Nate Eagle

Front-End Developer

Don't Break the Problem Chain

Paperclips as a Problem Chain

Everyone who plays go is limited by their ability to read (or calculate, as Cho Chikun puts it), or acurately foresee the future results of a potential move. Go is a game about thinking, and if you can think through the consequences of a move more accurately than your opponent you will win. (Of course, go is a famously big game, in that it’s very difficult to read the tree of possibilities from any given point exhaustively, which means that one relies on a tremendous amount of shape knowledge, established patterns, and even intuition to apply one’s reading efforts to the most useful things.)

But my reading ability is one of my weakest points. Since I’ve taken lessons for about three years, now, I have a lot of knowledge about positional judgment, opening strategy, and other broad concepts. Against players a little bit weaker, this can be an overwhelming advantage. But the players I’m facing these days (3k - 1d) aren’t fragile enough to give games away very often, and will fight aggressively and persistently in ways that push the game into complicated fighting that requires accurate reading. And in those situations, where it really matters, I frequently give games away.

I have a many-month losing streak going against Nathan, a 1d fellow student of Yuan Zhou, and I barely managed an even 3-3 result at the US Go Congress (I was down 1-3 as of Thursday).

I’m determined to do something about this relative weakness by doing go problems every single day. I’ve begun a go problem chain, based on Jerry Seinfeld’s chain concept.

[Seinfeld] told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.

I’m mixing things up slightly: instead of a wall calendar, I’ve got a set of black and white paperclips. For every day that I work on go problems, I add a paperclip to the chain. If I miss a day, I have to take the chain apart and start over.

As of today, I have five paperclips, and it’s been an effective incentive so far. Both Saturday and Monday I found myself near the end of the day, ready to collapse onto a couch and watch some Dragonball, but the thought of dismantling the chain really bothered me. Missing a day meant taking apart each of those paperclips and starting over. And that was hard enough to face that I made some time. I didn’t do a lot of problems, but I did some.

And that’s the idea. I have a lot of room to grow in terms of how many problems I do - I’m averaging maybe 6 - 20 problems a day right now, of varying nature and difficulty. But the biggest goal is to establish the habit firmly, and worry about refinement later. Here’s hoping that the coming year will see me grow toward 1k/1d as I gradually strengthen the weakest part of my game.