The feeling that comes with improving is one of the most enjoyable parts of playing go. With greater understanding, the experience of playing becomes richer. But what are the best ways to improve? And do you need to be talented and start out young to become a strong player?
In this article we will discuss some of the best ways of improving one’s game. If you utilize proper study technique you will steadily become stronger no matter where your starting point is.
Strategy and Tactics
Go is extremely complex and impossible to completely understand. Luckily humans are good at simplifying things by dividing and unifying different components to better grasp something. In understanding go, a natural distinction is the one between strategy and tactics.
Strategy refers to general goals and plans that one sets up on the go board. Strategy is heavily influenced by go theory and builds on the experience of generations of go players. Strategy plays an important role in the opening when the players are laying claim to different areas of the board and in the middle game when deciding the direction of play.
Tactics are the sequences that realize strategy. These sequences are based on reading, which is the term used by go players to describe the calculation that a player makes in their mind. Reading means visualizing possible moves and counter-moves by the opponent. This depends heavily on practice and pattern-recognition. A player can also develop good reading habits to save time and energy. Go players often refer to tactic battles as fighting and to fight well you need reading power.
In the following section we will talk about how to practice both strategic understanding and how to increase one’s reading power, and finally how putting the two together is the key to playing a stronger game.
Learning from the pros
Studying games played by stronger players is a great way to improve one’s understanding of go strategy. Since these players have studied the game together with master teachers starting from a young age, their strategic decisions incorporate the knowledge and research of thousands of go players before them. By studying their games you can absorb their knowledge and become familiar with a broad spectrum of strategic concepts and ideas.
How to study professional games?
There are two main methods to studying professional games:
- The qualitative method
- The quantitative method
The first method is recommended by professional teachers as a corner stone in studying go. It comprises of going through a game record move by move, pausing before every move to consider the position and trying to imagine what would be a good line of play next. When using this method you should do a lot of reading yourself and you can also play out some possible variations on the board. The endgame should be included as well.
This method teaches you patience and gives you the good habit of deliberating each move with care. Seeing the moves of the actual game and comparing them to your own thoughts also provides good mental hooks to help you remember the play of the pros.
While the qualitative method is great for learning it is also very time consuming, with some games taking more than an hour to go through. For a lot of amateur players it is difficult to make such time after a long day of working or studying. Requiring the student to stay focused for a long time, the qualitative method can also be tiring, and so the result will often be that the amateur player omits it from his study routine. But studying professional games is essential to improving!
This is where the quantitative method can be useful. This method consists of looking through professional game records leisurely, just enjoying the great plays of the masters. Here pausing only when something catches one’s eye. The endgame can be omitted unless one enjoys that part of the game.
With this method the student can browse through games on their smartphone, touchpad or on their computer while waiting for the bus or while having breakfast. Though this method does not let you retain nearly as much knowledge and understanding as the qualitative method, it is a lot better than not studying any professional games at all. Another good point of this method is that you can be exposed to a large variety of opening moves and ideas in a short time, which is a good way to inspire your game!
Though you can learn a lot from studying games on your own, it is also very helpful to read stronger players’ analysis of games. You can find our extensive collection of commented professional games here. These comments offer insight into the thoughts of pros and are a great complement to your own studies!
Studying Go Theory
Reading about go is something a lot of players enjoy and which can be helpful in improving one’s level. There have been many books published in English covering a wide range of topics concerning go theory. But there is also a lot to be found on the internet and we here at Go Game World are looking to constantly publish new articles on different subjects to help improve your knowledge of go theory. We are also planning to keep filling our video section with series on different parts of go theory.
Developing Reading Power
Having the ability to read out sequences is crucial to playing better go. You might have an extensive knowledge of go theory and a shrewd strategic mind, but it is useless if you cannot see your plans to reality because your opponent out-reads you in the local battles. Most strong players will tell you that reading power is the most important part of being strong. And if you can practice only one thing it should be reading.
So how do we develop reading power? The answer is: practice! In order to read clearly and deeply you must practice reading. All players get natural reading practice when trying to read out sequences in the actual games they play. But this practice is not very efficient, since at the same time they have to consider a lot of strategic decisions, the game clock ticking down, the score of the game etc. The reading practice is disturbed by these factors, and more importantly the player will not read all situations out to completion because they need to conserve time and energy in order to win the game. So in real games players might choose an acceptable outcome that is easy to read in favor of reading out a very difficult sequence which might only improve the outcome slightly.
In order to really practice reading, one must practice reading out sequences to completion and see the result clearly in mind before playing. The way to do this is to solve life and death problems (or go problems). Life and death problems are local positions that have been set up as a go puzzle with an objective. The objective usually is to either kill the opponent’s group or to stop the opponent from killing yours.
Collections of go problems can be found both in books and on the internet, in the western world most notably at goproblems.com.
How to study go problems?
Using the proper method when studying go problems is very important! Here we will describe a good way of studying go problems as recommended by professionals.
- Always see the solution clearly in your mind! You should feel confident that you have seen the solution before you look at the answer. This is a very important habit to develop because otherwise your reading will be sloppy and you will make more mistakes. If you can’t see the solution clearly, don’t look at the answer! Instead move on to the next problem or something else, and return to the problem you had difficulties with at a later time.
- Do problems at a proper level! The problems that you try to solve should be at a difficulty level where you can solve most of them within 5 minutes. If you haven’t found the solution to a problem before 5 minutes, leave that problem and return to it at a later time. It is much better to do problems that are too easy than too hard. This is because if the problems are too hard it will be very difficult for you to see the solution clearly, and it is very easy to get sloppy and find yourself looking at answers when you know you shouldn’t.
- Repeat! When you have finished a set of problems, it is recommended that you solve that whole set again two or three times. This will help you internalize the new shapes and let your mind get comfortable with the themes that these problems have presented. Then you can move on to the next set of problems.
- Spread out your sessions! It is much better to do 15 minutes of go problem solving every day than to do a 2 hour session once a week. This is because it is very tiring to solve go problems and your mind should be fresh and focused while doing it in order to get the most out of the practice.
Follow this method and your reading power will steadily improve. Remember that it is the actual reading practice that is important, not the solutions.
Most of us study go in order to become better go players. And of course, playing go is a very important part of improving. Playing actual games is essential to gaining the experience necessary to becoming strong and it is where we put together all the things we learn in our study sessions. Here we use our reading power to set our strategic plans into motion in order to defeat our opponent.
What kinds of games are best for improving? A game of go can be played on a board and take several hours to complete or it can be played as a blitz game on the computer and only take 20 minutes to come to a conclusion. Needless to say, the slower games offer a chance to ponder each move in depth and device intricate strategies whereas a fast game by nature forces you to cut corners in order to not lose on time. The quality of slow games is therefore usually better than that of fast games and the same goes for their impact on your improvement. But fast games have one great advantage, they are fast! This means you can play a lot more games and gain more experience. Some players manage to reach a very high level by almost only playing fast games. So fast games are not all bad, but it is very important that one tries to use the time, however short, to really think about the moves. This is a habit that requires a lot of discipline and not everyone can do it, it is very easy to get stuck in certain patterns and start playing some sequences en route in fast games. Therefore it is usually recommended for amateur players to play slower games in order to improve their game.
Review Your Games
To get the most improvement out of your own games, slow or fast, you should always review the game afterwards! These days when a lot of players play on the internet this has become exceedingly easy, but still a lot of players tend to just close down the game when finished and move on to the next game or other business. A bad habit! It makes such a big difference to look through your game afterwards, even if it is just briefly, finding the big turning points and mistakes of the game. For most strong players this has become second nature and you will see them in tournaments directly starting a discussion about the game after its conclusion.
Reviewing by yourself is good, but it is also great to review the game with your opponent. Remember to always learn from your opponents, whether it is from their play or from their comments after the game. Getting your game reviewed by a stronger player is perhaps even better, and you should always appreciate those times such a chance presents itself!
General Advice about Studying Go
Unless you are trying to become professional, it is good to develop a study routine that is not taking up too much of your time and energy in your everyday life. It should also not be allowed to become a tedious chore that you only do because of some internal pressure. Always let the enjoyment of go be the primary reason why you study. This means that if there is some type of study you enjoy more than others, don’t be afraid to let that take up the bulk of your study time. Let go enrich your life and good luck on your journey towards becoming a stronger go player!