I have hidden most of my older posts in order to make it easier to read more recent ones - like putting old books back on the shelf.
I have changed a lot since the summer. Back then, I was still looking for a quick-fix to get stronger. Aren't a lot of people trying to do that?
Two things have changed my attitude fundamentally. One was learning about the "10,000 hour" rule; the other was reading a comment about Ilia Shikshin, stating how he attained his strength by studying everything he could get his hands on.
It should have been obvious, but the one sure way to get good at anything is to put in the time and effort, and to keep it up.
I don't think I can manage 10,000 hours on go within a time frame shorter than 15 years, but having investigated the study hours required in various disciplines to reach certain standards, I am convinced that there are still worthwhile goals to aim at. In any case, I have decided to do what the strong did, and study as much as possible and to keep it up. To make sure that I put in a meaningful effort, I have been keeping a log of the hours I spend on things I wish to improve in. It may sound funny, but I have a chart, and after every study session I award myself a sticker for each half-hour unit. You should try it - it's surprisingly satisfying to see the rewards stack up, and to know that you're doing what you have to do. The one caveat is that you must not simply mark time - a unit can only be awarded for time spent making an effort to understand, learn or solve something challenging. Simply playing games, clicking through pro games without understanding, or skim-reading Hikaru no Go does not qualify! Once you have begun keeping a record, you become painfully aware of how determined you have to be, and how easy it was to fritter away time in the past.
I think I can manage about 750 study hours on go every year. Given that it takes 1000 hours to learn how to fly a helicopter, or 3000 hours to learn how to fly an airliner, this represents enough time and effort to become a seriously strong player within a reasonable time frame (about five years). That is still not aiming at anything like professional strength, however!
How am I spending my go time?
First, I am doing as many tsumego as I can, mainly of easy-to-moderate difficulty. When you are putting in the effort, it is suprising how many you can get through.
Second, I am reading strategy books (mainly Japanese ones from MyCom). Finally I see the point! It's not about learning new
principles (that only high dans know) or anything like that; it's rather that you need continual reminding and training in the basics of good play, no matter how good you think you are. I think of it this way: it is one thing knowing something in principle, and another thing to master its application.
For example, one of the most basic skills in playing the guitar is alternate picking. That is nothing more than moving your pick up and down in time with the beat, and hitting/missing the strings according to the rhythm you want to play. It may sound simple in the extreme, but be assured that it takes many, many hours to learn how to alternate pick smoothly, with complete control and good feeling. Strategy books, especially those with sets of whole-board problems, offer something similar to musical drills.
Third, I am reading technical books. You need to know your joseki and middle-game patterns, but it takes time to learn them properly. Mere memorisation is a recipe for disaster; slow, thoughtful working through each pattern, plus plenty of review, seems to be the way forward.
I don't know how to classify time spent playing go. Recently I have been playing too quickly, which is mainly a mixture of playing late at night and having a lot of new information bouncing around my head. I suppose that playing blitz is almost worthless as a learning activity, because it only tells you what your level is when you're not thinking; but if you want to get better, then it's already established that you have to make a deliberate effort. But, then there are many people who play thousands of games over the years, presumably with some thought put into it, who never get any better. Obviously it's necessary to play, and even more than that, the main purpose of go is to play
, but in terms of learning how to play better, I can only surmise that play is a good deal less effective than deliberate practice. Quite likely, it's the time spent critically reviewing your games that aids improvement, not the time spent playing them itself.
To make playing less like playing, and more like deliberate practice (heh heh, am I not a jolly person?
), I think compasses and checklists are probably a good thing, but not as a substitute for thinking. You cannot win a go game by turning yourself into a four-line computer program, but you can deliberately integrate that four-line routine into your overall thinking. As for devising good navigation systems to install, I think there's not much better than the wonderful MyCom books - Takemiya, Hane, Sonoda and Yamashita
all supply thinking patterns that could be implemented neatly as compasses.
While I'm at it, I have concluded that playing through uncommented pro games is not a good idea. It's like a high school student attempting to understand Dufay or Josquin - it's very likely you'll miss the point without a guide.
So, in a nutshell:
GOOD Read books, review games, solve problems, play over commented games, use checklists to learn disciplined thinking
BAD Play blitz, memorise joseki, using checklists as a substitute for thinking
POINT! Even at two hours a day, that totals no more than between 500 and 700 study hours a year, assuming that you have the occasional rest day. If it takes 10,000 hours to become top-class in something, and 3000 to become "competent", then you will see that it requires a real commitment and sustained effort to make progress beyond the intermediate ranks. Sorry, but there are no easy alternatives.