Pay Attention

Last Sunday I competed in the 2nd Canada West Go Open tournament. I scored three wins and two losses, not bad. However, I was slightly annoyed; I feel those two losses could have easily been avoided. In the first one, I made an oversight about the life of a large group and played a greedy endgame move instead of saving it. In the other game I lost, I “hallucinated” and thought I had killed a group, letting it try to make eyes in my territory, when it actually was able to escape. After this tournament it occurred to me that I didn’t lose these games because of a lack of skill – the positions were relatively easy to read out – but rather because I stopped paying as much attention to the game as I should have. I believe such mistakes are quite common at this single-digit-kyu level. It seems that often, close games are not won or lost because of a brilliant move or superior tactics, but because of a fatal oversight or mistake that can be exploited by the opponent. How can we avoid these situations (and stop losing won games)? Pay attention…

Surely, stamina and endurance are important factors in Go. Many players will attribute their mistakes to fatigue, especially in tournaments or games with longer time settings. As with any task, your body should be well-rested and prepared for you to perform well. It has been discussed on L19 that general physical fitness will help your game. Of course, this does not mean hours of strenuous exercise immediately before a game – playing in such a tired state will be of little help to you – but keeping fit can increase blood flow to the brain and improve cognitive functions such as memory (even if this does not help your Go game, regular exercise has many other benefits).

During a game, of course, there are many things to think about. Trying to think about all of your stones, the groups, your strategy, even time limits and other factors (just several items of a very long list) – it can all be rather difficult to keep up with. It is important not to get overwhelmed, not to over-think, and thus not to play bad moves. Each situation must be properly thought out, with consideration of the whole board. An example of narrow-minded thinking would be someone who thinks they are winning a game, chasing their opponent’s seemingly weak stones, when really they are helping the opponent surround and capture a different group. It is important to consider why you are playing your moves, and why your opponent is answering them. It is the same with joseki sequences, which are usually studied not to memorize the moves but to understand why the moves are played. A game of Go deserves your full attention; you must ask yourself why you are playing a move (rather than instinctively playing a move without thinking, and perhaps regretting it a move later).

I will conclude by stating that what I have written here is based on my own experience, and may differ slightly from the opinions of other Go players. However, I hope that what I write here can be accepted as a generalization and may be helpful to you. Pay attention, focus, succeed – but have fun!

One Response to “Pay Attention”

  1. I agree with your hypothesis that games are rarely lost, in evenly matched SDK-level games, due to a lack of skill… Many of my students [and even me, myself] suffer from a lack of focus for a myriad of reasons during games—whether or not they are important. The key to combating this weakness, from my perspective, is ’emptiness’. For those who have some experience with eastern philosophy, this may seem rather elementary; but, for those who have not, it is the practice of existing ‘in-the-moment’; and, it is a skill! People fall out of the habit of ‘being’ naturally as they mature, and often require training to regain the ability; so, one could say that the key to solving the problem of recurrent ‘brain-farts’ is to address your emotional habits, which requires intrepidity, and a capacity for self-awareness that is often overlooked or underdeveloped within the western society. Even after students exceed my skill, they often continue to consult me for coaching in this regard; but, IMHO, it largely depends upon the individual, given that I can only point in toward the destination—like a sign-post—while the path taken is beyond my control, and must be walked alone.

    Tyler Reynolds
    Vice-president – Grants & Youth, Canadian Go Association
    Principal & Founder, GO for All
    Mentor, American Go Foundation
    Twitter: @TheGOguy
    KGS: “TinStar”

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