Is Go useful? Does it improve your skills outside playing Go?

The thread of teaching Go made me wonder about the side benefits of Go to one’s wider life. People (maybe just my imagination!) say Go is good for concentration, helps you understand the importance of detail, strategy, balance etc.
But does Go really help with any other part of your life? Do you have an example of a skill you use outside go that had improved add a result of studying and playing Go?
I’m beginning to wonder if any perceived benefit is actually just an ex post justification or maybe an analogy drawn with hindsight.


Exploring the brains of Baduk (Go) Experts (PDF)

Scientific paper that proves, using some of the most advanced medical technology on the planet, that Go study changes the structure of the human brain. It results in stronger emotional control, reasoning, pattern recognition, problem solving, concentration, and tends to inspire discipline in those who study it for a long period of time.

I haven’t even fully read the study, as I’m trying to understand everything it is saying. But the vocabulary is a bit difficult to digest. A lot of acronyms and abbreviations as the paper moves forward. Without a shadow of a doubt, Go does affect people in their lives.

One of the coolest things that this study points out is that Go has a long and detailed history. The people who play it tend to be tracked throughout their careers. And most professional Go players play well into their old age. There has never been a recorded case of a Go player who has a degenerative brain disease. Statistically this should be impossible. So there is a strong belief that the very specific way that Go modified brain matter, staves off these sorts of diseases.

Japan found that kids who study Go are twice as likely to get accepted into a prestigious University. There is actually a long list of ways that Go affects people on a personal level. Particularly in relation to their self confidence, self image, and self discipline. I’ve researched the topic a great deal. So, how specifically are you defining “the side benefits of Go in one’s wider life”? Can I get some examples or a better definition?

Of interest might be this recent discussion about Go and IQ here on the forum.

This post specifically talks about Go and Children.


A couple of clarifications maybe. For example, “more likely to get to prestigious university” but which way of any is the causation? We’re those kids clever/talented anyway and is that why they play Go out did Go make then clever. Alternatively, do you play Go because you have a high IQ or does Go raise your IQ?

I suppose I’m interested in “ways that Go affects people on a personal level”. Another example, does Go improve concentration? I find when I’m trying to concentrate on a non-go task, my mind drifts to the contemplation of my next correspondence moves… I feel in my case Go hinders my wider life!

Finally, what happens to all the Go players who aim to be professionals but don’t make it? Do they get high flying jobs in other spheres? Are they stuck teaching Go as they have no other qualifications/skills? I feel things like this would help determine if Go is good for you in general or just another passtime that doesn’t really have a particular impact more broadly.


I would say this is a bit over an extreme conclusion. The study shows correlation between these factors and being a Go expert. However, it could be that people who inherently have these traits are the ones who become experts, and people who don’t have them to begin with will fail becoming an expert.

It’s a bit like saying that learning to create (visual) art helps your eyesight, since there’s so few blind visual artists.


As @Vsotvep already mentioned: Correlation doesn’t imply causation.

From the limitations section of the paper you linked:

Nevertheless, it’s a quiet interesting read.


With this line of reasoning, it is impossible to know whether Go is capable of affecting a person. The only way to know would be to take a person, clone them, and then track the life of each individual. One is exposed to Go and the other is not. in this way we are unable to ask “was it the person’s traits or personality or characteristics that led to this or did Go foster them?”.

Because, lets be honest, there is no way to know if exposure to Go can cause any of these things. People are highly diverse creatures who are shaped by their life experiences, opportunities in life, personal drive, and a whole host of personality traits. Go is likely to help increase certain traits within a person, but Go is not going to be some kind of fantastical Kingmaker.

It sounds like you are very passionate about Go and that your mind often wanders to thinking about it. But this is a personal trait and has nothing to do with Go itself. Go doesn’t hinder your ability to concentrate. A lack of self discipline about thinking about Go is the issue here. And if you dedicated yourself to controlling your thoughts, you could change that behavior.

In terms of Go increasing a persons concentration, I’m sure it has a great deal to do with Go being a tool that one is able to utilize to practice concentrating and focusing. In the same way that the game of memory can improve memory. It has to do with practice and training your mind to behave in a certain way. The same way that you train your body at the Gym to get specific kinds of gains.

This is completely up to the person. If you fail to become a pro player, it is a choice if you become a Go teacher because you have no other skills. Or, you can choose to learn some new skills and to utilize them for new opportunities. If a person gets a high flying job, it is because they were seeking a job in the first place, dedicated themselves to their career, and were eventually rewarded for their hard work and effort.

The study I linked to is relevant only in that it shows what someone who behaves in a specific manner can expect to gain, concerning brain development. Any study will reflect the same kind of results. But a person’s success is intangible. It is the power of their spirit and being unwilling to give up that defines their potential. If you keep getting back up every time you get knocked down, chances are that eventually you are going to reach your destination.


Welcome to the world of science, where indeed it is technically impossible to know anything. :slight_smile:

For individual cases it is indeed impossible to know causality, but there’s a trick: statistics.

Take two large groups of people, then they will on average be a “normal human being”. Then let one group play go for a couple of decades, and keep track of their abilities. If the go playing group improves more than the other group, you can make a pretty solid conclusion that there is a causative relation between studying go and those traits that improve.

What this study did is preliminary to such a study, since you want to make sure that there is actually a difference between go experts and other people before you waste a lot of money and time.

Again, I want to underscore that none of this is proved or claimed by the paper you linked.

Is this true?


So there’s one thing that applies to things outside go that I think is a definite correlation:

Studying go helps you learn how to study and acquire other skills.

Really, that’s a specific version of the more general statement of: Studying and reaching new heights helps you learn how to study other things and reach new heights.

So what do I mean by this?

Well, while the knowledge of “how to play go better” doesn’t help you nearly at all with other skills, you have to go through a certain process to obtain that information and actually be capable of using that information in a game. So if we want to know what actually does help, we need to look a bit more outside the box at the processes at work not only in game, but while studying.

So the first and most obvious thing is: to get better you need to practice decision making. That is weighing in certain values to determine which outcome is preferred in a more strategic sense. Yes, you do that partially using specific knowledge and feeling that is go-specific, but the more you practice actually weighing out the pros and cons of any decision, the better you get at being able to weigh out a different set of pros and cons, although it will not help you find said pros and cons.

The second and similarly obvious is the process of reading, or looking through possible responses and consequences: So while practice in go reading requires go-specific knowledge and intuition, just as decision making does, I firmly believe that reading as a skill relies heavily on reading as a habit. The important part is that you do it. This is often integrated into the decision process the “if I do this, what are the likely responses…” reasoning that is factored into the decision making above. But of course, this habit requires even more domain-specific knowledge, so it likely has even less of a noticeable correlation.

After this you go even more vague: Go as a practice and a study.

So in this regard is where the most easily transferred skills are. In fact, these are the ones I bring up to myself when I learn about new and better study habits.

  1. Creating a habit of doing
    Naturally whenever you study or practice something, the first thing you practice is making sure you do this thing every day. My lessons instructor when I first started taking lessons from her told me to schedule a time every day to practice clarinet to make it a habit, with the idea of making sure I was focused every time I sat down to practice. “Five minutes every day is better than two hours only before the lesson” is what she would tell me. She explained this in a manner of making sure that time was spent focused, but I think it’s a bit different than that. If you make sure you do it every day, you start feeling like you want to do it every day. And it got to the point where I no longer needed to schedule practice times for myself because I genuinely wanted to practice every day.
    And I know this is a huge dump with clarinet, but I have a feeling this is the same with go: the more often you do it, the more motivated you will be to do it, and the easier it will be to study and learn more about the game.

  2. Not doing too much of one thing at once (spaced and interleaved practice)
    So I was told once that pros never sit down for tsumego more than 15 minutes at a time, and space out those practices within the day to eventually get multiple hours in. Whether or not this is true, it reflects something I read in the book “make it stick” about practices in teaching and studying: you learn things slower when you mix them together and space them apart, but you also learn them for longer. When you go for hours at once doing tsumego, you can accidentally only commit those to short-term memory, and not actually retain them for longer periods of time, but if you space it out and only do those 15 minute sections, you don’t see the results quite as quickly, but you begin to commit those to long term memory more often.


  1. Just having fun with it:
    I mentioned this before, but motivation is the key idea behind learning any skill. Because learning skills is hard, and it sucks, and you wanna be better now. But if you can have fun and enjoy what you’re doing, then it becomes just that much easier to follow good study practice and retain the information you’re learning and using.

Sorry that all of this is very vague, and maybe there are a few more directly transferable skills in go, but it’s hard to find evidence that go improves any other skill directly, and it’s much easier to talk about habits and how those influence your daily life and lead to other changes in skill because of those habits. So while none of these come directly from just playing go, they are habits you build by studying properly and learning to get better at the game, especially if you had to actually train them to get better.

PS: sorry about the huge wall of text, but this is something I’ve thought about a few times and felt like it was a great place to actually say it.


Yet each study you read will tell you that they could not be certain. Unless something is true for all people, all the time, then science covers itself by stating that this was their experience and these were there findings. But this may not hold to other test groups, under different conditions, or that the data itself, if interpreted by another party, would reflect the same results.

Don’t get me wrong, I think data is sexy. I love statistics and I agree that I personally tend to look to statistics to feel out the truth. But there are never any guarantees. Much like the conversation many of us had about IQ, there are simply too many variables involved to know for certain, given the vast differences between each person being studied; especially over longer periods of time (different lives, different conditions for each individual).


Science doesn’t “cover itself”, it’s just how science works. Usually a study can definitely be repeated, and if it has any scientific value, it better yield the same result given the same conditions. Of course this does not give any conclusions about other test groups, or different conditions, since that is not what has been researched.

Often when you read scientific results in layman news, you will find that the claims are exaggerated, unprecisely formulated, or simply wrong. A scientific study that found a correlation will be interpreted as having found a causality, or a study of a very specific group of test subjects gets generalised to the whole population, etc.

Usually scientists are extremely reluctant to state that a given proposition is unconditionally true, especially to prevent these kind of public misconceptions and misinterpretations. They will claim exactly what they found and how they found it, but seldomly give a conclusive reason for why they found it, since this is generally something we can’t know.

There’s a lot of problems with knowing things. I’ll highlight a few problems that science has to deal with on a daily basis:

  • The induction problem: just because you witness a result, does not give you a claim to a generalisation. Best illustrated with an example: if you go to the park, and each day you only see black crows, then you become more and more certain that crows are black. However, you can never be sure that crows are black, since you need just a single white crow to unhinge your conclusion.
  • False positives: if you test a hypothesis and are 95% sure that it is true, then still 1 in 20 studies will find the opposite conclusion. This is a good illustration of that fact.
  • Errors: you have to take extreme care with outliers in your data. Is that sudden spike caused by something relevant for what you’re studying, or is it just because your research assistant unknowingly bumped against the equipment?
  • Causality: is there really a causative relation between two things you measure, or are both the result of a different unknown property that you didn’t track? Or is perhaps the correlation purely by chance and an artefact of having a lot of data?
  • Are you measuring what you claim to be measuring? This video gives a great example of problems with measuring things. This point is very relevant to the IQ discussion, since IQ is not a well-defined term. Are you actually measuring the kind of intelligence that you would consider intelligence? If you play a game of go against a person who just places stones at random, but he manages to win because of sheer luck, does that make him a better player?

It is not surprising that scientist don’t like making strong claims.


From my position of scientific authority, based on my extensive expertise and as a result of my razor sharp deduction skills I have come to the conclusion that…

  • Go is a game which if merely played doesn’t improve anything by any noticeable margin
  • Go offers many opportunities to practice visualization and (visual) pattern recognition
  • sufficient tsumego/game memorization practice could plausibly improve the ability to contextualize abstract visual patterns as it provides a language for anything reducible to 3-state dot-grid matrices

I wouldn’t hold my breath for some amazing superpower acquired by playing Go. Everything you do affects everything you can do in some miniscule way (because we’re analogy machines and some transfer effects are easy to measure), so don’t be surprised if you do find something.

Case in point. Look at this problem and find out if the depicted board state is solvable (i.e. are you able to fill all cells with matches?). I would argue that my decade-long experience with visualizing things in sequence made it easier for me to solve this in my mind.

Oh and if you wanted to find out if studying Go affects some specific other skill, what you’d need is a repeated measures design. Random sample of the population, randomly assigned to Go / No Go condition, pre-intervention skill assessment, mid-intervention skill assessment, post-intervention skill assessment. That’d be the bare-bones version. I reckon a year’s worth of regular Go study could yield noticeable results as measured by… say… scores on a test of circuit diagram analysis. Good luck. :stuck_out_tongue:


This is a discussion I’ve seen in other type of interests sports, martial arts, climbing. Outdoor stuff. And part of my job is to steer kids into stuff like this, so they can grow as people. It’s undeniable that having activities that are challenging and fun for the individual in a constructive way is beneficial.

All I’ve read on the matter is in Swedish. But we talk a lot about informal learning here. And it’s benefit in learning ability. Play is informal learning therefore crucial to development.

This is a bit convoluted since I can’t throw down data


Thank you everyone for views and info!

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My humble opinion is that Go is a powerful metaphor of many situations that happen in life.
The whole story about balance, not being passive nor being too aggressive, have a plan but be ready to change your plans, don’t be greedy and so on are very smart …


if you happen to know all of this stuff when you’re 50 years old (like I did) it could be not so effective. :wink:
So I’d recommend to teach Go to children, in order to let them capitalize all those wonderful statements through pratice while growing.


Maybe that’s it @lysnew. It’s too late for us oldies but good for the youngsters!

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I like that idea @lysnew. I really hadn’t considered that before. Thank you very much for sharing :wink:


One of the most useful attitudes I’ve learned, and developed more strongly while playing Go, is how to be a beginner & and how to be comfortable making mistakes and failing publicly. Learning to let go of caring so much about what others think; a willingness to take intellectual risks.


Go fundamentally is about analyzing a situation, deciding on the best response to that situation, and dealing with the consequences of your actions. These are not Go skills; they are life skills. So are critical and strategic thinking, concentration, and perseverance. Just as kids play with toys and games to develop fine motor skills, it makes sense to be able to develop and hone mental skills as part of a game where you can so readily measure your progress with your rank. And you have fun in the process.

The skills used in Go are so generic it makes it hard to pinpoint exactly what’s changed in my life through playing Go. What I do know is that I was homeschooled through age 18 and was kind of insular until college, when I also first learned about Go. Passing the California bar exam also took a heck of a lot of the skills that I had practiced by playing Go. I can’t say that one caused the other but, for me, the pieces are all right there on the table.


Can you please elaborate? I would love to hear more about that.

Regarding the original questions: “Is Go useful? Does it improve your skills outside playing Go?”

Does it have to be?

I’m sure that go is useful and does have an impact on improving other skills and promoting general mental well being. Many others in this thread have attested to that, and there might even be some studies/data that would support that. On top of that, there might also be social benefits as playing may involve interaction with a larger community.

However, is that really the reason why any of us got into go? I just play and study go because I like to. It’s a hobby that I enjoy, regardless of whether it might help with other things in life. I think that’s the motivation that drives participation in a lot of hobbies. I mean, a lot of people enjoy all sorts of activities without concern as to whether it is useful or helps with improving other skills.