American Go E-Journal

The Spirit of Play: “What can I do to improve?”

Monday December 31, 2012

by Gabriel Benmergui

From time to time students ask me “What can I do to improve?” This is a funny question because I suspect what they really want to know is “What can I do to improve that doesn’t involve solving problems?”

When this subject comes up, someone invariably says something like “I know at 5-dan who never picked up a problem book.” I know a few of these cases, too, and understand that the comment is not really about recognizing that player’s natural skill but as proof that solving problems is not required to improve at go.

There are many factors that contribute to a player’s skill. Unless you’re one of those rare cases of raw natural talent, trying to convince yourself that solving problems is not one of those factors is simply laziness.

An informal poll I once conducted revealed that over 50% of players don’t do any problems at all on a weekly basis. And of those that do, only 10% do enough to reasonably expect any improvement. The good news is that this means that solving problems gives you an absolute edge over the vast majority of players.

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: solving problems can be terribly boring. It doesn’t have the excitement of a game and there is no companion or rival. Also, the benefits are hard to measure with precision in the short run, and no matter how diligent we are and how many problems we solve correctly no-one will praise us.

Solving problems, more than any other training activity, requires effort. But you can be assured that when you do put in the effort, you will reap the benefits. How much you want to work is up to your personal ambition, and nothing else.

My Advice: Ignore whoever or whatever tells you that solving problems is a waste of effort. Effort equals results.

Gabriel Benmergui lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentinian Champion in 2011 and 2012, he has studied go in Korea and now runs the Go Server. photo by Ivan Vigano