Managing too many choices

Go forces us to ask ourselves those all-encompassing questions:

What should I do now?

What things are most important to me?

What should I be focusing on?

Or combined into a more immediate, actionable form: What is the most important thing for me to do right now?

You have a dizzying number of options, where sometimes none of them look good and sometimes far too many beg for consideration, and you can only choose one.

Maybe the game will play out in a way that allows you to revisit many of those earlier ideas, and maybe the game will advance in a way that walls them off.

But for now, you have to choose just one move, see how your opponent responds, and then choose the next. The clock is ticking, and while you do have some time, if you spend it all on trivialities, you leave less time for the high stakes decisions that will come.

As a natural consequence of playing Go, you develop ways to think through options, identify opportunities, risks, and critical areas, differentiate between important and unimportant moves, and learn how to negotiate difficult decisions where you won’t necessarily find a perfect play.

Coexisting with uncertainty and continually learning

You don’t know exactly how things will turn out; there is too much variation to accurately predict the future. But you can get better at reading out the likely consequences of local actions, build an intuition of how each choice influences the rest of the board, and feel out the other player’s goals to adjust your strategy to flow with them.

There are many ways to play the game, and it’s fine if you don’t know exactly what you want or how to find the optimal path to success. You can narrow things down to a few ideas that you want to explore, think ahead a few moves in each direction, and go with the path that you like most. Win or lose, you can learn something.

As in real life, the benefit of hindsight is most realized when intentionally exercising it, by reviewing the past with people with alternative viewpoints and potentially with mentors who can point out specific areas where you can improve. You can also learn a lot from watching other skilled players, working on situational problems, or reading books.

One thing that you quickly find is that at every stage of the game and at every skill level, there is more to discover. You are never complete as a player, and people are always finding new plays and strategies for this simple yet deep and beautiful game. Whether you’re a beginner or a world champion, you can always learn something.

In the end, you improve your game by playing, one stone at a time.