Category: Articles

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!

Tsumego: Books vs. Software

Weekly Go Wednesday, Issue #5

Cassette and iPod Talking (Credit to JackTechh)

Although I’m normally a huge fan of technology and its ability to improve our lives, this is definitely one of those times where I warrant caution in its usage.

Unlike a book, tsumego software allows you to try out moves that you think will work without actually reading it out. Let’s not forget, you are doing tsumego to improve your reading ability. If you’re not actually reading it out, how much improvement do you really expect to see? In addition, as if it wasn’t bad enough that you aren’t actually reading it out, you end up reinforcing a terrible habit on two levels:

#1. Mental Reinforcement - Your brain isn’t actually reading it out. Instead, it’s more of a “let’s play here and see how the computer responds.” So your brain is getting lazier since you know that the software will show you what’s wrong anyways. Thus, I would argue that it deteriorates your reading ability.

#2. Physical Reinforcement - Whether you realize it or not, each time you carelessly place a stone on the board, you are creating the muscle memory of the bad move. In other words, you are not only mentally saying, “Yes. I think this should work,” but your body is also saying, “I concur with my brain and will act in conjunction with this idea.”

There will be players who will then argue that it would be impossible to play go because everyone makes bad moves like this at one point or another. While that point may seem valid, the reason that it doesn’t apply to this scenario is that there is a crucial difference between making a bad move in an actual game and making a bad move in a tsumego problem:

There is little to no psychological attachment to solving tsumego incorrectly. It might be a little frustrating at times; but its impact on players is like a drop of water compared to the vast ocean that players feel when faced with the traumatic moment of realizing that their poor move cost them a group or the game.

As a result, players end up learning from their bad moves in their games; but generally fail to do so when making bad moves while solving tsumego.


This does not mean that tsumego software should be banned and never see daylight again. In fact, it would be a travesty if anyone were to take that away as my thesis for this post. Like anything else in life, it has to be used correctly for it to be beneficial to the user.

The following tips will help ensure that you are getting the most out of your tsumego software:

  1. Read out every variation to the best of your ability before you place a single stone.

  2. If you end up choosing the wrong move…

    • Figure out and understand why it doesn’t work.
    • Reset the problem to the beginning.
    • Read it out again without any stones on the board to reinforce the why it doesn’t work.
    • Once you can see the entire sequence, play it through once more before moving on.
  3. Spend more time solving easy to intermediate problems.

Remember, being able to carry tsumego with us wherever we go these days is a luxury that we should all appreciate. Just remember that you use it properly and I assure you that you will thank yourself as your continue down the endless path to becoming one stone stronger.

False Sense of Security

As a game progresses over time, it is very easy to lose track of the connections between your groups. After all, if you’re intently staring at the board for a long time, it’s not so far fetched to start seeing groups being connected when in fact they aren’t. In fact, if you take a quick look at the kifu snapshot above, it would seem that the top black group is doing alright. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

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Blitz Go: To Play or Not to Play?

Weekly Go Wednesday, Issue #2

For many players, one of the major obstacles to playing go is time. After all, an average game can take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes depending on the level of thinking that goes into each game. So in order to accommodate the faster players and those without much time, the format known as blitz go was born.

For new players who’ve never played blitz go, the general idea is that you have less than a minute to make each move. If you fail to make your move within the allotted time, you lose by default on time.

While there are different perspectives on blitz go, you should seriously consider the following points as to whether or you should be playing blitz go:

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Enter the Eagle

Weekly Go Wednesday, Issue #1

Welcome to the start of my Weekly Go Wednesday (WGW) series! This purpose of this series is to add some excitement to the middle of the week, so that before you know it, it’ll be the weekend again! If you have any requests or would like to be a guest writer on this series, be sure to let me know!

Unlike the games I’ve posted so far, today’s opponent has a bit of history that deserves to be recorded down for the ages to come. For those who want to check out the game commentary beforehand, go ahead and scroll down to the bottom before settling down with a hot beverage for a tale of a chance encounter that has been a big impact in my life ever since.

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Category: Articles

Bad Moves vs. Wrong Moves

So I was in my Group Decision Making class yesterday when we began discussing the difference between a bad decision and a wrong decision. In all honesty, most people use the words interchangeably and don’t even give it a second thought. Unfortunately though, they are all very wrong (and yes I mean wrong and not bad). Why is that? Because wrong decisions in nature are better than bad decisions. What?! Preposterous is what you may say, but hear me out.

_A wrong decision is one that usually results in an undesired manner. _

Example: Investing in Stock A may end up being a wrong decision for Person X because the stock market will crash soon after.

_A bad decision also results in an undesired as well, but the crucial difference is the lack of the decision process leading up to it. _

Example: Person X invests in Stock A simply because the TV says that the stocks for Company A are going way up without any research to verify the information.

Why is someone who blogs about Go talking about this? It’s because I think that all Go players alike should and must differentiate the difference between a bad move and a wrong move. Players absolutely need to solidify this concept when interpreting their moves in order to get stronger. A wrong move can be played because it is not nearly as effective or does not achieve the aim intended. A bad move on the other hand, generally lacks any planning whatsoever and is just played instinctively out of some pre-joseki type thinking.

Example: My opponent placed a 3-3 invasion! Time to follow the joseki I memorized!

To all players out there, we all make mistakes. We will continue to make wrong moves as time goes on. It is inevitable due to the fact that human beings are not perfect. The one thing we can do though, is prevent ourselves from making bad moves. That is not to say you cannot test out a move, but to do so without the intention of testing and some sort of reading ahead would render it a bad move. I hope this helps some of you understand a bit more about your moves when reviewing your games. Good luck!

How to Oil Your Yunzi Stones

So you’ve decided to find out what responsibilities come with purchasing Yunzi stones, well don’t fear! Here is an easy to follow guide. Enjoy!

Why Take the Extra Time to Oil the Stones?

It’s true. You don’t HAVE to oil the stones. Yunzi stones will naturally become glossier and smoother the more you play with them since you hands naturally produces oil. I don’t know about you however, but I’d be an old man by the time it would take the stones to be pleasant to the touch with the oil my hand produces. Not to mention that most of us don’t get to play as often in person as we’d like. If you’re not interested in waiting 50 years for them to achieve the effect that oiling can get in an hour or two, then you’ll want to read the entire guide. For those who don’t care, then all you need is up till Phase 1.


Depends on whether you want to oil the stones simultaneously, but the you will generally require:

  • Yunzi stones
  • Dishwashing Soap
  • ~15 or ~30 drops of Light machine oil (e.g. sewing machine oil)
    • Note: Do NOT use oils such as vegetable (oil/canola) because they will go RANCID over time.
  • 1 or 2 One-gallon freezer bag(s) (depending if you want to oil them at the same time)
  • 2 Towels (Large enough to wrap around all of one color at once, otherwise you need more)
  • Non-metal strain (something to drain water but it CANNOT be metallic)
    • Metallic strainers can cause a lot of scratches on your stones. So avoid it on the safe side.

Most of us have most of the materials above except the sewing machine oil, and let me tell you that sewing machine oil is NOT expensive. I got mine (pictured above) at a Jo-Ann’s Fabric for only $2.95 + tax. Not to mention you only need like 20 drops or so of it (a little bit more if you oiling the stones simultaneously). So if someone is willing to let you borrow theirs, no worries about using up their oil.

Advice Prior to Starting

  1. Although most of the steps are relatively simple, drying the oil off the stones at the end will be particularly time consuming. This guide assumes that you will be doing both colors in the same sitting and by your little lonesome (as I did), so estimate at least an hour and a half for the whole process. (Two if you want to be extra attentive to your stones).

    Note: I’ve broken the guide into three phases in case you are short on time. And of course, if you want to break it up further. Just do the colors on separate days.

  2. I would advise to keep the colors separated throughout the process in order to easily keep track of your work. I suggest doing the white stones first since they take more effort and are not as fun to do as the black ones.

  3. Just to reiterate, DO NOT use vegetable oils. They will go RANCID.


Phase 1

  1. So here’s what my stones looked like when I first got them. The stones all come with a white powdery substance in order to minimize scratching and chipping during shipping. As you’ll see, the black stones show the powder really well while the white ones… not so much.

    See? Very apparent.

    Not so apparent.
  2. You essentially need a sink (or bowl) filled with enough water to easily submerge all of one color at once.

  3. Then you’ll add a moderate amount of dishwashing soap to get it nice and bubbly. This was about how much I had. Don’t put too much, since it’ll make washing off a pain later.

  4. To wash your stones, submerge them in the soapy water and hand wash them. You don’t need to be particularly detailed with this part, but try and make sure you wash off any obvious white powder since it’ll get in the way of oiling later. Once you finish with the soap, rinse them off with water. Dump them out onto the towel, and dry them off well before oiling.

    My black stones before they are washed.

    White stones after the wash.  The water makes them look glossy.

    All of the stones after the wash

Phase 2

  1. To oil your stones, take your gallon bag and put 12 drops of oil in there. Now most guides out there recommend 12, but others want to put a few more in just to make sure they are extra oil. It won’t hurt as far as I can tell, but you will want to pay a bit more attention to drying your stones afterwards so no excess oils stay on. Then throw whichever color (I recommend white), and then gently move the stones around making sure to spread the oil around to all of the stones.

  2. If you are short on time, this is where you take your second one-gallon freezer bag and oil that up as well with ~12 drops of oil and throw in the other color. Mix that bag up just like you did the first one, and then you can let both bags sit. (In case you are wondering if it is bad to do that, my dad let his sit for about 48 hours and they’re just fine.)

    Note: If you are only going to use one freezer bag, then you have two choices: dry off the color which is oiled first, and then oil the other one… OR… if your stones are not too large for the bag, put both in at once.

Phase 3

  1. This is the most tedious and time consuming phase. You’ll begin by emptying out your stones in small groups at a time. This will help you keep track of which ones are done and this will also permit you the proper towel space to dry your oiled stones without them falling everywhere. Again, I recommend starting with white since black is very pleasant to do since you’ll see a very obvious change in them.

  2. Then you’ll go ahead and dry them off. It is important that you don’t leave any excess oil on them because it will cause your stones/bowls to smell and the excess oil will most likely damage your board over time. If you pick a properly dried off stones with your hand, and then pick up one with excess oil, you’ll know the difference. So just be disciplined about this phase. The white stones will need more individual attention since it is harder to tell whether there is still excess oil on them.

    Tip: As you dry them, try to keep drying the stones with the same area of towel so that it will increase the oiling effect.

    Tip: Also, if you can get a friend to help. This will speed the process a LOT. Just make sure they are attentive about the excess oils on the stones, otherwise you might as well do it yourself.


  1. An voila. Here is the finished product! You have no idea how good it felt to take these pictures. I felt so proud.

    Look how beautiful those look....

Well, I hope this was helpful. If you have any further advice or modification you think I should make to the guide, please feel free to comment or e-mail me. Thanks!