Playing Against Yourself

Weekly Go Wednesday, Issue #19

Hei Jia Jia vs. "Bai" Jia Jia Credit to GoGameGuru

Whenever you sit at a goban and prepare your next move against your opponent, it is only natural that you view your opponent as an obstacle to overcome. Yet, I recently received a rather thought provoking concept: imagine as if were playing against yourself.

You’re probably wondering, “How could that possibly help? After all, if that’s so helpful, shouldn’t I just setup a goban and play myself 24/7 and then I’ll become 7 dan eventually?” Well, it doesn’t quite work that way, but I’m glad you asked.

Part of the major issue that arises in kyu players is the idea that your opponent will play whatever you want him/her to. For example, if you crosscut, maybe you expect your opponent to automatically atari which will inadvertently permit you to do some crazy triple cutting. Yet, lo and behold, isn’t it incredibly frustrating when your opponent just refuses to do as you wanted? After all, didn’t your opponent just trample over your egotistical idea that he/she would just follow you as you wished? Well, it’s time to put an end to those ego trips. After all, when all is said and done, these ego trips are going to do far more harm than good to your go.

So what should you do instead? Well, you should try to anticipate the sequence as if you were on the other side of the board as well. Just like the example before, if you know that you would be skeptical of such an obvious atari, it would be best to stop thinking your opponent would fall into such a trap as well.

There are three reasons why this is a good habit to have:

  1. It reduces the tendency to play “hopeful” go. Since you are “playing” yourself, it would only make sense that you would treat yourself with respect. After all, no one likes being considered an idiot right? So in conjunction with that notion, you’ll find that you stop hoping for your opponent to make mistakes and start looking for better moves instead.

  2. It will increase your potential for getting stronger. Instead of constantly blaming external variables like the opponent being lucky that you made an error, you will start to see gaps in your own knowledge of the game. By seeing your weaknesses, you will begin to patch them up and thus get stronger over time.

  3. The obsession with winning and losing begins to diminish. From my personal experience, the focus on yourself instead of others will allow to appreciate the game in a different way than before. Instead of just being concerned with winning and losing, the question becomes more of whether you are satisfied with every move you made. Because after all, if you are satisfied with each of your moves, what more can anyone ask for?

So, to try and help you put your opponent’s move in a new perspective, try the following the next time you play:

  1. If the opponent plays a new and/or good move that you weren’t expecting, imagine as if the future and stronger version of yourself is saying,”Hey. Did you ever consider this? Learn from this, for it will serve you well in the future.”

  2. If the opponent plays a weak and/or bad move, imagine as if the future and stronger version of yourself is, “I know this is a terrible move, but I’m curious to see if you can punish it properly.”

If you practice doing this, I can assure you that go will take on a whole new perspective. Instead of opponents simply being obstacles to tear down in order to satisfy the desire to win, they become the very tools that will help you get stronger for your next game. After all, if you could get advice to your future self (who is very successful), wouldn’t you want to hear him/her out?

This is a difficult skill to master, but I believe the game will become far more enjoyable and a great deal of reward can be reaped if you can master this fully. If I discover any additional strategies in my own quest to master this, I will be sure to let you know. Best of luck on your endeavor.

*In case you were wondering, yes, that is a picture of Joanne Missingham “playing” herself. And for those who don’t know Chinese, her surname is the Chinese character for”black”, so the tagline is humorous because they switch the surname to the Chinese character for “white.” So in other words, it’s “Black” Joanne vs. “White” Joanne. Get it? xD