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How to get better - Intermediate

How to get better - Intermediate

How to get better at Go

You've completed your first hundred games and have even started getting a few wins under your belt. Congratulations! If you followed my advice, you have probably moved into the 20 - 15 kyu area.  Problem is, you also realize that your rate of improvement has gone from a stone every few days, to maybe one every few weeks. Frustrating... but also natural.  As with every activity, people begin to plateau and need to change their thinking and methodology in order to get better.

Obviously the best way to improve would be to hire a teacher once or twice a week. This option of course can be expensive, and not feasible depending on where you live.  Barring access to a teacher, your next option would be books on strategy. The golden standard for an intermediate book is definitely Kageyama's Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go, sometimes affectionately called "the yellow book". Unlike most Go books, Kageyama uses his own voice to demonstrate the different techniques, and litters in a few anecdotes to make the reading feel more like a collection of short stories than a text book. This book is great not just for players in the double digit kyus, but should be re-read every so often until you make it into the dan rankings. You'll get a new appreciation each time you read it.

If you have read my previous entry, you know that I am hesitant to give beginners Go problems. While I do see their merits, I believe Go should be, first and foremost, enjoyable. Sitting down for hours on end doing problem after problem, that only has one solution, can be frustrating to say the least. For those of you who do have the patience for it, solving problems will definitely improve you reading and help you figure out the vital points to attack or protect when you play. 

A few words of advice when solving problems: 

goproblems.com is a great, free resource with over thousands of problems and will even mark your improvement as you solve problems. The problems go from complete beginner all the way to strong amateur and even some professional level problems.

Do not try to solve problems way above your rank. It is usually better to solve problems that are maybe 2-3 ranks weaker than you, but set shorter time limits. A quantity over quality way of studying. This will make it so that when you play, you will see an answer quicker than if you required deep reading every time.  

When solving Go problems, the problems should always be done in your head. Never add stones to the board in an attempt to make it easier. If you use goproblems.com, it is often tempting to try out your solution and letting the computer tell you if you are right or wrong. You will not have this luxury when playing, as such you should not do so when studying. If you are not wholly confident that you have the answer, do not guess! Just skip it and come back to the problem another day. Sometimes taking a break will give you a new outlook on the problem.

One of my favorite parts of playing Go is the review of the game when you finish.  I often spend more time reviewing games than I did playing them. Remembering your games can be hard when you are just starting out. I recommend recording the game on your phone so that you and your opponent can discuss when you finish. Getting your opponent's perspective on the game, regardless if they are better or about the same as you is almost always helpful. I recommend reviewing, at least for a minute or two every game you play in person. Depending on the club, it is often expected of you to do this, and the stronger players are usually happy to offer their two cents.

My last recommendation for how to get better is of course, playing! Now that we have some games under our belt, let's move away from the blitz games and try to take some time between each move. Try playing games with half an hour base time per person, with thirty seconds per move after that. These games will typically last about one hour to an hour and a half. You'll notice that after playing only quick games, you will start seeing multiple short variations. Now we want to improve how far long those variations can get. The quick games were meant to make you reading be a wide, but shallow pool, where the longer games are meant to give the reading a bit more depth.

The most important thing to remember is that Go is meant to be fun. Yes, we want to get better at our hobbies, but we should also do it in a way that we enjoy. If you like reading but not solving problems, or solving problems but not reviewing your games, that's fine. Heck, if all you like is playing and don't want to work hard at getting better, that's good too! Just keep at it!

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