The Method to the Madness

Before I get into my progress learning Go, I want to explain the strategy I’m going to take.

I’ve been a fan of Tim Ferriss for four years now. He recently (2012) published a book called “The Four-Hour Chef,” which despite its title, is more about learning than cooking. He uses cooking as a vessel for teaching you how to learn. I highly recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn new skills quickly, or actually learn to cook.

In the beginning, he outlines a method for “meta-learning” that you can apply to adopting any skill. He provides examples from language learning, fire building, tango dancing, cooking, and more. This method is what I’ll start with to make my learning as efficient and effective as possible, and I’ll draw psychology studies and on other learning methods as I go.

You should pick up his book to get the full methods, but here’s a quick breakdown as is relevant to learning to play Go. He provides four major principles to skill development: (Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing, and Stakes); and three supplemental ones: (Compression, Frequency, and Encoding).


First you need to break the skill down to its elements. Find all of the necessary sub-skills, and figure out what you do and do not need to know. You can also find existing things to peg it against, and interview experts to figure out what they believe to be the most important aspects.


Instead of trying to learn everything at once, it’s important to focus on the most important things to learn first. This means taking all of the available information on Go and figuring out what would be the most beneficial skills to master for rapid skill development. It doesn’t make sense to focus on minute skills of the grandmasters when I don’t know basic introductory skills.


Once you know the most important pieces you need to learn, it’s important to learn them in the right steps. Learning how to stop a car would not be much use if you didn’t know how to turn one on.


You’re more likely to succeed if you put some stakes on your goal. It could be a fee you have to pay a friend if you fail, or some presentation you’ll have to put on of your work, whatever will motivate you to make sure you get it done.

Then for the three supplemental pieces:


Can you put the most important pieces of the skill into a one-page document to help you remember them? This is also a good exercise in determining the most essential pieces.


Figure out how often you need to practice, and how you can make the best use of that practice time.


Find ways to combine the new knowledge with things that you already know.

I recognize that these definitions are sparse. I don’t want to take too much from Tim’s book, and I’ll elaborate on them as they become relevant.

I’ll be playing most of my games though, and will use their rating system as my barometer. The goal is to reach the rank of 1d, or 1st dan. I’d like to hit that number by the end of September… but I have no reference to assess whether that goal is ludicrous or not. I’ll adjust as need-be.




Hi! What’s Going on Here?

Hey there,

Glad you found the blog. My name is Nat, and I decided about a month ago that I wanted to become very strong at the ancient Chinese board-game “Go.”

If you’re not familiar with it, this is what a game of Go looks like:

I’ll explain the rules and such in a future post, but think of it as a game of territory. The board starts empty, and the objective for both players is to claim as much territory as possible. That means the game is “additive” (pieces get added) as opposed to the more common “subtractive” (pieces get removed, like chess and checkers).

I picked it because the strategic depth of the game is astounding. In my real life I’m working on a startup called Tailored Fit, and this provides a nice respite and way to stretch my mind in different directions. Also, strategic games such as Go have endless parallels in real life.

I started this blog more for me than for you. About a year ago I worked on a blog called “52 Weeks of Habits” about learning new habits to improve your life. In doing so, I learned an incredible amount about productivity, habits, and human psychology, and realized that learning through teaching was an extremely effective method.

That said, I’ll be very methodical in my learning, and I hope that what I’m doing here can benefit you as well. Feel free to leave me a note anytime at nateliason [at] gmail [dot] com if you find this blog helpful.