Advice

kaz teaching 1

Photo by John Pinkerton/American Go E-Journal

Last update: Aril 7th, 2017

These are some of the most recent teaching results of offline lessons:

Rowan, 23 kyu player, who took 8 lessons from me and is now 13 kyu.
Fred,     19kyu player,  who took 3 lessons from me and is now 15 kyu.
Marek,   8 kyu player, who took 7 lessons from me and is now   5 kyu.

George in his 60s has been taking my offline Special Services Lessons, beginning in summer, 2014, and has improved quickly.  See George to learn how he has studied.

You can read their recommendations here:

There are the latest advice:

It’s not necessary to learn the latest joseki or the latest opening (fuseki).

You don’t have to learn the latest joseki or a newly developed opening to become a stronger Go player.  However, If you find the newest joseki and fuseki particularly interesting, then please feel free to learn them.  But it’s certainly not necessary.  You want to become a stronger player, not a specialist of the latest joseki or opening .

Keep in mind that Cho U Kisei (張栩 棋聖, 王座 in 2012) never studied an opening if it was unlikely to appear in his upcoming games- even as far back as when he was an insei- he restricted himself to mastering his favorite opening .

Amateurs don’t have time to study all the different  joseki and opening variations.  And you don’t need to- if your opponent tries to play a new joseki or opening, there are almost always things you can do to avoid bending to your opponent’s wishes. This goes for pros as well: Otake Hideo 9 dan (大竹英雄), for example,  doesn’t like the “avalanche” joseki and almost always avoids it; yet he has still won many games.

I’ve always though that new joseki and new opening variations are rather like fads. They come, and they go. Keeping up with them is very difficult, even for pros.  The pros in Japan have had a hard time keeping up with the new joseki constantly coming out of South Korea and China.  There was even a time when Japanese players avoided the avalanche joseki with Korean and Chinese players- the number of variations was really quite impossible, and if you make even a single mistake in an avalanche joseki, you lose the game immediately.

I recommend that my students learn basic, stable joseki; ones that have been around for the last 30 or 40 year or so. You can find them on my website ( http://www.kazsensei.com/ ).

For example, the attach-and-extend joseki has been around more than 50 years, and is likely to remain joseki for the next 30 or 40 years as well.  It’s good because it’s based on principles that are applicable to so many situations- and that’s precisely the kind of joseki I want my adult students to learn.  These train you in tesuji and making good shape, which are two things you can use all over the Go board, not just in a joseki.  And knowing the reasons behind each move in a joseki will help you to remember it for a longer time.  On my site, I give explanations of each move, tesuji and shape for a few basic joseki, and show you how they apply in other situations.

I should also mention that the latest popular joseki or opening may not be around in the next 10 years, let alone 50!  No one can predict these things. So, your effort to learn new joseki or new opening may not pay off in the long run. Thus ,unless you’re a pro or a top amateur, you don’t have to study the latest joseki or opening. Instead, you should learn basic fundamentals such as life-and-death, tesuji, and shape, which could also help you face a new joseki or a new opening.

You see, regardless of whether you know the latest joseki or opening, every game presents you with a new fight. And when it comes to fighting, the more you know tesuji and shape, the better you can fight. And the more you know life-and-death problems, the more likely you’ll be able make life or kill enemy groups.

Memorizing a new joseki or a new opening, on the other hand, may not help you fight well if you encounter a completely new joseki or a new opening- the ability to handle yourself in those situations is a reflection of how well you know tesuji, life-and-death, and good shape.

I once stopped studying and playing Go seriously for more than 5 years, while I went to University in the US.  Upon my return to Japan, I played in the 4 major amateur tournaments in Tokyo, and, despite not knowing the latest joseki, I still managed a win-loss ratio of about 85%.  When  my opponent tried a new joseki, I just avoided it. When my opponent tried to play the Chinese opening or the Kobayashi opening, I played White 4 approaching Black 3 to avoid it. After that, my opponent and I had to face a new situation, and whoever was stronger was going to win.

I often recommend that you have your own favorite opening.

The reason is:

1. It’s impossible to learn all the joseki and opening that are out there, and if you put your valuable study time into familiarizing yourself with as many openings as possible, then you won’t know any of them particularly well. If you think that this advice is only good for amateurs, you should know that Takemiya Masaki 9-dan (武宮正樹), known for his  famous “cosmic” style of Go, has been playing the 3 star point opening for many decades, and still plays different games every time.

2. If you have your favorite opening and keep playing it, you will get better at using it. So your winning ratio may very well increase through this alone.

I’ve recently read a book written by Cho U Kisei (張栩 棋聖, 王座 in 2012). In the book he says he never studied an opening which he did not expect to appear in his upcoming games. Come to think of it, Cho U often came up with new openings- I assume that he created them intentionally. For him, it’s better to play an opening which he knows very well (having created it himself) and therefore one his opponents don’t know. And when he takes the lead in the opening, it’s more likely that he’ll win in the end.  This is something that you can apply to your own playing.

3. If you keep playing the same opening, you will often play the same few joseki (or at least similar ones). This means that you’ll be more likely to remember the joseki, and it will be easier to build on that knowledge.  It’s hard to remember joseki when you don’t use them often. “Use it or lose it,” as they say..

4. Even if you stop playing Go for a while, as long as you studied one opening deeply, it will come back to you rather easily.

I need to explain point 4 a little more:

Amateurs often stop playing Go for a while because they get very busy working, taking care of the family, starting other hobbies and activities, etc. I’ve met many people who stopped playing Go for a year, five, years, or even twenty years. But because they used to be avid Go players- really obsessed with the game- they eventually found a way to come back to playing.  However, if they spent their earlier time studying many openings and joseki rather than really learning one opening well, they have a hard time remembering any of the many they knew back then.

Ideally, though, you never want to stop studying Go. Regardless of how busy you are, as long as you keep studying Go-even for 5 or 10 minutes a day- the chances are that you may not forget much of what you have learned.

How does one manage that? One way would be to leave your Go books in a bathroom and read it once or twice a day.

The reason I say this is that one day I realized the following:

Rather than studying Go intensively for 6 months and then not studying for another 6 months, it seems better to study for a year consistently- even if the study is not particularly intensive.

Some of my language-talented friends have told me that there are similarities between learning Go and learning languages. And I have also read some books and articles written by language specialists who can speak several languages. They all say that the best way to learn a language is consistent study over time. If you try to study intensively for a short time and then stop using the language, it will escape from you very quickly.

A person who speaks six languages once told me that the human brain works in such a way that things we stop using on a daily basis can be forgotten rather quickly.

This means that if you stop playing Go, then your brain thinks that it doesn’t have to retain your Go knowledge and experience, starts inputting new information in your head, overwriting your Go knowledge. Makes perfect sense to me.

(This topic “Learn your favorite opening, master it, and keep learning more!” relates to the next topic “You don’t have to learn the latest joseki or the latest fuseki (opening)”.

 

How long humans can concentrate? What about Fujisawa 9dan? Key to learn Go quickly!

As is known, concentration is a key to learning quickly as well as to playing a good game.

By the way, generally speaking, how long how long is it possible for humans to concentrate at maximum?

The answer is probably 3 hours.

As an insei, I learned this number from a book written by Serizawa Hirobumi (芹澤博文) 9 dan Shogi pro (Shogi (将棋) is Japnaese chess) and also a 5 dan amateur Go player.

Serizawa and Fujisawa Hideyuki (藤沢秀行, Shuko is also known as his name) both loved drinking, and they drank together often; they were like brothers. (I have an intriguing story of them at the end.)

Serizawa Hirobumi wrote in his book that once he thought of a move for a long time and played it. When he saw the time, he spent 3 hours for that move. Then he felt that natured called him; he went to pee, and pee and blood came out. He concluded that a human being could continue concentration 3 hours at maximum.

(I also read the same kind of story somewhere; someone concentrated for 3 hours and peed with blood. But I don’t remember which story that was… Sorry! But I do rememberthe number “3 hours”. )

Later I learned that Fujisawa Hideyuki Kisei (棋聖) also thought of one move for 2 hours and 57 minutes and played an unbelievable killing move against Kato Masao (加藤正夫) 9 dan in the 5th game of the 2nd Kisei best-of-seven title match.

Kato challenged Fujisawa’s Kisei title and won three games and lost one game. All he needed was win just one more game to get the Kisei title.

But Fujisawa’s tenacity to kill the group in the 5th game overcame Kato. After this game, Fujisawa was completely and utterly exhausted and couldn’t move for a while.

But because of this winning, Fujisawa revived!

He won the 6th and 7th game and defended his Kisei title. (This 5th game is shown in my website: http://www.kazsensei.com/ ).

So this means that you can improve your concentration up to 3 hours. (I haven’t. 🙁

Whoever concentrates his/her study can learn quickly. And whoever concentrates a game better than the opponent is likely to win.

Pros often say in a Go magazine that“I lost my concentration momentarily and made a mistake, which turned out to be the losing move.”

So concentration IS important in order to win.

Pros are usually an expert at concentration.

They have built the ability to concentrate for a long time. But this ability didn’t come overnight. Years of training as a childhood has made them build such an incredible concentration.

Amateurs can improve Go as well as concentration if they don’t have one, yet. They just need some training.

The problem is that unlike children, many adults don’t have much time to study Go; they have to work and take care of the family, etc.

So even if you have only 15-minute study time every day, I think it’s a good idea to create an environment in which you could completely absorb yourself in Go.

Using a timer is one way to improve your concentration when you solve Go problems. You may think that “studying only 15 minutes” doesn’t help me much.

But in fact concentrating 15 minutes is not an easy thing, I think. Being able to concentrate for 15 minutes anytime anywhere is not easy, either. I mean can you concentrate your study or work in an ear-splitting construction site?

But if you could do that, you could learn Go anywhere anytime. So you could become stronger faster than other people.

If you have trouble concentrating even for 15 minutes, that’s a good start. When you get used to it, then you can increase the time little by little.

If you really want to become a strong Go player, you should use your time efficiently as well.

For example many people watch games on the internet and on TV Go program in Japan. It’s fun, a lot of fun. But are they really concentrating? Are they thinking about next moves and reading moves as much as you play a serious game? If the answer is “no”, then
you may have to find a better way to study Go.

I also sometimes think that watching a strong player’s game on the internet may not be the best use of time.

Let me give you an example.

Suppose you’re a 10 kyu player. Does watching a game between 5 dan amateur players help you learn? I’m not sure if that’s helpful.

1. How do you know that those strong players have solid basic foundations? If they are full of common amateur mistakes, then the chances are that you’re learning common amateur mistakes.

2. Suppose those two 5 dan amateur players have built solid basic foundations. In that case you can learn something.

But what if they started playing an “avalanche” joseki?Is it going to be very useful for 10 kyu players? Isn’t it better for them to learn at their own level? It’s very likely that they are learning something way advanced, which may take you 3 or 4 years or possibly longer to understand.

If you’re a 10 kyu player, you can’t tell how easy or difficult a game is.  Is it better to solve life-and-death problems at 10 kyu level than watch a an “avalanche” joseki?  It’s up to you to decide.

By the say, I have already written on my blog that it is important to “Find a book or problems at your own level” ( http://kazsensei.seesaa.net/article/251502535.html).

I must say that my advice is often for adults, especially those in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, since a more than half of my Go students are at those ages.

If you’re a child or a teenager, then you could become 5 dan from 10 kyu in a few years if you study hard; in that case learning an “avalanche” joseki may by okay.

But for adults I think it’s wise to know that you could avoid an “avalanche” joseki and can still become a strong player. To become a strong Go player, you need to build basics foundations, not an “avalanche” joseki.

Pros have developed an incredible concentration when they were teenagers.

This is one of the biggest reasons that many pros often learn other subjects, different from Go, very quickly and become good at it.

For example cosmic style Takemiya Masaki (武宮正樹) 9dan is known as an expert in golf, backgammon, mah-jong, and singing. He even made a record debut once as a singer. He also won a backgammon title once.

By the way, here is an intriguing story about Serizawa Hirobumi (芹澤博文) 9 dan Shogi pro and Fujisawa Hideyuki (藤沢秀行, Shuko 9 dan.

Suppose a god of Go knows Go 100. How much do you know of Go?

Fujisawa and Serizawa once drank and talked about it. They decided to write down on a piece of paper and handed it in. Fujisawa’s answer was 6, and Srizawa’s was 7. Fujisawa liked his answer, and Serizawa was embarrassed by his answer because his number was higher than Fujisawa.

(Serizawa, by the way, was a talented, and one of the top Shogi player, but never got a major title.)

 

Reviewing is also important in order to be a better Go player

Reviewing your game is also important.

I’m aware that many people have a hard time remembering a game, and that’s fine. It takes a lot of time and training to remember your game.

In order to record your game I highly recommend playing on the internet because a game is automatically recorded.

It’s also a good idea to review your game right after you play. If you review it, you may not remember why you played your mistakes.

(By the way, many, many amateur players have told me that they don’t remember their thoughts after they played a game. So for those people I always give comments during a game. )

Pros review their game 3, 4, 5 hours or 8 hours if they have time. Top pros review their games until they are satisfied.

Amateurs, of course, don’t have to review one game for many hours. And if you review the most important part just for 15 minutes, that will be wonderful.

Ideally you ask a pro or a Go teacher to give commentary on your game. It’s because unless you’re a 5 dan or stronger, you may not find
your own mistakes and proper moves easily.

If you have never asked a pro or a Go teacher to review your game, I highly recommend it. You would be surprised by how much you can learn.

I’ve been teaching Go for many, many years. Usually I teach the same people for a long time… 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, and longer.

Based on my experience some people learn more from your games than from playing with a pro or a Go teacher. The reason is that some amateur players play with peers completely differently from playing a pro or a Go teacher.

It’s like “Jekyll and Hyde”.

They change their Go personality drastically.

I’ve taught people like that. One day I realized that I should teach them differently.

By the way, I should mention that you don’t have to review all your games. Even if you get a game commentary from a pro or a Go teacher once a month, and if you go over it for a while, that will help improve your Go.

How much you can improve depends on how much you review.

If you get 100 game commentaries and don’t have time to review any of the games, then it’s better to get one game commentary and review it many times.

The important thing is to review continuously.

It takes time to learn.

One of my Go students got my lessons and keeps reviewing it at least once or twice a year, depending on how busy he is at work. But every time I meet him, he has been improving.

In order to become a better Go player, reviewing a game is essential. Otherwise, you keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

But I think it’s the same as chess and other mind sports, and physical sports such as baseball, soccer, Olympic sports, too. And I bet reviewing is necessary for business and investment. I don’t think any company lets workers keep making the same mistakes and lose money over and over again.

When it comes to Go, even if you don’t review your games, you never lose money. But if your goal is to become a better Go player, then you should find the more efficient way of improving, and one important study is reviewing.

If you study very hard, then you can become stronger, but without a reviewing process, your improvement would be slower, not efficient.

If you don’t study Go and don’t review, but only play many games, then you may very well keep making the same mistakes, which are going to be ingrained in you. The longer you keep making the same mistakes, the more they become a habit. When the same mistakes become second
nature, it’s going to be very hard to get rid of them.

After that, even if you try to learn basics, it’s not at all easy because your mistakes prevent you from learning basics.

I can tell you this because of my teaching experience.

In Japan I have taught so many amateur players who never studied basics for 10, 20, or 30 years.

One day they started taking my lessons, but I have always had a hard time making them stronger because getting rid of their common amateur mistakes takes 2, 3 or 4 years. At the same time they also learn basics.

But it’s much faster to learn basics from the very beginning.

Sadly they eventually give up learning basics.

For amateurs I think it’s important to get basics as soon as possible before you land in common amateur mistake syndrome.

It takes adults much longer time than children. So adults have to study basics much longer time than children if they want to become stronger.

Reviewing is one important way to prevent you from making the same common mistakes.
The following is an unusual pro case; just FYI.

When Yamashiro Hiroshi(山城宏)challenged Kobayashi Koichi (小林 光一) Kisei (棋聖)
of the 16th Kisei best-of-seven title match, the score was 3-3.

They played the last game to determine the winner.

In the final game Yamashiro was winning by half a point in the endgame. Interestingly during the game both Yamashiro and Kobayashi thought that the Kisei title was going to move to Yamashiro about the same time.

But at the very end, Kobayashi found a move to gain one point and turned around the game. As a result, Yamashiro not only lost the title, he also lost the glory and about $600,000.

After his loss, he kept studying the game for almost 3 month in Nihon Kiin.

(Like I said, this is just FYI.)

I’m not encouraging any amateur players to do this.

 

The importance of life-and-death and tesuji problems

Life-and-death problems are the one of the

most important if you want to become a strong go player. Even if you study the opening, the middle game, and the endgame, if you
make one mistake in a life-or-death situation, you would lose a game.

Also most Go players I taught always lack the ability to solve life-and-death problems.

For example when I taught adult kyu players, they often had a hard time recognizing a false eye. So they didn’t realize that their big
group was dead until the end.

In fact this happened to me and others when they and I were dan players… Oops! In other words, recognizing a false eye may not be as easy as you think. I think it’s partly because in a real game many stones are so mixed up that things don’t look as easy as life-and-death problems.

(That is why I’ve been making many false eye problems in my website: http://www.kazsensei.com/ )

If you don’t know what to study, I would recommend life-and-death and tesuji rather than any other study.

This is because
1. life-and-death can often determines the winner,
2. studying life-and-death and tesuji will definitely help you become strong whereas reading Go books on some abstract concepts such as moyo may take a long time to understand,
3. when you learn tesuji, your fighting skill improves significantly. In fight if you make a mistake, you may lose many stones.

So whoever knows more tesuji is more likely to win a fight, thus more likely to win a game. Additionally if you learn tesuji, your shape becomes beautiful and strong. Tesuji can also appear in the endgame as well.

So learning tesuji helps you throughout a game.

(That is why I’ve been making a lot of life-and-death problems, tesuji problems, and shape problems in my website: http://www.kazsensei.com/ )

Ideally, of course, you study everything if you have time, but still you should focus on life-and-death problems.

Pros who are good at life-and-death problems often become a top.  This also proves how important life-and-death is.

Cho U 9 dan (張栩先生) has been making records of the fastest winning ratios, getting more titles, etc. He is famous for being good at solving life-and-death problems as well as making great life-and-death problems.

Sha Imin 6 dab (謝依旻先生) has been getting more women’s titles in Japan than any other women. Her most favorite study
is life-and-death problems.

By the way, solving them once or is not good enough.

I always recommend that amateur Go players solve many easy problems over and over again.

I emphasize “over and over again” more than “many problems.” Reviewing problems once or twice is not good enough. 10 times, 20 times. The more, the better…

You don’t have to repeat every day. You could repeat it over a year or some years.

If you like more advice, please take a look at my blog: http://kazsensei.seesaa.net/

Also see  TeachingOffline lessonsOnline lessons.

Top page