Go confessions

2011-08-10 15:05:47

It is a well known fact that many Go players are stuck at a certain level and cannot progress further, even if they had had advanced steadily up to that very moment. We can find a minority of players who would not want to progress further, but these would likely be few in number. At the other extreme, there will be some players who will as the ultimate question : "Why cannot I become a pro?"

The reality is that being a professional is a somewhat different from progressing. It is on a different plane to a large degree. To be a pro, one needs a great invention and imagination.

For those of us camped between 1kyu and 9kyu, improving towards shodan is not beyond the powers of every single of us. You might ask, however, why I am telling you this when I am a mere 5kyu. I can say, though, because I know. I am a 5kyu now only because of the bad fundamentals I have learnt.

As you should realise, in any aspect of life, whatever you learn can become a habit. And if it does, then, it can be very difficult to get rid of that habit. Hence, I am convinced that a thinking scheme can become a habit, as well! And once we have approached go from the wrong direction, with a wrong thinking scheme, it may seem to be almost impossible to progress.

So, what exactly is it that holds us back?

I feel it is our locale - that we live in the Western hemisphere, with Western modes of thinking. When we say that playing Go asks for a broad or whole-board vision, most of us tend to imagine looking over the whole board. I can bet that if we told the same to an Asian, he would see the thing very differently. He would look for places where he can get an advantage, rather than moves that are simply pleasurable to play. He would read the moves near a shape that seems to be weak to him. And then he would look at other places on the board rather than jump to play that first good move.

In the West, we grow up in a certain culture that predisposes us to be rather all-or-nothing persons. What we miss - and that is crucial for Go - is the feel for exchanges. Here, I mean that I give you something from my profit and take somewhat more from yours. This is part of the essence of the game.

In fact, winning a game by 10 points is significant, yet few of us tend to treat it so. We seem to take greater pride in bigger winning margins - we seem in fact reliant on them as we rarely count or steer the game to a small and tidy victory which is all that is needed. The game starts with a blank board, the second player has komi to compensate his tempo loss. Why on the earth should anyone hope to win a game with a player of the comparable strength by a large number of points?

Any player interested in at least a little Go history can tell you that Kuwahara Torajirou, known under his later name Honinbou Shuusaku, loved playing with black and was then almost unbeatable. He lost most of his games as white, simply because of the absence of komi at the time. Shuusaku was a great player who was capable of keeping the game very close and taking the slightest advantage he could, holding onto the advantage black has of starting the game. He did not risk by hurling himself in mad all-or-nothing fights.

Every Go player, no matter what age and strength, should be progressing steadily not only in the progress of his ability, but also in the progress within every single game. During these parallel aspects of progress, we should observe the slightest weakness in our opponent play, as well as fix the weaknesses in our own.

The main point of this article was to show you that your approach to the game of go is as or more important than the technical aspects of executing each game.

Note: corrected and proofread by Neil Moffatt

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