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I've taught Go to over fifty people over the years - and i've seen this over and over again: some people have shaking hands putting down the first stone in their first game ever.

For some reason they assume they ought to be good from the beginning. Even in their first game they try to be original. They're afraid to imitate moves they saw someone else play. It feels like watching someone trying to learn a language by not imitating the sounds they hear when others speak it.

But those that i saw who became really good, were always on the other end of the spectrum. Those who jump right in and played /really/ bad without any anxiety or pressure (no thinking at all and mostly just stubborn imitation of moves they saw someone else play before) and fast (many many many games, often not even to the end), almost always sticked to the game long enough to learn to appreciate and enjoy it, and sometimes even managed to excel at it.

There's something magical about the fearlessness of just playing. Pure curiosity, maybe even quite a bit of ambition, but especially the absolute surrender to repeated and premeditated failure.

This is the most provocative comment I've read on my post. Reading it, I find myself thinking I will never be good because I have some sort of emotional disability that gives me shaking hands compared to some other people that are imbued with the magic gift of curiosity and fearlessness.

Logically, I consider the possibility that such things can be learned or cultivated, and that perhaps I can one day be fearless and curious. But emotionally, there is something pessimistic inside me that believes I will always be this way.

It's quite a disturbing thing to contemplate.

I don't think your problems with Go are at all a given. Playing repeatedly and fast is a choice you can make out of pure logic.

Go is a language and should be tought like a language. You don't explain phonetics to a child, but instead let it immitate sounds, scream and giggle. Try explaining phonetics to a six-month-old child.

There's no reason why you couldn't just play a game, play fast without thinking, and immediately start another one, maybe even before finishing the first one. What you're doing that way is not looking for ways to win, but for the responses you get for your actions. It's like babbling 'apdy' at your father and getting back a 'daddy'. Thinking about how to use your vocal chords isn't going to get you there, what you need is practice. It may not look like you're learning, but well, you do.

View it as learning the sounds of a completely new language, and imagine you're a baby trying to appreciate the noises someone else makes and then try to immitate them. There's really nothing about you that prevents you from doing this except a choice.

I can't help but recall Thomas Edison's arduous yet ultimately fruitful work to invent the light bulb.

He says, "If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."

I'm just discovering Go, and I am terrible! But, hey, I don't know what I'm doing and it's certainly not going to do me any harm to fail until I get it right!

Developers are great at figuring problems out, but there's no replacement for experience. I frequently create little "spikes" to figure out how to nail down a concept... and sometimes I just outright fail. I don't mind, it's a learning experience.

Take a step back from the game, mentally, and put your focus on the metagame; track your progress over many games (might be easier with some consistent opponents), tracking area and game length as well as your recognition of the various Go forms (Seki, Double Atari, etc).

If challenging yourself doesn't work in one aspect, try another way.

You're definitely an inspiration to me, so I hope something here inspires you to overcome your challenges!


You have control of your actions. Even if you're scared of the outcome, if you still practice despite that fear, you will improve.

When I first started training BJJ, I was indeed scared about being "stuck" in bad situations when rolling. I trained anyway. What I tell the beginners is that I'm not the most athletic or the most talented, but I've trained regularly for years. In fact, I feel that I'm actually a slow learner in jiu-jitsu. Showing up to practice despite my fears is why I've learned what I have.

I don't like being controlled by fears, so I find I'm drawn to the activities that scare me. The standup portion of fighting - boxing and muay-thai - scare me. I'm not good at it. But when my jiu-jitsu training partners spar, I spar too. I'm scared, but I don't like backing down because of that fear.

I tend to be afraid of learning new skills. This is quite inconvenient, because I love using the skills and improving on existing ones. So I'm pushing myself to learn the skills anyway.

What I'm finding (and this may change, as I've only been doing this a few years) is not that the fear of new things (and being bad at doing new things) goes away, but that I can recognise it as something that will pass, and ignore it until it is no longer there. Because I've seen the pattern enough times to know that that sort of fear always goes away. And I have some shiny new skills to show for it.

Since you teach Go -- you probably teach it well, but I thought I'd share my experiences as a Go student who gave up after a couple of years.

My problem, and Raganwald's, is that I can generally read the rules of any new game and, based on those rules, formulate a strategy. I might not expect to win, but I at least have enough understanding of the mechanism of the game that I can pick a direction and run with it. (I was going to say, "that I can play passably well", but that really isn't it at all -- it's the formulation of strategy that's important to me, and, I suspect, Raganwald.)

So what happens in Go? Well, you're told the rules, and then you're given a few hints that don't make any sense to you, like the 3-4 stone. Either way, it's impossible to form a strategy. You might as well stand above the board and let stones loose from your fingers to fall randomly upon it.

And my teachers, bless their hearts, took it upon themselves to win by extremely large margins repeatedly, which I would not have taken personally if only I had finished each game with the feeling that I had learned something.

In the end, I became an "eh" player, but found myself dreading Tuesday night Go club, found it occupying too much of my mind space, and found that it wasn't really giving me anything positive in return.

There were very very few long term new recruits in the local club.

Yeah, your rules->formulate strategy->develop tactical plan->iterate is usually a great approach! Sadly, Go's rules are so simple it's really tough to guess what good strategies are from a reading of the rules. I think this is because so many of the strategic concepts -- power vs. influence, chasing, pincers, leaning attacks, etc., are the emergent properties of tactical features -- eyes, life & death, ko fights -- which are themselves emergent from an unbelievably simple ruleset. It's similar to looking at DNA and figuring out protein shapes. It's just CGAT, how hard could it be?

Relatedly: So i've heard of two different ways to teach go -- the Eastern way and the Western way.

The western way is to be told the Rules, the Object, and the Strategy and Tactics that will get you there.

The eastern way (this is hearsay) is that a teacher shows you the rules -- and then leaves you to memorize 50 games in their entirety, on your own.

For someone who's done all his learning the western way, my first reaction to the eastern way was "that's stupid."

What's not said in the eastern way is that you learn in reverse. First you have to puzzle out the Tactics -- why did they do this and not this? Why did they take 10 seconds for these 5 moves and 5 minutes for this one? Then you can start to figure out the strategies and feel the flow of the game. Then, maybe -- only maybe -- can you then guess at the actual object of the game.

After memorizing 50 games, then a teacher might actually help you. How dumb! how silly! And yet, this way, the teacher already knows that the student is willing to work.

Anyway, that kind of rambled. I'm sorry you had bad teachers. There's lots of them, probably myself included. Go is really, really hard to teach. I still don't know what the object is, just how to count the score at the end...

One of the difficulties for me here is that I have extremely poor long-term memory, probably due to extended (and now habitual) sleep deprivation.

I simply cannot commit a large enough number of games and sequences to memory.

I do however have a better-than-average working memory, which allows me to compensate in most games by visualizing lots of different game sequences simultaneously.

Go is not one of those games.

I'm with you. I know people who can remember every game they've played and i'm just not one of them. I learned "the western way" myself. I've noticed, though, that i don't remember the recurring patterns or sequences, i just kind of feel them. It sounds weird, but your brain gets quite good at the pattern recognition if you let it.

I would say that being able to visualize lots of different game sequences is crucial in go to learning tactics. You'll do great! Give it another shot :D

Well, i've seen this too, not only with Go but with Programming and a whole lot of other things. They're busy showing off how good they are, instead of helping you learn.

However, once you know the trick, you don't need anyone to teach you, but just someone you can imitate. Just get them to be quiet and play lots of games with you, or ask them questions when you really need to know something. Be the driver of your own learning, then your teacher's teaching skill matters less.

one of the stronger players i know did this -- he just played blitz with a 7d over and over and over in a coffeeshop, didn't ask many questions but just imitated first & drew conclusions second.

I've experienced more tension playing go than any game other than poker.

I think initially go particularly punishes people who are very strong at thinking their way through combinatorial problems.

If you're good at strategy in general, and used to quickly and deliberately thinking through decision trees, I think it's only natural to build up a sense of confidence of being able to be good at nearly any game.

But go utterly defeats this, as the initial few moves of the game involve very vague intuition. Certainly experienced players have a library of standard opening formations and patterns they rely on, but more importantly, they've played the countless games necessary to intuitively apply that knowledge effectively. There's a saying that if you learn the standard patterns (joseki) you become 2 stones weaker. It's true. It takes many games to integrate that knowledge into actual play effectively. Trying to learn it before you're ready is counterproductive.

The other proverb is great advice: lose your first 100 games as fast as possible. I'm still on this path, and have gone from understanding little to playing even against 14k players in the local club.

Keep courage, the anxiety may not go away, but the enjoyment of the game will rise to meet it.

I wonder which type of Go player I would be. Sometimes I do something like this with development, where I spend too much time feeling ignorant and try to ramp up my knowledge by reading. Once I jump into the coding I still feel underprepared as things stick better when you are intimate with the context, and I end up feeling like I should have just jumped into coding first. I think most of us have an easier time learning by doing.

This advice is applicable to so much more than Go or programming. For any endeavor, you have to be willing to fail for a while before ever gaining any kind of competence. Writing, sports, picking up women.

There's a little more to this than just being willing to fail. With Go, I don't even know that I'm failing as I play.

Writing is a good example. Go feels like trying to learn to write with the instruction to place letters on the board one at a time, but I don't know any words or why there are these funny squiggly marks and dots next to some of the words, or why some of the letters are bigger than others, or why there are blank spaces between some of the groups of groups of letters.

And that isn't the point either, because I'm not afraid of learning to write by myself. The fear is a social fear.

The biggest problem I've found is that the feedback loop is too long if you play a whole game and then go back to discuss it (especially when playing in person without a record). It often works better to stop the game and talk about why a sequence of moves was particularly good or bad, and play out a few variations immediately. Depending on how well the student is doing, either continue the game from the original position or the best alternative.

That social fear is what keeps plenty of people from just jumping in and failing at plenty of other things. Of course there's more to success at a thing than willingness to fail. But out of fear, people sabotage the endeavor before it's begun. Fear that people won't like what I've made. Fear that what I've written isn't good enough. Fear that I won't be good enough compared to my perception of their expectations. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of rejection.

That's the thing. Of course some people won't like what you've done. Of course you'll make a mistake. Of course you'll get rejected. Being able to accept that will at least put you past the self-defeating stage. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

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