Wishful Thinking

     A while ago, S, an American Go player wrote me;

When I’m facing lower kyus I tend to kill their groups “a lot” but sometimes their groups are dying and I think they’re dead, then the lower kyu that I’m facing finds a way to live that I didn’t see. >< I’m starting to lose confidence in my ability to do life and death in my games =(. (Naturally I picked up a life and death book and started solving some problems. lol) Is this another part of getting better? I thought I would at least be able to do life and death better than a kyu =/

     Does it sound familiar? Yes. It does to me. I experienced this myself when I was much weaker (I wouldn’t say I still have this issue since I am supposed to say I play the same no matter how strong the opponent is). Luckily I found the question when I was looking for a good topic to write, and thought it would be interesting to talk about it. The question was quite precise though, so let me generalize it a little bit for this essay’s topic. 

     “Why do players often misread on life & death situations especially when one is playing against supposedly weaker player?”

     I used the term ‘supposedly’ because there are times that you meet a player who has 3 dan’s strength but playing with 1 Kyu account. Because this essay will discuss psychological aspects, those players are included in the category of ‘weaker player’. Also I will assume that the level of life & death situations are low enough to solve if you were not playing but just studying.

     Most parts of Go, such as openings, attacks, tabakis or ko fights are abstract and ambiguous since there usually are several options of playing depending on surroundings and players styles. Consequently, it is influential by whom one is taught or what books one studied with. That is to say, not improving in those areas may be not your fault but the result of poor quality of books and teachers. However, life & death is different. It usually has only one answer, has nothing to do with players’ styles. You can always practice with quantitative problems and do not really need teachers for this. Therefore, many players study L&D, and have good ability in solving them.

     The problem is, however, you simply don’t see the answers as well as when you study while you are playing, especially your opponent has lower rank than you. If we think about the opposite situation, things get clearer. You are less likely to misread because you expect your opponent to read better than you. That leads you to more readings and carefulness. (Notice that I said you will make ‘less’ mistakes, not you will make ‘better’ moves. The only way to be better at reading is to solve more problems!) Back to our main issue, when you are playing a weaker player, the logical fallacy known as ‘Wishful Thinking’ emerges. 

     According to an article, Wishful Thinking happens when people accept or urge acceptance (or rejection) of a claim  simply because it would be pleasant (or unpleasant) if it were true. In playing Go, there are a few more conditions to reach this point. First of all, you don’t expect your opponent to see something that you did not. Second, you believe you are able to capture a big group or save your group because you should be stronger than your opponent. Third, you don’t want to admit that your opponent, who is weaker than you, might be able to save his/her groups from your desperate attack or capture your big group. L&D problems are science. Not literature. Never let your emotion get involved.

     So, now let me answer to S.

“I know it’s easier to be said, but when you face a L&D situation in games, be open to every possibilities, and find the best result for you. Plus forget about your opponent’s strength unless you gave decent amount of handicap.”

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