IMPROVING AT BADUK

So you know the rules of go, you've played some games and gotten a feel for baduk. I will now give you some tips on how to improve in this game. These tips are first and foremost for kyu players, since I'm only a KGS 2 dan/Tygem 5 dan myself.

Do Tsumego and Tesuji Problems

Tsumego, or life and death problems, are problems where one needs to figure out move sequences that either kill a group or lives with a group. Professionals will often say that doing tsumegos is the quickest way for improving ones strength, since it will increase your reading ability the fastest.

Something similar to tsumego is what is known as tesuji problems. These problems focus more on shape recognition than deep reading. Often tesuji problems are also life and death problems, other times it's about making or destroying shape. Tesujis are important to learn, since the same tesuji may show its usefulness in several situations. Because tesujis tend to repeat themselves, there are several that has been given names, such as "the cranes nest tesuji".

Life & death and tesuji problems may not seem like the most fun thing to do for many, and it's possible to get to 1 dan without doing them. I am proof of this, I don't do nearly as much tsumego as I probably should but still got to the dan level. I've gotten most of my reading practice through my games, but I will still admit that doing tsumego and tesuji problems is the fastest way to improve your reading. By improving your reading ability you'll have a much clearer view of what's happening on the board and what the possibilities are, and you'll be better equipped for fighting.

cranes nest
A is the "cranes nest" tesuji. Black dies.

Read Go Books

Reading go books is very important for becoming stronger in go. I found it a lot easier to go through the kyu ranks by reading books about various topics, sometimes improving several ranks just by reading a book without even playing much. Check out my Go Book Reviews for more information about books I've read.

Play Many Games

When playing go, it's best to play against people who are at the same level, or just above your own. Playing against much stronger opponents can help if you get a review afterwards, but playing against much weaker players, even with handicap, isn't very useful for learning. There's also a danger that you may end up becoming weaker by picking up bad habits if you often play someone weaker than you. Playing someone weaker from time to time is fine, but the majority of your games should be against players that are evenly ranked, or slightly above your rank. Try to apply what you have learned from books, videos and teachers in your games, and take the games seriously. Really try to read situations out instead of being lazy. If there's a decent amount of time on the clock, say 30 minutes main time, putting all your effort into a game like this will drain you, I'm not kidding. In my opinion blitz games are also fine, but take the games seriously or you wont learn.

It may also be a good idea to try and play against as many type of players as you can. Personally I play on KGS and Tygem for the most part, and sometimes on IGS. The style of players on these servers are not the same, so mixing up where you play will help you get used to different playing styles. It's not unusual to find yourself losing to someone that should be 3 ranks weaker than you due to that player having a style you are weak against.

Review Your Own Games

After having played a game, I recommend spending some time looking over it, especially if you lost. Try figuring out why you lost and experiment with ways you could have played differently. Try to figure out why what you did led to a bad result. A helpful resource for when reviewing games are pattern search tools, and I've linked to some of them on the Helpful Baduk Resources page. Use the pattern search tools for interesting situations that you encounter in your games to see how the pros played.

Get Help From Stronger Players

Reviewing ones own games isn't always that easy. Sometimes you will lose a game not knowing why, this happens to all of us. In these situations it's helpful to get a review from a stronger player. On the Kiseido Go Server there are plenty of people willing to help, just ask for a review in the KGS Teaching Ladder or Beginners Room. You might not get a review immediately but it's not that hard to get help. One can usually find people up until about the 2-3 dan level willing to teach for free on KGS, and there are also some higher ranked players here and there willing to help you.

Players that are mid-dan and above might start asking for money, however I do not recommend paying anyone below KGS 7 dan for teaching, unless they are very affordable and upfront about their strength. This brings me to another point, be vary of people with hidden or inflated ranks that teach for money, some of these people are not nearly as strong as they claim, and I've seen more than a couple of these people online. KGS is one of the tougher and more stable servers on the mid-dan level. A 7 dan player on Tygem might not be more than 4 dan on KGS, it's therefore wise to get solid KGS/EGF/AGA proof of the teachers abilities so they match your expectations.

The pricing for an hour of teaching from a top level amateur(KGS 7-9 dan) is usually around 20 euro, while professionals are at 30-40 euro. I didn't get a teacher myself until I was stuck at 1 kyu, so from experience I don't think it's necessary to rush to get a teacher. Once you're stuck though, they can be of great help for correcting your bad habits. On the other hand, one might argue that you wouldn't have those bad habits to begin with if you had gotten a teacher earlier, so it really is up to you to decide how long you want to wait.

Study Joseki

As you may or may not know, there are mixed opinions on how useful it is to study joseki. An argument against it is that by memorizing patterns, one may over-rely on specific joseki variations, and not know what to do if the opponent deviates from it. Here's the thing though, if the opponent deviates from joseki, he is the one ending up in the worse position, not you(unless there is a special situation where following joseki isn't smart, but if you study joseki you would know). By knowing many josekis you have many more options in your games, which will help with your whole board strategy and direction of play. Understand that the main benefit of learning joseki is learning about basic shapes, and why these josekis are played. If you don't understand the sequence, you really haven't learned the joseki. As a bonus, you'll find yourself winning games on the kyu level due to your opponent making a joseki mistake, this happened often to me all the way up to about 6 kyu.

To start learning joseki, you might want to try a joseki book such as 38 Basic Joseki. It's also a good idea to download kogo's joseki dictionary, which is an sgf file that contains a lot of joseki. Use kogo's to look up unknown joseki your opponents has played in a game, or to discover new interesting variations. For example, if your opponent plays a pincer you don't know how to respond to, you can later look up the common answers in kogo's. You can download kogo's here: Kogo's Joseki Dictionary.

A tip for memorizing joseki is to play them out on your own real goban. If you play out some joseki every day, you'll remember them a lot easier than just looking in a book.

About Studying Professional Games

Honestly, I don't think studying professional games is that important for improving at the kyu level. I've personally never studied them much at all before getting to 2 dan on KGS. Without the games being simplified by a teacher, these games can be difficult to understand, even with pro commentary. However, at the dan level, studying professional games by yourself cam be a useful part of ones baduk training for discovering new shapes and being up-to-date with how the pros are playing.

I also want to mention something I realized while researching great baduk players from the past, and that is that studying pro games may serve as an inspiration to you. There's something cool and interesting about looking through games of your favourite player. It may not be the most effective way to learn, but it can get you inspired and make you experiment in your games. I've written about some of the greatest go players throughout history here: Baduk Legends.

Watch Baduk Videos

Watching baduk videos can also help and/or be entertaining. If you are new to the game, there's some beginners videos on the Go Videos For Beginners page for you to check out. These days there's plenty of youtubers that make go content, including myself at: DragonfistGaming. There are also websites with paid subscriptions driven by professionals and strong amateur players, and I review these here: Baduk Resources.

Have Fun

This may seem really cliche, but really the most important part is having fun. If you hate studying joseki, then dont. If you hate tsumego, then don't study tsumego. When you have fun and are truly interested in what you are doing, you'll not only enjoy studying but learn quicker as well. Doing something against your will may discorage you from the game completely. For most of us go is a hobby after all.