Go "Amnesia"


I recently returned from a trip during which I was incommunicado and did nothing go-related for 11 days. I find my go brain has turned to mush! I’m struggling through 12k and 14k tsumego that I solved relatively easily a year ago. Is this a common phenomenon in go? Of course, most skills do atrophy with disuse, but 11 days seems awfully short. Is it harder to keep go skills sharp compared to other activities, or am I, perhaps, just exhausted.


Yep. Holidays often leave us feeling exhausted when we return, as the excitement wears off. Still good though.


11 days is almost nothing, and I strongly believe breaks are good for your go.

Important to note that tsumego have nothing to do with your strength.


I’ve noted it both ways with regards my chess abilities. Sometimes I’ll feel unstoppable after a refreshing break and sometimes I’ll come back sloppy and unfocused.

I think it has less to do with the actual break, and more to do with your attitude on return. If you’re relaxed and recharged then you’ll play better. If you’re stressed and put yourself under pressure to perform, then it’ll make a mess of your reasoning ability.


Some lyrics by Bob Dylan capture your predicament rather nicely I think:

“And here I sit so patiently,
Trying to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all of these things twice.”

Come to think of it, that sums up just about everything. Ah well, carry on anyway.


Why do you say that? I have found tsumego, at least basic L&D, to be very helpful. After doing about 40-50 a day last summer, I felt that my IRL game was definitely stronger. This is, of course, entirely anecdotal. Since then my tsumego practice has dropped to about 10-20 a day, in the 25k to 8k range due to lack of time. For me, tsumego improves my recognition of dead shapes, dividing the eye space, and tactical patterns. Even more important, since I read out the problem in my head, it helps me strengthen my reading. Fortunately I actually enjoy tsumego—a surprise since I dislike most other puzzles.


Tsumego solving and go skills loosely related. But just because you can’t solve some puzzles you could solve before that doesn’t mean you’re getting weaker at go. The game of tsumego and the game of go are different games. You can be great at one, weak at the other. Maybe 11 days hurt your tactical sharpness, but go is much more than tactics. So don’t panic. I’d say tactics is the most floating skill. Even bad sleep or sour mood can hurt it. Other skills are more robust.

I didn’t mean to come off snappy.


Thanks for the reply and the insights. I’ve had great respect for your perspectives since our pleasant discussions during the Leela vs. OGS game.


In my experience, skill retention is most easily reinforced by repetition. You don’t learn something long term by working out how to do it. You learn it by then doing exactly that thing another 300 or 400 times (and I don’t mean 300-400 tsumego. I mean like a sample of 50 tsumego where you re-do each puzzle in the set 300-400 times). I wouldn’t worry about the loss of retention of the answers. Eventually your subconscious will auto-shape recognise. This is how a lot of mechanical skills are developed, from martial arts to tennis or whatever, you rely on your subconscious being able to handle stuff without having to really think about it first. In go terms, you start using your thinking time to double check your instinctive reading for errors instead of going through the move tree from a blank slate.

I hope that made sense!


I would like to disagree. Simple repetition surely improves skill in a lot of things, however, I feel that it should start with working out how to do it (get a firm understanding of the matter) as a start. Not only does this help you in unexpected situation more, but it also makes the repetition part go a lot faster. As a go comparison: practicing joseki without understanding them is pointless. This is why teachers or lectures are so useful.

As for retention: without continuous reinforcement I tend to forget almost anything if I don’t understand it first (perhaps excluding motoric skills). For example, I once learned 200 digits of pi during high school (my math teacher gave 0.1 points for each 10 digits you got right until the first error) and probably repeated them more times than I did for anything else in high school. Yet I still only remember the first 10 or so right now. On the other hand, as a mathematician I understand what pi is, and how to compute it, so whenever I need to get those 200 digits back without resources, I have a way to do that, given enough time.

Also on a sidenote: the only “mechanical” skill I’d associate with go is being able to make gobans, bowls and stones :wink:


Exactly so! I would much prefer to understand something, than to memorize without understanding.

Memory is a rigid and somewhat fleeting thing. Comprehension is much more flexible, and permanent.


My 2 cents worth here: @Vsotvep is definitely correct. Speaking as a professional neurophysioogist, I can confirm that there is a great difference between learning motor skills (e.g. tennis) and learning purely mental skills (Go) – both in terms of retention and in the underlying mechanisms.

However, having said that, I think that @MrFuji is also correct (at least to a degree that is not small)! I’m quite certain that our great talent Cho Chikun has given his advice for improving through the use of tsumego and it involved repeating the problem(s) 30 or more times (I don’t remember the exact number). But this almost certainly also presupposes that one understands the solution as well!

So go at it, using both approaches !!

– Musash1


Very glad to hear that about Cho Chikun’s advice, because I have been revisiting the easier tsumego collections on the theory that I should get to recognize the positions so well that I won’t need to spend much time on them when they arise in a game. Little by little my thinking time does improve (except for the recent setback).


So now you’ve got me curious…
What is the main difference between motor skills and mental when it comes to retention?

As a carpenter I’ve encountered some odd situations where it seems like my hands know what to do, even if my brain has forgotten a once-familair sequence or operation.


I’m not a professional in the field, but I believe your own words have highlighted the point perfectly. Your subconscious brain still has all the infrastructure in place that tends to push muscle movement signals down a familiar line, but your thought processes about what your muscles are meant to be doing has faded. This is why a purely intellectual game such as go can get lost partially over time in just the same way that you forgot about an ability that your muscles still possess.


I can second what @BHydden has said. Overthinking a motor skill, especially in something that is fast or complicated, leads to what is called “paralysis by analysis.” Motor skills are typically inculcated by repetition forming habits. This is especially important in music. No one plays from memory by thinking “what’s the next note” or phrase. Instead they know the music so well that the sound of what’s being played cues them to what comes next, but strictly on a motor level, not as a result of conscious thought. Concentration is still essential, but it is concentration on the pure sense of the music. If conscious thought enters into it, there will likely be a memory lapse, because it distracts from the focus on the music. It’s a remarkable, awesome phenomenon.


Most decidedly! I’m familiar with the feeling as I play piano and guitar.

Stranger yet is the occasional scenario while I’m working, where the process may be deeply ingrained through mechanical repetition yet it requires some calculation/extrapolation due to unique circumstantial demands. In some cases, I can bypass conscious calculation and follow a “hunch” that leads me instantly to the same conclusion as if I had sat down with pencil and paper to compute everything. It only works though if my hands are on the tool and I just kind of relax and watch it happen.


This is a really complex and advanced subject that cannot really be very well described even in summary form in a few postings on this forum :laughing:

Let me try to satisfy some of your curiosity by saying that motor skills are inextricably involved with proprioceptive feedback from muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs, several types of mechanoreceptors within cutaneous tissue, joint capsule receptors, and others.

These feedback signals are integrated with information provided by our vestibular and visual systems to provide us with a sense of body position, motion (velocity and acceleration/deceleration) and muscle tension. Almost all of this occurs at subconscious levels; but, of course, conscious sensation can and will be evoked as well (although, for real-time perfomance these conscious aspects are only of value while learning and perfecting motor tasks).

What is often neglected in research (because it is not obvious how to test, measure or manipulate it) is the “feeling” we have for our body during and immediately following well-performed motor tasks (as already suggested in the previous replies). This is what is often observed in (for example) top-level downhill skiers, ice dancing, etc. immediately before their performance where they close their eyes and mentally rehearse the impending performance (often with visible, though reduced, motions).

Essentially all of these aspects of motor learning and performance are absent in mental skills and performances such as Go or chess, and it is these missing aspects that are also so important in our better retention of learned motor skills.

As a final comment I should also mention that this should not really be surprising since motor skills are a much older and more completely integrated part of animal anatomy and physiology than mental skills.

I hope that I have not gone on too long here. Sorry if I did.

– Musash1


Thank you!


You’re welcome, @Skurj !! :sunglasses: