Tsumego as a source of bad habits

    Keywords: Life & Death, Question

Alex Weldon: While looking for real-world examples to use in the book I'm planning (Breaking Bad Habits ... a kind of dictionary of common mistakes, and how to avoid making them), I came across a game between an 8k and a 9k on KGS. A simple life-and-death situation came up. This is a simplified, but functionally identical position:

D1: W to play  

(Discussion of this problem on Sensei's Library can be found at Tsumego From Games 42.)

Diagram 2 shows the actual game.

D2: W does too many tsumego?  

W3 is a tesuji in case the two marked liberties are filled: then W can play at a and B can't cut, due to shortage of liberties. But in a case like this, where there are outside liberties, it's not the kind of move you would come up with by reading. I think it's a pretty good assumption that W has seen many tsumego involving that tesuji and played it instinctively, without reading.

Just as studying joseki can be harmful, as people will tend to play the patterns without thinking about the whole board, perhaps tsumego can be damaging if overdone... players attempting to substitute recognition of common patterns for actual reading.


dnerra: Opinions may vary on this -- my experience tells rather the opposite: These players have not done enough Tsume-Go!

In a recent interview with the DGoZ, the korean baduk professor (and strong 7d) Lee Ki Bong recommended spending most of the time devoted to go study on life-and-death problems. Apparently, it is also what the korean inseis do most of their time.

Bill: Yes. First, good luck on your book! It sounds interesting. :-)

Second, I'm not sure that White would have been better off not to have learned some patterns. (Besides, he didn't exactly learn this pattern, did he? ;-))

Third, I think it's a hard problem.

Robert Pauli:

In an interview in DGoZ 4/04, Lee Ki-Bong (7d = 1-2p, teaching Baduk at the Myojing University in Seoul) surprisingly stressed following:

  • devote 90 % of your go-studying time to life and death
  • divide it equally between
    • problems you solve in a short time
    • problems you solve, but have to chew on
    • problems you can't solve
  • after 10 minutes, skip it for later
  • only if you think you're absolutely sure having solved it, consult its solution !!
  • exercising reading is the aim, not solving

Anonymous ChknSht?:

Back to "Tsumego as a source of bad habits" - the position below (more or less) appeared in a recent game of mine and I think it fits the bill.

B to Play, but not too quickly...  

(Discussion of this problem on Sensei's Library can be found at Tsumego From Games 125.)

Almost, but not quite.  

A bit short on time, I immediately played as shown, 'recognizing' a tesuji pattern that I think most SDKs would be familiar with if they regularly do Tsumego problems. Of course, this pattern (common in many Tsumego books) only works if the White group has no outside liberties (such as the one at b). Needless to say, White played a and I felt somewhat embarassed. A moment devoted to reading would have shown that playing B1 at W4 kills the White group but I was seduced by 'pattern recognition'.

Anyway, just thought I'd submit that for your book. Seems to be what you are after.

The attempts to this problem are now over at Tsumego From Games 125 / Attempts.

Warp: I sometimes have a problem related to this in my games, but which is slightly different from what has been described so far here.

I consider myself rather strong at L&D and tesuji for my level. However, sometimes this works against me. Sometimes I get blinded by my own killing strength. There have been many games where I have outread my opponent in a big and difficult fight and succeeded in killing a rather big group of his. However, after the joy of successful killing passes and I take a look at the rest of the board I realize to my dismay that while I was killing the group, my opponent secured a territory more than twice as big as the group. I was so concentrated on reading the fight and killing the group that I was completely blind to the rest of the board and how my opponent, realizing he was probably going to lose the fight, started tricking me into "forcing" him to secure a huge territory. I really do understand what "kill with a borrowed knife" means...

While practicing tsumego makes you stronger, it can also make you blind.

Malweth: I have a similar problem - it all leads from overestimating your own ability. If my opponent is killable (or mostly killable) I typically do a good job at attacking it, but because I'm good at life and death, and can often live in small spaces, I leave my too-weak groups alone for too long. I also tend to attempt attack before making myself stronger - this is the problem of seeing a weak group and not taking the whole board into account.

I DISAGREE with the original premise of this page, however. Doing tsumego can only make you stronger... the problem is that the players mentioned were doing tsumego incorrectly. Finding a vital point is not tsumego (except perhaps at the 20-30 kyu level). Finding and testing all vital points and playing the one that works is tsumego.

The bad habit with tsumego is using a computer based tsumego system (goproblems.com, uligo, GoAlbum, etc) and playing your "guess" before you've read out the correct answer. You might get it right, but that doesn't mean you've solved the problem (or gotten a whit better at go). I'm often finding myself falling into the trap of this bad habit - and the reason is usually that I'm unfocused or tired while doing tsumego. (If I were smart, I'd go through all my problems in GoAlbum and delete the solutions).

reuven: I don't think that studying tsumego is at fault in these examples. If anything at all - It's the lack of studying and understanding. The 2nd example shows an attempt based on a guess instead of reading. While the 1st one not only shows lack of reading but also why tsumego are imperfect if you know there's a solution and requires less reading... Bottom line - If you really study tsumego it shouldn't hurt you. Bad habits that may result from tsumego study could be "too-local-a-vision" and such, but it's not really the tsumego study that is at fault here either but the lack of fuseki and middlegame study.

Tsumego as a source of bad habits last edited by tapir on July 29, 2021 - 14:37
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