The Emotions of Playing Go

The Emotions of Playing Go

I am a very emotional person, and I am very sensitive to winning and losing. When I win I experience a sense of satisfaction so strong it sometimes borders on arrogance. When I lose, I often experience an emotionally painful sense of loss. If I play well, don’t make any glaring mistakes, and lose simply because I was the weaker player, it isn’t so bad. However when I suffer losses due to easily preventable oversights, the impact of the loss strikes me with a great rush of blood to my face, a tension in my heart, and shame in my mind. Depending on how much effort I put into creating what I lost, and how easily it might have been protected, this feeling can take 30 seconds or 20 minutes to shake off. This deeply emotional reaction to loss reaches back into my childhood, into the deep identity places where personal validation and self-esteem have their roots. It’s the reason I didn’t play sports as a kid- when I lost it was too painful.

One reason I am passionately drawn to Go is that, as an adult with more emotional awareness, it puts me face to face with this challenging aspect of myself. It gives me the opportunity to look at how I habitually respond to loss, again and again and again, in a harmless context. There are times when after an hour of play I have become so deeply invested in the game, taken such a powerful responsibility upon myself on the board, that when the loss comes it is an extremely powerful feeling. It can make me want to flip the board, resign the game, smash my head against the wall, slump with dejection, cease to exist. It can trigger every emotion of shame, wrongness, anger, frustration, self-doubt, and existential uncertainty. I may sit back from this moment and ask myself, “ What am I doing with my life?”, with great seriousness. Fortunately, I am a relatively healthy person and I don’t flip the board, resign (sometimes I resign), smash my head against the wall, or cease to exist. These feelings spike and then recede, for it is just a game. Analyzing the mistake in post-game to understand exactly where I went wrong, both in play and in my thinking, helps to alleviate any lingering frustration.

I’ve been playing Go for about two years, I started when I was 27. With good practice I may one day become a strong amateur. In this pursuit I will challenge strong players often, and I will often lose. For all my life, as long as I play Go, I will often lose. I wish to discover a more neutral response to loss. I don’t want to have to spend even 30 seconds experiencing painful emotions. Maybe I need to meditate, to try to understand the emotional root of this painful response and heal it. Maybe with experience my in-game expectations will become more realistic, and that will help. Maybe if the stakes are high enough, it’s just inevitable. It’s fascinating, how high the stakes can get when all you’re doing is putting stones on a board.


this loss was due to a mistake i made. a move i had even read out would have saved my group, but i played another move because in the spur of the moment it seemed right… it wasnt xD. It wasnt the loss that upset me, but that single move. I thought about the sequence long after the game had ended, and even dreamt of that very same game. How could i have played that move?

I suspect that it is quite normal to feel pain, shame, even be devastated in these situations. In my experience the stakes are high, not because losing to another player is hard, but because it is hard to feel i didnt live up to my own expectations of myself. This is enhanced by the anonymous nature of games played online and the situation they are played in (alone, no team or opponent to make it all more touchable/share the pressure/lighten up the mood). Ladder axiety is a common phenomenon in all online gaming communities.

It gets better though :).Each time you experience this it will get easier to deal with. And i am not entirely sure if it would help to be entirely indifferent about the matter, because being invested is important for improvement. I would rather be invested and deal with the disappointment that comes with it than detach myself.

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It may help to realize that, whatever the competition, there is always going to be someone, somewhere, who is better.

Also, I think it is a good idea not to play if you don’t feel well–too tired, preoccupied, etc. I recently lost 5 straight games of 3m 9x9 on Go Quest, three of them due to blunders. The first blunder should have signaled to me that I wasn’t in an optimum state of mind to play well, but I ploughed ahead pigheadedly. In sports, the schedule is fixed and players must perform whether they feel up to it or not, hence players often need to psych themselves up for competition. We have the luxury of choosing the moment of competition online, so we should be able to optimize our chance of doing well.


It seems to me that the anonymous nature of online play should reduce the trauma to the ego as well as the temptation to pridefully gloat. On the other hand, you are right, of course, that the support of a team or community is helpful in many ways. I have been impressed by the friendly, supportive atmosphere of OGS (in the forums and the chat room) and by go players generally IRL. This is in contrast to my experience, once upon a time, in the world of contract bridge.

Yes, I agree it is not the loss of the game that stings most, but the impact of the move that lost you the game, or the lead.

I played this correspondence game two and a half years ago, when I was but a fledgling, and move 133, which cut off and captured my lower stones, was one such move. I still remember it. I actually remember the day it happened. A lovely young woman had come to visit me at my house, and I played move 132 without much thought just after she arrived, before closing my computer to attend to more… important things. About an hour later, as we were sitting on my bed talking, it struck me out of nowhere like a bolt of lightening. The image of that move flashed into my head and I realized I’d lost those stones. I rushed to my computer to confirm this- for I had given a great deal of concern to those stones- and found it was so. It was a memorably dramatic feeling. She didn’t seem particularly empathetic to my distress, however she did help relieve some of it.

And I expect you’re right, that the pain of losing is something that gets us more invested to win next time. The drama inherent to this game is part of what makes it so compelling.


You’d think the anonymity would reduce the stress, but for me it tends to increase it, because I project my feelings onto the anonymous face of the player. I’ve only ever met cool people on here, and this is why I like playing against people I know. Its easier to lose to friends :slight_smile:


I also think that correspondence game set you up for more stress, because they can take place over weeks and you can get much more invested in them with all that time. They also tend to dissipate my focus a bit, for I am always at risk of having forgotten the global nuances when I return a day or two later. If the whole game only takes an hour or two you can go all-in with your attention the whole time and probably play more efficiently.

“When you stop crying, you are ready to go to another level.”

Said at 1:50 PST 1/28/2017, by Romanian champion Cornel Burzo on xhu98’s live stream.

  • I suggest empathy to smooth out both the arrogance and the pain. When I was a child, I mostly played games against one of my brothers closest in age. Most of our games were clearly divided into two groups: Games where I mostly won, and games where he mostly won. We managed this issue by alternating the selection of games.

So, if you lose, think about the other player being happy and be happy that this means that they will play again with you. If you win, be happy about your win, but feel empathy with the other player. If you win much more than half of your games, you do not take on your burden of losing that is the price to be paid that people can win.

Incidentally, my brother and me did NOT choose only games that we were good at.

  • You seem quite young to me in some respects. Mistake regret is much bigger in real life. It is easy to pay a moment of inattention with unrecoverable loss in health. A self-atari just doesn’t hold a candle against falling in the dark and waiting how badly you will hurt yourself because you thought it so important to hurry down stairs in the middle of the night (the same stairs that you will walk really, really slowly with a lot of arm strength support for years, so that you have time to think about that fall every day).

I certainly do like to win a game of go, but if I lose a game of go due to an error that is more than 10 stones below my skill level, I don’t take it personally, but as a diagnostic of my momentary state of health (or lack of sleep). If I were to work out physically in my usual way, and I get out of breath immediately, I would also recognize that I am developping a flu and go to bed instead of obsessing on my workout.

Basically, I like winning much more than I hate losing.

  • Meditating is fine, but I am doubtful about “trying to understand and heal it”. I have seen a child grow up where I know firsthand where its behavioral and emotional troubles come from. This child has no chance to figure this out by meditation, because this all happened in their first two years. Go for modification of mode of thoughts and behaviour.

Wulfenia, thank you for your deeply considered reply.

Considering the feelings of the other player is a nice perspective, and I very much appreciate it as a way of finding reward in loss, in the victory of the other. Really beautiful.

This entire topic of pain is of course on a micro-scale in the greater life picture. While I might get very upset after playing a dumb move, its a fleeting moment. The only material risk is getting so frustrated so often I give up playing Go. The fear of frustrating myself out of the game is partly why I wrote this, but ultimately its a small thing. Life can easily leave you laid up in bed for six months, playing Go on your laptop to pass the time while you wonder if you will ever get better. I do think, though, that there is some relationship between how one responds to loss in a game, and loss in life. Losing at Go is a triviality in the bigger picture, but it lends us some insight into our patterns.

As to meditation, while it may not reveal to anyone the literal events of their earliest years, it can absolutely lead to insight about how the patterns you picked up from those events effect your life now. A child may not be able to know where their trauma comes from, but an adult can discover how it is presently controlling them, recognize underlying fears, and release those fears, in meditation. My personal experience is that meditation can create great emotional healing. If I try to habituate new modes of thought but give no attention to the emotions behind my original thoughts, the new behavior tends not to stick. This is a much deeper conversation that leaves Go behind at the door.

If I sound young, it is probably because as a child I hated losing more than I enjoyed winning, and I am expressing that part of myself here. As an adult I find that attitude disempowering; it motivates overly safe choices that don’t fulfill my goals. This conversation is part of a greater effort to shift into a more effective and- as you say- positive empathetic mode. I do also think poop is funny, so take it for what you will. :slight_smile:



[quote=“hismajestylordspeezw, post:5, topic:10409”]
I expect you’re right, that the pain of losing is something that gets us more invested[/quote]
very true, hating a loss can be a very powerful motivator! but i kinda meant it the other way round :slight_smile:. the investment in the game is a necessary part for me to enjoy it, regardless of the oucome. if i werent invested to whatever degree, i wouldnt be able to do my best. the disappointment after a blunder is merely a consequence of that investment. it goes both ways i guess.

my post was somewhat ambiguous i believe. i meant to say, that it is the anonymity of the opponent, that can cause us to feel pressure. The lack of a physically present opponent (breathing/maybe groaning/placing stones with confidence or hesitating/talking) lets us forget, that playing the other stones is someone struggling with the game just as we are. So we burden ourselves with a rather inhuman image of our opponent, which probably couldnt be farther from the truth.

i agree about the friendly supportive atmosphere on the OGS forum, which is why i like to be here :smile:. it makes things a lot easier and more fun.

thank you for bringing empathy into this :slight_smile:. it is especially important on the internet.

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I completely agree, both pain and pleasure are strong motivators in different ways. I also agree that the challenge of anonymous play is largely because its easy to project semi-inhuman qualities onto your very human opponent. @Wulfenia brought some great empathetic perspective to that. With this idea in mind, hoping to drum up some friendly faces to play with, I started an OGS group named “His Majesty’s Society of Honourable Gentlemen and Ladies Fair”. Feel free to join up and join the ladder, we can see how this discussion plays out in-game! :slight_smile:

Thank you for sharing your emotions so frankly.

You are reading too much in bad moves, losses and wins: they are not judgments about your whole self; you are not a loser when you lose or a master when you win.

We all play bad moves, be it because we are tired, as @Conrad_Melville mentioned, or because most of us are not go masters. That’s life.

Every single loss and win is just part of some average that defines your level (the best two players in the world, if they have equal strength, should lose 50 % of the time!). You have the level that you have: are you stronger than a beginner? you bet. Are you weaker than a professional? you bet. Most of us are somewhere in-between and there is no shame in this or it would be unnecessarily difficult emotionally to climb to higher ranks.

You can embrace your mistakes as golden opportunities to learn something. Same thing for your losses. Even more difficult: learn something from your winning games, for even in a won game there might be mistakes, things that are perfectible, or inspiring moves played by our opponent.

I’ll be frank and blunt: if you sometimes suffer from a mistake or a loss, or become arrogant because of a win, you are taking yourself too seriously. What is your goal? To prove to yourself that you are incredibly gifted at go and should always be the dominating player, or instead to improve yourself because getting stronger is a challenge that you enjoy taking? I would suggest that on the path to your peace of mind lies humility and having as a goal the improvement of your imperfect play. Thus you will be more open to the great joy of learning and feeling progress—including through your current weaknesses.

My 2 cents. :slight_smile:



There’s truth in what you say. Go is an eternal endeavor, and learning from mistakes is an essential part of that. I think we all find validation in a win, and its probably possible to take more validation in a win than is justified by one mere game of Go. Maybe this creates an imbalance. Its a deep question, as well all have different motivations.

I do think that pride has something to do with it. It isn’t losing a game that hurts, so much as the move that lost it. And that pain comes from having taken pride in what I had created, and lost. And as they say, pride comes before the fall. Perhaps developing the habit of not becoming attached to the idea that an area of the board is “yours” before the endgame, is a prudent attitude. Because until every last invasion has been played out, there may be a flaw in your shape you do not see.

Ballpark frankness, my friend.

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What a beautiful description of the emotions and bodily responses that can happen when playing go!

I have certainly experienced all of these myself, in years past. None of these psychological and stress-related effects are in the least unusual, growing up as we have in a very stressful world.

I think your insight about meditation is a good one, but be careful to understand that there are many different forms of meditation, some designed to achieve certain goals in life, others not really designed at all. Pick a form that can eliminate what you don’t want, while bringing what you want.

I suspect that recommending a specific course of instruction would get my posting deleted, because it would sound commercial, so I’ll just say that my recommendation is a form that would reduce and eventually eliminate anxiety, fear, arrogance, and other psychological problems while bringing peace and joy.

Such a form of meditation must bring the state of restful alertness, sometimes called the fourth state of consciousness (after waking, dreaming, and deep sleep), sometimes called samadhi, or absorption.

Restoring the fourth state of consciousness and of physiology won’t eliminate all your internal and accumulated stresses immediately. That would be an unrealistic expectation. But it should produce concrete and measurable results immediately, results that grow over time.

For ease of practice, such a form of meditation must be completely effortless, no matter what the experiences during meditation. This immediately rules out many forms, which teach that there are “obstacles” that must be dealt with, which require effort, and which can make the practitioner feel like a failure.

In short, I wish you the best of luck in your search, shared by most of us, for freedom from problems and limitations. I have found the end of my search, and it is fulfilling and freeing to have an effective practice to transform life in the direction of realization of Self, filled with peace and happiness. Even the difficulties of dealing with stage 4 cancer has not derailed me, mentally or physically. The fear of death, perhaps the greatest of individual problems, no longer haunts me. Peace and freedom grow over time, based on the reality of dissolving and eliminating stored stresses.


Quick thought: Often in the greetings from my opponents I read “have fun”. I do NOT have “fun” playing Go (not that it’s important but I only play correspondence games). It is way too intense for me to have fun. I’m deeply invested in every game. And likely because of that I’m thrilled with every victory; crestfallen with every defeat. Not saying that’s the way it should be. It’s just the way it is with me.

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I smash things

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Fun might be considered in a broader meaning, being something you like to do and do without being forced to do it and that in general gives you positive energy
Also it could be the opposite of something you really dread, thath would be a chore or that you would give you no satisfaction at all.
It’s just my interpretation of fun. At work some people don’t like it when you’re having fun at doing your jour job. Of course you don’t sit laughing at silly jokes all day long, but when you’ve been creating a new database or finalising an important text on your favorite topic and you come home tired but happy, this is has been “fun” to me also.


You are not obligated to have fun, just because your opponent says so. Some of my opponents said “May we both play well.” and I still played badly.

I guess that one might say “May you find the fulfillment, distraction, attainment of your potential, aesthetical value, excitement, novelty, meditation or education in this game of go that you currently seek.”


I may say that from now on.