Questions and answers, part two

Long time no see! I got a nice amount of questions in the first part of this blog post series, and will now address them. Once you think of new questions, please write them as comments for this post!

Phew, this is one long entry! Please do try to overcome the “too long, didn’t read” feeling – I feel like I wrote a lot of useful and important text for all go players!

1. How well does the dan ranking of experienced players predict their performance? Is there some sort of rock-paper-scissors style mechanic going on between playing styles, where a lower ranked player can be expected to beat a higher ranked one? If there is, can you give any examples?

According to my experience, some kind of a rock-paper-scissors mechanic does exist between different styles. A higher dan ranking doesn’t mean a player will always beat players with lower dan rankings – it’s more a question of probabilities. Eg. a general 4 dan player might win about 80% of their games against 3 dan players. The European Go Database has a mathematical function for calculating almost-statistical winning probabilities, given two European go ratings. However, it would be possible, and even quite easy, to find a 4 dan and a 3 dan with different statistics: the games between the two could go 50-50, or the 3 dan might even win more than 50% of the games! Because of these features with rankings, I’ve personally come to think of rankings merely as “magical numbers, thanks to which players get suitably challenging games” – nothing more.

2. Are handicap stones useful at all at the top levels, or does adding even a couple of extra stones to the board alter the player’s playing style significantly?

Handicap stones make up for a playing level difference between two players, also at the top levels. However, the nature of the game becomes different from even games thanks to the stones already present on the board. For example, different joseki and fuseki become relevant. Thus, it is possible to improve in handicap game strategy and tactics, which can be somewhat different from even game strategy and tactics, and consequently it’s also possible that a player’s playing style can considerably change if the player only plays handicap games. In the end, however, I think this question comes back to the definition of “useful”; I think the game is fun if it’s challenging, and from that viewpoint, handicaps are useful even at the top levels – even if the played game is a little bit different.

3. You often hear that go teaches strategical thinking and reasoning skills, which can be applied to other fields. Have you yourself noticed gaining any significant benefits in other areas of life by learning go?

This I hear often too! But I cannot actually say if I’ve for example gotten a significant boost in my brain processing capability or memory, since I can’t remember how my brain worked back in 2002 before I started playing. I heard recently from a friend, however, that playing go has made it a lot easier for him to see shapes and patterns in his mind, for example when imagining a 3D object – and the same likely applies to me. A lot of go strategies and concepts could also be thought of as allusions to real life, for example the making of a probe before making the next big strategical decision (make of that what you will). Of course, a significant portion of what we learn while studying go is only applicable to go. I think the greatest benefit of playing go for me is that it improves my quality of life greatly by being a fun and thought-provoking hobby, also working as a forum for getting new friends all over the world!

hello, you said reviewing pro games is good but how about tsumego?) Did you do it?

What tsumego books do you recommend for a 4-5d kgs?What was your learning method at this level?

Hi! I’ve done tsumego too, alright, but maybe not as much as most other 6 dan players. Also, I didn’t do a lot tsumego before I reached dan level. More recently I’ve worked on for example the Gokyo Shumyo and Xuanxuan Qijing problem collections, which I consider very recommendable. Generally speaking I like to concentrate more on middle game and tesuji problems, which are not very commonly classified as tsumego. Nevertheless, doing tsumego is an excellent way of practicing your go reading and ability!

Elaborating on keyser’s question, could you tell more about your learning methods now and in the past? How have you got to where you are now with go?

Up to reaching 3 kyu level, I mostly just played a ton of games. :) I did read Get Strong at Joseki volumes 1-3 around when I was 8 kyu, however, and probably learned some basic sequences from there. At 3 kyu I started reading more books, such as Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go, Making Good  Shape, Attack & Defence, Tesuji, and A Way Of Play For the 21st Century. Still, my main focus was on simply playing. I got pretty quickly to 3 dan level like this, in two and a half years or so. I feel that playing in tournaments played and plays a big part in my improving pace – for me, tournaments work as a stimulant to think seriously about different choices in my games. Improving from 3 dan to 5 dan took somewhat longer for me, possibly because I was busy with school and didn’t have time to play as much anymore. After reaching 5 dan level, I’ve started analyzing professional games as well as doing tsumego a little bit more seriously. Attending the Experience Go in China camp in 2009 taught me a lot as well.

To summarize all of that, my main piece of advice for the readers considering improving is quite easy: play as much as you can while having fun, and try out new ideas that you can somewhat understand. Don’t play if you don’t have fun playing, and don’t play moves that you cannot understand at all!

I see that you study the games of professionals a lot. Can I ask if you aim to emulate the style of certain professionals in your play, or are you just looking to increase your general knowledge/skill level.

I’m not specifically going for emulating the style of a certain player or players – I want to play my own kind of go, since that is the most fun to me. However, I often find professionals who have aspects in their playing styles that inspire me; I then aim to learn the aspects by studying games by the given professionals, and make them part of my own style. I guess I’d count this more as “increasing my general knowledge/skill level”!

After b play 3-4 opening, what are the main points to consider between 5-3 or 6-3 approaches?

Hopefully I understood the question correctly – if not, please correct me later. :) Here goes!

White 2 is a very common approach to the black 3-4 stone. If black doesn’t answer, white is able to press the black stone down with A. Also, were situation of the board more special, white could also go for two eyes with B.

A feature with the knight’s approach move of white 2 is, that if black plays a pincer with black 3, the white stone is under quite heavy fire, being close to both of the black stones. There are standard sequences for the continuation, of course.

White can also play the large knight’s move approach with white 2. This move doesn’t threaten the black 3-4 stone very much – pretty much the only thing white could do later would be to slide under the black stone with A to take the corner. White 2 does have an advantage, however:

A black pincer at 3 no longer is quite so threatening to white, because now the white stone has more empty space around it, and thus it is able to get two eyes more easily. There are standard continuations to this situation, as well.

Since the pincer isn’t quite so effective, black usually answers with the kosumi of black 3 to white’s approach. This way, the corner that black gets is considerably big – some could even say too big.

As a summary, it’s generally a good idea to play the knight’s move approach if a pincer by the opponent is manageable, and if a pincer would be difficult to handle, play a large knight’s move approach instead.

In many professional games you see probes being played inside the opponents corner enclosures that are just left there and possibly never touched again in the game. To the untrained eye look like failed invasions and wasted ko threats. What is the meaning and when is the right time to play such moves?

The function of a probe is to ask your opponent what he wants, to be able to then plan accordingly. This, of course, is a very general answer, so I decided to also show an example here. Please don’t take the moves I show here as the “best moves”, but instead try to get the feel of what I mean with “asking what the opponent wants” and “planning accordingly”.

Let’s say there’s a structure such as this, and black gets the turn to play black 1. It is now safe to say that the upper right corner is completely black’s territory – over 30 points.

Let’s say white tries to invade with a move like 2. Black strengthens the corner with 3, driving white to the upper side, where black has many stones in wait for white’s attempt at making two eyes. There’s hardly enough space for white to live.

If white had the turn to play in the upper right corner before black makes it all his territory, he might play this pretty-often-seen probe of white 2. Let’s consider the two most reasonable ways for black to answer this : driving white to the corner, or driving white to the upper side.

If black drives white to the corner, white might even play elsewhere. Now, if black wants to play the nice-looking move of black 5 again, white can actually live in the corner with the tripod shape! White forced black to play 3 by changing the order of moves. Needless to say, this is a great success for white. Thus, black would not play 5 anymore, but instead he would destroy white’s chance of living in the corner (playing on top of black 3, for example). Then white could, for example, play at 5 himself, making the black territory somewhat smaller. That would be worse than black’s formation in the first figure.

If black takes the corner with 3, white hasn’t really lost anything so far. However, now white has the choice of making a live group inside the black influence, starting with white 4. It doesn’t look like this white group should have trouble making two eyes, thanks to black not having a stone at 7 initially. In many games, this kind of an extra chance to live in the opponent’s territory could very well turn the tide.

That’s all for now, hope to see you all later! And if you’ve more questions, please do write them right here in the comment section. The interest you’ve shown so far is really nice! :)

5 thoughts on “Questions and answers, part two”

  1. Very cool blog. Thanks for the insights! I first thought your un-named inspiring player might be Takemiya Masaki, but after the game you showed I’m not so sure. Now I have no idea!

  2. Yes. Very nice.

    I would like to hear your thoughts on the psychological side of Go. It’s almost never covered in go books. In poker it’s very important that you play your A-game all the time. For example you are not supposed to play poker when you are angry or when you are hungry because it affects your game too much. Do you pay attention to this when preparing for an important game or for tournaments? Do you have special techniques to relax? Do you have any silly rituals to boost your tournament spirit?

    I would also like to hear your philosophical thoughts on winning a game of go. For example, do you think that the winner wins because he plays better moves or because he plays less worse moves? Or what do you think about the concept of Kami no itte? Do you play the moves that have the best outcome for you when your opponent plays the best response or do you often play moves that gives you advantage only when your opponent fails to “punish” you? What do you think about trick moves in serious games? If you are obviously behind in a tournament game, should you overplay to force your opponent to make mistakes or try to play kami-no-itte-like moves with a risk to lose by a few points? Is winning the most important or is developing your skills more important?

    I know.. too many questions. I don’t think you should try to answer all of my questions now but maybe try to cover the psychological side before a future tournament, and every now and then try to explain some deeper thoughts about the philosophy, because it would be nice to hear your thoughts.

  3. Talking about corner sequences, what are your personal thoughts about 6-4 point.
    How would you approach it and what if opponent plays 3-3, which would be your answer to that(lets forget tenuki, which I think is valid option also)?

  4. Great blog! Its really nice to read high dan experience and meditations! Keep it going.

    You mentioned middle game problems. That sounds great but could you give examples of such problem collections? And when you analyze a pro game how many times do you replay it on a board?

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