How to Study Tsumego

Empty Board by Eidogo

Go Problem: Black to play and win.

For those who are skeptical of the importance of the correct approach to studying tsumego, let’s consider the following:

  1. Your reading ability is the primary foundation for your go ability. If you can’t read worth diddly squat, don’t expect to get any stronger.

  2. It’s the most convenient form of go that is available to players if they’re unable to play an actual game. So why not make it an enjoyable activity that will help you get stronger?

  3. Finally, since most go players will spend a good portion of their time on tsumego, it is only logical that you would want to maximize the growth you’ll get from the time and energy you spend on it.

That being said. Let’s dive right into how one should properly study tsumego.

#1. As a rule of thumb, spend at least 75% of your time on easy problems.*

If you primarily focus on hard problems, there are three issues that will arise.

A. You will get frustrated because you are going to be wrong most of the time and will be unable to see why you’re wrong. Therefore, you will not learn or gain much.

B. Although you would think that learning how to solve hard problems would result in you being able to solve easy problems, this is rarely the case for tsumego.

C. Finally, you must understand that every game of go you play consists of a majority of easy to intermediate level problems, and then a handful of complicated situations. So instead of understanding the proper moves to make for most of the game and being a little lost for only a small part of the game, you hope to win a game where you make mistakes during the majority of the game and make the occassional correct move for a small part of the game? You might want to think twice about this approach if you want to win any games.

With that in mind, isn’t the only logical thing to do is train your intuition so that your basics become flawless? After all, once the basics become instinctual, you will not even have to consider the trivial moves that once plagued your mind. Instead, you will now be able to focus on more complicated situations that will ultimately allow to rise in strength and ability.

*If you’re wondering what qualifies as easy, it means that you can read out all of the variations in your head with minimal effort.

#2. If you use tsumego software, do not get in the habit of just playing things out because you can.

The short version of the rationale for this is that tsumego software permits you to be lazy by letting the software show why something is wrong. This is a habit that will not only fail to help you improve your reading ability, but will deteriorate it instead. For a more detailed explanation on this topic, visit this post.

3. If you do not understand why your variation does not work, stop and figure it out before moving on.

Although this piece of advice will be difficult to follow as you grow in strength, this is one of those things that will truly help to fill the void where you are not seeing the issue with your variation. If you take the time to properly understand which counter moves negate your solution, it will serve as a big boost to your abilities over time because you will begin to see variations you could never see before. And if you feel like you’ve tried everything (even though in reality you haven’t) and feel strongly that the book is wrong, get a stronger player to help you figure it out. I’ve done this a number of times and without fail, there was always one variation that I left out.

Well I hope that this will get you on the right path to studying tsumego. If you have anything you’d like to add from your own experience, please leave a comment and I’ll be sure to revise the post with ideas that other players can make use of!