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:


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Game Two:


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Game Three:


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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:


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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.”