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How to Get Strong at Go, Part 2


The tale of the mikan that was sliced in half to reveal two wise men playing go seems to fit with the advent of summer. The photograph here shows a netsuke carving illustrating that story.

Continuing from last week, here are some more thoughts about how to get strong at go. They are taken from a booklet published by the Nihon Ki-in (the Japanese Go Association) entitled, “Igo Zatsugaku Kojiten” (“A Dictionary of Miscellaneous Knowledge about Go”), which was published in 1978.

This is what Shimamura Toshihiro, Tengen, had to say about the subject:

Take Lessons from Professionals

In regards to getting strong, if one does not set one’s heart on getting strong all the time, one will not achieve that aim.

If one’s heart is focused in that manner, it is expected that it will be possible to set aside a little time every day for go.

Concerning concrete methods for getting stronger, more than anything else, getting attached to a sensei is the best way. When one is taught by a professional, there is nothing that one commits to memory that is useless. If one only plays all the time with one’s friends, when one plays a mistaken move, it will pass unnoticed, and will not be used as material for reflection on one’s game.

By attaching oneself to a sensei, over the course of a long time one will receive instruction. In that case, even if one does not study such things as jōseki or fuseki, one will acquire knowledge that is effective across all spheres. In the final analysis, one gets strong at go in one’s own way, and there is no other manner in which to advance.

One more thing may be added: having a model to aspire to lets one set one’s sights on a goal. For many years, there were no professional players living in the United States. Consequently, there was no progress in the level of play. Now there are many professionals living in America and working as teachers. This has resulted in the appearance of young players of formidable strength.

It is important to support such professionals. That will lay the groundwork for the future. Although the level of play in the US is still not on a par with that of Japan, China and Korea, it is slowly advancing. In a few generations it is likely that there will be little difference in strength from the best players in America and those elsewhere.

Kudō Norio, Ōza, gave his opinion in the following way:

Cultivate Reading Strength

In analyzing the elements that comprise strength in go, there are perception, reading and calculation. It boils down to these three, I believe. Cultivating one’s abilities in these three disciplines will enable one to get strong. That is the point.

Among these, the one that has a general application that cannot be neglected is perhaps reading.

In order to cultivate reading strength, first and above all one must develop an ingrained habit of reading out moves. For that, studying life and death problems is best. It is important to have the drive to read as far ahead as possible. Keep striving to see even one move further. If one does not have confidence in one’s reading ability, one will avoid situations in go where the stones get entwined and things get difficult. If that happens, one cannot hope to get strong.

One hopes that players face difficult situations in go directly, and welcome the fighting that develops.

Naturally, GoWizardry supports this view completely. We post life and death problems every week. Recently, we have been devoting that section of the website to problems composed for the level of one dan players. They are taken from a booklet offered as a supplement to Kidō magazine that was written by Takagi Shōichi 9 dan. The fact is that many such booklets have been published in Japan. That indicates that there is great demand for this level of problems.

Nevertheless, some might feel that somewhat more difficult problems would be welcome. That is understandable, but one of the greatest players of all time, Chō Chikun, spent a lot of time reading out simple life and death problems. He felt that the routine work like that was just as important as working on difficult and challenging problems. The reason is that one has to keep one’s reading on a lower level sharp.

When we were considering candidate booklets for the life and death section, one that we looked at was entitled, “Three Second Life and Death Problems.” The level of the problems was the same as those in the Takagi booklet. However, just as with the Takagi problems, it is unlikely that many players could solve them within three seconds!

The introduction to that booklet explained the rationale behind the title: The reader was not asked to solve the problems within three seconds, just to spot the first move within that amount of time. So those who find the Takagi problems too simple should take up that challenge: Find the first move to the solution within three seconds.

Here are the comments made by Rin Kaihō, former Meijin:

Find Players Two or Three Stones Stronger to Aim At

Playing out professional games on a board and memorizing jōseki are one way to get strong, but one must be strong to some extent already to derive benefit from that. When one is weak, one’s comprehension is not developed to the point where one can understand professional games and jōseki. Instead of straining oneself, I think that it is important to study in the way that is most suitable for one’s level of play.

For those who are weak, more than anything, piling up the number of games played is the first thing to do. If one is able to play with many different players, there is nothing better, but one probably does not have a great number of acquaintances who play go. If possible, find players who are two or three stones stronger than oneself. That is best. From the start, strive to overtake those players. That will give a higher purpose to the matter of winning and losing. In addition, when the opponent is two or three stones stronger, try to understand the thinking behind that player’s moves. In so doing, one will find subject matter to use in comparison with one’s own way of thinking. To that extent, every game will take on special meaning.

Rin was always a favorite player of mine. He had a universal way of looking at the game that was appealing. His thoughts about go, therefore, were also always interesting.

Those who wish to comment on the opinions expressed here may send their thoughts to info@GoWizardry.com. The most interesting responses will be addressed in future postings.

Robert J. Terry

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