American Go E-Journal

The Spirit of Play: “Nature vs Nurture”

Monday February 11, 2013

by Gabriel Benmergui

In my last column (The Spirit of Play: “What can I do to improve?” 12/31/2012 EJ) I discussed players who reach moderately high levels of play with little effort, especially regarding problem solving. Since those players often have a big effect on others, I think it would be valuable to delve deeper into the matter.

I find it damaging when I hear a strong player say “I got to X-Dan with little study. If you only play games and review you can get to X-Dan like me.” Such cases seem to prove that effort is a waste of time, but they’re really damaging because they discourage players from putting in the necessary work to improve.

The reality is that naturally strong players are quite rare. For each player that rather effortlessly reaches a moderately high level of play, there are thousands that do not. The “system” of just playing and reviewing simply doesn’t work for the vast majority of players. And despite their rapid improvement, these players are not really the clear success cases they seem; without proper effort they’re not going to reach the highest level they can achieve.

In the end, natural skill doesn’t really matter. It’s just not something you can control. What you can control is the effort and work you put into improving. Natural skill has a limit that effort does not have. We live in an age where one of the most renowned players of all time, Lee Changho 9P, fell extremely short in skill when compared to his teachers and his classmates, but through an immense amount of hard work Lee attained a place at the top of the world.

My Advice: For amateur players, go should first and foremost be about enjoyment. Do what pleases you most. However, if you want to improve, be ready to put some effort into it. Self-study, lessons, and reviewing your games will all help you get better. And when a naturally strong player crosses your path, learn what you can from them but ignore any advice that seems to offer an easy path to improvement. Slack training will never be better than proper study. But don’t take my word for it; here’s Lee Changho’s #1 tip to get stronger: “Solve life and death problems!”

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. Edited by Chris Garlock; photo by John Pinkerton