Have you ever felt your brain is not big enough?

Japanese clam shell that was Japanesely sourced from the Japanese island of Japan.


Missed a chance to put a Japanesely in there… :frowning:

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How Japanesely of me! :open_mouth:

Your opening statement, above, answers the question in your last sentence. If someone doesn’t appreciate go for its own sake (i.e., is intrinsically motivated), then such gnawing doubts will likely linger. Keeping things in perspective helps. Remember the things you are good at, or that you admire more, and you can retain self-esteem. For myself, I had a full measure of fierce competition and severe (and often painful) practice discipline as a respectable distance runner and musician back in the day. The memories are satisfying and remind me that I have nothing to prove. I can just enjoy myself now. But this may be the perspective of age.


This may be unsettling, but I have a theory that go strength is directly related to IQ level.

I’ve been playing for about 25 years. After reaching 1 dan after three years, I’ve been thoroughly stuck even though I’ve tried many different practice regimens, studied too many books to remember, watched tons of Youtube videos, and took lessons from at least four different pros or near-pros, the last one being for three years.

I’m resigned to the fact that my brain is just not big enough and there’s nothing I can really do about it. I just can’t visualize the move sequences that far out or think any quicker that I’m capable of.

Human IQ level is determined by many factors including perception, pattern matching, judgement, imagination, fluidity, and memory. All things that are critical to reaching the highest levels of Go playing. That’s why I think there is a direct correlation with playing ability to general intelligence. That tends to put an upper limit on what each of us is capable of.

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What if I told you that IQ increases with practice?

That aside, unless you do more than your peers, you will probably not improve.

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Most studies show that IQ is fairly constant through a person’s life, starting from when they were a young child through to old age.

It quite literally increases with practice.

It also increases with the mere passing of time.

IQ is one of the most widely abused statistics in the world so I can’t really leave it alone when I hear a claim related to “IQ”. It is a useful tool to detect students who might need extra help, it can be useful as a diagnostic aid in other fringe cases,… but it is not useful for pretty much anything else and its widespread abuse and misinterpretation is sickening.

Ah, don’t get me wrong, the rant isn’t directed at you. Still, I suggest you forget about IQ and rephrase your key ideas there, since “because IQ” doesn’t explain anything. It’s like saying that someone’s fitness level as measured at your (dare I say) run-of-the-mill gym was related to someone’s marathon time. Yes, fitness level does improve with practice, too, and yes, it mostly stays the same during most people’s lives, too.

That’s also what separates theories (scientific ~) from hypotheses. A hypothesis is essentially a prediction. Theories are lines of reasoning that generate said hypotheses and explain the predicted results. Since you haven’t made a prediction generated from a line of reasoning, you are one step removed from the hypothesis level, which could be called “idea”.


Hah. If that were true, my low-to-mid 130 IQ would make me a dan player by now.

However, I do believe IQ can correlate with how you study. Many people with higher IQs are used to being able to naturally grasp more abstract concepts like sente, influence, and thickness. As such, they tend to find the first stages to learning Go quite easy. The drawback, in my experience, is that as someone who found these topics easier to grasp, they are not in the habit of intense study. And so people like me face a brick wall where we need to learn to study in order to advance.

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I don’t think that your theory is what you think it is :smiley:

I think your theory is that a person’s potential go strength is a fixed attribute of their particular brain. Much like your potential high jump height is a fixed attribute of your physique. You can train all you like, but if you are a short stout person, you can only high jump so far. Similarly, your own brain (so this theory goes) is only capable of so much.

Hard to argue with that.

However, to make a link between a person’s potential Go strength and to what we measure as IQ is a massive jump! Are you really theorising that IQ score is a predictor of go strength? Is there any data, any at all, on go players’ IQs? If there isn’t, why would we theorise this?


In addition to @smurph’s comments, I suggest reading Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man.

I think that your theory is a bit of an oversimplification. IQ is a valid predictor for a lot of things, but it’s not direct and it’s never 100%.

If you go by Jordan Peterson’s lecture on IQ (it’s on Youtube somewhere), comparing income, he explains that IQ predicts about 25% of differences of income (people with higher IQ tend to earn more). If you compare academic success, basically getting higher grades in college, then the prediction is even stronger. The research on this is very solid, according to him. Sure, some people, mostly on the left end of the political spectrum, will deny that IQ predicts anything at all, because in some circles it’s Verboten to say that anyone can be better than anyone else at anything, but it is what it is.

The point is that it’s nowhere near 100%. You can’t say that a person with higher IQ will earn more, have better grades, or play better Go than someone else. The most you can say is that they tend to do so. And in the case of Go, even this tendency might be questionable. I read somewhere that people with high IQ actually learn chess slightly slower than others, and that might carry over to Go. Who knows?

There is definitely a limit to your (or anyone else’s) Go playing. Maybe you’ve reached yours, maybe not, but I just don’t think it’s something you could simply read off an IQ test.

Edit: A better predictor of your ultimate limit might be simply how young you were when you started. Most people who are extremely good at something, whether it’s board games, sports, playing an instrument, computer programming, etc., often started really young (under 10).


Contributing to the supporters that IQ is not necessarily related to your skill at the game of Go, I recommend a documentary series called The mind of the universe as well as The Brain that changes itself. The later talks specifically about a quality of the human brain called brain plasticity that (should I dare proves) suggests that our brains shift throughout most of our lives, which opens a wide range of possibilities with the proper training/practice. The older you get of course your brain has already hardwire a “standard” way of thinking (aka processing thoughts) and un-hardwire that takes more effort, hence why older people often take longer to learn new skills, which quite often turns into a that person giving up with an exclamation: I’m too old for this shit.

Back to the topic of Go, may I suggest that instead of learning from others, you teach instead? In my own experience, this helps a lot when you are trying to understand and even learn more about something. Go is no different, perhaps you will find someone weaker but with interesting ideas that will help you expand your mind.


This is partially anecdotal, because I can’t find the study, but I read somewhere that top level chess players don’t score significantly higher on IQ tests than substantially weaker chess players. Kasparov is apparently something like 130. Measures of general intelligence aren’t strong predictors of skill at something like chess.

I suspect that Go is the same. IQ may correlate weakly, but probably because smart people are more likely to study Go, not because being “smart” makes you better at playing. Some specific neural aptitude that certain individuals possess or develop at a young age is likely the driver behind Go skill, at least at higher levels.


Yes, @ckersch88, I can back you up on this, albeit only anecdotally. As I said in another thread, I remember reading about a study some 40 years ago that found that visual memory was the only variable that significantly correlated with success in chess.

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I’m a bit surprised you included this as an example, since 135 (Kasparov’s actual IQ btw), is enough to get into Mensa (although just barely).

If chess and IQ were strongly correlated, a “barely get into Mensa” IQ likely wouldn’t correspond to possibly the greatest chess playing talent of all time. Chess players tend to be smart, and Go players likely do as well, but there probably isn’t a significant difference between the IQs of 1 Dans and the IQs of pros.

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Okay, I get the point. It just seemed a bit high for a low point example.

Hi Guys,

Thanks for a lively discussion! In responses to your comments…

smurph - your second link on the Flynn Effect is about increases in the general population’s IQ over decades, not on individuals over their lifetime. I’ll have to disagree with you that “IQ doesn’t explain anything”, because everything that I’ve read on it says that IQ is a good predictor of many of the attributes and outcomes of the population.

mekriff - I’m not saying that somebody with a high IQ can pick up the game instantly. It takes a lot of hard work and practice, no matter what your cognitive ability is. “There’s no royal road to Go.” - paraphrasing Euclid. I would say that after three years of intensive study, you should have reached a point close to your ultimate potential. A local prodigy here reached 4 dan after about one year of intensive study and he’s known to have a very high IQ. After three years, he topped out about 7 dan.

GreenAsJade - Yes, I’m saying that a short person can only jump so high, which is true. My thesis (or hypothesis) is that there is high correlation between amateur Go ranks and IQ levels. (Pros may be a special case.) Unfortunately, I don’t have any hard data to back my claim up.

BronzeV - I don’t believe I ever said 100%. I believe there is a high correlation, something like > 0.75. So, I agree with the “tends to do so” language.

Of the things required for high go playing ability, I’ll list these again: “perception, pattern matching, judgement, imagination, fluidity, and memory.” All of those things also play a heavy role in influencing IQ levels. So, why not assume a strong positive correlation between the two?

ZenModeOn - I think “brain plasticity” is more just about learning ability and doesn’t include other aspects of IQ such as juggling complex and abstract concepts in real time and quickly making mental changes. The ability to “shift your brain through a wide range of possibilities” (and quickly) is exactly what contributes to high IQ scores. Certainly, brain plasticity plays an important role in your overall cognitive ability, but a lot of studies show a fairly constant IQ level throughout a person’s life starting at a young age. That must mean that there’s more than just learning ability involved, or reaching a certain learned-state.

While I’m always trying to get better at Go, I do like to teach the game to others. I volunteer at the Boulder Kids Go Club about every other week. Thanks for the suggestion - and to others the same.

ckersch99 & mekriff - If Kasparov’s IQ level is 135, that’s puts him in the top 1% of the population. I would say being in the top 1% gives you a pretty good shot at the very top spot.

BTW, talking about IQ can be very tough as it makes a lot of people uneasy. Just ask Charles Murray after he wrote and published “The Bell Curve”. Apologizes to anyone if any offense taken.

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Three years? Compared to pros who spend several years before even becoming a pro?

I find that unlikely, Go is not even that fast.

However, you do have a point, although only kind of.

You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule, right? That 80% of the work is done with 20% of the effort?
Well, this is something that I’m pretty sure applies to Go. Keep in mind that as you work and improve, you will find more and more difficult opponents who are also studying very seriously, causing rating points to become harder and harder to get, and ranks become similarly more difficult.

So your friend hit a wall, eh? I’ve hit multiple of those. What usually needs to happen is you need to shift your mindset to get around it. The question is which way.