Letting Go of Winning and Losing

Weekly Go Wednesday, Issue #21

Zen (Credit to Forbes)

Winning and losing. Two basic concepts that what makes much of the world go round and round. After all, if every game ended with no conclusive result, who would want to play that game? People like the feeling of a conclusion, even if it is only a speck of dust in the scheme of things. So, of course, how does this apply to go?

As I discussed last week, one of the methods I recommended to avoid going “on tilt” was to let go of the emotional attachment to winning and losing. Most of you will scoff and me and say, “Ben. That is impossible! Even the infamous Stone Buddha has been known to lose composure in games! How could you expect us amateurs to do better than he?” Well, it starts with a detour into a more fundamental philosophical question: Where does your happiness come from?

If we take a very simplistic model of happiness, the source of happiness will come from one of two places: internal or external. Examples of external happiness include: money, fame, success, materialistic objects, etc. Oftentimes, these achievements can make us feel “happy;” but only for a short period of time. Before long, we are thirsty once more and search for that temporary elation.

Internal happiness, on the other hand, is something that cannot be so easily defined. It varies for every person. Some people find internal happiness spending time with loved ones, others secluded in a forest, or maybe being completely entranced in a song.

When it comes to go, I have found that the emotions that come with winning and losing are analogous to external happiness. It feels great when you win, but very quickly that feeling disappears and the need for another victory comes pounding at your door. As a result, when you experience a loss, the emotions can hit rather hard and cause you to spiral into a negative pool of despair.

The thing that players often fail to realize is that your wins and losses are intricately tied together. An excellent example of this would be the game of blackjack. The loss of one hand actually will pave the way for that future blackjack you get. And the reverse is true, your winning streak against the dealer is also a precursor for the dealer running hot and getting blackjack when everyone has 20. So going back to go, your defeats teach you the necessary lessons that pave way for your future victories. And your victories allow you to meet stronger opponents that will defeat you. Neither one is permanent, and the cycle will only repeat itself over and over again.

As a result, it’s more important to see each game as a learning opportunity for improvement. After all, as pointed out by Devin, there are plenty of times where play horribly but manage to win because our opponent was slightly worse than us. On the same token, there are just as many games where we play very well; but happen to run into an opponent that is slightly better than us. That is no reason to be going off on tilt and degrading your go into a savage beats that you don’t even recognize.

Finally, I want to clarify that it’s not that I want you to become a player of no emotions. Quite the contrary. In fact, BadukMovies correctly pointed out the fact that a certain amount of emotional attachment is required in order to improve quickly. The key difference is to not let winning and losing consume and define your very being.

After all, go professionals, who would have the most right to covet each win and loss since it defines their career, are not focused on winning and losing. Instead, they are always looking for “the next best move.” Because in the end, those who can find the best move will inevitably stand victorious.