I’m discovering there are some strong correlations between how I study guitar and how I now study Baduk.
Scales: Jump Level Up! Volumes 1-5
The very first thing I do when I pick up the guitar is warmup with some scales. It seems to me it is no different for Baduk, you warmup with some easy problems.
Jump Level Up! is a great series originally written in Korean and then translated into English. While targeted at younger players, the workbooks are suitable for anyone stronger than 15kyu. Unlike the Graded Go Problems series (GGPB), Jump Level Up! (JLU) is all about drilling fundamentals. Nearly all of the problems can be solved in a few seconds - but that’s the point. Most pages have 6 simple problems and it rarely takes more than 10 minutes to get through three pages.
Like scales JLU covers ground that should be instinctual. How can you play even the most trivial piece of music if you can’t place your fingers consistently and confidently?
I strongly suspect I’ll be reading them over and over again on the path to shodan.
Short Studies: Baduk Classic
After your scales you continue to warm up with something more substantial. On guitar I’ve been slowly working through the Complete Sor Studies. There are many shorter pieces that present a challenge without requiring a huge investment of time.
Having worked through GGPB I was on the lookout for a more challenging problem set. Baduk Classic to the rescue! Lee Hajin’s review of the Baduk Classic edition of Guanzipu sold me on the entire series. All together the Baduk Classic series comprises some thousand problems ranging from 3kyu to higher dan in difficulty. Each problem is clearly marked making it simple to skip over the ones not yet within my grasp.
The problems are stunning and really nothing like anything I’ve encountered so far in kyu level tsumego texts, they do not have simple answers and often have interesting variations which are never discussed. Harder problems have dramatically changed my relationship to reading. It’s is not only about finding the right answer, but finding all the wrong ones, and the ones that lead to the best outcome for the opponent.
In my own games I’m now beginning to see that knowing what not to play is probably as important if not more so than finding that rare gem of a brilliant tesuji.
Longer Studies: Invincible
Mixed in with simpler pieces, Sor includes studies that are unquestionably interesting music. These invite deeper study, memorization, and expressive play.
While it’s been sitting around on my bookshelf for some time, it wasn’t until JLU that I really felt inspired to dive into Invincible: The Games of Shusaku. Each JLU book includes the opening from 5 pro games. You are encouraged to play each opening three times. I was surprised to find that after an extra fourth time I could commit an opening to memory.
Out of curiosity I challenged myself to memorize the Shusaku vs. Shuwa (1842) game record. This two stone handicap game where Shusaku demonstrates his budding powers lasts only 148 moves so this seemed like a reasonable place to start. After about a week or so I could confidently play the game from beginning to end without referring to the record. More importantly by memorizing the game and trying to understand the moves on my own, the commentary became alive where previously it had simply fallen on deaf ears.
It’s true that the openings in Invincible are a bit old fashioned but to be honest I don’t think it matters much. The power on display is palpable and working thoroughly and slowly through the records and commentary have completely changed how I think about the game.
Interestingly I’ve found that few people describe how they study Shusaku and in a future post I’ll dig a deeper into my approach as a single digit kyu.
Performance: Play & Review
Eventually you have to put all this knowledge to the test. As a musician this means playing in front of an audience or getting just the right take for a recording. Playing a piece of music in the cozy comfort of your room is nothing like the pressure cooker of a live stage or a recording schedule. It’s no different for Baduk. Book smarts that you cannot access during a live game is wasted effort. For this reason alone I drifted away from theory books and focused on the process I’ve outlined above.
I don’t play a ton of games, just enough so I’m moving forward. I’m probably getting about 8-11 games in a month - once a week at the NYC Mostly Go Meetup, 3-6 games on KGS and I have about 4 running games on DGS. Given that, game reviews become even more important.
As a musician reviewing means listening to your performance - either something from the board or in the studio when tracking. The loop between performance and listening is a truly powerful one. It’s not all about picking on mistakes, sometimes a whim or accidental pause leads to a phrasing you could have never imagined otherwise and these ideas feedback into your technique.
Again it’s the same for Baduk. After a game I find that I usually spend more time on the review than I did during the game. Along with the blunders and mistakes are the solid moves, the right directions, and those incredible surprises that keep us all coming back to Baduk.
Is this approach paying off? Two years ago I was a KGS 9kyu. Currently I’m on a 6 game winning streak and just shy of KGS 6kyu. This approach might not be the right way for everyone, but I think it’s interesting that applying a similar discipline from my guitar studies to Baduk has kicked off a period of steady measurable improvement. Perhaps this approach can work for others?
See you on the board!