Skip to Content

The worst Go player

I live with a guy who is just the worst Go player. He's terrible! As much as I try and teach him, he seems to keep making the same dumb mistakes. I got so annoyed that I made a list of his faults:

  • He misses obvious ataris and gets his groups killed
  • He misses obvious threats such as double ataris and snapbacks
  • He continually misreads simple life and death situations
  • His groups get killed when they should live because he missed a vital point
  • He fails to kill his opponents' groups because he lets them get a vital point
  • He cannot judge territory and frequently lets his opponent get more territory
  • He has no knowledge of basic joseki and usually ends up at a disadvantage
  • He plays gote moves and lets his opponent take sente
  • He fails to block monkey jumps, or fails to play them when available
  • He doesn't see the significance of ladder breakers
  • He doesn't count and cannot judge the relative size of territories
  • When he does count, he miscounts by several points
  • He makes small moves in yose and gives away sente
  • He has no understanding of 9x9 games and often gets beaten by beginners
  • He cannot manage his time and is always behind on the clock
  • His reading is poor and gets worse under time pressure, leading to stupid mistakes
  • He never thinks beyond the first move that comes to mind
  • He plays reactively, letting his opponent dictate the tempo
  • He is too impatient to study tsumego properly and just makes wild guesses
  • He does not review his own lost games properly, preferring to forget them
  • He loses heart when behind and fails to take risks or show fight
  • He becomes complacent when ahead and stops trying
  • He is over-concerned with rank and plays safe instead of experimenting
  • When his rank goes up, he credits it to pure skill and strength
  • When his rank goes down, he says he was "having an off day" and berates the flawed ranking system
  • He is contemptuous of anyone weaker than himself and jealous of anyone stronger
  • He continually believes himself to be stronger than he actually is

I gave my friend this list and told him he will never be a good Go player unless he fixes all of these problems. He read it carefully, looking a little downcast. Then he went away.

After a while he came back with a book - The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chödrön - and read me this passage:

In one of the Buddha's discourses, he talks about the four kinds of horses: the excellent horse, the good horse, the poor horse, and the really bad horse. The excellent horse, according to the sutra, moves before the whip even touches its back; just the shadow of the whip or the slightest sound from the driver is enough to make the horse move. The good horse runs at the lightest touch of the whip on its back. The poor horse doesn't go until it feels pain, and the very bad horse doesn't budge until the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones.

When Shunryu Suzuki tells the story in his book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, he says that when people hear this sutra, they always want to be the best horse, but actually, when we sit, it doesn't matter whether we're the best horse or the worst horse. He goes on to say that in fact, the really terrible horse is the best practitioner. […]

Once I had an opportunity to talk with Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, about the fact that I was not able to do my practice properly. I had just started the vajrayana practices and I was supposed to be visualizing. I couldn't visualize anything. I tried and tried but there was just nothing at all; I felt like a fraud doing the practice because it didn't feel natural to me. I was quite miserable because everybody else seems to be having all kinds of visualizations and doing very well. he said, "I'm always suspicious of the ones who say everything's going well. If you think that things are going well, then it's usually some kind of arrogance. If it's too easy for you, you just relax. You don't make a real effort, and therefore you never find out what it is to be fully human." So he encouraged me saying that as long as you have these kinds of doubts, your practice will be good. When you begin to think that everything is just perfect and feel complacent and superior to the others, watch out!

These words made a big impression on me, and after that I stopped being quite so hard on my friend (who is, of course, myself).


This is awesome

I like this post a lot. Very interesting read. I play go, and I feel like the worst horse a lot. :) This is inspirational.

Talking about me...

Shoot, I was sure you were talking about me!

This entry speaks to me where I am, as they say. I have no reason to complain about my go progress: I've gotten steadily better over the six months I've played and have abundant resources to learn from, people to play against, and similarly interested people to talk with. And yet it's amazing how much of my time I spend furiously angry with my horrible Go-playing friend, beating him across the shoulder for his failings. At least half of my progress in Go is learning how to be calm, steady, and patient with myself.

--Nate (@neagle)

Re: Talking about me...

The wonderful thing is that I'm sure this is how everybody feels about their game, from top pros to 30 kyus. The specific list of complaints might change slightly, but not the length.

I think it helps to remember that Go is a very hard game. No human being has mastered it (or is ever likely to). If there are superintelligent beings elsewhere in the universe that would find Go easy, they could just play it on a larger board and be as baffled as we are.