Pulling up the ladder


Pulling up the ladder is a generic term for behaviour by stronger players who make it no easier for others to reach their level, than they found it. Examples would include

  • arguing for handicap systems with bias towards White;
  • keeping opening theory as 'insider information';
  • self-description as 'serious' in a way derogatory of others;
  • humourless attitude towards young(er) players;
  • dan-level players acting as a guild in pursuit of their own interests.

These all occur in more or less obnoxious variants: that is, it may still be done even if no overt unpleasantness is involved. For example, a club that consists of a group of dan players and has no small boards might as well hang out a sign saying 'we don't welcome beginners'.

Charles Matthews

Andrew Grant: Sorry Charles, but I think you're being unfair. First, not having any small boards doesn't mean you can't play small-board go - it's not difficult to mask off part of a standard board.

More importantly, I don't think you appreciate the difficulties faced by the average small provincial go club. It's easy to attract and keep beginners in a club like the Cambridge University Go Society. Any university, particularly an elite university like Cambridge, has a regular influx of intelligent young freshmen every year - it shouldn't be difficult to get at least a few interested in go. It'd be surprising if you couldn't. But in my local club, for instance, we rarely get anyone interested. The average query goes no further than "What is that game called?" and "Can you eat the pieces?" Once every few weeks someone takes away an introductory leaflet, but they never come back. Once in a blue moon someone comes along who wants to learn to play, then we do our best to keep them (and we DO have small boards) - but the problem is that without any other beginners for them to play they soon get discouraged. It IS discouraging to realise that you'll have to study the game for at least a year - and I mean study, not just play casually - before you can play even the weakest players in the club on level terms. And there's only so many large handicap games on small boards you can play before you start to feel that you're just not smart enough to play this game.

Any club which contains only dan or strong kyu players will have problems of this nature. It's got nothing to do with any desire to "pull up the ladder". It's just the way things are. Exactly what do you expect them to do about it?

Charles Well, you are personalising this to a very large extent, aren't you? I don't think I have to respond in those terms. The problem is clear enough, and is global. Unless everyone understands that the weakest player in the room has to be valued, in case someone weaker walks in, there isn't a solution.

Sebastian: I am one of the low ranking players that profit from friendly better (small kyu and dan) players. And I am grateful that there are some out there who really take joy in explaining the game, so I am definitely behind the intent of your article, Charles. But from my point of view I also find it unfair. My impression of Andrew's contribution is not that he is personalizing it, but rather that he tries to balance the article by describing a situation that may be typical in many go clubs. 2003-09-18

Charles Well, I know that: if this was a theoretical rather than a practical problem it wouldn't be worth going into such detail. And I also know more than most people about the 'catchment area' argument, having once broken down the entire BGA membership by postcode.

Sebastian: -- Excuse my ignorance, but what is 'catchment area', and what does it have to do with knowing the BGA membership distribution? -- 2003-09-19

Charles The catchment area of a club is the area from which it can reasonably expect to draw members (affected principally by transport). Obviously in a general sense clubs depend on the demographics of their catchment area. For postal purposes the UK is divided into postcode areas, so that for example Cambridge = CB. This is a fine enough classification to be useful. One can, for example, check the theory that the demographics of go players are a good match to that of the software industry. True in broad terms. But one can for example get clusters of players - there was one in the North of England, I found - that seem only to be accounted for by the presence of a club that is making the most of a catchment area, by good promotion.

Malweth I also think that Andrew's type of experience can be overcome. Beginning players are interested in go, "hooked" players (whether 6d or 15k) are excited by go. If you can find some way of getting beginning players excited about go, I think you'd find it easier retaining them!

To offer some examples:

  • Provide teaching games and lessons at least once a month
  • Retain a library of books, from beginner to expert levels. Allow any club member to sign out one book.
  • Provide computers with internet go access if possible. I know the wireless LAN access points are becoming more and more common in certain areas (especially bookstores).

Once you have a few hooked beginners, I'd imagine you'll find it much easier finding new beginners.

Charles You really need to get a group of beginners all starting at the same time: publicity through public libraries is one way. You really do need small boards: it shows you are expecting beginners, and that they are welcome. You need players prepared to play many handicap games. You need a respectable notion of go teaching, that doesn't get matters ten grades apart scrambled together. You need a web site, and to get local links to it.

Velobici: In the Washington DC area, this problem is being actively addressed by at least three people: Keith Arnold, John Goon?, and Todd Heidenrich?. Keith (AGA 4-5D) plays teaching games with kyu level players every week at the Baltimore Go Club. The Internet Go Server and KGS supply his needs for stronger opponents. John Goon (AGA 1k-1D) has introduced Go to schools and community centers around the area. His initiative has created several new go clubs in the area. He attends these regularly, teaching each time. Todd Heidenrich teachs beginners and introduces the game to new players at cultural events around the city. These are some of the steps that can be taken to extend the ladder to new and beginning players. I am sure that other steps can be taken as well.

Pulling up the ladder last edited by velobici on March 10, 2008 - 16:40
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