16 November 2005

Progress, and a Plan

You’d never guess it from my KGS rank, but I do seem to be making progress.

Typically, on club night, I play two or three games. I play a game at the “kid’s table” with fellow beginners, another game with 9 stones against a double-digit kyu that I’m trying to win, and another game against a single-digit kyu with 9 stones that is a teaching game.

Last night, I finally pulled out a win against the double-digit kyu player, by 20 points! What a great feeling. Two more in a row and I might get to drop a handicap stone for the first time.

My games with other beginners seem to be petering out, though, as I continue to improve. A couple of the players have been in the club longer than I have and now need to take a stone or two from me, which is uncomfortable. Another player I had to give five stones to a month ago is now almost even with me, which I actually feel great about. I’d like to think I helped him get there in some way.

I’ve noticed that 20+ kyu games tend to be fairly consistent in nature. Few players at this level play well in the opening, middle game and endgame. Most are good at one; the better ones, two. Tesuji rarely show up, and they tend to avoid fighting as much as possible. They also tend to play unreasonable moves and sometimes play inefficient moves out of fear. (Note that these are all habits learned from playing handicap games). Most tend to develop from a distance and then maneuver to gain a few extra points where black and white borders clash. Reductions and invasions tend to happen only when one side or the other has a clear advantage.

So, how can I use this information to improve?

First of all, use my strengths against their weaknesses. Everyone who’s played against me knows my opening is my strong point; I don’t believe I’ve ever lost a game against a player who was weak in the opening. I get killed in the middle game, so games where I lead for the first 50 moves then lose should be looked at very carefully.

Also, great strategy at this level is probably not terribly important. Both players, by and large, are ignoring important moves no single-digit kyu would miss.

I’m guessing that ignoring the fancy stuff and instead focusing on strong fundamentals would be the way to go. At this level, the game probably belongs to the player that makes the least newbie errors rather than the player with a better understanding of joseki.

I’m thinking about creating a set of “cue cards” for myself, laying out the steps of proper thinking for each stage of the game. When I play online, before I get all cute and try something new, I can then check to see if I’ve obeyed the fundamentals first. Then, once they’ve become habit, I can build on them by adding tesuji and other techniques.

I think this approach will bring me more success than, for example, studying joseki at this point, since most joseki moves should come naturally once you know the fundamentals.

Here’s the first one, for life and death situations:

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LIFE AND DEATH PROBLEM

Remember, a potentially live group has 6+ open spaces. More than 8 means almost impossible to kill.

1.BREATHE
2.Attacking or Defending?

a.Attacking:
i.Can you kill outright?
ii. If not, can you destroy eye space?
iii. If not, can you reduce the opponent’s area, starting with the most open side?

b. Defending:
i. Can you make 2 eyes?
ii. If not, can you separate your area into two potential eye areas?
iii. If not, can you expand your area?

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