Making the Most of the SF Go Club

By Paul Goodman (4D)

The rules of Go are simple: you can learn them in about twenty minutes. The strategies of Go are complex: you can play for a lifetime and not fully master them. A powerful attraction of Go is that no matter what your strength, you can always improve. The other side of this coin is the frustration that comes with knowing that mastery is a long slow process that takes a great effort on your part. Don’t be discouraged. Persevere. Improvement, at least in the beginning, can be rapid. Take advantage of  free lessons by Ming Jiu (professional 7 dan) once a month at the club (check announcements); watch the games of stronger players; read an elementary book or two; but most important — play as often as you can. Pattern recognition is an all-important part of the game, and the only way to develop this necessary skill is to play regularly. Try, though, to play with stronger players, or, at the very least, watch the games of stronger players. Regardless of what your mother told you, practice does not make perfect; it makes permanent. You have to practice the right things. Mindlessly repeating the same old moves won’t improve your game, it simply reinforces bad habits.

Walking into a go club for the first time can be an intimidating experience. Players are so absorbed in their games that they hardly notice when someone enters. You may see a few people milling around, watching other games or just schmoozing. They may not take any notice of you. Don’t be offended, and don’t take it personally. When they realize you are serious about learning the game, they will warm up to you. In the meantime, you take the initiative. Walk up to someone who is not playing, introduce yourself, and ask if they wouldn’t mind playing a quick game with a beginner. A typical game is played on a 19 x 19 board, but the club also has 9 x 9 and 13 x 13 boards. A 9 x 9 board is recommended for your first few games. It allows for a full implementation of the rules and strategies, but a game can be finished in about fifteen minutes without thoroughly confusing you or trying the patience of a stronger opponent. When playing with a stronger player, do not take a lot of time with your moves. A major part of Go is knowing what not to think about, and as a beginner you have not accumulated the necessary experience and pattern recognition to accomplish that. Beginners who play quickly make many mistakes; beginners who play slowly make the same mistakes and put their opponent to sleep. If your opponent seems to be paying more attention to the adjacent game—or worse—if his head hits the table, it’s a sure sign you need to pick up the pace. If you lose, don’t dwell on it, just ask your opponent for a quick critique and play another game. If you’ve clearly lost the game, resign gracefully; don’t wait for a sign from God. If you win, don’t gloat;  the tables will turn soon enough.

Check the club website for dates and times of regular meetings. Check also for visiting professional players. A lesson from a pro is worth its weight in gold. Become active as soon as possible. When you make the commitment to learn the game, people take notice and will be much more willing to spend time teaching you. Contribute as much as you can— money, time, and energy—to help assure the club’s continued well-being. And remember, don’t make empty triangles.