Selecting What to Learn First

In my last post I deconstructed Go’s strategy to six major groups:

  1. Good and Bad Shapes (Formations that guarantee some territory and are uncapturable vs. ones that can be destroyed)
  2. The Early Game, or Opening
  3. The Josekis, common series of play that happen in many Go games
  4. The Tesuji, or middle game local tactical problems
  5. Life and Death, how to keep groups of stones alive or kill off enemy groups of stones
  6. The Endgame

Now that I have these, the question is which should I focus on first? Joshua Waitzkin is a famous chess prodigy and was the subject of the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer” which documented his early chess career.  In his book The Art of Learning he teaches you how to master skills effectively, but he also describes how he learned chess.

The key difference in his learning method was that his teacher started with the end game. Instead of pouring over endless opening strategies, he and his teacher started by focusing on how to win when it’s one pawn and a king vs a king, and slowly worked their way back towards the middle game, and eventually the openers. In doing so he learned to be comfortable with wherever the game ended up, and did not need to worry as much about having the perfect opening.

Many successful runners use a similar method. They dedicate parts of their training to being able to pull out a last surge of energy and speed at the end of the race to secure a higher position, instead of focusing on moving as fast as possible right out of the gate. This analogy makes the benefits of the endgame focus clearer. A runner could have an amazing start, but if they don’t know how to end strong they’ll be beaten.

Following this wisdom, here’s how those areas of strategy would be re-ordered based on mastering the endgame first:

  1. Good and Bad Shapes (You thought “endgame” would be first? Nope, without understanding this everything else is impossible)
  2. The Endgame
  3. Life and Death
  4. Tesuji
  5. Josekis
  6. Openings

Now this isn’t to say that I shouldn’t do any study of opening moves until I’ve worked my way up to them, but I’ll just focus on the core concepts of them instead of studying the endless positions that could come up. To do this I’ll start by reading “Go: A Complete Introduction to the Game” which has been widely praised as the best introductory book, and after that I’ll dig into more of the minutia of the theory.