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.