Laddering Anxiety

I suspect I’m not the only player who’s been afflicted with Internet Go Anxiety (IGA). Symptoms include an aversion to playing, attachment to rank, and anger/frustration/despair upon losing. If you’re like me, IGA can be a serious impediment to becoming a stronger player, but there’s hope. We can overcome!

During his 25 days of go series this past December, Dwyrin spoke about laddering anxiety, what it is and how to beat it. I was astounded that *he* – the internet-famous Dwyrin – suffered from IGA even after achieving a dan-level rank. It might sound weird, but I expected higher-ranked players to not have anxiety while playing, especially somebody like him who streams his games. Yet there he was telling the world about his struggle.

How did Dwyrin beat IGA? Welp, he began streaming! That’s right. He put his games before the public and forced himself to get over the anxiety. Is that an extreme step? Of course it is, but it shows the lengths to which one might have to go in order to beat this senseless anxiety.

Now I’m not about to start streaming. There are already a number of excellent players out there far more capable than I, and besides I don’t think adding my games to the mix would do anything positive for the community at this point, but I will say that Dwyrin’s advice is right on. Basically it comes down to playing more games. In comparing KGS to Tygem, Dwyrin notes the disparity in games played. Tygem players often had tens of thousands of games per account, while KGS players had far fewer.

Does that mean that Tygem players are stronger or better than KGS ones? I don’t know, but that’s not Dwyrin’s point either. His point was that many players like to dabble at baduk – playing a handful of games per day – and others seem less cautious – playing a high volume of games. Now Dwyrin’s speculating, but I think there’s some basis for his thinking that this difference in volume can be attributed to certain players’ anxiety while laddering.

I know that my own tendency has been to play one game per day, win or lose. If I win the temptation is to hold onto that win and preserve my rank by not playing again that day, the same is true for when I lose. It’s like a circuit breaker. The purpose is to stabilize my rank, but I’m seeking the wrong goal. I don’t my rank to stabilize, I want it to fluctuate. Move up, of course, but stability isn’t a good thing when I’m trying to get stronger.

Overall I felt as though Dwyrin was speaking directly to my experience of baduk. Now I’ve gotten a lot better at overcoming anxiety. It’s a wonder what playing even a single game per day can help one achieve in that regard, but it’s not enough to really bury IGA for good. Last night I went 0-4 while laddering. It didn’t feel good losing, but I was able to convince myself that it doesn’t matter. What matters is learning from my mistakes, because I know I played quite poorly. How can I get better? That should be my concern, not a piece of flair next to my username.

Just to prove that losing doesn’t matter, and that life will go on regardless of one’s record, Dwyrin purposefully lost 20 games in a row once. It reminded me of Fight Club where the members had to start a fight and lose it. Both sides gain. The winner gains confidence and enthusiasm for the game, perhaps they learn that they’re capable of something they previously thought impossible. The loser learns that life goes on. That they started something, failed, and still exist. While I don’t embrace the fantasy upon which Fight Club dwells, there is a certain compelling dimension to this way of thinking and acting, a certain detachment which I find appealing.

I am working to get stronger at baduk no matter how long it takes. I cannot be concerned with a handful of losses, even a decent losing streak. It’s all part of the experience of becoming a better player. If you play a high volume of games I’d advise those to be 10 minutes main time with 3×30 second byo yomi or something comparable. In my experience nothing good comes from playing blitz baduk, but your experience may be different. If you can learn from each game, you are winning and getting better.

Single-Digit Kyu

I am a single-digit kyu (SDK), an OGS 9k!

True, in late May I did flirt with SDK, but my rating then was just a toehold – it reverted within a day to double-digit kyu. This time is different. This time I know I am stronger, and I feel as if this is my level. It is a very satisfying feeling.

What’s the big deal? Well from what I’ve experienced myself and learned from other players the 11-kyu to 9-kyu range is a major barrier for beginning players. It’s the first time they have to decide to get serious about the game in order to improve. This is the point at which non-serious players will probably get turned off to the game and go elsewhere. Making SDK is a validation of what I’ve struggled for since initiating Project Dan three months ago.

I know, I know rank isn’t everything, but it’s something to grab onto – it’s a measure of progress and it shows that I really am becoming a stronger player.

Much remains ahead. According to other players the difficulty level increases exponentially. I expect the struggle to get ahead to become even more fierce in the days and months to come. There are also serious deficiencies in my style that must be corrected if I am to advance further. The important thing, however, is that I learn from these mistakes and figure out how to fix them. The better my feedback the more quickly I’ll improve, or so I hypothesize.

SDK presents its own barriers. I’ve heard 7-8k, 6-4k and 1k are the plateaus I can look forward to, but who really knows? Each player has their own journey.

For now I’ll enjoy a weekend respite and start working again on Monday.

More YouTube Baduk Stars!


Watching baduk games and lectures on YouTube helps me learn and gets me excited about the game. Back in July I did a write up on Haylee, Sibicky, and Jackson—three stars I was following at the time. Today I want to do a profile on the three streamers I’ve been watching the most these past few weeks: Dwyrin, Lightvolty, and In Sente.

DWYRIN is the most established and prolific of the current crop. His YouTube page features over 200 videos on go and a host of other games, such as Sim City. Dwyrin’s style is perhaps best summarized with the question: “Can I kill all the things?” That question and the little “doot, doot, durp” sounds he makes while reading variations out on stream have made their way into my own games. Currently Dwyrin is a 6-dan AGA, and he started playing baduk around 2000. At first I didn’t give Dwyrin’s material much of a chance, but that is to my discredit: His videos – both lectures and live games – are top quality. Each post contains nuggets of wisdom for a little kyu like myself, and I try to apply his lessons to my games.

LIGHTVOLTY is a Maryland-based baduk player who is ranked 6-dan AGA. His YouTube features many Tygem games, mostly from his climb to digital 8-dan. In real life, Lightvolty is Justin Teng and he’s been featured in several AGA E-Journal stories. Justin runs the University of Maryland Go Club, which hosts an annual tournament at the Baltimore campus. What I especially like about Justin’s material is his writing, which has inspired me in my own journey to shodan. There are three documents in particular that I keep nearby: his reading list, a description of his journey to 6-dan, and a guide to becoming a single-digit kyu. Good games, solid inspiration. Thanks odnihs!

IN SENTE is another East Coast-based player, and he just made 1-dan on Tygem after a 10-month push. Way to go! I appreciate In Sente’s material because he’s a newly minted shodan and appreciates the struggles many kyus face to raise their baduk abilities. I’ve found some really engaging games and lessons on his YouTube page. What is more, as player who raised his rank from 13-kyu to 1-dan in under a year, In Sente’s journey directly mirrors that which I am on, and that’s inspiring!