Whenever a player says that they’ve hit a wall in their growth, the first question I would ask every player is: Are you playing any even games with stronger players? That’s right. Are you putting yourself in a precarious situation where defeat is practically guaranteed? And before you go rushing off to write your rebuttal in the comments, here me out in the following Q&A:
“Ben. Are you out of your mind?! What are you trying to do? Ruin any remaining self-esteem I have and enjoyment in playing go?”
No no. I assure you that I only have the best intentions in mind for you when I suggest such a seemingly crazy idea. And the bottom line is, if you are looking for ways to get stronger, I sincerely believe that playing even games against stronger players gives you an opportunity to elevate your game to the next level.
“But Ben, I am already losing to people around my level. Why would I want to increase my losing streak by playing even games against stronger players?”
Well here’s the thing, if you are at a roadblock in your growth, what do you ever expect to gain from playing against people around the same rank? The level of play that you will constantly be exposed to will be at the same level. As a result, you will just continue to play to play moves of that level. When playing a stronger player in an even game, you find out very quickly when something you thought was a “correct” move is actually just a bad idea.
“Okay fine, but I play handicap games! Shouldn’t that be enough?”
Nope. The one thing you have to remember is that handicap games are very difficult to learn from since handicap games are lopsided by nature. Your opponent will make a lot of unusual plays that may seem “high level” to you, but in reality they are overplays that would only hurt you in the long run if you try and learn from them.
“But my rank will drop like crazy!!!”
Even though stronger players are the ones who really should be worrying about having their ranks messed up, my idea is centered around the idea of playing free games with stronger players. By doing this, you will find more opponents to play and not have to worry about your own rank.
“Okay, but I don’t know any stronger players and it’s not like I would even know why my move is bad or their move is better.”
Fair enough. This is why I recommend that anyone who is unable to obtain any kind of private lessons to join the Advanced Study Room. It is a completely free insei-type program where you will have many opportunities to play people that are stronger than you. In addition, most of the stronger players are always happy to help you review a game. And as if that wasn’t enough, you can actually earn prizes if you do well!
So bottom line: if you feel like you’re in a rut, it’s time to push your limits, expand your horizons, and have your eyes opened up by stronger players so that you can better grasp what areas you need to work on to reach the next level.