Mindset when learning to play Go

Warning, wall of text incoming! There is a TLDR at the bottom :point_down:

Following an interesting discussion on OGS on beginning to play Go and the problems that people have starting out, I wanted to share some thoughts on some of the psychological aspects of starting out.

I often state that our current Western mentality does not go well with learning Go. Go is not an easy game to learn, especially not when you want to win. Perhaps it’s not exactly Western mentality, more ‘kids nowadays’ but still. I also cannot say anything meaningful about Asian culture to compare.

What I’m trying to say is that really wanting to win, does not fit well with playing Go. You learn this game primarily by losing and that’s very different from what ‘we’ are used to. We have all these video games which guide you gently and help you get better, often by winning by small amounts. Online there is no such thing for Go, apart from getting proper teaching games right from the start.

So when you go play, you will lose and you will lose a lot. If you want to win; if ‘winning’ is the fun aspect of games for you, this will certainly hold you back. And in some cases make you quit playing Go. I had this same issue when I first played go (when HnG aired). The steep learning curve and many losses, just didn’t work for me (coming from said culture of video games). This is a problem primarily for younger people wanting to learn Go, but I guess applies to anyone. People think losing is a sign that they are just not intelligent enough, that they are not smart enough to pick this game up.

The solution, I think, is some education. The fact that losing games is almost the only way to get better at Go, should be clear from the start. Everyone started that way, even the professionals. Make sure that new players know this, before actually playing humans so they will not hit this brick wall (or not as hard). With my first attempt at Go, no one told me this and I failed to get through that.

The continue the comparison with video games, I’d like to share a link on ranking and anxiety: http://wiki.teamliquid.net/starcraft2/Dealing_with_anxiety

This too comes from my own experience, when I wanted to learn playing StarCaft 2. This game, is also very hard to pick up playing online. You will get slaughtered in ways unimaginable, thinking you will never learn. That you are just too stupid to be able to. Unlike team based games like League of Legends, where you can hide behind the failure of your team, there is only one possible reason for losing: your own performance. So when you are losing games, and you rank will start to drop, you will think that you are just not fit for this game. This applies to Go as well, completely.

The above link provides some tips on how to deal with the feeling of losing games, in relation to that ranking. Because when you go on a losing streak - and you will - you will probably be afraid to press that ‘Create challenge’ button. Or to keep that ‘Ranked’ checkbox checked, because you care too much about your rank. Eventually, you will start to lose interest because you are even caring about losses in practise games. And then comes the point of just quitting the game altogether.

Well, this was quite a bit longer than I had expected. I hope there is some clear story in this, but it’s just something I felt I had to share. Other people will know this already, but I just went through it. Thank you for reading!

We have to educate newer players in the fact that losing is good and ranks are unimportant. That they will learn primarily from losing and that their rank will have ups and downs. But also, that everyone started out that way and no one mastered this game without playing a metric ton of games.


Thank you, nice read.

I’m 58, first learnt about the game at age of seven, and I still am a measly kyu player.
OK, I have lots of “excuses” (as if I needed some), the strongest being that there were a few decade-long pauses in my playing, but then again I’ve finally stuck with the game for the past ~10 years, and I STILL am a measly kyu player.

I have indeed questioned my intelligence at times, much the more since I also have issues with depression. It has happened that I cried after a Real Life game where an opponent who once used to take two Handicap stones won the third game in succession playing White. I “excused” myself with the fact that he is less than half my age and thus thinks and learns much faster—and I tried to comfort myself with the fact that, one year before, I had predicted that he’d overtake me some day, so at least I was “clever enough” to realize …

Currently my “excuse” is that I am a working person and don’t have as much time/energy/mindspace for Go as I’d like to.

Re: intelligence … I think it helps if one accepts that fact that there is really no thing as “universal intelligence”, like, e.g., so-called “intelligence tests” in reality only test your ability to fill out such tests. There is emotional intelligence, technical intelligence, verbal intelligence, social intelligence, mathematical intelligence … and Go intelligence, among many others. The person who wins against you in Go could actually be an "idiot savant” who doesn’t get much else managed in their lives but plays wonderful Go—but most probably we are a ”mixed calculation”, a brew of many different skills (and lacks thereof), meaning we have individually developed to cope with the special challenges in each our own lives.

For Go, while on the board it is a competitive game, it may perhaps be helpful to view the game as a cooperative effort by both players to find the best move for the given situation.
Like …
White: White thinks this may be a really good move. <places stone>
Black: OK, prove it … <places stone>

There was something else I wanted to write here but now I have forgotten what it was …


Growth mindset is an interesting concept to think about: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindset#Fixed_mindset_and_growth_mindset

The idea is to try not to think “I’m hopeless at Go, I’m just not as talented as some people.”. Instead think “I’m not great at Go at the moment, but I’ve made progress, and I can keep improving.”.

Some people make progress faster than others, but that doesn’t really matter. If it takes 30 years to reach SDK, so what? If you’ve enjoyed the process, great. If you haven’t enjoyed it, get a different hobby!


Thanks for the replies! :slight_smile: other things to have in mind when playing go. I like the mutual goal mindset as well, it is actually the same for Aikido (you and your partner work towards the same goal). The growth mindset appears to be exactly what you should have in mind when learning.

I accidentally stumbled upon a discussion on L19 forums which deals with the same things. Might as well link it here too:



As I am progressing in Go, I am also progressing in tennis. The two have much in common, not the least of which is the learning from failure aspect. Two players can’t step out on the court without one of them losing. Here is one man’s solution - have the words of Samuel Beckett tattooed on his arm. (Do go read Stan’s thinking behind the tattoo.)

It says: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Like Go, one should be playing tennis for the fun of playing, not the joy of winning, and after enough learning, winning will happen. Then you advance to play better players and start the losing all over again.

Winning and ranking is not the goal. Playing and enjoying is the goal.

Remember - “Fail better.”


I know I discussed this a bit with you in chat the other day. I won’t rehash some of the things I expressed earlier.

I think comparing go to video games is apples and oranges. I do agree that any human should, and will usually eventually learn how to lose. I can’t say it’s a cultural thing.

Personally, I don’t think any of us have to do a service to players we feel might need to learn how to lose, other than play competitively and help them lose. They’ll have to figure it out for themselves what to do with it.

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Go is certainly very different from video games. The things both do have in common, is the fact that both are well… games, and the fact there is a winning aspect. Rank is pretty common in video games nowadays as well. That was what my comparison was for. Perhaps culture has nothing to do about it, I would not be surprised that Chinese/Korean/Japanese teenagers have the same issues picking up Go.

I do not have a service of sorts in mind, to help new players learn to lose, but it is petty important that thay know. It’s sad that people picking up Go, fail to get through that part. I think the Go community can use more active players, so it helps when people don’t get too discouraged when picking it up. The game is so much fun, it’s a shame that someone who actually enjoys it, stops because of said problems.

But that’s just my thoughts on the matter. Active guidance/education is perhaps a bit too much, but just some information somewhere on OGS or here. Might help someone :slight_smile:

There is also a page on sensei’s library related to this:


Good reading, that, @Enrico! I especially like this:
:slight_smile: This immediately liberates me of that fear … (IMHO similar to that Buddha quote that “all life is suffering” which takes away any feeling of guilt for my own suffering)

Also related: http://senseis.xmp.net/?OnlineGoAnxiety

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Nice find both of you. Fear of losing is pretty extensive and anxiety to play apparently has it’s own acronym :stuck_out_tongue: Good to see that others recognize this problem as well and that there is some information to point people in the direction of.

I particularly like the motto “Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.” It seems to fit very well :slight_smile:


I agree mindset is so important for GO, I know for myself playing fast games 10 min or less I do not really concentrate, and lose out on much of what makes GO a great game. Then when I play a longer game my lack of concentration rears its ugly head…

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I was in violation my own ‘mindset’ as well in the same way, focusing too much on blitz 9x9 just for gaining experience. However it does not really help my reading skills. So I’m going to mix it up with some proper 19x19 games as well, even though I do not always have time for those (live).

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I, for one, am much more relaxed now that I know there is no human who will ever be better than AlphaGo.

That was a liberating event.

I see the board better. I don’t bother with thoughts about good I can be. The result is that I’m playing better.

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Thanks for sharing that. That really encouraged me! I’m 57, but didn’t learn go until I was 50. I moved up to 8k in about 3 years and have been “stuck” there ever since, mostly through lack of time to advance further. I recently began playing with a 14-year-old who has loads of free time which he is devoting entirely to go. For the first couple of months, I won every game easily, and I taught him some things, but the last two months he has been beating me every game. I am beginning to doubt I will ever beat him again, which is kind of sad and discouraging in some ways, but I’m also glad to see how he is taking off and we still have a great time reviewing games together.

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I understand there is a desire to treat everything about Go as if it is truly a unique activity that requires a truly unique perspective or mindset. But really, it’s because of our own biased enthusiasm for the game that makes us want to think the things we love are so unique.

Video games is not a proper comparison as it is not exactly the same. Video games are supposed to have a certain difficulty that is not too easy to be boring yet challenging enough to interest players. Video games are also a profit-driven industry so no one will create an insanely hard game that most people cannot beat because it’s not as lucrative in the long run.
Games that were not created for profit do not have that issue of carrying about difficulty balancing. Of course, older arcade games are notorious for making you go through the same things Go does - lose over and over again till you figure out the game on your own. There isn’t even a manual for those games when they came out as far as I know.

Ok I digress, my point is that these things are not unique to Go and frankly, I think the Go world is not that desperate to have to make hold-your-hand guides for the general public to get them interested. If you lack the mental fortitude and perseverance, it’s not Go’s fault but reveals certain qualities that that person is lacking. That person is free to develop those qualities in other areas outside of Go and maybe revisit the game again or never develop those qualities and forget about the Go word. The Go world is no worse off.

Also I feel that Go is not as harsh as you make it out to be for beginners. There are Go apps and programs to slowly play with you ‘gently’ and let you win to motivate you and you can increase the difficulty when you are ready. AI is lso known to be notoriously weak (with the exception of Alphago). There are also ranks online to segregate your skill level so it’s not like we’re throwing a DDK into a high Dan den to get eaten. With all these things in place, if a person loses interest in Go, I think it’s plenty obvious that it’s not because of the ‘harsh Go environment’. That person is as likely to stop playing a simple popular made-for-the-masses game (eg. Angry Birds) as to stop playing a hard obscure game like Go.

We shouldn’t have to build the player up for Go. The player builds himself from playing Go.


And then of course, there’s the handicapping system. I can just about beat an amateur 3 dan with about 15 handicap stones, so it’s not like I can’t play people better than me XD

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Thank you for your excellent reply :slight_smile:

By no means do I want to treat Go as something that requires a unique approach to learning. I feel it is present in a lot more other things as well, like martial arts. I just wanted to compare it to learning other games.

Perhaps I should not have made that comparison because people misunderstand what I mean by it. I know video games and Go are very different things which different approaches. However, they are both games. Nowadays, when kids play games, people mean they play video games.

The rest of your point is obviously very valid and it is exactly that which I wanted to highlight. Younger people are accustomed to the gentle learning that most video games provide, which is much less present in Go.

That’s your valid opinion :slight_smile: I agree that these things aren’t unique to Go, but I disagree with not helping newer players a bit in introducing this game. I don’t think it’s as important as learning the rules, shapes or basic strategies. But I think it’s a point that could very well be highlighted nonetheless.

Learning the game by playing against AI is cool and all, and is pretty gentle indeed. I give you that. However Go is a game that shines most brightly when played against humans (as with most other games), until you reach Lee’s level.

Learning gently from AIs does not help you much when learning the game. You are learning the wrong things from those weak, random playing bots. They are weak or easy because they make stupid mistakes that most beginner will not make. I do not recommend learning Go by playing AI because then the brick wall that is playing against humans, becomes even harder.

The rankings are fun and all but also part of the problem, but I highlighted that in my previous post already. Ranking is a concept that is shared by video games, and people think too much of it.

I think that we (Go community) could really be missing out on players that don’t understand how you learn this game. I think of myself as an example, when I tried to pick up this game a lot of years ago. Had I known that I can only learn from losing, perhaps I would have been able to keep playing the game. Obviously I am here now, but I could have been playing for like 12 to 13 years already. You could state that I as a person, was not ready to handle this game at that time. But I am not so sure of that :slight_smile:


TBH, this sounds, to me, quite condescending towards those who begin with Go and are struggling, or towards those who have hit that proverbial “wall” at 17k, or 10k, or 6k (random ranks here :wink: ) and are struggling, to those who are struggling with Go at any time in their progress.

[quote]That person is free to develop those qualities in other areas outside of Go [/quote]You mean, like: “ah, bugger off”?

[quote]and maybe revisit the game again or never develop those qualities and forget about the Go word. The Go world is no worse off.[/quote]I disagree. “The Go world”, at least in the West, can use everybody who has a sincere interest in the game.

We shouldn’t have to build the player up for Go.[/quote]Where was it about “building the player up”, as in a passive player and an active we? In my perception it was rather some suggestions for the player for their mental preparation for a (sometimes indeed rough) journey, since we are (just a little bit) more experienced …

With this I agree—and it seems to contradict what you say before: “That person is free to develop those qualities in other areas outside of Go” (emphasis by me).
IMHO the OP says the same … only just a little bit more verbose, and just a little bit more welcoming and friendly, AND it gives that struggling person some guidance, like … giving them a few building blocks, or “there’s the crate with vitamins, protein, sugar, minerals”, or explaining to them what they should pack for a hike.

If you don’t want to take newbies or other game companions by the hand when they’re desperate about the game, that’s perfectly okay—but I wonder: why criticize it if others do so?
Would you prefer if Go were the game of an elitist circle only?


Great thoughts and interesting point of view I share. In fact, when I began to play, some people that were teaching me to play told me: “You will have a grasp of what go is about after you lose, at least, one hundred games”. Certainly, they were right.

Best regards,


Condescension was not my intention by any means. Contempt perhaps, directed not towards OP or similar like-minded people (note: never did I criticize anyone for wanting to help), but to the general attitude that the global Go community has in promoting it. There is a difference between eager enthusiasm for promoting the game out of passion and bending backwards out of desperation to ‘beg’ for people to pick Go up. I think that is insulting to Go imo. Go, even by western standards have long moved out of the desperate we-need-everyone-we-can-get-or-we-will-die-out period and has steadily gained traction as a more popular hobby.

Also do note I was addressing the issue of generating interest among the general public. and not people who have already played and hit whatever random rank wall you suggested. These people have had the interest to reach those ranks and is not where I take issue with.
You are right, I was subtly suggesting that those (general public) turned who cannot handle the relative tame rigors of learning Go to harsh to ‘bugger off’.

It’s not to form a sport/hobby that only elitists enjoy but to simply reach out to those most likely to find an interest in Go (eg. players of chess/sudoku and other brain games) without making us seem like a bunch of desperate people who could just extend a helping hand but because of our own insecurities as a Go community (that we are inferior to other hobbies and thus require more hand-holding), we metaphorically grovel at everyone’s (general public) feet to get people to play Go otherwise no one else will. Wouldn’t this degrade the already existing image of Go already that only the uncool kids at nerd club play (not necessarily nerds, but a very obscure group of people) and be counterproductive to the promotion of Go?

Again, props to those who promote the game and get more people to play Go. I have nothing against that and I laud all who devote their time and effort to that cause. Just feel the Go community could do it with more dignity. That is all.

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