I was going over some pro games last weekend; as always, I was conflicted about how to approach that. Some options:

  • Just play the moves as fast as you can. Go over as many games as possible, trying to get the moves into your fingers, without worrying about understanding them.
  • Try to understand the key points of the game.
  • Go down every variation that the commentary gives you, trying to understand all the details.

That’s the continuum of how much time you spend reading the commentary. But there’s another continuum: how much time do you spend thinking about moves in advance? The endpoints:

  • Just play “hunt the next move” in the book.
  • Treat it like your own game: for each move, think until you have a comfortable notion of what your next move would be if you were playing, and only then look at the book.

In the first continuum, I’m normally in the middle. I tend to think that, most of the time, I’d benefit from ignoring the commentary even more: maybe I just haven’t seen the right commentaries, but I suspect I need to be exposed to high-quality game play more than explanations. In the second continuum, I learn towards the “hunt the move” style; while that’s probably appropriate some of the time (just getting lots of games through my fingers), I really should spend more time thinking in advance about what’s going on. (And I do mean “fingers”: I’ve never been able to learn anything from going over games on a computer.)

One of my big gaping holes is my lack of understanding of influence. So my opening is horrible, but not because of my lack of knowledge of joseki – until I took a break in that regard, I was no worse than normal players of my skill in that regard. It was just that my overall judgment was wrong, so I’d always spend the middle game trying to catch up. (But my tesuji, life-and-death, and endgame skills seem decent for a player of my level, so often I’d manage to catch up.) And game commentaries spend a fair amount of time talking about detailed points of reading; even when they talk about influence issues, having it explained after the fact is completely different from committing yourself to a choice and then being told why it is wrong. (Or even that it is wrong.)

Another choice:

  • Play through games once.
  • Memorize them.

Honestly, for me this is more of a matter of enjoyment than anything else – every few years, I go through a phase when I decide I should start memorizing something or other (usually in foreign languages, just to give myself an ego boost: MÄ“nin aeide, thea, PÄ“lÄ“iadeō AchilÄ“os, …; Vrddhir ād aic, …; etc.), and I’ve gone through that phase with go games. Still, from a didactic point of view, it strikes me as not entirely crazy: if you want to get moves in your fingers, then really get them in your fingers! It’s probably a good way to feel the ebb and flow of games; and if you’re going to memorize joseki anyways, then why not memorize them in the context of a game? (Other than the fact that it’s 20 times as many moves, and that you don’t learn about the negative variations.)

I guess the choices that I’m most comfortable with now are:

  1. Don’t pay much attention to commentaries, but do try to guess moves in advance.
  2. Memorize the games, without worrying much about commentaries or guessing in advance.
  3. Play through lots of games really quickly.

All three seem to have their own distinct strengths. Not that I’ve actually done the first option much in the past…

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