The Long Walk

Having returned from a week’s vacation, I am excited to resume my baduk training.

Even though I didn’t practice while away, baduk was never far from my mind. I wondered whether, absent training, I would struggle once I returned to the grind Monday morning. So far the answer seems to be partly yes, partly no.

What’s been made clear since starting Project Dan nearly six months ago is that getting stronger is far more difficult (for me at least) than I first believed it would be. It’s not that I expected linear progress, it’s just I thought I would progress faster. Turns out that I have to struggle for each rank gain (that’s the only metric I have). Even so, I’ve managed to move up from 13k to 9k, though I still wobble into DDK some days.

What has improved is my attitude towards this seeming lack of advancement. I’ve grown far better at taking the losses and the wins in kind, and not getting overly grumpy about a bad streak or prideful about a good one. I can see real growth in my approach to the game as a learning AND life experience and NOT just as a competitive pursuit. Every game, every review, every video and book I study, everything about this game leads me to want to become a stronger player. It is this resolution that was confirmed while on vacation. I don’t know exactly why it happened this way – perhaps I had to step away to see it? – but I’m grateful for the realization of this improvement.

Another upside is that I’m getting better at recognizing my bad habits and I’m working at eliminating these. My worst habit is creating weak groups, letting them get cut apart, and having to watch them die. Closely related to this is my seeming inability to kill some opposing groups in, what are in hindsight, relatively simple life and death situations. This points to issues with reading (the latter) and judgement/direction of play (the former). So I’ve got homework. What else is new?

The struggle, however, is real. I played several games Tuesday and lost all but two, though I count one of those wins as a loss because I didn’t deserve it. I wasn’t frustrated like I would get in the past (reference attitude adjustment above 😉 ) but it was still difficult. I found myself falling into bad habits – too many weak groups, responding without thinking, and missing a life and death situation. I’m grateful, however, for the opportunity to play so many games since coming back from vacation. Oh, how I wish I could play for hours at a time!

For me the road to dan isn’t short and it isn’t fast. Rather than zipping along through the ranks like some players, I’ve got to hump it – walk one step at a time until I get to my destination. The opportunity lies in the time I’ll have to soak up experience and learn from the games that I play or see played. The difficulty is in avoiding discouragement.

Six months into Project Dan – my first serious attempt to advance in the ranks – I know that I’m getting stronger, but that much work remains.

Weak Groups: Don’t Create Them!

Yesterday was a frustrating day on the goban: My groups just kept on dying!

Why did they die? Because they were weak, and I created them that way. It’s been a problem in several of my recent losses, so much so that I’m on a pretty bad streak!

In his video on ladder anxiety, Dwyrin says that the players who fail to improve are those who don’t know what they’re working on. The fix, he says, is to write down what you want to work on and put check marks next to it whenever it arises in the course of a game. The thing with the most check marks is what you need to prioritize.

I think I need a post-it with the following: NO WEAK GROUPS! 

Every time I see one of my groups die I remember a (paraphrased) line from The Divine Move: Large groups are rarely captured. The line was spoken by Tae-seok, a former professional baduk player who’s doing time after being framed for his brother’s murder. In the scene he’s instructing other prisoners on how to improve their play. I don’t know quite what I like about this prison scene so much, but I suppose it’s this: I see myself as one of those poor players who wants to get better. When one of my dragons is slain, I know that I’ve failed, and I’ve got to get to the root cause.

Players of all levels will find much to work on, but for me right now I’ve got to stop creating weak groups. Here are a few examples where this bad habit led me to defeat.

Game One:


Download SGF


Game Two:


Download SGF


Game Three:


Download SGF


What is to be done?

So now that I’ve identified a problem, what can I do to address it? I plan on using the following resources to help me:

This is not an exhaustive list, nor are all of these resources equally valuable. I think I will end up relying on Dwyrin’s back to basics series more than the others, but we’ll see. Of course I will be doing tsumego (the right way!) throughout this, as I’ve been doing daily since beginning Project Dan.

The onus for all of this falls upon me. I will have to stop creating weak groups – Dwyrin, Haylee, and Nick can’t do that for me. None of these resources will magically raise my level – and it would be foolish to substitute this kind of study for action. In order to improve, I actually have to play games. That’s my main takeaway from reflecting on these recent games: Play more games, but try to play better.

Far from being a discouraging prospect, the need to revamp my practice and hone in on fundamentals is rather exciting. Even though I will probably continue to lose more than I win, I am confident that the sustained effort will bear fruit. This is an exciting place to be, I think! It seems that I’m finally reaching a place where the effort no longer relies on the result (i.e. winning) but instead is based on applying my method (aka system).

Solid Game

I play a pretty solid game.

That’s been my conclusion lately. I still lose more games than I win, but in many cases I can identify where things went wrong – the variation I misread or the weak group I failed to defend. Of course more advanced players than I will probably find many more mistakes than my own reviews, but I’m expecting that. Point is: I’m getting stronger one game at a time.

This progress was made clear in a recent correspondence game I played on OGS against much stronger opponent. I went into the game expecting to lose – and I did! – but I was surprised by my strength. The margin of victory was narrow. Before I missed a ko fight and had to resign the game was down to half a point.

Here is the game record:


Download SGF


My biggest takeaway from the game was that rank doesn’t matter as much as we think it does. It’s not that it is meaningless, it means that what matters are the moves you make. Many times I’ll freak out playing against someone who’s two or more stones stronger than I. This game showed me that I can hold my own against a much stronger player, so I don’t need to be quite so fearful. It reminded me of a scene from Hikaru no Go where Sai bears his blade against Hikaru and challenges him to dive in without fear. Here is that exchange:

Hikaru No Go – Volume 7
Hikaru No Go – Volume 7

Everybody has probably heard this saying: It’s not the fear that matters, it’s what you do with it that counts. Fear is a survival instinct the same as fight or flight. It’s purpose is to give us an evolutionary edge. While playing baduk doesn’t put us in existential danger, it does represent a threat to our ego because we could lose the game. Fear is present in all competitions and every player must deal with it in their own way. Lately I’ve been trying to harness my fear to help me think harder, better. We’ll see whether that is a good approach.

A few days ago I re-read a quote from the famed Miyamoto Musashi that made much more sense when I considered my recent experience with fear. He writes, “It is said the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way. Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.”