How to get better at Go

Do you want to get better at Go? One of the most common questions we receive from Go Game Q&A is something along the lines of ‘How do I get better at Go?’.

It seems that nearly all Go players want to improve their Go game, regardless of what level they’re currently at. And that’s not surprising. After all, it’s human nature to want to get better at the things we enjoy doing. Isn’t it? And that feeling of getting better at something is incredibly satisfying. Right?

But how do you do it?

Different things will work for different people, of course, but Younggil and I have discussed this at length and come up with four key ingredients that should help nearly everyone.

The four keys to getting good at Go

Play Go  

hikaru no go play go picture

Just playing Go is the fastest way to get better at it (image: Hikaru, in Hikaru no Go).

This is almost too obvious to say right? And yet, it’s often overlooked. If you’re anything like me, you really like Go. You like it so much that you enjoy studying it. That’s crazy, isn’t it?

There are people who just play Go for fun and never study it, which is fine. Those people don’t need this advice. I imagine that many of the people reading this article don’t fall into that camp though. Those people are off playing Go right now, not reading Go Game Guru.

In contrast, there are also people who enjoy learning everything they can about Go and don’t consider it study. I remember once reading a funny quote from a professional Go player who said, “I’ve never studied a day in my life”. It’s a joke, of course, but the sentiment is worth remembering.

If you’re one of the people who enjoys studying Go, you just need to remember to play games too. This is very simple but important, because it helps you practice and consolidate the things you’re learning.

The fact that you enjoy studying Go is great. It will give you a huge advantage in the long run. Just don’t forget to play games, and don’t be afraid of losing.

How often should I play Go?

Ideally you’d play several games per week. However, if you don’t have much time, just try your best to play at least once each week. Set aside some time in your calendar if you have to, but do it now.

Ironically, it’s easy to carry a Go book or a phone with Go software around with you. This means you can easily study Go on the train, at the bus stop, while waiting to meet someone and so on. If you’re serious about improving, you should take advantage of these little windows of time.

On the other hand, opportunities to play a serious game are limited. They require a reasonable amount of uninterrupted time and preferably a quiet location. Most people won’t have a lot of opportunities to play in a week, which is why you need to be organized.

If you do have plenty of time to play Go, then you’re in the lucky minority. You should take full advantage of that time while you have it!

A few more points to remember while playing are:

Have fun

Go is supposed to be fun, remember? Enjoying your games will also help you learn better because it will put you into the right frame of mind. It’s easy to learn things that are fun, isn’t it? Don’t turn Go into hard work, then it won’t be.

Be creative and experiment

There are almost no set rules in Go and no fixed patterns. Yes, there are tactical situations and shapes where there is sometimes one best move, but I’m talking about general play.

Come up with your own ideas and strategies and let them loose. Try new ideas that you’ve learned from Go books.

The Go board is your testing ground. Turn your opponent into your partner in crime. Just remember to review why your moves did or didn’t work after the game.

Don’t put yourself in a mental straight-jacket. It doesn’t matter what other people say or think. I’m giving you permission to play however you want right now! OK?

Walk the tightrope and always do your best

There’s a very fine line between a good move and an overplay. That move is the strongest move and you should strive balance your game on that tightrope. You don’t need to go all out all the time (that’s overplay), but you need to get a feeling for where that line is.

But won’t I lose games if I do that?

Yes. You will. Sometimes you’ll lose control of the game and your opponent will win. But if you’re paying attention and have the right attitude, you’ll learn a great deal from it. Are you playing to win or are you playing to learn?

Other times you will win. You’ll find you’re better able to walk that tightrope than your opponent. That’s a sign that you’re becoming stronger at Go?

Does that mean I should be really aggressive?

No, it doesn’t. Sometimes when I tell people this, they think it means they should try to attack all the time. Let me be clear, this is not about attacking or defending, this is about playing the best move you can find.

There will be times when the best move will be a quiet and solid defensive move, which gives the initiative to your opponent. Are you brave enough to play that move?

If you’re playing to improve, you should always try to play the best move. Avoid the temptation to play the easy move. Don’t sleepwalk through your games because every move is a new whole board Go problem. If you want to view the game this way, it becomes quite a challenge.

Putting effort into searching for the best move will help you learn faster. It will also give you great games to review.

And reviewing your games is the secret ingredient that will make all of this work.

Review games  

Just playing games will help you get better at Go. But playing and reviewing games will help you get better much more quickly.

The most important games to review are your own. This is because they clearly show you your own strengths and weaknesses. They teach you exactly what you need to know right now at a level that’s not too hard nor too easy for you. It’s like having a lesson tailored to your own needs.

Even though many amateur players don’t like to review their games, professionals really like reviewing games. This is one reason why they become so good at Go.

pro go players review game picture

Professional Go players really like reviewing games, and you should too!

Learn from every game you play

Make it your goal to learn at least one thing from every game you play. Focus on finding those things.

Look at each chapter that makes up the story of your game. The opening, the first negotiation in the corner, the inappropriate solicitation, the scuffle which broke out at the back of the room and the cow that jumped over the moon.

Each game is made up of a series of smaller crossroads and decisions made by both players. Review the decisions made at each one and the technique used by both players.

What were the important factors to consider in this position? What was my plan? What was my opponent’s plan? Was it a good plan? Did my/their move work? Was there a better way to achieve the same thing? Were there other moves/areas that were more important? In retrospect, were any moves wasted? How could that have been avoided?

If you have the right attitude, you should be able to see things during the review that you couldn’t during play. There’s a saying that people are two stones stronger (some say four) during the review. Take advantage of this.

Review the game with your opponent

If the other player wants to review the game with you, be grateful. Most people don’t like to review. Listen to their ideas about the game and see how they differ from yours. Work together to see how both sides could’ve done better. If they just want to leave or start another game, review the game by yourself.

Don’t try to win the review

Whatever you do, don’t try to ‘win’ the review. The game is over, you can’t change the result by showing that you could’ve, should’ve or would’ve done something else… Focus on learning from your mistakes instead.

If your opponent starts trying to win the review – especially if they’re the type of person who shows how they could’ve won by giving themselves three moves in a row – look for a quick exit. Review the game by yourself because this person is going to waste your time.

Review your games with other Go players

If you have friends who play Go or you have a teacher or study group, review your game with them. If you have time, it can still be worthwhile to review the game by yourself first. This will help you find out what questions you want to ask and which parts of the game you want to focus on.

If you have friends who are strong at Go and are willing to help you, you should definitely take them up on that offer.

Review professional games

If you have the time and interest, reviewing professional games is a good way to learn. You can learn a lot from professional games, including strategy, good technique, shape and how the stones should flow.

However, depending on your level, it may or may not be a good use of your time. You need to be able to understand what’s going on to some extent, even if you’re only studying shape.

In short, if you enjoy playing through professional games, it will certainly help you improve and will also add to your enjoyment of the game. On the other hand, if you feel confused and frustrated, don’t worry too much. Reviewing pro games isn’t that important until you’re already quite a strong player.

If you haven’t already, try reviewing some commented pro games first. If you don’t enjoy that, try something else. Sometimes watching the games of a player who’s only about five stones stronger than you can be more understandable and educational.

Don’t let reviewing pro games take too much time away from playing and reviewing your own games, solving Go problems or reading Go books.

Review commented Go games

For nearly all readers, the best way to study professional games will be to review commented games. These are games that a strong player has already reviewed, adding comments and sequences to highlight important tactical and strategic ideas.  This will help you understand what’s really going on better, enjoy the game and learn more.

If the reviewer is also a good teacher, they will understand where students often get confused and preempt some of your questions. If you’re looking for good quality commented games, have a look at the professional games that Younggil has commented on Go Game Guru.

But I’ve heard that it’s better to study games without commentary?

Yes, if you’re already a strong amateur player and can read nearly as deeply as a pro, then studying games without commentary could be better for you. This is because you want to learn to think for yourself.

However, I see a lot of people repeating this advice without really understanding the context of it, and I find that disappointing. A lot of Go players, who genuinely want to improve, follow this advice. In doing so, they waste a lot of time studying games that are just too difficult for them at their current level.

Most of these people would improve much more quickly by reading Go books, solving Go problems or reviewing commented games. Take your pick.

I’m not interested in dogma or idealistic theories, and that’s not the kind of advice Younggil and I started this site to give. We’re interested in what works and has been shown to work. We’re interested in things that actually help people.

If you want to be able to understand pro games by yourself, that’s a great ambition to have. First, however, you need to get very good at tactics and reading. So how do you do that?

Solve Go problems  

solve go problems 398x600 picture

Solving Go problems strengthens your 'Go muscles'. Photo: John Pinkerton.

Some of you already knew that this was going to come up, right? And yet, I can already imagine the groan that this has elicited from readers around the world…

It’s been demonstrated time and time again that solving Go problems regularly helps players get better at Go.

Yet for some reason many people who really like Go have decided that they don’t like solving Go problems. I think this is because people decide that it sounds like too much work, but actually it can be quite fun if you approach it in the right way.

Since this seems to be a sticking point for a lot of people, let’s spend a little time talking about it. OK?

Treat Go problems as a separate, fun activity

I know Go players who really enjoy the game and also like doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku or similar puzzles. Yet for some reason they screw up their face at the idea of solving ‘Go problems’. Why?

There’s no logical reason for it. It’s a simple matter of emotion and perspective. People see Sudoku as a fun diversion. An activity in itself. On the other hand, Go problems are seen as the poor cousin of playing Go (which is also a great deal more fun than Sudoku by the way).

So why not treat Go problems as an activity in themselves, separate from the rest of the time you spend playing or studying Go? Shift your perspective for a moment. You like Go and you like challenges, don’t you?

‘Go problems’ are actually just little bite-sized puzzles that use the same rules as Go. You can solve them for fun when you’re not able to play Go. For example, on the train or bus, or before you go to sleep at night.

Try it yourself

The best way to find out whether what I’m saying is true or not is to try it for yourself. Solve a few problems every day, even if it’s only for 10-15 minutes. They don’t need to be too hard either.

You’ll need to try it for at least one month, preferably two, to find out if this works for you. At the end of this time I’ll be very surprised if you’re not only winning more games, but also enjoying solving ‘Go puzzles’ regularly.

What type of problems should I solve?

Good question! I think a lot of people go wrong here. You need to challenge yourself, but you also need to give yourself a game you can win. If you make it too hard, then of course it won’t be fun!

The ideal problems are ones you can solve after a little thought. Most of the problems you solve should be in this category. If it’s taking more than a couple of minutes to solve a problem, it’s definitely a bit hard for you right now.

That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t try harder and easier problems now and then. There are no Go police, so do what you want. Sometimes you’ll be tired after a long day and might want to flick through some easier problems. Likewise, sometimes you’ll want to push yourself a bit and that’s good too.

As a rough guide, if you’re not yet 5 kyu, spend more time solving tesuji problems. After you reach that level, solve life and death problems and tesuji problems, with a bit more emphasis on life and death.

Life and death problems

Life and death problems are puzzles that require you to make a group alive (with two eyes) or dead, depending on the perspective of the problem. They often involve threats to escape or capture and kos.

Over time, solving these problems will help you read further ahead (imagine more moves in advance) and see moves that make or destroy two eyes more easily. Sometimes people compare this to building up your ‘Go muscles’, which is a good analogy. Just getting better at reading will make you a better Go player, but that’s not all they’ll help you with.

Perceiving the strengths and weaknesses of groups

While you’re consciously solving problems, you’re also unconsciously learning patterns and strengthening your intuition. After solving problems consistently for awhile, you’ll start to notice when a group of stones is vulnerable to an attack during your games. Eventually you’ll also start to see the different ways of threatening a group indirectly.

Once you can perceive this information, you can use it to help you plan your whole board strategy. This is when Go starts to become even more fun and that’s why getting good at life and death, and tesuji problems is the backbone to real middle game strength in Go.

Tesuji problems

Tesuji are essentially the tactics of Go. If you think of Go as a mental martial art, tesuji are the most powerful moves in hand-to-hand combat.

Tesuji problems usually require you to achieve a particular strategic aim. For example, capture or rescue a group of stones, cut or connect some stones, attack or defend a group effectively, or win a capturing race.

In fact, the distinction between tesuji and life and death is fairly arbitrary, because life and death problems are usually solved using tesuji. Let’s not worry too much about that though…

The main purpose of solving tesuji problems is increase the power and efficiency of your moves. Solving the problems regularly trains you to see strong moves at a glance. Practicing tesuji that you can solve in a few seconds (or less) can help improve your intuition. You also want keep finding harder tesuji problems so that you can keep learning new, stronger moves.

Should I look at the solutions?

Yes, of course. As Younggil said, “otherwise how will you know if you’ve solved the problem”?

Do you best to solve the problem. Read out different possible moves and their refutations. When you’re confident that you’ve solved the problem, then look at the answer. There are a three reasons for this:

  1. You know when you’ve solved the problem correctly, which turns solving problems into a game which is enjoyable in itself.
  2. If you make a mistake or oversight, you’ll find out about it and learn from it. Often you’ll learn stronger moves in the process and this is also satisfying.
  3. The solutions are often provided by a very strong Go player. Even if you solved the problem, you may not have done it in the most efficient or stylish manner. The solutions to Go problems are a gold mine for learning good technique and strong moves.

We know that there’s another school of thought that insists you shouldn’t look at the answers, or that you should even solve problems with no solutions provided. That advice may work for some players, perhaps if they’re already very strong. However, both Younggil and I recommend that you look at the solutions to problems and allow yourself to learn from them.

For those who are new to our site, Younggil is another author here and he is an 8 dan professional Go player. If looking at the solutions is good enough for him, it should be good enough for us too, right?

After all, we’re interested in doing what works, remember?

Where can I get good quality Go problems?

In my opinion the best way to solve Go problems is from books. This is because:

  • Go problems in books usually come with good quality solutions
  • I find I learn better from books, because I can stay focused more easily
  • I like to give my eyes a break from the screen
  • Books remove the urge to ‘click-and-see-what-happens’, which ruins the problem.

This is no doubt a matter of personal taste though, so I encourage you to try both Go books and digital problem collections. Digital Go problems, especially on smartphones, have the advantage of being very portable. They’re also cheaper, if you discount the initial cost of the phone.

There’s more to Go books than just problems though…

Read Go books  

One of the most important reasons to read Go books is that they introduce you to lots of new ideas. You don’t have to agree with all of them, but you should think about them and try them out in games. Exploring new ideas really helps you learn and discovering new ideas is also one of the things that makes Go fun, isn’t it?

In English, there are now books covering most major aspects of the game. That means that no matter what you want to work on, there’s probably a book that can help you.

read go books picture

Reading Go books will inspire you with plenty of new ideas.

For most players, reading Go books will be a better use of time than replaying pro games. This is because books often contain a number model positions or examples from pro games, which emphasize a particular concept or technique. Good books help you learn and see connections more easily by focusing on one thing at a time in detail.

If you do want to replay pro games though, there are also plenty of excellent books of commented professional games. John Power’s Invincible – The Games of Shusaku is one of the best.

You can also have a look at our recommended Go books to get suggestions tailored to your current skill level.

What’s next?

There are plenty of other things you can do to get better at Go, but doing these four things consistently will help you the most.

This has been quite a long article, so let’s review the four keys to getting good at Go and leave everything else for another time.

Review: The four keys to getting good at Go

1. Play Go  
Practice makes perfect and Go is no exception. Playing Go is fun and playing regularly will help you practice all aspects of the game. It will also allow you to experiment with new ideas.
2. Review games  
Especially your own. When reviewing, you have as much time as you need to think about the game and learn from your mistakes. This is very important.
3. Solve Go problems  
Solving Go problems will improve your reading strength (build your Go muscles) and improve your intuition. This will help you in all aspects of the game.
4. Read Go books  
Go books introduce you to new ideas and teach you effective ways of playing. They let you draw on someone else’s wisdom to quickly improve specific areas of your game.

What are your tips for getting better at Go?

There are a lot of things that we couldn’t cover in this one article and I’m also sure you have some great ideas that I haven’t even considered yet. What advice do you give to Go players who want to improve their game? How do you get better at Go?

I’d love to hear what you think. Feel free to leave a comment below.

About David Ormerod

David likes teaching, learning, playing and writing about the game Go. He's taught hundreds of people to play Go, including many children at schools in Australia. In 2010 David was the Australian representative at the 31st World Amateur Go Championships. He's a 5 dan amateur Go player and is the editor of Go Game Guru. You can find David on Google+ and follow Go Game Guru on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter.

Comments

  1. What about memorise pro games?

    • David Ormerod says:

      Good point Mandos, I didn’t mention this specifically. I think if you’re strong enough and you’re reviewing the pro games seriously, you’ll remember them whether it’s your goal to do so or not.

      Memorizing a certain number of pro games as an activity in itself can also be very worthwhile and I’ve heard that some people get very good results doing it.

      At some point later I might write another article about memorizing/studying pro games. I didn’t want to emphasize it too much in this article, because I think most people will gain more from playing and reviewing their own games, solving Go problems and reading Go books.

  2. Nice article. Comprehensive, but compact, better than anything I’ve ever read about improving.
    Funny problem, by the way. Why the stones there are painted with hieroglyphs?

  3. Miguel Rodriguez says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. The best way to improve one’s game is to play lots and lots of games against as many players as possible. You cannot be afraid to lose against a player you believe to be much stronger than you. There is much to be learned from any game, win or lose, and one should jump at the opportunity to possibly learn something from a stronger or more experienced player.

    One learning tool I’ve incorporated into my daily routine is to play at least 10 9×9 games against a decent Go engine and one or two full 19×19 games each week and use these for review the following week. I generally save each with the win/loss margin and note in the file name those games in which I notice an exceptional point of study during play.

    I’ve always found it best to study Go problems or play through examples in Go books with a board and stones at hand. Using a computer or phone/tablet is an effective portable option, but I personally study best actually touching the stones

    • David Ormerod says:

      Thanks for the interesting tips Miguel. I hadn’t thought about playing computers on 9×9, I suppose they are easily strong enough for that to be good practice now. I like playing on 9×9 too, in a way it’s similar to doing life and death problems.

      I agree with you about preferring real books and Go equipment for study. That seems to work best for me too. However I think everyone has to discover their own preference there, and a lot of people do a bit of both.

      • Miguel Rodriguez says:

        It is unfortunate that with the limitation of computer technology, computer play is not at the moment any real challenge to professionals and advanced enthusiasts. For most advanced players, practice on a 9×9 against a computer will likely fail to exercise the mind, however, it is a great way to amass a number of sample games to study, especially for beginner and lower kyu rank players.

        I agree that play on a 9×9 relates to solving life and death problems. The space is limited enough to drive the immediacy of keeping a group alive, but large enough to explore a wealth of situations and strategies that may arise in play.

        • David Ormerod says:

          Computers have actually improved quite a lot recently. A good program can give anyone a challenging game on a 9×9 board now, even a pro. It’s really surprising.

          • Sarah McEvoy says:

            I’m a very new player, and I’ve just found this site. At the moment I’m playing a lot of 9×9 games against the program Igowin. I’m already finding that if it gives me a handicap, I can generally beat it by forming a solid line across the board, but if it doesn’t give me a handicap I have more trouble. The handicap stops at the point where it rates you as 12 kyu. My rating according to the program, therefore, is now yo-yoing between 13 and 12 kyu.

            It’s entertaining, and I have learnt some things from it, but I’m starting to question its longer-term use, because you can’t use the same strategy on a full-sized board against any level of opponent. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

            • David Ormerod says:

              Welcome to Go Game Guru, Sarah :)

              Igowin is a great program to get started with, but as far as I know the AI in that program hasn’t been updated for a long time (maybe even ten years).

              There are many other computer programs now (including The Many Faces of Go – the paid version of Igowin) which are much better players than Igowin.

              It sounds like you might be starting to reach the limitations of what you can learn playing against that program. Have you tried playing against other people online? For example, on KGS: http://www.gokgs.com/

              You should be able to find other beginners to play against there. You can create a game in the main room or, if you’re having trouble finding other beginners, you can try the Beginners’ Room (Rooms (menu) > Rooms List > Lessons > Beginners’ Room). You might occasionally find people there who are willing to teach you.

              The conventional wisdom used to be that playing against computers for too long wasn’t good, because you learned to beat the computer rather than learning how to play Go. Now that computers are much better on 9×9, I question whether that still applies, but Igowin is quite an old program so I’d recommend playing against some people too.

              If you don’t like playing online, you might also find a Go club in your local area. Try to find your national Go Association at the bottom of this page: http://gogameguru.com/links/ and see if they have a list of clubs.

  4. TimothyAWiseman says:

    This was a great article, but I think it could have been more useful in a practical sense if you got a little more specific. For instance, what Go books would you recommend? You mentioned Invincible, but that is the only one and that seems to be targeted at relatively strong players already. And you mentioned smart phones repeatedly, are there any particular programs or website you like?

    Thank you for the article, it was helpful.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Thanks Timothy. I wanted to include more specific advice too, but the article was already almost 4,000 words and I’ve edited a lot of stuff out to keep things concise as it is. Instead, I’ll gradually follow up with more articles focusing on specific topics later on and add links to them on this page. If you want, you can get our Go newsletter so you won’t miss them.

      Regarding books, it really depends on a lot on a player’s level and their current strengths and weaknesses. I usually recommend books from the Elementary Go Series to everyone, especially ‘Tesuji’ and ‘Attack and Defense’. Kageyama’s ‘Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go’ is also and excellent and entertaining book (the favorite of many players I know). These three books are very re-readable as you get better, so they’re good value.

      In fact, we’re working to open a Go book shop at the moment, so I was conscious of not turning this article into a sales brochure for Go books.

      For smartphones, if you have an iOS device (iPhone, iPad or iPod touch) then the SmartGo suite of products wins hands down – I interviewed SmartGo’s author, Anders Kiefulf in an earlier article. I haven’t seen a standout product like that on Android yet (I’m sort of hoping SmartGo will be ported), but GoGrinder is a good app for solving problems which is available on Android and other platforms.

      Lots of players really like goproblems.com too, but the quality of the problems (and solutions) seems a bit hit and miss to me.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Tim, you might’ve seen it already, but we took your advice and prepared a list of Go book recommendations here: http://gogameguru.com/go-books/

      • TimothyAWiseman says:

        Fantastic, thank you. I’ve been reading over Invincible, but right now that is mostly reminding me of how far I have to go. Winning Go is much more helpful practically, and I’ll take a look at some of these recommendations.

  5. Dusk Eagle says:

    I often solve tsumego while listening to music. I find that by doing so, I can stay interested for much longer than I normally can otherwise. If you struggle with staying focused on tsumego, you may want to try this out.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Good idea. There’s a lot research that shows that listening to certain kinds of music can help with learning.

    • Miguel Rodriguez says:

      I can’t believe with all the music I listen to, I’ve never once listened to music while playing or studying go. Great idea.

  6. Thanks for the note. I will be helpful for me. Reviewing my games for my own was the thing that made better day after day. Problems are very good too. . . but one was to be patient with that.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Yes, when doing problems it takes a little while before you start to see the results. It’s worth it though! Good luck :) .

  7. Zhan Zongru says:

    Great! I have read this article twice. I will follow your advice during my studying practice.

  8. Seven years ago, I wrote
    http://senseis.xmp.net/?DieterVerhofstadt%2FIdeasOnImprovement

    I’m happy to see exactly the same categorization of 4 components to improvement, in this article moreover written by a 5d and 8p. So, now that I’ve picked up Go again, I know what to do!

    • David Ormerod says:

      Hi Dieter, thanks for the link. I read your page and enjoyed it. Your comments regarding teachers and what they should do were quite interesting. That’s something which we didn’t cover in this article.

      I also really agree with what you said the problems with being preoccupied with rank. I almost said something similar in this article, but decided to leave that discussion for another day. That’s one reason why I’ve used the Chinese ranking system for several years now and just called myself 5 dan. Since I’m quite unlikely to win any big Chinese domestic tournaments I’ll probably stay 5 dan until I’m a very old man :) .

  9. Bernd Sambale says:

    I think, a valuable practice besides playing serious games are games where you for a jigo or the smallest possible win. Do not only have the game end with 0,5 – keep the game close from start to finish. Why? To learn to control the flow of the game. The smallest lack of attentiveness will immediately spoil your jigo, so you will learn to guard and evaluate even the smallest aji. If you constantly practice this, it will not only enhance your counting abilities, it will also remarkably reduce the “oops”-moments in your games.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Bernd, I have to admit that I’ve only tried this once or twice in teaching games and never put a sustained effort into it. I have heard that this is a good way to get better at counting, which makes sense. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

      • Bob Barber says:

        Nakayama Sensei made it a point of honor to win by the number of handicap stones he gave. Once, he made me take back a move, since otherwise he would have won by too much.

        • David Ormerod says:

          Haha, that’s a great story Bob, thanks for telling us about it. :)

          I never got to meet Nakayama Sensei (I don’t believe he ever came to Australia). I’ve read his books though and, of course, I’ve read stories about him on the internet.

  10. Hi! This is a great article. I really like it! :) To share an experience, I notice a significant improvement in my strength after working through the 6 volumes of Tsumego and 6 volumes of Tesuji books by Lee Changho. Usually, I do not really know what I did to get me up the ranks but the effect after going through these two series was immediately noticeable. It is almost like breaking a barrier and now I can swim in a bigger pool, a revelation.

    Another friend of mine has the same revelation after spending days just going through the problems on goproblems.com. According to him too, the effect is immediately noticeable, and the way he said it, it seems like he felt what I felt too.

    Keep up the great work David. I am your fan!

    • David Ormerod says:

      Hi hdoong, it’s funny you should say that because I had the exact same experience with those 12 Lee Changho books. I really felt like I improved dramatically after reading them. That’s why I’m going to try to get them for our Go book shop once I’ve finished setting it up. Those books are one example of where the solutions provided usually demonstrate very strong moves. I’m glad you’re enjoying our site. We’ll keep doing it as long as people keep reading! :)

  11. undecided says:

    hey Dav ;o

    thx for your article, prolly one of best articles about how to improve your go :) there are several other sites/guides but I like kinda your best ^^

    one advice about studying/remembering pro games, dont do it if ure not 1k+ or either that game is not commented, a lot better is to get book and learn from it cuz u get more idea how to play. Sadly im alone victim of trying to hard to study pro games and remembering them, at current moment im around eu 6k for last 7,5year i didnt improve even tho I studied daily atleast one game of certain pro’s and tried to remember them, alone it doesnt help, if u love it its ok to do it but you will go up extremly slow.

    other advice about study go problems on web its extremly hard, most of time ppl cant do them slowly :) its goes like first move on intuition, and you cant help not to do it like that.. so books are alot better, or either print them on paper then do. I think besides doing Lee Changho problems u can do problems from Cho Chikun enc. its 3 tomes and dont have any anwser :) but still make you to read out all posibilities ^^

    I think way u should go in improve your play is:

    1. have fun/love for game
    2. play a lot
    2a. review your game alone or w/ teacher
    3. problems
    4. books
    5. study pro games

    I think there is one thing you didnt mention ;) love for this game ^^

    and thx for idea with Lee Changho books, was searching for something like that to study, need to catch up what I messed up thru last years.. ;)

    keep good work! :)
    /cheers!

    • David Ormerod says:

      Hey undecided, great advice! I tried not to focus on studying pro games too much for the reasons you mentioned. You’re definitely right about love for the game, that’s maybe the most important factor of them all.

  12. It would be nice if there were more English books with commented modern pro games. As it is they’re all super old Japanese games from the distant past. My favorite part of the game is the opening so it’s kind of disappointing. There are plenty of online commented games, but I have some arm issues that I really ought to pay attention to and reduce my computer usage. :P

    Someone ought to translate those Korean year books!!

    • David Ormerod says:

      Good idea. Maybe if our Go shop does well we can think about doing that in the future. I spend too much time at work using computers too, so I know what you mean…

  13. Great article, it really does help me reflecting on what my problem is in terms of getting better at the game. I spent at least an hour a day studying the game but I probably only sit down and play a full game once or twice a week. Its quite foolish really but I can never muster up the courage to play a game online. Usually its the other way around for most people, they play all day instead of study where I just study haha

    • David Ormerod says:

      Meeps, you’re not alone in that. That’s why I specifically mentioned remembering to play games. I hope changing your habits helps you improve faster.

    • Iceoverlord says:

      I know what you mean about not playing online. I play on KGS occationally but usually don’t because I think I am only around 20k and whenever I play on there I can never find people ranked around me so I end up playing much better players and even after I lose I don’t understand why but now I have SmartGo Pro for my itouch- a little expensive $13.00 but totally worth it. over 2k go problems, 20,000 pro games, and 30 commented pro games plus a good 9×9 computer. I use it all the time and can tell by the problems that I have gotten at least a little better at life and death as I can now solve 15kyu problems and occasionally a 12kyu problem.

      • TimothyAWiseman says:

        I would not be too intimidated by KGS. If you are somewhat patient, you can normally find a game there for just about any level of play (I hover around 18K, but climbing very slowly, and I can always find close opponents).

        Besides, you can often learn more from a better player than someone close to your level, especially if the better player is nice enough to review with you afterwards.

  14. How about “find a good teacher”? :D

    • David Ormerod says:

      That’s a good one to add Mark. A good teacher can make a big difference too. Even if you have a teacher though, you should still make sure you do these other things to make sure you get the most of it. A teacher can only show you the way :) .

  15. jose santiago says:

    Hi
    Liked your advice and always try and play games and try out new moves, losing is about learning in my view so not an issue, also lik eplayng stronger players as they tend to play better moves.
    Also love life and death problems and the 6 volumes sound fantastic – please let me know when they are available and also if they are available for kindel as I travel a lot a dthis is a great way to have books with me, airports, delayed trains etc.
    Thank you

  16. LucNoSensei says:

    Really like the part about not trying to win the review. It seems obvious when you read it. Who would ever be so stupid as to want to win a review? In reality though, anybody passionate about go tends to stand by their ideas, and so they should! It’s hard to find a balance between confidence and arrogance, particularly with players we do not consider stronger.

    I’ve taught many people go and I have been taught as well (though probably not by as many). I always try to keep an open mind but if I’m perfectly honest, I’ve often felt the difficulty of holding myself back while discussing the game. Maybe it’s hubris, maybe it’s passion about the game and my own ideas or it could be a mix of both. Anyhow, I think most players who like the game enough to be on this site could profit from some soul searching on this matter. Perhaps I’m the only arrogant jerk around, but perhaps not :)

    • David Ormerod says:

      We all have to deal with our own egos Luc, not just you :) . I’ve learned a lot by talking less and listening more, but it’s still hard sometimes. It’s surprising how often you’ll see someone at a Go club reviewing a game with no interest in what their partner thought about it.

  17. I think one thing you could maybe add (or clarify), is that you need to play games against stronger players as much as possible. I see a lot of players who dislike playing stronger players (almost always taking white and giving handi) and then they wonder why they don’t improve.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Good point Philip,

      While I believe you can learn a lot by teaching (because it forces you to explain concepts clearly), you’re right that you also need to challenge yourself by playing stronger players. In any case it’s no good for people to avoid playing stronger players just because they don’t want to lose. That certainly won’t help them improve at Go…

      • Thanks for the reply, I agree that teaching can be instructive as well. Just wanted to add I think this site is great and I particularly love these articles focused on improvement as well as the commented games.

  18. There is also the tightrope between being too serious and being too relaxed. The former fear playing because it confronts them with the gap between their ambition and their ability. The latter play too many fast and purposeless games and learn nothing from it.

    It’s very difficult to understand what needs to be done to improve and then do it while not worrying too much about the result of the program.

    As long as you improve fast, that’s not a problem because you win often and you get positive feedback. But when you start losing more often, it’s not so fun anymore. And then you hear “don’t care about the result” and “be serious about your games” simultaneously.

    Not easy …

  19. bakekoq says:

    My rival is becoming 2dan in just 2 years and at the same time I’m wasting my time coz the busyness of my life.. and the tips that he gave to me was “mimicking”. that’s all he said. omg, I can’t even imagine it. I’ll try to improve my game with go problems because I don’t have enough time to play go every day because of work. Hopefully I can improve in the next time. this time I’m still in 12k@kgs. T_T

  20. Could you give me some tips how to review a game? I’m thinking more of the practical bit, like actually remembering the moves that were made!
    It’s easy if you play on a computer because you can rewind, but what about a real board? Maybe it’s a skill that comes with time :P

    • David Ormerod says:

      Being able to remember your games is a skill you gain with time, but I think you can acquire it more quickly with practice.

      If you enjoy pro games, try memorizing one, at least up to the early endgame. Start off by just being able to replay the opening, 20 moves or so, then do 50 moves and so on.

      Whether you’re playing your own game, or replaying someone else’s, pay attention to the shapes you’re making and how the black and white stones relate to one another. Rather than trying to remember individual points on the board where you played, remember the shape you made in relation to other stones and the logic behind playing in that area. If you don’t understand a pro’s move, try to explain all the good aspects of it to yourself.

      Go is all about shape and strong players don’t remember each move as a coordinate. Instead they remember the logic, the relationships, the shapes and the flow of play (i.e. move A made me play move B and then they had to defend at C).

      This is mostly about memorizing your games so you can review them, which I think is what you wanted, but feel free to ask more questions if you want.

  21. What are your suggestions for good computer programs to help a beginner? I don’t have a lot of time or opportunity to play face-face games, so I thought a computer program might be useful to learn, through problems and/or games.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Hi Martin, the ‘Many Faces of Go’ might be a good one for you. I had a (much older) version of it as a beginner and it was good because it also had a problem library and game collection as part of the software.

      There’s a free 9×9 board version of it called Igowin which is available on Windows. There’s an iPhone version of Igowin too now. I don’t know if it’s free too, but in any case, it wouldn’t be more than a few dollars I imagine.

      http://www.smart-games.com/igowin.html

  22. Can you suggest resources (books, apps, websites, etc) that will help me learn how to live in the corners and on the edge. I need to learn the shapes that can survive with correct play in: (1) an empty area; (2) when playing close in behind my opponent’s groups on the 4th or 3rd lines. I would like this information for board sizes from 9×9 to 19×19.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Hi Alan,

      Life and Death is a good introductory book on exactly this topic.

      You can also find this sort of information in a slightly less organized form on Sensei’s Library, which is a Go wiki. Have a look at the page about basic corner shapes for starters.

      As for apps, there is Go Grinder, which is free on Android and iPhone and Smart Go which is a good paid app for iOS.

  23. Thanks David,

    As a 20k? player I found this actually quite helpful for pointing me in the right direction. Having read a couple of books, played a few games and solved many problems I still found I had been going in circles and not really progressing because I didn’t know what…..actually, didn’t know ‘how’ to study to improve…….for all of the introductory material at one end and intermediate->advanced level material at the other I think that there is a real gap for material on how to study/how to identify what you need to study -and what is available to help you study- when Janice Kim isn’t guiding you through the basics :) and you have to start taking ownership of your own study. This post was really helpful towards that….thanks!

    • David Ormerod says:

      Thanks Tim, I’m glad to hear that this article has been helpful in giving you some idea about where to go next :)

      If you have any questions, you can always ask us.

  24. Xevithirus says:

    Hey David, I read this article a few years ago, but after reaching 12kyu, winning my first and only tournament to date with 4-0 and then taking a 6-8month long break, I felt a re-reading was necessary. I just lost against a player at my club that I had beaten in that same tournament months ago, with general ease, and he states he has not improved much. My reading has all but fleed me. I was just wondering, since of all the studying I did and have started doing again, reviewing games was something of a weakness of mine. It’s not that I don’t want to review them, I just cannot for the life of me remember how the game progressed. Is this a problem for many players? Not being able to review games because regardless of how hard they think of the moves they play, or how simple the game structure builds, they just can’t remember the game to remake it on the board? I mean, i can usually play the first few opening moves, but as soon as the first approach comes, I’m lost. If another player makes the game for me, I can sort of remember some key moves I have made and when, but still the order is off. :S It makes me sad because I know how important it is to do this, and some players can watch a pro game once, and review the whole thing from memory days later. I’ve almost considered printing out endless record sheets so that I may draw out the game move for move as it happens, to replay later, but this might be seen as kind of silly to bring to the club for a casual game, and im not really sure where to find such record sheets off the top of my head. P.S. Sorry for the long post.

    • David Ormerod says:

      Hey Xevithirus,

      Sorry for the slow reply. I’ve been sick recently and couldn’t keep up with some things.

      Generally, remembering your games, or being able to remember pro games, is something that you gain with experience. The stronger you get at Go the easier it will be.

      I know some players who do record their games on a kifu, to review them later, and they say that it’s not that much of a hassle. Another way, of course, is to play online and let the computer save the game record for you, until you’re strong enough to remember it anyway. If you have the opportunity to play a stronger player at a club, you can ask them to replay the game and help you to review it.

      Don’t worry too much if you feel like you can’t play as well as before. It should come back to you quickly with a bit more practice. I also have times when I don’t have time to play much for months at a time (especially since starting Go Game Guru :) ). To get back in shape, I usually start by just playing games and solving tesuji problems.

      Sometimes a break can actually help you to improve too. It helps you to gain perspective and gives your brain time to consolidate what you’ve learned.

      I hope that helps.

  25. Great article! Always good to be reminded this kind of advices in an enjoyable reading.

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