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 Post subject: The missing link in amateur go?
Post #1 Posted: Thu Nov 09, 2023 5:18 am 

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I have just been looking at a three-stone game by Huang Longshi and several thoughts came flooding into my mind. (Nice feeling to realise I still have a mind :)).

It's been a long time since I looked at a handicap game in this sort of detail (i.e. relying on multiple pro commentaries), so my resulting clean slate of a mind allowed me to see things without the usual prejudices. I was taken aback.

Huang's opponent was Ji Xiuwu. To be able to take just three stones from Huang meant Ji was no ordinary amateur. Indeed, many of his moves were praised as good, and at the same time some of Huang's moves were criticised - although he was clearly in teaching mode.

But what became noticeable early on was that the rather few bad moves by Ji had a much greater effect than the accumulation of good moves. That seems to suggest one major mistake of most amateurs immediately. They spend far too much time trying to ape good moves (either from AI or joseki books) instead of learning to identify and avoid bad moves. I don't mean identifying with KataGo that a specific move lost 6 points. I mean identifying the generic classes of bad moves. This observation coincides (in my mind) with another observation: that pro books often give you lists of bad-move types but hardly ever give you lists of good-move types. Under this heading we may even say that doing tsumego and tesuji problems is inefficient. They teach you the relatively rare and often marginally useful good moves, whereas what you should be learning is how to avoid in the first place making groups that require tsumego brilliancies to secure life. You might miss a tesuji that kills an opposing group, but is that such a big deal if all your other moves are "not bad", i.e. good?

Huang's opponent did not make any gross mistakes like losing a clump of stones. It was his mindset that was lacking. It was that that made him make mistakes. When I started playing go, there were virtually no go books in English and all we had usually were copies of Go Monthly (written by Japanese players). Because we were (in Japanese eyes) still at the level of dogs being taught to walk on their hindlegs, or even just to sit, most of the instruction centred on handicap games. One word that I latched on to, because it was often used, was the need (for Black) to be "consistent". It was stressed that if you played with a consistent plan, that would excuse any slight inefficiencies in your play. You would avoid outright mistakes. The easiest way to be consistent in a handicap game was to simplify things.

True enough, in the Huang-Ji game, Ji vacillated between good, simplifying moves and reckless adventurism when he sensed (incorrectly) he might kill a White group. And he never learned his lesson as the game progressed. It was all swings and roundabouts, while White was calmly taking a small fee here and a small fee there for each ride.

But lack of consistency wasn't the old mindset problem that was highlighted. The other big problem was lack of assertiveness. I am using that term for Chinese 紧 (jin). It is not outright aggressiveness nor as weak as passive-aggressive. It is a sensible compromise in the middle - putting pressure on without being a bully. Japanese does not quite have a go-specific term for it, but the word semaru (same root as semeru = attack) conveys the same idea. It is very important in even-game play as well as handicap play. In handicap play, where Black is playing with fire, he might want to be assertive in a simplifying way. For a example a nobi instead of a hane. Good simplifying definitely doesn't mean taking a three-point when White approaches a corner star-point. It has to include putting pressure on the opponent. A Black player may understandably be diffident in a handicap game, but he still has to be assertive.

In all the variations shown by a pro for how Ji should have played, simplification was the key - straight lines, connecting groups, making thick shapes. There was not a single case of Black missing a tesuji or requiring a fancy play to achieve better play. It was all a matter of mindset.

We see the same sort of comments in handicap games played as Black by modern top professionals when they were young. They are demolished by their future teacher, and he can see they are still a bit raw and rustic (i.e. attached to power plays), but the master can see the glimmerings of the right mindset - consistency and assertiveness, but assertiveness that can be tempered to the right degree. There is never any comment about how many tesujis the student can play, or how much time he has already spent on tsumego. (To some extent, of course, that is taken for granted - but it is the mindset that matters).

There is a nice example of this in my new Segoe book. Segoe reveals that pros would normally play a patron at, say, three stones in private. But if a game was in public or for publication he would give only two stones. He has to win protect his reputation. This situation came up in real life, and so Segoe arranged for the public game with a VIP to be at two stones. But his opponent felt this was great honour and changed his usual mindset from grovelling to being assertive. This made Segoe panic. He couldn't let Black win because he would be seen as pandering to a VIP. But he couldn't win by his usual tactics. He had to resort to a swindle! That's how much difference a mindset makes.

Incidentally, the Huang-Ji game gave several examples of the "usual" tactics Segoe had in mind. They include tewari. Huang was probably the first to demonstrate tewari (although without naming it). Dosaku )almost his contemporary) has the reputation of discovering among the Japanese, but there's a lack of hard evidence to back that up properly. The point about tewari is that if you make one opposing stone redundant in the opening stage, you have almost gained a handicap stone. Only almost because the extra White stone may be on the side or edge rather than in the centre or corners. But, still, many a mickle makes a muckle, as my father used to tell me (ambiguously) when he gave me my pocket money.

This post by John Fairbairn was liked by 6 people: Elom0, ez4u, gennan, gowan, Ruarl, saxmaam
 Post subject: Re: The missing link in amateur go?
Post #2 Posted: Thu Nov 16, 2023 2:42 pm 
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I've been thinking about this a lot.

One "heuristic" I have recently learnt to apply more, is one that has been there for ages but which has become more accessible to me via youtubers like Nate Morse or Baduk Doctor, who will often say in their commentaries of pro games or their own ones: this is a good/bad exchange.

In my online games I have not enough time to evaluate the whole position through counting or QARTS. Of course I could play slower games but the online world is brittle. The more intuitive "good exchange" turns out to be a fairly maintainable heuristic throughout the game.

 Post subject: Re: The missing link in amateur go?
Post #3 Posted: Thu Nov 23, 2023 8:59 am 
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The ONLY piece of advice you should give to a beginner is this; 'at your level, it doesn't matter what you play what matters is that all your moves work together across time and across the space of the board. Have a consistent plan and philosophy, and you wouldn't need to find great moves in the first place'

Anything else is trite to make the person teaching the beginner sound like they're intelligent. One doesn't need to teach ladders until it shows up in a game. One need not teach making two eyes and living groups until it shows up in their first game. Naught must be taught other than surround cells to capture them and put captured stones back on the board, and play with a consistent philosophy. Not even the aim of the game has to be taught, figuring that out can be part of the fun, tell them that this game is like life in which the aim must be intuited. And all aforementioned advice for the board is for life as much as twice, to be nice!

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