I’ve been reflecting on some of the challenges that players face when playing Go, and I wanted to share my thoughts with the community. I’ve been contemplating both my experiences and feelings/thoughts of other players online and offline, and I think I came up with several major reasons, or “fears” as I like to call them, which make it difficult to fully enjoy the game. Note, that I want to focus on internal, psychological reasons for the stress in this post. Otherwise, it’s just too much of diverse topic to discuss. Feel free to create a separate post for “external” factors.
Here are the key factors that I believe contribute to stress in Go:
Fear of uncertainty: One of the biggest challenges in Go is that it can be difficult to know what to do in any given situation. The space of possible options is simply too vast: there are so many (too many…?) possible moves and strategies, and it can be overwhelming to try to figure out the best one. This fear of uncertainty can lead to analysis paralysis and make it difficult for players to take decisive action, making it a vicious cycle, as lack of thought-out decisions leads to lower quality games and slower learning of skills for handling the uncertainty.
Fear of judgement: When playing Go, there is always the sense that your opponent is watching your every move and judging your decisions. It can be intimidating to feel like you’re being evaluated constantly and to worry that you’re not measuring up. As a result, players, who are more sensitive to the judgement, may choose to only play against bots or stick to playing against a small group of friends.
Potential variation: fear of a judgement from stronger players rather than opponents, who could review and find your game afterwards. Source (Gia): 🤯 Why do Go players drop out? Addressing anxiety and stress in Go - #8 by Gia
Fear of time pressure and deadlines: Go games can be long and require a lot of concentration. This can be stressful for players who feel like they need to make decisions quickly in order to keep the game moving. For these players, playing correspondence games or avoiding tournament play altogether may be a way to alleviate this fear.
For each Go player, there is always a mix of these fears, with some additional external, non-psychological factors. Obviously, I don’t have a hard data on this, but I think there is always one major fear, and some minor combination of others, if any (think Pareto principle of 80/20). What’s interesting in pinpointing these fears is that you can start working on the major fear first, which, following the Pareto principle, should lead to a major positive shift in your playing.
But how to work on the fears? Is this an exhaustive list of anxiety factors? Please share your thoughts.
Following basic psychological knowledge, I would propose to start from reflecting and monitoring, when one or several fears “spike.” E.g., I don’t want to play Go. Is this because I’m intimidated by midgame, where I have no fricking idea what to do? Is this because it would be yet another series of lost games, and I’m tired from losing? And so on. At least it would help you start understanding yourself more, and you can see where it will lead you – speaking of “Go as a metaphor for life.”
Fear of uncertainty: when I was a beginner, at many times I didn’t know what to play, especially during middle game. Things improved after I read books: then I could experiment ideas explained there. Now I still sometimes have no clue what to do but the AI can give answers at the end of the game, which is reassuring.
Fear of defeat: whenever I’ve lost too many games on a server, I switch to another. Also, I don’t think we need to “pinpoint” where things went wrong. Go is a long game and stronger players get a small advantage at each move, throughout the game. So I take the opportunity at the end of the game to examine AI’s moves and concentrate on 2-3 moves that I didn’t think about. It doesn’t matter if these 2-3 moves were turning points or not. The fact that these moves didn’t cross my mind shows that something was lacking in my conception of the game.
Fear of judgement: I don’t have that kind of fear during the game. On the contrary, when playing against someone of similar level, I’m often amazed at the fact that they seem to make many big mistakes, and yet the game is close at the end…
Fear of time pressure : no problem, just choose adequate time settings. For live games on OGS I choose at least 20 minutes main time + 5*30s byo-yomi. On Fox I choose 20 minutes + 1 min byo-yomi: I rarely use all my time but when I need to read a difficult position I have plenty of time and am not under time pressure. But the best is still to play friendly games in my go club in a relaxed way, without clock.
I deal with all that by not really caring about the result. If the game was fun and interesting, I do not care if I win or lose. Which is why I was able to have “test periods” where I would try to “pincer everything” or “attach to everything” or “invade everything” or “tenuki at least once everywhere”.
Grand fun all of those periods. I do not think I won a single game
Take out factor two (fear of defeat) and the other three factors vanish, imho.
Hmmm, actually what can be external but not internal? Sure, the main cause may be external, like what I encountered in my last tournament, but in the end the feeling is processed internally. And is not some anxiety, but disgust, or other dissatisfaction
Yep, I vote for that. This happened to me. I used to discover a lot of things, on my own, or in books, and then try to apply them in games. And at one level, nobody will fall for a snapback for example. So, suddenly, or maybe building it up and bursting, the lack of novelty made me quit. The novelty of participating in a huge event with thousands of participants made me come back for a last tournament though.
Yep, not actual fear, just a feeling or certainty. I remember the feeling decades ago of waiting for the opponent to make a move and see if the trap worked. Maaan better than sex, since the tachycardias lasted longer. Also freshly married my wife insisted me to come to sleep, but Go or many other things kept me at my computer. So how to call it now when I am in mood of wasting time with a hand of solitaire instead of a game of Go?
But sure the factor of wasting time is a big factor (based on the perception of doing something interesting) It happened that this last tournament I touched somehow this issue. Is a correspondence tournament, so everybody decides for how much time spends in the games. But the span of the tournament on which is spread your own allotted time is decided by some other factors. And some casual comment of mine stirred a pot of wasps. Damn, there are some pressure that built up. Many, (or maybe only few, but it looks like many) even decided to quit the tournament.
So definitely the feeling of wasting time is a factor that weigh a lot, a lot more than any fear in the decision of quitting Go.
(1) is actually one of the reasons I enjoy playing Go. While Go is a complex game, and I obviously can’t be certain about any individual move or concept, the outcome is clear - win or loss. That is a certainty that can’t always be found in other activities!
Something that tends to disappear at higher level, but I think can be significant at some stage: frustration due to undeserved defeats (or at least perceived as such).
Unlike Chess, a game of Go takes quite a long time, during which you are stressed and on the edge of your seat. And when finally after 45min of that you think you reached the end and you won thanks to some clever moves, you stupidly miss an atari, or the opponent tries a stupid invasion which the AI confirms had no chance to work and is just wasting time but you blunder and this stupid game is now all lost.
Of course there are many rational arguments to explain that this is fine and you shouldn’t see it like that… but still, that leaves a bitter taste.
I’ve grown out of it, but I remember that frustration in the past, and a friend recently got quite annoyed by it too.
When i participate in many tournaments i had a special fear at times to not be in the right mood to play go. I felt that the mood was something quite important for good results.
Thinking about it, it’s a fear i meet in casual games too but it’s more concerning in competitive games.
I don’t suffer much from anxiety during my games, whether I win or lose, though it does feel quite gratifying to me to have a jigo (draw). Just today I played a 9 stone over the board casual game with a 7k that ended in jigo. To me that somehow felt like a victory for both me and my opponent.
I did more or less quit go for some years in the early 2010s, but that was more because I allowed other things in my life to get in the way, not because I feared anything about playing go.
Updated the post, thank you. The lack of novelty is a curious observation. I wonder, if the excitement from new things is optimized here, so a person constantly picks up and drops new hobbies, or is there something else.