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 Post subject: On issues with teaching complete beginners
Post #1 Posted: Mon May 16, 2016 2:36 am 
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I'm relatively new to the game myself but I've been trying to introduce friends to the game so that more people will be able to play with me. This usually involves me briefly explaining the rules then playing games with them on a 13x13 board to start and eventually a 19x19 board. Here are some of the problems I have had trying to teach and play the game with complete beginners:

1) They don't know when the game has ended (they keep playing stones which do not further the game)

2) They dislike playing handicap games (or flat-out refuse to play them!)

3) Some have claimed they feel overwhelmed (by so many things going on at once)

I have tried to solve 1 by explaining that when territory is safe, playing stones that cannot live inside someone elses territory is futile, and that when a group is dead, playing stones to try to help it is futile, but I'm not sure what the best way to illustrate/explain this is. (I've gone over ladders/nets/and how having two eyes can make a group immune to capture.)

One friend said playing a handicap game was like, “putting the game on easy mode” and I tried to explain that it is more like, “putting the game on more even-footing” but he didn't buy it. Another friend felt as if the extra stones he started with didn't matter because he, “didn't even know how to use them”.

When someone feels overwhelmed, I have asked them to try to focus on a corner/local area/fight and not think too much about the rest, to ask if it is important for them to play there or if they can play somewhere else instead. And if they determine they can play away, to look at other areas, one at a time as small "chunks" and determine where they should play that way instead of trying to take in the entire board at once. They, however, still feel like too much is going on at once. (Maybe a 9x9 board is in order for this case?)

I am worried that my friends feel as though I am completely sandbagging them and in the process I might be discouraging them from playing by beating them so mercilessly... but my intent is merely to teach them the game!

I know that everyone is different, maybe someone who dislikes handicap games will learn or enjoy the game just as well without playing them as someone who enjoys them would. (I would like to feel like I'm improving at the same time though, and not lax in my moves or shape because I think I can get away with it! Maybe my main motivation for wanting to give them stones is selfishness.) And I know not everyone is necessarily interested in the game (especially as much as I am), but I'm afraid in my excitement to play I am not being as careful and mindful as I could be in how I am trying to introduce them to/teach them the game. Any advice on the matter would be much appreciated, thanks.

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Post #2 Posted: Mon May 16, 2016 3:16 am 
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Ninjaboots wrote:
Here are some of the problems I have had trying to teach and play the game with complete beginners:

1) They don't know when the game has ended (they keep playing stones which do not further the game)

2) They dislike playing handicap games (or flat-out refuse to play them!)

3) Some have claimed they feel overwhelmed (by so many things going on at once)



I recall feeling all of the above when I was a complete beginner too. For #1 it might be easier to start with Chinese rules ? It took me a while to understand the end of game complications that arise with territory scoring.

I never liked playing handicap games either. I'm not sure why. I wanted to explore various types of opening moves that I'd seen in books and always felt that having initial stones put a spanner in the works for trying out specific things (such as non 4/4 corner enclosures etc etc).

As for number three. I still feel overwhelemed. It's just different things overwhelm me now and at a higher level of abstraction.

You could play on a smaller board? At least the handicaps would also be smaller too. It's also a little less intimidating than 19x19 which can seem a bit of a large playing space when you're just learning. Too many options and no idea on where to start can overwhelm.

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 Post subject: Re: On issues with teaching complete beginners
Post #3 Posted: Mon May 16, 2016 3:34 am 
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Start on a 9x9 board and tell them that it is normal to for black to start with 4 stones on the board. Then tell them that as black improves he gets handicapped by losing one of the stones. Also, I agree that Chinese rules are easier for beginners and not as onerous to apply to 9x9 and they are to 19x19.

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 Post subject: Re: On issues with teaching complete beginners
Post #4 Posted: Mon May 16, 2016 4:39 am 
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I think starting on anything larger than 9x9 with complete beginners is likely to be counterproductive - the game is just too overwhelming without the many filters provided by experience. On 9x9 I usually give 4-5 handicap stones to complete beginners and I pretty much always let them win. These games I usually treat as teaching games and for the first few games we talk a lot while playing.

For example when we get to the endgame and the usual territory questions arise, I ask people to play the stones where they wish (where they can't live). It eventually becomes clear these can't live and that the score remains unchanged. To drive home the point of handicap stones, I might reduce the handicap to 2 and play for a solid territory win (avoiding the many opportunities to kill everything on the board). The point of handicaps stones becomes very apparent to the student after this experience.

I've found that this method is usually enough to produce enthusiasm for the 9x9 game if not necessarily deeper interest in the game. For the rare student excited about really getting into the game I offer teaching games on 19x19 where we only go through the first 80 moves or so. I encourage these folks to play live or correspondence games on OGS with other people at their level and offer reviews of these games. I also take them to the local Go meetup where they can discover the incredible excitement of an evenly matched 19x19 game in person.


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 Post subject: Re: On issues with teaching complete beginners
Post #5 Posted: Mon May 16, 2016 1:03 pm 
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If they are new to the game and true beginners, I think the social aspect is more important than the teaching aspect.

They 'should' enjoy being with you and the others. Have a drink and a chat. Playing and teaching perhaps comes second. Give them some time, let them play, practice and experience by themselves. This may perhaps be a better approach then trying to teach them. Don't point to their mistakes. Otherwise I feel you may lose them.

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 Post subject: Re: On issues with teaching complete beginners
Post #6 Posted: Mon May 16, 2016 1:07 pm 
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And if they have smartphone, suggest they play GoQuest.
Fun little app, very addictive.

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 Post subject: Re: On issues with teaching complete beginners
Post #7 Posted: Mon May 16, 2016 2:07 pm 
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I would also highly recommend not playing them directly, but having two of them play each other, so that the skill difference is not as high. You can discuss things with them as they're playing or after, of course.

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 Post subject: Re: On issues with teaching complete beginners
Post #8 Posted: Tue May 17, 2016 1:43 am 
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Thanks for the advice everyone.

I had the thought after I made this post that Chinese counting wouldn't punish fruitless invasion as badly and maybe promote new players to “just going for it” more often.

I certainly have tried to make it a “social” thing, we usually have food/drinks and do something else other than just play Go. A neighbor of mine is quite keen on Chess, and seems the most likely to “stick with it” when it comes to Go.

Sadly, not everyone is able to make it all at once, so having complete beginners only play against each other isn't really an option.

On a stream last night, Batts said that he constantly lies to his students. It reminded me of how I felt when I was studying math when I was young: I was taught rules only to find out that they were not really rules but taught to me so I would understand something “basic” and as I advanced in mathematics I seemed to be told to break more and more rules until it was completely different from how it started out. This approach may work for some, but it feels like the sort of thing you have to have a good idea about in advance in order to implement in a way that is constructive.

For my part, I am going to try to stick to basics: go for solid territory, give them weaknesses to (hopefully) find and exploit, try to encourage them, and stick to the positives, give them examples whenever they have questions, and try to keep the mood relaxed.

I don't currently have a 9x9 board (only 19x19 and 13x13) but a board I ordered awhile back arrived split in two down the middle. If I can convince someone I know with the tools, perhaps I can make four smaller boards out of it (7x7 and 9x9) to make it easier for new players.

Thanks again for all the advice.

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 Post subject: Re: On issues with teaching complete beginners
Post #9 Posted: Tue May 17, 2016 5:17 am 
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Ninjaboots wrote:
On a stream last night, Batts said that he constantly lies to his students. It reminded me of how I felt when I was studying math when I was young: I was taught rules only to find out that they were not really rules but taught to me so I would understand something “basic” and as I advanced in mathematics I seemed to be told to break more and more rules until it was completely different from how it started out. This approach may work for some, but it feels like the sort of thing you have to have a good idea about in advance in order to implement in a way that is constructive.

This is how I teach both go and math, at least at the lower levels. Trying to teach beginners what is correct in every situation just leads to confusion. A set of rules allows them to discover for themselves when they should be broken as they improve.

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I don't currently have a 9x9 board (only 19x19 and 13x13) but a board I ordered awhile back arrived split in two down the middle. If I can convince someone I know with the tools, perhaps I can make four smaller boards out of it (7x7 and 9x9) to make it easier for new players.

Just put a couple of strips of paper along one edge to reduce the size.

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 Post subject: Re: On issues with teaching complete beginners
Post #10 Posted: Tue May 17, 2016 5:28 am 
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You can find all my experiences with teaching beginners and others here: http://senseis.xmp.net/?DieterVerhofstadt%2FTeachingExperiences

From those experiences and thinking about Go (inspired by Minue) I've arrived at a recommended introduction
http://senseis.xmp.net/?DieterVerhofstadt%2FRecommendedIntroduction

Two things are controversial about it:

- starting on VERY small boards, namely 5x5
- using stone counting until it becomes inefficient

Obviously they are essential to the method.

- very small boards are the best way to make a beginner feel that understanding the rule of capture makes him win games, especially if he goes first; then going first becomes a clear advantage, even against experienced players; soon the game will be boring and one can shift to 7x7 ... No handicaps, no winning by explanation, just plain learning by playing
- stone counting has the main advantage that you don't need to explain territory and therefore life & death, only the rule of capture. The beginner will learn about L&D and territory in a natural fashion. It has the additional advantage of players realizing the game is about alive stones, not about surrounded empty points; if you believe this is not true, you might actually have fallen prey to the same misconception due to your own introduction to the game as being "territorial". It IS a territorial game but it includes the alive stones (or their negative, the captured stones)


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 Post subject: Re: On issues with teaching complete beginners
Post #11 Posted: Tue May 17, 2016 11:22 am 
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Knotwilg wrote:
You can find all my experiences with teaching beginners and others here: http://senseis.xmp.net/?DieterVerhofstadt%2FTeachingExperiences

From those experiences and thinking about Go (inspired by Minue) I've arrived at a recommended introduction
http://senseis.xmp.net/?DieterVerhofstadt%2FRecommendedIntroduction

Two things are controversial about it:

- starting on VERY small boards, namely 5x5
- using stone counting until it becomes inefficient


While these days I lean towards the Capture Game for teaching absolute beginners, I used to start with the 3x3 board, but with Japanese territory scoring. There are a number of lessons on the 3x3. For instance:

Click Here To Show Diagram Code
[go]$$B Dead stones
$$ -------
$$ | . X . |
$$ | W X W |
$$ | . X . |
$$ -------[/go]


The :wc: stones are dead, and need not be captured.

Click Here To Show Diagram Code
[go]$$B Eye vs. no eye
$$ -------
$$ | a X . |
$$ | X X W |
$$ | . W . |
$$ -------[/go]


Black wins because he has an eye at "a". The :wc: stones are dead here, too.

Click Here To Show Diagram Code
[go]$$B Ko
$$ -------
$$ | . X X |
$$ | O X O |
$$ | . O . |
$$ -------[/go]


Click Here To Show Diagram Code
[go]$$B Seki
$$ -------
$$ | . O . |
$$ | X O X |
$$ | . X . |
$$ -------[/go]


:D

And this:

Click Here To Show Diagram Code
[go]$$B The weakness of the corners
$$ -------
$$ | B . B |
$$ | . O . |
$$ | B . B |
$$ -------[/go]


The :bc: stones are dead. ;)

This, too:

Click Here To Show Diagram Code
[go]$$B More dead stones
$$ -------
$$ | B B B |
$$ | B O B |
$$ | B . B |
$$ -------[/go]


All the :bc: stones are dead. :lol:
----

As for handicaps, I think that it is important to point out that there are many levels of go skill, and that a relatively small difference, like three ranks, can make a no handicap game boring for the stronger player and frustrating for the weaker player. But with handicap stones players of greatly different skills can have an even game. (I have even given a handicap of 40 stones, myself, and won by only 10 points. :D)

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Post #12 Posted: Sun Jun 12, 2016 8:37 pm 
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Ninjaboots wrote:
I'm relatively new to the game myself but I've been trying to introduce friends to the game so that more people will be able to play with me. This usually involves me briefly explaining the rules then playing games with them on a 13x13 board to start and eventually a 19x19 board. Here are some of the problems I have had trying to teach and play the game with complete beginners:

1) They don't know when the game has ended (they keep playing stones which do not further the game)
I see this as well with my students. I often have to ask them why they would consider playing such moves. I try to head this off by explaining liberties for different groups of stones, 1-stone groups, 2-stone groups, 3-stone groups, et al.

With time and experience this habit disappears, though.

Quote:
2) They dislike playing handicap games (or flat-out refuse to play them!)
If your students feel brave enough for a sound beating, let'em have it! This is a good time to teach them about opening theory and its importance in the game.

Otherwise, you can tell them that if they cannot win on easy mode, how can they expect to win on top-level mode?

Quote:
3) Some have claimed they feel overwhelmed (by so many things going on at once)
See No. 2. I will add that learning Go is like learning how to talk. When you are a baby and your mother tells you a bedtime story, all you hear is noise. After a while of the same, though, you understand more and eventually you begin to talk. In Go, you will see a game played between two experienced players. You will not know squat of what's happening as they play, but with constant observation and practice through replay and review of games, and solving Go puzzles in different skill categories, eventually you will understand what goes on in a game and will be able to play with confidence and in a way that makes sense.

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I have tried to solve 1 by explaining that when territory is safe, playing stones that cannot live inside someone elses territory is futile, and that when a group is dead, playing stones to try to help it is futile, but I'm not sure what the best way to illustrate/explain this is. (I've gone over ladders/nets/and how having two eyes can make a group immune to capture.)
A thorough explanation of the rule of liberties & capture will clear the air. The importance of liberties carries over into life & death. L&D is simply determining whether a group of stones can be captured or not and what to do from there. If there is no legal way to capture a group of stones, it is considered alive as it will remain on the board till the end of the game. The points on the board occupied by such groups are what count as points for the side to which the same belong. Otherwise, the group is considered dead since it will be subject to capture throughout the game. For example, groups with two solid eyes are considered alive because there is no legal way to capture them. This means playing 2 of your stones on the same turn and this is against the rules.

You can also show how the shape of the empty space surrounded by a group of stones, as well as the number of empty points therein, determines whether it lives or dies.

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One friend said playing a handicap game was like, “putting the game on easy mode” and I tried to explain that it is more like, “putting the game on more even-footing” but he didn't buy it. Another friend felt as if the extra stones he started with didn't matter because he, “didn't even know how to use them”.
This is one reason why I often recommend replaying pro game records from beginning to end, even if many say that such advice is garbage and that annotated games are better. I personally find annotated games to be easier to follow after a period of replaying non-annotated games. As well - and this is probably the most important benefit of replaying pro games - one gets to observe how one is supposed to play a game of Go on a 19 x 19 board. I find that, in conjunction with Go puzzles, this helps to improve reading ability because replaying pro games accustoms the brain to visualizing long lines of play. Which translates into sharper reading during actual games.

If nothing else is available, a collection of Shusaku's games are good examples to replay, especially for beginners that often take Black since Shusaku almost always held Black (often out of modesty since he would not take White when playing against his instructors or senior players).

Replaying pro kifu are the closest many amateurs ever get to lessons from a pro. Fukui Masaaki 9p never had instruction from a pro, only a collection of Hon'inbo Dosaku's games to learn from. He simply replayed the collection over and over again till he memorized each one of the games.

Ultimately one plays as they feel like playing, but, as the Dalai Lama says, one follows the rules to know the right way to break them! A novice should observe what good playing habits look like and, after a long period of familiarization with said playing habits, he/she can improvise to his/her heart's content and discover new ways of playing.

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When someone feels overwhelmed, I have asked them to try to focus on a corner/local area/fight and not think too much about the rest, to ask if it is important for them to play there or if they can play somewhere else instead. And if they determine they can play away, to look at other areas, one at a time as small "chunks" and determine where they should play that way instead of trying to take in the entire board at once. They, however, still feel like too much is going on at once. (Maybe a 9x9 board is in order for this case?)
A 9 x 9 board is more manageable for the more timid beginner. It is great for developing L&D and tesuji skills, which are bread & butter for all Go players. One reason why handicap is often given to weaker players is because the weaker player usually cannot visualize the complete board yet. So handicap stones help to compensate for the deficiency in fuseki skills and encourage the student player to use his/her fighting skills, which means intense application of L&D and tesuji skills.

I have a 7x7 board that I use to teach capture Go to my novices. I show them that even a simple position has various possibilities. I even intentionally make mistakes, not to be dishonest, but to see if my novice opponent is paying attention (which sometimes they aren't) I try to stimulate their thinking without overwhelming them. Maybe capture Go will work in your case. Just remember to remind your learners that in capture Go the objective is not to capture the other guy's stones, but to make it hard for him to capture yours! Eventually, after some time of playing capture Go on the 9x9 board your learners will be able to protect their stones from capture, thus allowing them to change over to regular Go with some experience already under their belts.

Quote:
I am worried that my friends feel as though I am completely sandbagging them and in the process I might be discouraging them from playing by beating them so mercilessly... but my intent is merely to teach them the game!
Go is not an easy game to master. Neither are the plethora of video games out there, but the system of reward employed therein makes such games worth playing, even the ones that make one feel like Sisyphus pushing a heavy boulder up a hillside. Go is a game in which the rewards come only to those who persist. And Go is an equal opportunity destroyer of egos!

Which is why in some Go meets free food is offered.

You should be able to review every game with your students and point out their weaknesses. This way they know what to work on and are less likely to make the same mistakes next time. If you cannot replay a game from memory, you should record the game either on a sheet of paper with a diagram of an empty 19x19 board or by jotting down grid coordinates in algebraic form, such as D4 for the 4-4 point, Q16 for the 16-16 point, and so on. If you have a smartphone, your device should be able to accommodate apps for recording Go games.

Quote:
I know that everyone is different, maybe someone who dislikes handicap games will learn or enjoy the game just as well without playing them as someone who enjoys them would. (I would like to feel like I'm improving at the same time though, and not lax in my moves or shape because I think I can get away with it! Maybe my main motivation for wanting to give them stones is selfishness.) And I know not everyone is necessarily interested in the game (especially as much as I am), but I'm afraid in my excitement to play I am not being as careful and mindful as I could be in how I am trying to introduce them to/teach them the game. Any advice on the matter would be much appreciated, thanks.
A systematic way of teaching Go that allows the novice to grasp the most basic concepts is essential. Explain the rules, explain liberties & capture by showing different stone formations and how relative positioning on the board determines the number of available liberties. Then play a few games of capture Go to try out the newfound knowledge. Wager for first one to capture 1 stone, then 2 stones, then 3, and so on.


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