but I do Yoga twice a week and walk a lot, so I am fit for a man of my age.

What gets in the way of Go improvement is time and other commitments, like work, family and, yes, other hobbies which also require attendance.

Perhaps learning Go at 70+ may be a challenge, but I find it impossible to believe that a new player at 50+ is doomed to languish at low Kyu levels...


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Player's Age last edited by bootmii on January 1, 2014 - 23:24
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