Getting Better at Go

At the end of last year, I decided that I wanted to do something new to try and improve my game. Like many Go players who have reached single digit Kyu level, I was feeling a bit stuck.

Having played Go for many years, I have a library of over thirty books that I have bought and browsed in the hope that within the pages of at least one of them, I would discover the answer to Go (sweetly naïve I know!). Although I do return to these from time to time to study a particular shape or problem, I also know that simple book learning is not a means of study that works very well for me.

In the past, I had tried a number of things…

A couple of years ago, I tried working with an online teacher and paid for some sessions with a Romanian called Cornel (http://www.golessons.com/aboutme.php). These were fun, but I didn’t feel that playing and reviewing games via Skype was what I was really after.

Also a few years ago, the British Go Association (BGA) ran a ‘mentoring programme’ whereby double and single digit players who were committed to improving their ranking were assigned a higher-ranked ‘mentor’ who would review their games and offer general advice on their strengths and weaknesses and where to focus their attention in order to develop. This worked well for me and I learned a lot from both my mentors, but sadly over time the programme just seemed to come to an end.

I then remembered that a few years ago, we had a visiting Chinese player at the Nottingham Club called Hui Wang. Hui was studying for his PhD at Nottingham University and for a couple of years we had an excellent teacher. In fact, in both 2008 and 2009 Hui went on to challenge Mathew McFadyen for the British Championship, but the thing that marked him out for me as a great teacher was that he simply had no ego. He was so much better than all the rest of us at the club, that with nothing to prove, he generously focussed his time on helping us to all improve our games. It was during this period that I went from a double digit 12 Kyu to the 7 or 8 Kyu I am now.

But then my progress seemed to stop…

With all of these experiences under my belt I’ve decided this year to try to improve my game by studying at Guo Juan’s Internet Go School (https://internetgoschool.com/index.vhtml). I have looked at this a number of times past, occasionally paying a euro and watching one of her short tutorials. However, as with any area of study, I took the view that if I really wanted to improve, I had to take a more focused and disciplined approach.

To this end, I took the leap and just before Christmas I purchased a twelve month subscription to her site, including both the lectures and the training system for £130. I then started to work through her lessons not in the pick and mix fashion I had adopted before, but in a systematic manner, Lesson 1, followed by practice exercises before moving onto Lesson 2 and so forth.

The way the system works, is that as you complete each lecture, the associated exercises and problems can be added to your daily study reviews and so through repetition, the ideas and moves start to become second nature. This method of teaching, with daily repetition and study is a very common in China and Korea and is used in the West in programmes such as Kumon Maths.

So far I like it, and I feel that it is really helping my game. The time commitment is about half an hour a day to complete the review exercises and then I watch two or three new lectures a week, depending on when I feel ready to move onto a new topic. Given that each lecture lasts between fifteen and twenty minutes this is also not an onerous time commitment. What I like about the system is that as she comes across in her lectures, Guo Juan is a calm and patient teacher who goes out of her way to present a single idea very thoroughly, without too many over-complex variations before moving onto the next idea in her subsequent lecture in a step by step fashion. And of course, once you have paid for the whole programme, you can go back and review any of the lectures at any time. And as a teacher she also has no ego!

So far, I have been doing the course daily for about a month and a half and so I’ll provide a further update in a month or so. Have fun


Robin Dews

One Comment

  1. Great post, Robin! I reached KGS 6 kyu in July 2016 but have never managed to solidify that rank, and I hover between 6 and 7 kyu. In fact if anything I find it quite hard to stay at 7 kyu. I wonder if the ranks have shifted a bit with the many new players that are coming into the game? It can be hard to feel like one puts in work but then doesn’t feel the progression online. It sounds like structured learning like you are doing is a really good way forward.

    I know exactly what you mean when you say that there has to be a golden nugget that we are missing in our knowledge. There are a few things I wanted to say: the first is, I played 2 games online yesterday and lost both against Japanese players. They played the opening terribly, making mistakes that we learn very early on from books (e.g. one of my opponents made a shoulder hit on a hoshi stone at move 5). Yet Leela hardly shifted its evaluation because of that move. What did shift Leela’s evaluation was in the middle game fighting – and both games got extremely complicated.

    The two things that my opponents did very well were shape and whole board thinking. They would play moves that I would think were downright bad, but then 20 moves later I found myself in trouble due to the exchanges they made earlier on. Obviously this is just an observation, and I shouldn’t generalise from a sample of 2 games. But it was interesting to me.

    The other thing was that I never quite understood when strong players said “if you want to improve, do life and death problems”. My attitude was: “well, sure, I’ll know how to make life if I have a corner group that is surrounded and trying to live, but surely there are more important things I should be spending time on”. But recently I’ve been going through 1001 life and death problems again, and I now see that the point of life and death problems isn’t to know how to save the troubled group of stones (obviously that is still important), but to train reading in general. So whereas before I would play the obvious move, I’m now considering much more the alternatives. For example, instead of responding in an obvious way, what about sacrificing a stone and using the tempo to push through. Or instead of responding to a peep, letting the opponent cut, realising that I can have better compensation elsewhere. So for me it has enabled me to see in my mind’s eye the sequence, and I can better evaluate what it means, because I can see that picture in my mind in a clearer way.

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