Mental Factors In Playing Strength

British Go Journal No. 20. July 1973. Page 10.

Francis Roads

We must all be aware that playing strength is influenced by personal and psychological factors as well as sheer intellectual ability and knowledge, yet rarely do we see anything written about this aspect of the game. I have found it helpful in trying to improve my own strength to consciously cultivate certain mental disciplines, and I would like to pass these on, in the hope that thay may be helpful.

  1. Question every move before you make it. This seems an obvious thing to say, but think how often you have wanted to take a move back as soon as you have played it. For example, in the opening, look at the whole board before blindly playing out a joseki sequence - it may not suit the occasion; in mid-game, before making an obvious gote move, check that there is no tesuji available that will achieve the same result in sente; at all times, never move until you are certain that there is no more valuable point elsewhere on the board. It is fatally easy to become so engrossed in a tactical struggle as to fail to notice that the points value of successive moves has sunk to so low a level that they should be deferred until yose.
  2. Never give up until the position is hopeless. Many examples in professional games can be found where a player has gone on to win after a poor start. This may be purely a result of mental attitude, the player with the better position becoming complacent and impatient to finish the game off, which is a mental condition just ripe for a gross blunder, while the other player's determination is strengthened by his difficulty.
    Of course, it is bad manners to waste your opponent's time by continuing to play in a really hopeless position.
  3. Before leaving a tactical engagement for play elsewhere on the board, make mental notes (a) of the main yose plays available, whether sent or gote for either player and rough points value; (b) of ko threats available to each player and their approximate points value; (c) any other aji or downright fiddles available.
  4. Use your opponent's time. In Chess, waiting for your opponent's move is rather a bore, as it is hard to use the time profitably. However, in Go, the time can be spent usefully by (a) doing a rough count of points; (b) reviewing all available ko threats and their value - one will then be able to decide quickly whether to get involved in any particular ko fight or not; (c) reviewing yose plays, and re-examining aji, life and death of groups etc; (d) quite deliberately giving your mind a rest when it needs it by thinking about something else. This can be most beneficial if done conciously and deliberately, but it is dangerous to allow your mind to wander unconciously and thereby lose concentration.

The Japanese set great store by a tranquil mental condition for playing Go. I do not belong to the fresh-air-and-exercise brigade, but at tournaments I have found it helpful to pay attention to such points as getting a good night's sleep, going for a stroll outside between games, not wasting mental exercise on casual games, and not touching alcohol - until the day's matches are over. I am quite convinced that paying attention to mental and psychological factors is worth two or three handicap stones.


This article is from the British Go Journal Issue 20
which is one of a series of back issues now available on the web.

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