PageType: HomePage    

I'm a casual go player currently living in Hiroshima Prefecture. I rarely go to go salons, but I do play now and then on KGS.

16 July 2011

Just browsing through the Nihon Ki-in`s website, and reading the profiles of the title holders. With the two Kansai Kiin-affiliated title holders, the profiles are supplied by the KK, and include some interesting trivia. Now I know Yuki Satoshi`s favourite colour is water-blue and he finds stress relief by looking at the faces of his kids (aw, sweet), and likes to ride a bike. Sakai Hideyuki likes blue best, and relaxes by taking long soaks in onsen. He hates natto. Both players study by laying out games and by doing tsumego.

30 June 2011

It says on the wikipedia article about Hikaru no Go that it is a coming of age story. Of course, Hikaru and Akira come of age in it, but maybe the person who learns the biggest lesson in life is Sai. It's easy to overlook that he was only a young man himself when he died. The reason he became a ghost was his unsatisfied wish to play perfectly, and that is his main driving force in the early episodes. He gradually becomes a real friend to Hikaru, and disappears when at last he understands that he existed not for his own wishes, but to help Hikaru. I like to think that his disappearance was his being released from his karma. He has learned to see beyond his own desires, and can now go to Heaven or to the next cycle of existence. Maybe Hikaru was his first experience of real friendship, and how he grew by it!

22 June 2011

Since I began living in Japan, I have been through a lot of changes. Mainly, I finally realised how self-centred and self-defeating my attitude to life was. When I played go, my main concerns were winning and my rank. It was no fun. Lately, I have found the less I think about me and my wishes, and the more I pay attention to other people and to the activity itself, the better I am rewarded. I regret having posted so many of my half-formed ideas here over the years, as it seems clear now that 'wisdom listens' and 'empty vessels make the most noise'. There's not much that can be done about that now, but please excuse my more pompous and patronising contributions if you come across them.

This is not meant as a kind of self-flogging, by the way. Rather, I am really happy to have broken out of my old way of thinking. I enjoy everything I do much, much more than I ever did before. Go has once more become what it was when I very first began to play - a way to lose myself in a world of possibilities and surprises, to push my brain to its limits, and to relax. I'm a mid-level player only, and there's nothing wrong with that!

12 march2011

Everything here in Hiroshima is normal and I am okay. Please remember Tokyo, Sendai and northeast Japan in your thoughts and prayers.

31 May 2009 On the Cusp

My rating is back down to 1k, although I haven`t played on it. This can happen when your rating is on the bordline. Still, at least I got a promotion, even if it was only for a few hours, and that gives me confidence to go forward. After all, my target is high dan, not shodan.

Here is a list of things that work, and things that don`t.

Things that Work

""Play with your head, not your heart"" - try to make the best decisions you can according to the whole board. If you have to take a local loss to get ahead, then accept it.

""Keep your hand off the mouse (or out of the bowl)"". It takes a lot of self-control to do this, especially if the opponent plays quickly, and occasional relapses are hard to avoid. However, this does cut down on impulsive mistakes and emotional moves (see above).

""Study"". Studying does not produce overnight results in the approach to expertise and mastery. However, if you continue with it patiently, knowledge does accumulate, and accumulated knowledge wins games.

""Acknowledge your feelings, but don`t let them control you"". It`s normal to feel nervous or agitated from time to time. If you admit to yourself how you feel and let yourself feel it, it can be surprising how quickly unpleasant emotions settle down.

""Defend before Attacking"". In general, honte is the best way to play. A honte move is not passive, because while solid it also aims at attacking later, and that provides added value. Similar, a mamori move is not passive, because it not only prevents losses but it also provides added value.

""Have a follow-up"". The total value of a move is not only its face value, but also includes its good or bad aji and its follow-ups. Actually, this is probably just another way of saying honte is best.

""Rejecting overplays"". Overplays cost points. If you can habitually reject only 3 overplays in a game, then you can add significant points to your average score. Think of all the games whose results would change for the better if you could add even as few as six points on average simply by consistently rejecting overplays.

Things that Don`t Work

""Wanting to win"". If you focus on winning, rather than on playing the best move you can in each situation, then it becomes much harder to win.

""Attacking while you have weaknesses"". It`s hard to resist the temptation to attack while you have the chance, but without preparation it`s hard to succeed.

""Taking the opponent for granted"". You might indeed be stronger than the other player, but everybody is capable of playing below their strength if they don`t try properly. I have now achieved dan strength, but I`m still capable of playing like a 5 kyu.

""Single-minded play"". By this, I mean trying to win by grabbing territory or by trying to kill everything. Go is a trading game, in which you try to get the best whole-board result in every exchange. This requires judgement and courage. There is no way to avoid the pain of making difficult decisions. That is, there is no simple, "sure win" strategy. Single-minded go is the opposite of honte.

""Slack play"". You only have to play slackly once or twice to give away ten points or more. You have to keep trying your best until the end.

""Overplays"". Overplays cost points. It might look like you are gaining or even dominating for a time, but if you have to go back to patch up weaknesses, then you`re going to lose points (compared with the honte). Giving away two points because you stretched too far is not trivial, especially if you do it more than once on average in each game.



30 May 2009 First Dan

I have temporarily abandoned my main KGS account because I had used it so much that it would take an improbably long winning streak to show any progress. I started two new accounts, and have been switching between them. It certainly helps to avoid losing streaks, although my form still tends to follow a pattern of "feeling powerful" then "slipping back a little".

Anyway, today my "Tammy" account reached 1d for the first time. I`ve held 1 dan on KGS before, but that was two years ago and I am absolutely certain that it was easier back then, probably because there weren`t as many really strong amateurs on the server. I might slip back again, but at least I now have some concrete proof of forward movement, and that`s enough for now.

Recently, I have been feeling a lot stronger. I know quite a bit more than I used to, and I have found that playing honte and mamori moves can really pay dividends. I am also more clearly aware of some of my weaknesses. Sometimes I play passively and sometimes I am too generous (giving up too much territory). The thing to do now is to keep going. It`s only been a short time, really, since I resolved to get stronger, and there`s much to learn. Big progress takes years of effort, not three or four months.



22 May 2009 Paying Respects

I`ve just read on the Nihon Kiin website that Fujisawa Shuko`s ashes are to be scattered into the sea at Itsukushima Shrine. This is pretty close to where I live (on the other side of Hiroshima Bay), and it has a magical atmosphere. I think I shall go there soon and think about him.

14 May 2009 Vorsprung durch Technik

I`m coming around to agreeing very much with Dieter that the best way to get strong quickly is to master technique.

In the transition from intermediate to expert level, there is a tendency to try too hard to make one`s moves severe and effective. There are numerous kinds of vulgar play that can look tempting at first sight. One is to chase weak groups. Another is to play a sente no gote. Another is to play aji keshi, while yet another is to leave behind a weakness (thin and usote).

In each case, you seem at first to get something, but find out later that you have really incurred a loss. For example, you chase a weak group across the board, and then it connects with a friendly group and suddenly becomes a big, fat tower of thickness menacing your own positions. Again, you might stretch one point further, to try to take the maximum territory or to reduce the opponent`s to the maximum degree, only to find later on that he or she can lean on the shape to help out in a fight elsewhere, or that your thinness supplies a number of ko threats.

I think the answer lies in seeking the honte move in every exchange. A honte move is both thick and provides a follow-up nerai. Often,the honte move might look smaller, but actually be bigger because it denies opportunities to the opponent while creating chances for later.

However, it is easy to misunderstand - in the same way that there is a difference between overplay and severity, there is a difference between honte and passivity. If there is no follow-up, then the move could well be passive. In other words, simply defending is not honte. That said, there are occasions when the only option is a passive move, but first of all you should seek for a move that does the same defensive job while offering follow-ups.

Cultivating honte does not seem, at first sight, to be as important as learning difficult tesuji. After all, the honte move might only make a difference of 2 points to the score, while knowing a tesuji can easily be immediately decisive. However, as Dieter has pointed out, there are generally many more opportunities to play a technically correct move than an exquisite move.

Now, look at it this way. Suppose you could discipline yourself to play honte on only three more occasions on average than you used to. Suppose you could refrain from making the tempting thin move or the aji keshi move on just three occasions. Suppose, also, that you gained only 2 points on each occasion. That would be like getting a bonus of 6 points at the end of the game. Then think of all the 5.5 losses that would be come 0.5 wins, and the 0.5 losses that would become 5.5 wins as a result.

Now, take it further, suppose you could train the honte habit to the extent of making the correct move instead of the tempting one on 10 more occasions than before. Again, giving the honte a minimal extra value of 2 (and it could easily be a lot more in many cases), you could look forward to a bonus of 20 points!

Finally, consider a professional up against an amateur. Don`t you think it`s quite conceivable that the pro would make the correct simple move on as many as 40 or 50 occasions more than the amateur? Even with the minimal extra value of two points, that would stack up to a massive difference by the end of the game. I would like to play an even game with Alexander Dinerchtein or some other very strong player like Ilya Shikshin, and receive an 80 point komi. Even if they didn`t succeed in killing anything, I would not be surprised if they were able to claw back that komi simply by applying correct technique much more consistently than I am able to.

On a related issue, I am also starting to appreciate the power of mamori. This is when you defend a weakness, while aiming at a follow-up. Such moves often go overlooked or neglected because they don`t seem to gain anything, but I think in fact a mamori can have a large hidden value. First you avoid all the pain and losses that conducting a difficult defence involves, and second you either get to attack severely later, or achieve a stable foundation to fight to the limit as the game progresses, or you get sente when the opponent defends against your nerai.


5 May 2009

Happy Children`s Day to everybody!

To get better I need to work on three areas:

Technical Knowledge - joseki, tesuji. honte, haengma

Strategy - whole-board thinking, consistent application of fundamental principles

Mentality - emotional self-control, attitude

These are all areas that can be improved, and which I think I am making definite improvements in, but it will take time. It`s like learning music or languages - what seems hard for the time being becomes a lot easier after six months or so, but until that time has passed it can feel as though one is not getting anywhere.

30 April 2009 Frustrated but encouraged

I have just lost a half-point game, and had fwiffo point out to me that I had lost a point with an unnecessary defensive move. This shows you have to concentrate right until the end. It seems I have lost a number of close games recently, and I also seem to be running into players who might be ranked 1k on KGS, but who are surely heading higher (as I intend to). I was especially impressed with an opponent called `emptysky`, who seemed far above me in terms of ability to make honte moves with severe follow-ups. So, these experiences add up to a fair bit of short-term frustration.

It is what I like to call a "naturally occurring losing streak?". That is, you cannot help it if your opponent plays better go than you do - it has nothing to do with tilt, which is the most common cause of losing streaks. In online go, it might be partly blamed on the ranking system - sometimes you meet people who are clearly and unarguably a stone or two better than usual for a particular rank, but who have not been promoted because,as everybody knows, KGS gives very little weight to individual games, especially when people play a lot. There may be a get-around though. I have started a second account, and I plan to switch accounts after I lose on one, because I find it gives a refreshing feeling, like having a relatively clean slate to work with. It should also help to prevent tilt-induced losing streaks - if you lose on both your IDs, then it is a sure sign to take a break. Further, it should mitigate the virtually-zero weighting for individual games effect that so irritates me about the KGS system.

But, I also feel quite encouraged. While nothing is changing in my results yet, I have a sense that things are beginning to come together. Not only do I know a lot more than I did back in February, and I can think of specific shapes, techniques and joseki rather than vague "intuition", but I also feel better able to remember what`s important when it`s important. It will still take time, but if I keep going then sooner or later I will make my next quantum leap.

And again, I feel the need to keep hammering away at the fundamentals. It`s surprisingly easy to forget basic things in the heat of the moment, and so one needs to keep being reminded of them until they become second nature. One of the worst things you can do is to resist the process by saying "I know that already". There`s a huge difference between knowing something and mastering it.


  • Fwiffo: Heh, sorry about dumping on your game there. I really do know that tilt feeling. Somes after a bad loss I can't sleep until I win, so that creates a vicious cycle of losing and insomnia.

28 April 2009 Myopia?

I have been doing a lot of tsumego and studying joseki. I think I fell into a trap: I have been trying to "get" somebody into my pet line or trying to capture stones instead of playing strategically. I need to continue studying tactics and technique, but move my focus to the whole board. The reason you study tactics is not to capture stones, or even to make good shape, but to make you more effective at achieving whole-board goals. For example, there may be a tesuji to get a thick shape by sacrifice, but you need to look before playing it - what if the thickness would have no value in the specific position? Among other things, I feel that I ought to be training myself to "think globally, act locally".

27 April 2009 Getting worse?

Does the goddess of go like playing cruel practical jokes? Right now I feel like I am getting weaker, not stronger. The more I learn, the less able I seem to be able to do anything right! And my strength varies wildly with my mood, but my moods have been all over the place recently so that I cannot seem to predict what shape I will be in when I sit down to play. I will NOT give up. But when will the turning point finally come?

  • Dieter: Anyone who looks at your most recent game against gogoter will confirm that it is a fine display of using thickness to attack. If you keep up this way of playing, technically and strategically sound, rank improvement must follow. The real improvement has already been noticed.
  • Tamsin: Thank you. I needed some words of encouragement. It comes down to being patient, both on the board and off it. My biggest problem is that I set high standards for myself, and then get upset when I can`t meet up to them. And I should learn to be kinder to myself and others. By that, I mean, being understanding when other players are rude (or appear to be), because while it is of course bad it is human to get frustrated, and I have also been guilty of being ungracious. The irony is that if one allowed oneself to fail, then one probably wouldn`t fail nearly so often. Here I should remember when was a young, inexperienced choral scholar. I used to be very harsh and angry with myself if I made mistakes while singing, but the day when I started to accept mistakes calmly was the day I started to make solid progress.
  • Bill: "The more I learn, the less able I seem to be able to do anything right!" Remember that learning involves unlearning. It sounds like you are unlearning some things you need to unlearn. :)
  • xela: "Does the goddess of go like playing cruel practical jokes?"--do you even need to ask? :-) As a musician, I find that I need to have a split personality. I must be harsh with myself, in order to identify mistakes and improve. I must be kind to myself, in order to have the confidence to play at all. So every practice session is closely observed by "the critic" and "the cheer squad". Of course, performance works best if both those parties stay quiet until afterwards. When it comes to playing go, the critic is definitely louder than the cheer squad. If I can achieve a better balance here, I will probably improve more. But for me, keeping the separate voices clearly separate is the first step.

We are mere humans, and we have limitations. Sometimes, our limitations seem unfair or impossible to overcome, but getting angry and negative is not the way forward. Sure, I`d like to be as good as Ilya Shikshin, and for sure it irritates me when I make the kind of trivial mistake that he would never make, but letting that irritation take over my life is not the remedy.

25 April 2009 It`s a long way

Getting better at go certainly does take effort piled upon effort, as Kageyama said, and sometimes it is definitively frustrating. I understand why people give up on it. When I review my games, I do wonder how many more times I will make the same mistakes until finally I become wise. But success is not giving up, and whether you become 1 stone stronger or 9 stones stronger and how long it takes you are not really that important. Every person has their own road to follow, wherever it leads, and all one can do is to carry on putting one foot in front of another.

21 April 2009 Seeing the Light

First of all, I think the compass is a great way to organise ideas within one`s mind, but as a way of choosing moves, it is too restrictive. I think principles need to be applied bottom-up and not top-down. That is, use the techniques appropriate to the situation, rather than trying to impose them from the beginning.

Second, I have played some really awful games in the last few days. In some respects, I am experimenting, and seeing what happens when I go against instinct or reason. The results are generally painful, but sometimes radically breaking away from what you think is common sense can be liberating and instructive.

Third, I need to change the way I choose moves. I am far too impulsive. On so many occasions I shoot first and ask questions later. Even if I do nothing else, I think I will benefit greatly from applying what one strong player (I think it was Sorin Gherman) called the "thinking test" as a habit. Before you play the move, ask yourself whether you like the outcome. If you see something wrong, such as bad aji or a group without a base, then it means that you should probably look for a different move.

Of course, it sounds obvious, but it takes a lot of effort to make such a way of thinking habitual. In life, I shudder to think how many years it took me to learn to think before I speak, and this is the same thing, essentially.

Honest mistakes, where you misunderstood the outcome of a move, are forgivable, but foolish mistakes, where you did not even bother to think about the outcome, are not forgivable. If you lose a game like this, then the only decent thing to do is to have a laugh at your foolishness and to change your approach. One certainly has no right to feel bitter or sorry for oneself!

Anyway, from now on I intend to draw a line under my past as a go player, and to adopt the "thinking test" wholeheartedly.


  • Spring bares good intentions. Like all such courageous vows, they can soon be broken, resulting in more frustration. It helps, in my opinion, to lower the expectations for transformation of the self, on one hand, and to understand which mechanisms are behind the undesired behaviour, on the other. I'm working my shape these days (remove some of the superfluous belly) but have refrained from overly ambitious goals and intentions. If I can make myself eat frequently but low portions, and take the stairs instead of the elevator, I'm already successful. Yes, I agree your latest games display an impulsive style which cannot but hold back improvement. Trying the "thinking test" for all moves is a good intention but don't consider your next game a failure if another impulsive move spoiled the game. Rather, consider it a success if you were able to apply the thinking test five to ten times. Old habits don't easily die. --Dieter
  • When I was younger and learning chess, at one point in my development (around 2150 elo) I reached a bottleneck which I couldn't seem to overcome. After I lost a particular frustrating game due to an impulsive move, a much stronger player who had seen the end of the game me a piece of advice. "Sit on your hands," he said. I thought he was making some deep symbolic point, but he wasn't. He meant I should literally sit on my hands, wedge them under my legs while playing. This seemed like a strange idea to me at the time, but I tried it (I was desperate) and it actually worked. Placing a physical impediment between the thought and the action actually helped me cut down on impulsive moves. The position of my hands was also a constant reminder that I should think before moving. I started to make progress again and gained roughly the equivalent of 5 stones in go terms in the next 12 months. I don't think impulsive moves normally would be as immediately fatal in go as they can be in chess, because chess is inherently a more tactical game. But probably every impulsive player at any game of skill can improve their level by merely taking a good look before playing the most obvious or most natural move. If you are having problems remembering to look before you leap during your games, you might consider trying sitting on your hands.
  • Tamsin: This is good advice! I have been using a mechanical clicker to try to restrain myself, but I have found it a bit too distracting. But sitting on my hands does seem to do the trick.

8 April 2009 Nishi no Hoshi

Nishi no Hoshi, the Western Star, has been rebooted as an internet study group. I`ve made the decision to study go seriously, having messed around with it for many years. At my age, it won`t be possible to become a professional, but I intend to do everything I can to become a great deal better than I am at the moment. The reason is that I love go, and I love it all the more when I make another small step forward. Also, I want to encourage other no-longer-spring-chickens, to demonstrate that learning is a lifelong pleasure open to everybody. I am, of course, thrilled that there are now many extremely talented youngsters appearing in Europe and elsewhere. Now we need some to cultivate some talented oldsters!

It would not be in my nature to reject any sincere request to join NNH, but I would advise that we`re quite serious about it, and that people looking for basic teaching might be better off going to the go teaching ladder. The kind of things that we are planning to do are: discuss and implement techniques for learning and playing; share ideas and information; informally review each other`s games. Regular online meetings are not possible, nor are fixed schedules and so on, as we live in a different continents and have full-time jobs.


5 April 2009 A Good Exchange

It occurs to me that reviewing a lost game is a bit like making a furikawari. That is, by identifying and correcting mistakes you obtain knowledge about the game that you can use for the future, and that benefit will greatly outweigh the loss of a single game. Who cares about "ratings points" when you can gain something of lasting value?


    • I agree upon the learning experience being more important than an artifical ranking system primitavely given to people. But I doubt my own ability to analyze my games for mistakes. Tsumego are nice closed sitations that have a definite goal without the need to worry if there isn't a solution. A real game is much harder to evaluate (things are a little too vague for me). You are much stronger than me Tasmin, so I feel that if I managed to implement your wonderful Go trainning ideas through practise, I would see improvement. (If only I had a Go study friend) - C0nfuseki
    • Tamsin: I`m thinking of re-joining the Go Teaching Ladder for exactly the reason you point out. However, one thing that is easy to do for oneself is identify and correct joseki mistakes, using Kogo`s joseki dictionary and other sources. If the middlegame felt unusually hard, then it`s very likely you played in the wrong direction or chose the wrong joseki.
    • hmmm... What exactly is it like to sit in on a Study group? Can you share more of your experiences? You have the most updated SL Homepage blog, so I'm looking forward to hearing the way how professionals approach thinking about the game. (By the way, I've updated the commununal Go story -- Should I work on the 2nd chapter or just wait for someone else? (Or did I take the story in a unexpected direction?)) :-s C0nfuseki
    • Tamsin I would love to sit in on a study group! I am only a weak amateur player, although I am trying to become a strong amateur now. I think Dave Sigaty has much more experience in that area. If you look on 361points.com you can find a video of Fujisawa Hideyuki conducting a study group with some seriously strong professionls (Takemiya among others). It is fascinating viewing.

The communal go story is years old - I though nobody would ever take it up. Now I`m looking forward to reading your chapter.

The nearest thing to a proper study group that I have experienced was the International Baduk School, but I was only able to attend for a few days during my summer holiday last year. However, it did make me realise that to get stronger you have to put in a serious effort and keep it up. They spend their time playing practice games, analysing them, and solving tsumego.

I think I shall contact the universities around here and see if I can get involved in their go clubs. I don`t really enjoy go salons very much.

Also, I am thinking of reviving Nishi no Hoshi as a kind of virtual study group. The only thing is that I already have a job and some singing commitments, and I feel a bit reluctant to commit myself to further regular appointments.

Bill: Just curious, Tamsin. Do you sing minyo? :)

    • Tamsin: Is that folksong? I`d give it a try, but actually I`m in a couple of chamber choirs. One is quite large, but the other is a small group for singing Baroque music - having been frustrated for years in England, I`m finally getting the chance to sing lots of music by the likes of Schuetz and Charpentier.

Dieter: Now that I resumed playing, I'm interested in forming a study group too. I would call it the Sensei's Library study group. Let's not force our busy lives into regular meetings though. How about sending around some game discussions, proposals for offline study, experiments in our games, mutual cheering. I already shed an eye on your KGS games Tamsin and I have some fair ideas about strong parts and areas to improve. You are kindly invited to do likewise. For others willing to join, I expect a balanced turnover from a study group and would like to keep one sided teaching out of it. So a comparable level to shodan would be recommened, or the intention to become shodan pretty soon.

xela: Sounds like a nice idea. Perhaps we should make "Dieter study group" so as not to completely hijack Tamsin's page :-)

Tamsin: Hi Xela. It`s okay - Dieter and I have been discussing this in some depth. We`ve decided to `reboot` the Nishi no Hoshi clan as a virtual study group.

31 March 2009

First of all, thank you very much Hermann for formatting my blog! That was really kind of you. Big cyber-hug!

Now, I have been trying to understand better the difference between urgent and big. To help me, I have been reading a number of books on the fuseki and early middlegame. So far, I think that:

URGENT moves are vital shape points, moves that make a base, and moves that steal a base. Also, what the Japanese books call 天王山 (tennozan) is urgent, even though you might at first think it ought to be called a big point. The reason appears that some moves are so huge that they`re urgent.

天王山 means, by the way, the border point between your moyo and the opponent`s. A translation could be confusing, but I would suggest calling it the `Imperial Summit`.

However, this is one area where I am trying to clarify my understanding. While it is urgent to make an enemy group float (take its base), it seems that it is not necessarily urgent to attack it. One proverb, that I had never seen before, I came across in a Japanese book says that `Attacking is difficult, defending is easy`! Again, elsewhere I have read that you should not attack prematurely, because you might lose sente. Furthermore, Ishikura Noboru tells us to prepare attacks. And, lastly, a well-known proverb recommends that you take the last big point before attacking.

If I am beginning to understand this aright, the point is that taking away the base is urgent because it will render the opponent`s group vulnerable to attack. However, there is no need to keep on attacking if you cannot see a clear resolution to the fight. After all, a weak group will remain weak and will leak points over the course of the game, while attacking it before you are ready may turn out to be a kind of large-scale aji keshi.

That is, if you can attack while taking big points, that is very good, but it is all too easy to attack while taking dame points, and unless you do kill or achieve an otherwise clearly excellent result, that could well be a big loss.

Finally, I notice that Ishikura and Yamashita Keigo both offer checklists for playing the early stages. They basically add up to the same thing: first of all, look for weaknesses (urgent points); then look for big points: finally, leave stable groups alone. Since this is an area in which I really need to improve, I am applying the compass idea to these principles.


    • Phelan: I've been using this checklist for quite a while, but I think I've only recently started to actually understand it while going through 501 Opening Problems. The book introduces QARTS and encourages you to use it, so some problems seem to have those big points that are so big they're urgent, which can be confusing. If you're not reading it already, I thought it might interest you. :)
    • Dieter: Since I've understood that Go is essentially about putting 1-as many as possible 2-living stones on the board, it has become easier for me to discern urgent and big. Urgent moves increase the livelihood of existing stones. Big moves increase the number of stones one will be able to put down. Essentially, they are two aspects of the same thing: if the stones under attack are sacrificed, they are just part of a big area being claimed. Urgent comes before big, mostly because the area covered by a not yet living group is larger than an open area. Your insight that a group, once destabilized, needs not necessarily be chased, is an important one. To let your opponent deal with his weaknesses, instead of forcing him in a certain direction, is probably often a correct approach.
    • Herman: You're welcome :-)
      Oh, and if you want to make it even easier for people to find back certain entries, you could include the subject in the title, eg: "31 march 2009: Urgent Moves Before Big Moves". People are more likely to remember the subject of one of your posts than the date, I think :-)
      On the subject of this post, I fully concur with the explanation given by Dieter above. Many people learning Japanese rules have this idea that go is about making territory. But once you realize that Chinese rules, or Stone scoring rules give basically the same result, it becomes clear that it is actually about putting living stones on the board, and that territory is just another strategy (creating areas where it is easy to put more living stones).
    • Thanks everyone for your comments! I`m very glad Bill put in the link to tennozan - I didn`t know that it was a place name.

30 March 2009

I have just had a really upsetting experience. I had a KGS opponent, 1 dan, who played extremely quickly, responding instantly to each of my moves. I lost horribly, not least because I made a kind of misclick (I wanted to play one move, but my hand clicked another). I resigned and he then left without a word. This kind of thing makes me feel like giving up the game. It is no fun at all.


    • I you feel this bad having met him, imagine what it must feel like to be him. -- Dieter
    • Yeah, as Buddhism teaches, all bad conduct comes from suffering. I shouldn`t let such ploys bother me so much. He played pretty strong go, I have to say, but it was simply the fact that he didn`t use any thinking time that bothered me - it made me feel like I was being used as a punchbag or something, and that he didn`t really think my play contained any merit or danger. He was Japanese, by the way, but I don`t think that`s an excuse for not at least saying `thanks` at the end. Oh well, I am learning something about go every day, and I will get better at handling gamesmanship too. And when I am strong, I want to be gracious and kind with it too, using that strength to encourage sincere players and not to hurt less skilful people.
    • I agree. One thing that really irks me are people whom act like they are superior. I wonder if anyone else has had other players "review" a game only to point out an obvious mistake, count score where they still won and leave without any discussion. Heck, I've even played a stronger player on a free game (and lost). Then have them refuse another game from me until "I got better"... now I can understand why no-one else wanted to play them. :-s C0nfuseki
    • There are people that treat internet go like a sort of "arcade machine". They behave as they would when playing against a computer, because the opponent on the other side of the internet is completely faceless to them. Such behaviour is a rather sad, though seemingly inevitable, result of the anonymity of the internet. Don't let it get you down, there's always people out there that are worth meeting. :-) --Herman
      On an unrelated note, would you mind if I format this page with wiki markup for sections/subsections? That way you can have a table of contents for people to easily find entries :-) --Herman
    • Hi, please go aheaad. I`m not very good at formatting, so I would greatly appreciate if you did, although I acknowledge that it ought to be my responsibility.
    • Tapir: Hi, while I understand the frustration about people who don't share a single nice word... I have a tom account and even managed to get some games by random clicking - however I don't know how to say hello, bye and thanks there. I must look rude there too. Language may be the reason. And there is more to the rude by fast play... I got used to blitz games these days and I usually don't spend too much time thinking for a while (i take my time when necessary though) - especially if my opponent thinks a long time I often can answer without hesitation by using his time for thinking as well. I don't consider this to be rude.

28 March 2009

There are two situations in which you need to keep on trying. One is where you feel that you are making no progress, and the other is where you feel that you are making progress.

The things you want to achieve can feel like walking up a very steep hill, with many detours. Everytime you take a step forward, you get nearer to the summit, but frustration will be a constant companion, because it is not easy to see the summit. You could stop walking, and stop feeling the frustation, but then you would never reach the top. If you accept that difficulty (i.e., gravity) is normal when you`re ascending a hill, then possibly you would cease to feel it as frustration and learn to focus on other things instead, such as the view.

I have decided on a formal study plan.

First: I will do lots of tsumego on a `little and often` basis, and with plenty of repetition and review, but spread out over time.

Second: I will review my games and find out what I need especially to work on.

Third: I will learn new things by studying strategy books and joseki and try to use them in my games.

Four: I will keep reminding myself of the basics, using my compass idea among other things, because I still make lots of very elementary mistakes.

Five: I will accept that past a certain point, progress does not come in leaps and bounds, but in many small enlightenments that eventually add up to something bigger. This takes time and it is most childish and self-defeating to despair over it.

I am considering deleting earlier parts of my blog and saving them privately. Of course I am not ashamed of what I write, as I simply want to get better and share ideas (and steal a few! mua ha ha!) with my friends here, but I do feel a bit uneasy about having so many of my thoughts on display at the same time, especially when I look back and see that I have changed my mind several times or have taken ages to arrive at a conclusion that is in fact common knowledge (for example, that repetition helps people to learn). What do you think?


  • maruseru No, please leave the older entries - they describe a journey. Maybe move them to some "archive" subpage... Your viewpoint on the game is very interesting, so I'm glad that you have resumed blogging. Do you have any new Japanese books to review? I'm also learning Japanese; my sources are Japanese Go books, JDrama (nice for sentences), smart.fm and Anki. You once wrote that Japan is the ideal place for a Westerner to learn Go - there doesn't seem to be an equivalent of Korea's International Baduk Academy. Do you take regular lessons, e.g. from strong amateurs or pros? How do you get your games reviewed? Thanks for your thoughts!

26 March 2009

Currently I feel a bit frustrated. It seems every time I begin to feel progress I then fall back again. I won`t give up, because I know this feeling is normal. There are so many things to improve, and I suppose it will take a while before they begin to come together at a new level. And I also wonder whether using KGS ranks as a yardstick for measuring progress is really such a very good idea, because if you play a lot, then every game counts for about a millionth of a point.

And, despite the sunshine, it`s still bitterly cold in Kure. Is this really the warmest part of Honshu?


  • Dieter: forget KGS ranks! I think rank is bad as a short term criterium. If you set it as a sole criterium, you may become better at winning in the first weeks, but not necessarily better at playing go and therefore fail to improve in the long run.The only measure for progress is the number of times you can say during the analysis "hey, here I've played a good move I wouldn't have thought of before". Stick to the compass! Enjoy progress! Rank improvement is a side effect, not your goal (unless it is your true agenda of course ...).
  • Andy: I disagree. KGS-style ranks are the only truly objective measure of progress. If you think you're making progress, but you aren't winning more games against the same class of opponent, then you're wrong about making progress. I think you've arrived at the point where you need a formal teacher to provide regularly scheduled instruction, instead of trying to muddle through on your own. (but don't think I'm not sympathetic though)
  • Dieter: In the long run, progress will show in rank improvement. You cannot expect to go into a winning streak just because you made a breakthrough on a certain concept. You may still have to work on atari-blindness for example ... I think rank is bad as a short term criterium. If you set it as a sole criterium, you may become better at winning in the first weeks, but not necessarily better at playing go and therefore fail to improve in the long run. You can tell a smoker to quit because he will feel better, but better avoid him the first few weeks after he quit.
  • Tamsin: I think I am with Dieter on this one. It takes time. I should stop expecting overnight progress and be satisfied to keep on learning new things. I need to remember that learning is a complicated process, and that it can take time for new ideas and new understandings and new knowledge to coalesce. As usual I have been too hard on myself and set myself unrealisatic expectations. Besides, I remember well that for ages I just could not get a grip on kana, but now it`s easy. I`m a slow learner, and I will simply have to be patient with myself.

Also, I don`t want to give the impression that I think I am under-rated. Although I do think KGS would be better if its ranks were more transparent and fluid, I am not frustrated at my rank, I am frustrated at my weakness. I went to Korea, and I saw exactly how much better it is possible to be, and I want to be like those players. But I must not be childish and think that you can accomplish that kind of strength overnight. Instead I need to remember the effort and patience that I saw, and remember the beautiful, kind people that I met, too.

25 March 2009

When I made the page on force feeding, I was a bit confused, in that I wasn`t sure then which was more important, quantity of problems or repetition. I`m now absolutely sure that once you understand an idea or shape, in anything, then it`s drilling and review that turns it into instantly available long-term memory.

I still think you need to learn a lot if you want to get better. This is because of the learning curve. Using euro and KGS ranks as the basis, let`s call 25 kyuu to 15 kyuu the beginner stage. Then 15 kyuu to 5 kyuu then lower intermediate, and then 5 kyuu to 1 dan the upper intermediate stage. After that comes the expert level, ascending to mastery.

To improve from beginner to intermediate requires knowledge and some understanding of basic concepts, and these are easy to pick up and apply, which results in very fast progress. To get from lower intermediate to upper intermediate needs quite a bit more work, but progress is still pretty fast and easy to notice. Again, this is because simply knowing a few things can still have a big impact. But moving beyond this becomes more and more difficult, because the new ideas to learn have less impact (for example, knowing how to read a certain shape that you did not know before might only help in one game out of fifty). This means that progress has to be an accumulation of smaller ideas.

But, even then, I believe that you still have to emphasise the fundamentals, even if you think you already know them. The reason is that there are `stages of competence`. A 15 kyuu will apply fundamental ideas more consistently than a 20 kyuu, but a 5 kyuu will be more consistent still than a 5 kyuu. I should think that a master player will have an even more deeply ingrained feeling for the fundamentals and, indeed, where the exceptions are. Otake Hideo said in the preface to his book on the opening that you should practice his twenty principles until they become second nature. Likewise, in my experience of learning Japanese, there`s a huge difference between being able to recognise a kaanji and being able to read it, a huge difference between being able to read it with thought and being so familiar with it that you can read it automatically. I am currently `upper intermediate` on the go learning curve, but I find that I still make a lot of fundamental mistakes, so obviously I need to be reminded of them.

Now, I think force feeding is going too far: you can give yourself a headache trying to process too much. But, on the other hand, if you want to make serious progress beyond the intermediate stages, then you have to learn a great deal - there`s no escape from that. You have to learn enough new things to make a difference, so I think you do have to do lots and lots of tsumego and revise them frequently, otherwise I don`t think you would gain enough new shapes and techniques to carry you very far forward. But, I think the key is to stop when you get tired. There`s no point in trying to read a whole book of problems if your brain demands a break.

Anyway, enough of this and now for a crazy mnemonic I`d like to share. Mnemonics are like a crutch. You throw away a crutch when you can walk unassisted, similarly you no longer need a mnemonic once you have drilled a pattern enough times to know it instantly.

black can get ko...  

Black can get a ko in this position, and here it is:


You can see now that black will get a ko on either the point a or point b. This shape is very common, at least in life and death problems!, and the mnemonic I use to recall the technique when I see it is to call it a `western ko`. Why? Well, because in Japanese slang you can use numbers to spell out simple messages. For instance, I saw a dentist`s telephone nuumber that ended with 1184, which can be read as "ii ha yo" ("nice teeth you know!"), and you can spell "yoroshiku" as "4649". In this go shape, the vital points are 2-1 and 4-1. 2 and 4 can be read as `nishi`, or "west". Therefore, it`s a Western ko! It`s silly, but I find it works for me.


xela: Yes, keep on drilling those fundamentals! A big breakthrough for me as a pianist was when I was sitting in on a masterclass. I can't remember who it was, but some big name concert pianist was teaching advanced students--think piano equivalent of an insei class. I realised after about an hour that the teacher had said nothing at all surprising. It was all: "you need to play this chord a bit quieter"..."keep the tempo steady here"..."try getting louder at this point"...the sort of concepts that beginners learn in their first year of lessons. The difference between pro and amateur is that the pro never makes mistakes with these elementary ideas: they apply them correctly every single time. Some amateurs might get it right 99% of the time, but that gap between 99% and 100% is immense.

So let's go back to Graded Go Problems for Beginners, volume 1. Can any of us get through the whole book with not a single mistake?

23 March 2009

If only! If only I had got into the habit of reviewing my games years ago, I would know so much more than I do now. Don`t pretend your losses never happened - learn from them and become richer! Still, better late than never.


21 March 2009

One thing that I was missing last year was the importance of reviewing, and reviewing often, the things that you study. I don`t know whether reviewing to the point of force feeding is necessary, but I`m pretty certain now that repetition, while tedious, can work wonders for consolidating learning. I guess if you really want to learn, then you won`t mind going even further than is necessary. Anyway, I did some good work last year, but it would have been even better had I gone back over the things I studied, instead of just trying to move forward. I realised this because the other day I asked myself whether I could remember anything specific from last year, and found that there were very few things! Moreover, when I think about things that I have managed to do well in, I find that it was good old repetition that made the learning mine. Oh well, easy to be wise in hindsight.

As for being at my limit, I am sure that I am not. It`s simply that I`ve done too much playing, not enough studying, and certainly not enough reviewing, and when I have done the right things I have not kept them up for long enough to make a lasting difference. For instance, I can remember that when I last studied a lot and repeatedly, in 2003, I made some progress...but then I stopped. I was like a language learner who becomes lazy after achieving the ability to communcate. A good time to redouble your efforts is when they begin to have effect!

A very specific example of what I mean. In one game today I wanted to play a specific joseki variation, but it took me a long time to recall the move sequence before I could make that decision. Had I learned that joseki down cold, instead of merely knowing it, I could have made the decision instantly. For too long I have been satisfied with vague recollections and thin knowledge. Really well learned knowledge is power.

Anyway, enough musing about how to get better, and more effort into actually getting on with it!

And now! A new feature for the Tammy Blog:


(because I want to use your ideas for my own benefit LOL)
  • Please post here *

Dieter: It seems you have crossed a barrier. Good luck on the other side.

20 March 2009

Old habits die hard! But I think I am making headway. The other night I got frustrated with my game, and went on tilt yet again, but, this time I was able to stop myself after only one tilty game, instead of five or six. I`ve just read Dieter`s latest post in teaching experiences, and I think like his friend, I may have been putting myself under pressure to improve too quickly.

It takes time. Sometimes you can repeat something over and over, and still not learn it, and then find it becomes easy after a break of several days. Certainly that was how it used to be in my singing days - I could bash away at a piece for an hour or more and still be unable to sing it, and then find the next day or week that it had become easy.

I have just noticed a change in myself. Over the last couple of weeks I have been force feeding a book of sabaki problems by Yoda 9p (whether it`s really by him or ghost-written I have no idea). I have gone from having a dim recognition of the shapes and tesuji involved to being able actively to recall them. I am especially delighted that I can mentally play through the whole solution of one of the most complicated problems. Moreover, I have been looking into memory, and have learned that things are easier to remember if you try to recall what you have been studying afterwards. Previously, I have just read through a book of problems and then put it down, but now I am going to spend some time after a drill trying to recall what I have just been drilling, and I shall see what effects that produces.

Somebody suggested to me that maybe I have reached my limit. But, I don`t think so. I am a slow learner, I admit it, but at least I have perseverance going for me. I think the most important thing is not to put myself under pressure, and to take pleasure in studying the game, in the same way that I delight in studying music and languages.

17 March 2009

I really never did realise it before, but half of go strength is indeed attitude. What put it into perspective was the sudden thought that quite likely of all the games of go that I have ever lost, at least half of them were mainly due to fundamental mistakes of attitude, such as playing straight away after losing a game, and so going on tilt, or wanting to win too much. Oh, such a long time to be completely missing half the bloody picture! I have to laugh at myself.

15 March 2009

Sometimes I lose because I lack go skill. That is fine, as I am trying to improve my go skill, as are others.

Often I lose for other reasons. This is not fine because it is easily avoidable, if only one applies a bit of self-discipline and common-sense. If I really want to get good, I must stop playing straight away after losing, and playing to win instead of playing to play my best.

I have found two good ways to get back into a good mood after losing a hard game. One is to run up and down the hill where I live, the other is to watch Monty Python clips on youtube.

14 March 2009

I definitely feel that I am making progress. Even if I look at my KGS graph, I can see that with many fluctuations my overall level is higher than it was a year ago, but I really do have to make the effort to "stop while the stoppin`s good" when I have a bad day. But it takes time for me to learn anything, and a lot of persistence.

I don`t know why it sometimes takes me such a long time to learn things, but when I have learned it stays with me. I think I needed longer than usual to master hiragana and katakana, but for some reason I find kanji quite easy.

I used to make the mistake of memorising joseki, but now I am studying them, with the goal of understanding reasons.

One thing to remember is that even rapid progress can take a while to become really apparent. Go is much, much bigger than anything you can learn in one day, or one month, or even one year. To put it in simple terms, if you get 10 percent better, that would be a a very big improvement, but in practice it would still take time to notice the effect, as it would mean winning only one more game in 10 more than you used to. 6 out of 10 might hardly seem better than 5 out of 10, but if you reached 60 out of 100, then you might start to feel rewarded.

I have a new opinion about force feeding. I am now sure it is a bad way to learn ideas, but a very reasonable way to reinforce what you have already studied. In itself it is boring and unpleasant, and it takes too much effort if the material is new or difficult to understand. For example, I have tried force feeding kanji but it did not work out at all. But once I started studying the history and etymology of the kanji, I began to find them interesting and memorable. Of course, remembering a newly learned kanji still requires thinking, but it is not hard. After that, drilling feels very effective for replacing conscious thinking with automatic recall. I think the reason is that initial learning requires understanding, but making this learning become automatic (mastery), requires repetition. Take driving a car for example: you really learn to drive after you pass your test. Until then it`s a matter of consciously remembering to do certain things, but afterwards the constant repetition produces automaticity.

7 March 2009

I feel better able now to articulate what I was trying to say in my previous entry.

To improve at any discipline requires study upon study to increase knowledge, understanding and fluency (that is `automaticity` or `mastery`).It takes time and patience, but eventually it bears fruit. I know because I have managed, and am managing, to make a lot of progress learning Japanese, one of the hardest languages to learn, despite starting well past the optimal age.

However, there are two very dangerous traps. They are dangerous because they are so simple that it hardly occurs to you to think about them.

Trap one - you start to make progress and begin to neglect the basics. It is actually very easy to forget the fundamentals, or rather to forget to apply them, especially when you are concentrating on exciting advanced skills.

Trap two - you realise that you have fallen into trap one, get yourself back into shape by revising the basics, and then begin to think that the only thing that matters is the fundamentals. But if that were true, then you could become a go master by rigorously applying proverbs - indeed, a computer should be able to do it easily.

And there is also a trap three: it is all too easy to start slacking off when you do start to get results.

I think, then, the answer has to be to keep pushing and pushing, but at the same time to keep reminding yourself of the fundamentals until they are well and truly mastered.

Humility is key here. I would not have realised this had I not begun reviewing my games. But when I began reviewing, I realised how little I know, and how much I have to learn - how much simple knowledge, `bean knowledge`, I have to learn. I will work humbly now to become much stronger, but whether or not I succeed, at least I have learned that I am much, much weaker than I thought I was, and that is a good thing to learn.

4 March 2009

A new insight to me, which seems kind of obvious now. Fundamentals first, but not only fundamentals. For example, Dieter`s Basic Instinct page is excellent, but it is only a guide to what to do first - getting really good means knowing and understanding the exceptions and lots of other things. You cannot reduce go or any other art to principles, but you must try to apply everything you know, putting the fundamentals first and foremost, until it becomes second nature (there are some interesting educational theories concerning this, such as the `four stages of competence`). The more you learn, the harder it gets, but the only way to get further is to keep trying. I don`t think you learn A, master it, then learn B, master it, then learn C. Rather, you learn A, then B, then learn to use A and B together, then A, B and C together. Unfortunately, I think I have spent eight or more years thinking that I learned C, and forgetting to try to use it together with A and B!

In other words, I think you should strive to move forward, but should never forget the basics. Unfortunately, one can waste a lot of time moving forward and forgetting the basics, or getting stuck on the basics and forgetting to move forward!

Still, I feel excited about playing go now in a way that I haven`t felt since around 1999...

26 February 2009

My go form dropped off for a while, and I was unable to play regularly, so I am now picking up the game again.

I did improve last year, and I will do what`s necessary to get better this year. One thing is to nip losing streaks in the bud by `stopping while the stopping`s good`!

Anyway, I want to mark a situation that I have just identified. I call it the Buridans Ass Trick.

Tamsin last edited by Dieter on October 4, 2021 - 22:47
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