The mentality that different players have when they play go really fascinates me. Some people are extremely ambitious, desperate to win, or get frustrated about (not) reaching a particular milestone rank. I've seen players get emotional while playing go, and I have a vivid memory a game I played as I child when my opponent started crying. Likewise, online go anxiety is something that many players (including myself) feel, and this desperate desire to improve/win is something that I find exhausting and sometimes tiresome.
Since I started writing things on Sensei's Library, I naturally started to explore different pages on the wiki. One path that caught my attention was these articles:
These articles were interesting to me because helped me find words to describe what I find enjoyable about (studying) go.
The idea that we can "love" go is something that I'm sure many dedicated players can relate to, and it's a concept that I think the Hoshizora no Karasu manga did better than Hikaru no Go. With the absurd amount of time that I invest on Go, sometimes I think it borders on an obsession or addiction. I think I can't help but wonder what aspects of go that makes me feel this way, which is further compounded on the bizarre fact that I don't actually enjoy playing competitive go that much.
Rather, I love watching go, learning go, and understanding how professionals/AI play go.
The feeling perhaps is the joy of learning something cool (i.e. how do caterpillars undergo metamorphosis) versus the pain of taking an exam on biology. The examination is unpleasant whereas the knowledge itself is filled with dopamine and wonder. In some ways, I'm probably highly averse to stress, and playing against real people often makes me feel anxious. Given a choice, I often tend to do the things that make me happy.
I know that playing a lot of games against bots is "bad", but I find it to be that much more enjoyable for me. To put it in other words, I find it fun and relaxing to get murdered by a bot that is several stones stronger than me, but getting murdered by a stronger player fills me with all kinds of emotional distress. It's a weird element of mentality/psychology, and I'm not sure what else to say about it. Thankfully, we live in an age where the bots are a lot better / more natural than they were a few years ago, and I'm grateful for the existence of many different bots that are a few stones stronger than me.
I do think that the best way to approach go is in the way that is individually the most fun / most enjoyable for us.
It's probably a weird-sounding thing to say, but I think a lifetime of playing classical piano and competitive swimming has influenced this personal notion that go (like many things) is an internal sport. For me, it's more about competing with yourself rather than with other people, just in the way that playing a difficult piano piece is about improving yourself.
I kind of like selfless go in this sense because an obsession towards winning / one's rank probably isn't the best way to improve at piano.
Moreover, what does one's "rank" in piano really mean?
Years ago before I started playing go on the internet, I spent a lot of my childhood in the US playing go on a board against myself. After briefly learning go in China during one summer when I went to visit my grandparents, I didn't have anyone to play with after coming back to the US. Instead, I mostly did self-play games for years, where I would try to do my best playing as both Black and White on this cloth board with plastic stones.
Of course, I obviously didn't improve very fast (I was probably 15k back then?), but for me I think this illustrates the idea that go is primarily an internal sport. When we read out variations on the board, we are playing against ourselves, and we are regularly seeking the best moves for our opponents just as we are seeking the best moves for ourselves.
Occasionally, our opponent might surprise us by showing us something that we didn't see or know about, but otherwise 90% of go is playing against yourself.
To me, improving at go really is all the same as improving at piano, and maintaining our love for piano (not getting burnt out by practicing something we don't enjoy) is just as critical as maintaining our love for go.