[Tidbit] On How A Grown-Up Can Self-learn Weiqi from Tygem 2D to 8D

The original Chinese essay was written in 2007 by 烟飘万里 and can be found here with the revised edition here. The original English version was titled “To become a master of Go is not easy, but to become an amateur 5D or 6D is not hard” translated and posted by igo@indonesia in 2009 on a defunct website which can be accessed via webarchive here. I will now try to translate the original revised Chinese version as I have found some of igo@indonesia’s translation abridged and not as clear.


Looking at the forum, I have seen many weiqi enthusiasts who wished to increase their go strength but don’t know how. I remembered how I was once as enthusiastic and as eager for progress. I will therefore share my own understanding of the road one must travel on the path from Tygem 2D to 8D to try to stimulate further investigations and hopefully to inspire and help those who are still youngsters at go. Of course this is only my own viewpoint and I hope those who are able to reach Tygem 8D and above can further the discussion and correct my mistakes.

<I> The Requirements of Study: Quality, Method, and Determination

Before we talk in details, I would like to point out several vital points: study quality, method and determination.

1) Study requires quality
Whether studying tsumego problems or actual games, without quality it becomes meaningless. On the internet, you can see many kyus and low dans who have played thousands of games but they fail to grow because the problem is that they don’t attach enough importance to the quality of played games.

2) Study requires paying particular attention to the method
If you study the proper methods, you can avoid many detours. For example, my generation of 7Ds and 8Ds who started learning weiqi in the late 1980s have all taken the detour of memorizing joseki and ended up wasting lots of time.

I reminisce about my most memorable detour: I memorized the Weiqi Joseki Big Complete Encyclopedia so well I knew exactly which page contained which hamete. A friend took out a copy of the Encyclopedia and tested me on it’s contents but failed to stump me (LOL). Vanity is vanity as I had no progress in other areas and wasted a few years of my youth. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized this was a detour.

3) Study requires a tenacious determination
Quoting the famous Chinese lecturer on success, Chen Anzhi (陈安之) [think of him as a Chinese version of Napoleon Hill]: “Don’t just want it, instead you must have it, you must have it!!!” Wanting and doing are totally different things. Only someone with resolution to action can turn an idea into reality.

If you want to be a Tygem 8D, it’s actually not really hard to achieve, but you need to pay a heavy price. You need to sacrifice all your spare time on the game, and if so, there should be no problem jumping from Tygem 2D to 8D within 3 years. If you need to balance the game with other life priorities, within 5 years should be no problem.

When you wake up, you should think about weiqi; when you visit your friend’s home you should bring along a weiqi book; anytime you have idle time, you should pick up your weiqi book; if you have kids, amuse your kids while reading your weiqi book on the side (whether you are considered a model husband is another topic); and if you can do the above for 3 years, I have no doubt you will become 8D.

<II> The Road One Must Travel To Reach Tygem 8D

The direction of long term efforts are mainly in three areas: doing tsumego, playing games, and reviewing the kifu of masters.

1) Drilling tsumego

The importance of drilling tsumego for a Tygem 2D is something everyone understands and needs not be talked about further. Rather we just need to go over how to drill tsumego. So here are a few points I want to simply emphasize.

1. MOST important
If you happen upon a tsumego book, just buy it as long as it’s not something you already own. Even buy easy books as you can gift it to your students or keep it for your own kids to do. If it is a classical tsumego book, make sure to buy two copies: one for everyday use until it becomes disheveled and falls to pieces, while the other is kept as a clean reference which you can easily access. With the tsumego books you can find in today’s market [2007] there are around a total of 10,000 different problems, and each book should tell you for what levels the problems are suitable.

2. Relearn with quality.
Drilling tsumego does not mean doing each problem only once. If you only do each problem once, you will miss it’s essence. To properly drill tsumego, you must read through each problem repeatedly until you are clear about every variation in your mind. But still it not enough — being able to read out the variations slowly versus being able to read out the variations within 10 seconds reflect big differences in go strength.

3. The method of calculation — Two easily overlooked mistakes when doing tsumego

(a) In the process of calculation, you don’t follow through the process of calculation in your mind until it reaches the final conclusion, but you would rather make a conclusion based on your feelings that a certain variation will likely succeed and thereafter stop further calculations. It is key to avoid this critical mistake. The strength in calculation power is built by practicing a thorough calculation process.

(b) Not pondering on the strongest way for your opponent to react. In weiqi, this means playing according to “one’s own wishful thinking”. Hence you must prepare yourself for your opponent’s reactions.

If you are able to avoid the above two mistakes, your calculation can be considered high quality.

4. An insight for drilling tsumego

I recommend a method I often use for doing tsumego, maybe it can help you.

Before drilling tsumego, prepare a pen and paper for recording your mistakes. After your tsumego session, group your mistakes and check the answers thereafter.

Generally speaking, there are three types of mistakes:

(a)  You think you are right, but when you see the answer you find you are wrong. In this case, look at the answer and look for the reason why you made a mistake, you will then know your deficiencies. You need to pay attention to these mistakes as this is an effective way for your improvement. Afterward with repeated effort, you should be able to think about tsumego problems with much greater detail than before.

(b) You can’t calculate the result. If so, you shouldn’t even spend time looking up the answer, but should just save the problem for later on. Your current calculation power is not enough to handle the problem and even after seeing the answer you might not even understand the logic within. The worst thing to do is to enter the dead-end road of rote memorization of tsumego problems.

(c) You doubt the veracity of a tsumego problem and think it might be a mistaken creation. This is possible. Don’t think that just because a book is published that there are no mistakes. In fact every classical tsumego book has mistakes. Even the peak classical problem book Igo Hatsuyoron has mistakes as has Guanzipu. Only the easiest level tsumego books will have totally correct answers. If you have doubt about a problem’s innate accuracy, first look at the model answer and mark the areas you don’t understand and then consult with your teacher or other players. If you can only rely on yourself, perhaps when your go strength is stronger, you may have the ability to calculate whether the problem is really a mistaken creation.

5. Regarding tsumego books

I own a few tsumego books suitable for Tygem 2D which in my understanding are considered prerequisites and useful as teaching material or for self-study. Let me give a simple introduction of these books.

(a) One set is Lee Chang-ho’s Selected Tesuji Go Problems (李昌镐精讲围棋手筋) Volumes 1-6. Another set is Lee Chang-ho’s Selected Life and Death Go Problems (李昌镐精讲围棋死活) Volumes 1-6. After finishing these 12 books, you should have the calculation strength of Tygem 4D or above. Even though these sets are not really authored by Lee Chang-ho, but they are indeed systematic and detailed as they present all the commonly seen fundamentals of L&D and tesuji.

(b) There is also Weiqi Life and Death 1000 Problems (围棋死活1000题) which is very good and suitable for enlightening players up to amateur 3D.

(c) Then there is the set Weiqi Life and Death Drills (围棋死活训练) for which I recommend the beginner and intermediate level volumes. (The advanced level volume is not recommended as it is mainly suitable for amateur 6D to professionals. Some of the problems within this volume are so hard that even mid-level dans could spend half an hour without being able to thoroughly calculate the variations.) These two recommended volumes have over 800 problems each. The are suitable for Tygem 2D with a few problems being a bit harder, but nevertheless, just continue onwards if you encounter such. (When my student completed the recommended two volumes, he jumped from Tygem 5k to Tygem 4D. Of course by then he was at a stage where he could immediately read out the variations as soon as the problem came out.)

If you own the above sets of books, when you finish them you should have done around 4,500 problems and achieve the level of a Tygem 6D. The quantity of tsumego drilled and go strength is indeed related. The more you throw your heart into drilling, the more profit you reap.

Afterwards, you can study Guanzipu which will help you achieve Tygem 7D.

Tygem 7D is a barrier which requires calculation ability and an all-around understanding of the elements of weiqi. Without having great strength in a certain aspect of weiqi or a thick understanding of the global picture, it is impossible to go beyond 7D. If you want to break this barrier, you should study the Heavenly Dragon Diagrams Volumes 1 & 2 which if you can do half of the problems, you should already have broken through 7D.

In my opinion, the essence of these two books are different. Guanzipu is unitized, that is it requires you to explore a single fundamental thought concept which you continuously practice. Heavenly Dragon Diagrams Volumes 1 & 2 requires practicing the convergence of several thought concepts to solve each life and death problem. (Maybe this is the intersection of amateurs and professionals?? I urge someone who understands this to explain it better!)

If you can enter this level of tsumego drilling, your calculation ability is no longer within the level of most weiqi enthusiasts. You are already not far from the level of a strong amateur player. You should basically be at Tygem 8D. Looking back at the process, you should have completed around 7,000 problems.

To summarize this section, doing tsumego requires calculation and not rote memorization.

2) Playing Actual Games

It’s very difficult to put pen to paper as I don’t know how to really start off this subject. This post originates from having a sense of wanting to write something after seeing a weiqi friend seek advice. So as I have already started, I just want to say that I have put my pen to paper without having first carefully deliberating what to write so if you find any mistakes, please advise and correct me.

I think we should first start off with the paying attention to the quality of playing an actual game.

An actual game is where both players contest the efficiency of their moves with a strict requirement to play each move at the best place that one’s level of understanding allows. This is a road which every Tygem 2D must travel to reach Tygem 8D. Only in this way can one gain strength.

In an actual game, the power struggle is focused on playing each move better than the opponent rather than making moves which catch the eye. (Whether you can actually achieve playing each move better than your opponent in an actual game is another matter, as is whether you have placed enough effort in this endeavor.)

Weiqi is a fight for efficiency. Disregarding the first 10 to 20 moves of fuseki as well as the endgame, we can randomly choose any sequence of 10 moves from the game and see that the efficiency of the players are different. Their results are also different with the side having higher efficiency profiting the most.

A match is normally around 250 moves. Disregarding fuseki and the endgame, there remains 200 moves which depend on efficiency. (So even if we can’t fully copy the fuseki of pros we can still imitate and the small endgame plays for both pros and ourselves should be the same.) By accumulating tiny profits playing each move more efficiently than your opponent, over a course of 200 odd moves, you will win the game.

So we can say that increasing go strength with regards to techniques is based on raising the efficiency of each move. The root of a decisive victory is the struggle to play every move with higher efficiency than your opponent.

Some weiqi players have played several tens of thousands of games on the internet and yet cannot increase rank because of this reason. They only play the way they like to play rather than playing the moves with the highest efficiency.

In modern times, being able to play face-to-face can probably be considered a luxury. More often, games are played online as a substitute. The different habits of each person dictates the speed each player gains strength. I suggest to those Tygem 2D who want to reach Tygem 8D that when they play a game, don’t do anything else, have a cup of tea in front of you, and concentrate on playing each move well. When your opponent is thinking, you should also be thinking knowing that you need to play each move better and more outstanding than your opponent.

I have a practice I would like to recommend. It is a method I created.

In the past before a citywide tournament, I once wrote on my hand the words: “Pay Attention”. These two words constantly reminded me that I had once played weiqi online where I placed a piece of paper in of my computer on which I wrote “Pay Attention To Efficiency” to constantly remind myself.

So please write on a piece of paper whatever you usually neglect and then place it in a conspicuous place and it will help you improve your game.

I will temporary end with this but I feel what I have written seems rather strange.


[Note: This is the end of the original revised Chinese version. The original English translation had a bit more additional material which did not come from the Chinese original nor the Chinese revised version so I did not include that in this post.]


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