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Getting Stronger: Various Thoughts


秀格棋話 [Shukaku Kiwa = Honorary name of Takagawa Kaku, based on the Honinbo school head name of Shu with the suffix of Kaku; Kiwa = Game Talk]

上達法あれこれ [Jotatsu-ho Arekore] Improvement Methods That/This

名誉本因坊高川秀格 [Meiyo Honinbo Takagawa Shukaku] Honorary Honinbo Takagawa Shukaku; by tradition, when a player wins the Honinbo title, that player chooses a name starting with Shu- and appends something personal to the end; most players use part of their own name, but Sakata chose to honor Honinbo Shusai with his adopted name and others have done different things.

From Kido, October 1977

Two Preconditions for Getting Stronger

When I am asked the question of what to do in order to get stronger, I point out the following two things.

One Replay your own games and try to understand what happened.

Two Study the basics, especially life and death problems.

If the aim is to become visibly stronger, putting these two things into effect is best.

When replaying your games, going over lost games is better than won games. The search is for the reasons for the loss when replaying those games. Replaying won games frequently results in falling into smug personal satisfaction, and no benefit whatsoever. Revisiting lost games is painful (even for us professional players). However, by enduring that it is possible to discover your weaknesses. This is all the more recommended for players who are overly enamored with their strength.

And yet, what of it all?

Is it possible to replay your games or not? Games that are played at the local go club dissolve in the mouth just like that without being digested as you return home, and it is questionable if you can replay the games out on a board, like a dog performing tricks.

In the beginning, when you are weak, it is absolutely impossible to do this kind of replaying of games. Even games that you have played even a moment ago completely disappear from the tip of your nose, to be forgotten forever. But when you get just a little stronger, you come to be able to remember 10 moves, then 20 moves. While doing that, if you can get into the habit of recording games that you have played, you will be able to remember 50 moves, 100 moves, and on until you are able to go all the way through to the end. It is all a matter of habit [training]. Over and above that, if you play carefully, seriously considering each of your moves one at a time, you will find it possible to replay your games without difficulty.

Go is Vast

Concerning basics, particularly the study of life and death problems, the purpose is to develop reading ability. Speaking from an extreme perspective, it is all right not to play intensely in the opening of a game. Life and death problems involve the life and death of stones directly, so by excelling at this type of reading you can develop muscularity at the game.

Besides that, there are various methods for getting strong, and a number of ways of thinking. When I look at amateur games, that is, those played by ones who are not very strong, what I most often find is stereotypical ways of playing. "In this shape, this is the only move" is not the conviction that is displayed, but a set way of playing based on a psychosomatic reaction. In other words, the way of thinking about go is narrow.

It is just that which I would like the reader to consider. That go is limitless in its vastness. There are really many ways of playing. Amidst a wide expanse of sea, there are good moves and tesuji scattered about. It is just foolishness to base your play on an automatic response.

Furthermore, settling on moves by thinking that in this shape, this, is a way of playing that makes it impossible to match up with the overall board conditions. In go, since there is nothing that is absolute, even if in one board position A is correct, in a different board position B is best, while C also becomes good. This is no big deal, but what I would like is for everyone to break out of this shell of lack of thought and rigid reaction, and sail out into the great ocean.


Diagram 1

In regards to that, for example if White makes the jumping attachment of the marked stone here, the hane of Black 1 is common sense and natural. However, if you remember the go proverb that states, "When answering an attachment, hane," and only consider that, you cannot play real life go. Besides wedging between White’s stones with Black A, extending in with Black B is also possible. Besides that, when you do not want to solidify White since you wish to attack the White stones, drawing back with Black C can be played as well. You must keep in mind that playing elsewhere is always an option, too. Instead of shape-based judgment, I hope that you will cultivate board condition-based judgment.


Diagram 2

Those players who only think that "it is joseki, so," when White plays the marked stone, might overlook the tesuji of the pincer-attachment of Black 1. After Black 3, White typically cuts, and then you advantageously capture the cutting stone, or if White plays 2 at 3, Black wedges in at 2. The rigid thinking that, "When answering an attachment, hane," misses the wonderful treats gained with a move like Black 1.


Diagram 3

Those enamored with the attach and extend joseki might hane with Black 1, leading to the sequence through White 4. This short-sighted vision ignores the presence of White’s marked stone.


Diagram 4

The position in Diagram 3 is the same as the one that results when Black 1 through White 4 is played and Black then plays elsewhere. It is unthinkable to fail to anticipate the attack of White 6.


Diagram 5

Consequently, in this kind of case, hitting upon the idea of wedging between White’s stones with Black 1 is good. Except that unless the ladder is good when White uses 2 to cut at 3, and following Black 2 and White 4, Black takes hold of White’s stone with A, Black 1 cannot be played.


Diagram 6

Should the ladder be unfavorable, Black can extend in with 1 here. White can then make the two-step hane of 4 and 6, or use 6 to extend at 7, which is also joseki. In this shape, "When answering an attachment, hane," does not apply.


Diagram 7

In the same way, when White plays 2 here, Black wedges in at 3. As long as the ladder is favorable, Black can lay waste to White’s sketched-out territory with the moves through 9.


Diagram 8

Evaluating the ladder, you must know that when White plays 1 and 3, Black answers at 4. The result after Black 4 and the capture at 6 is more than sufficient for Black.

Strong players are fully cognizant of matters like this.


Diagram 9

Well then, in this kind of situation what is to be done? White has just attached with the marked stone, but the placement of Black’s marked stones must be taken into consideration.

Making the commonplace hane of Black 1 would surely be answered by White’s block at 2. Since Black’s formation is solid, there is nothing to be regretted by making it even more solid. That is the positional judgment to be used here. Without the two marked Black stones in place, it would be a bit difficult for White to play 2. Following the sequence through White 6, just focusing on the situation here, it is Black that finds this painful.


Diagram 10

It is just at that point that you should sally out into the great ocean and think about moves other than the hane.

Since the stones in the background are strong, you want to fight strongly here. Something like the hane is too mediocre.

However, the question is after White 2 and 4, can White’s stone be captured in a ladder with Black 5 or not. That is the problem.


Diagram 11

Having the stone captured in a ladder is terrible, so White will play atari from above with 2. Black gouges out the corner with the moves through 5. I would like you to note the difference between this and Diagram 9. Speaking with a term that Kajiwara Takeo uses, this is "tsuki-su" [月ス], that is, "tsuki to suppon" [月とスッポン = "the moon and the mud turtle" this is a proverbial expression that expresses an immense difference, i.e., the moon far above in the sky and a mud turtle crawling on the ground] is how different the two positions are. I am sure that you can understand this. It is impossible not to appreciate it.


Diagram 12

It is also possible to extend inward with Black 1. This is also superior to the hane. Tsuki-su. In response to White 2, Black hanes once with 3, then presses into the corner with 5.


Diagram 13

Should White block at 1, Black extends straight out into the center with 2. White must take the two choices into account.

The above uses comparatively simple examples, but what I would like you to understand is that according to the board position, various moves become good and become bad.

The Way to Enjoy Go

Moving on from that, we go back to methods of getting stronger, and of enjoying go. There are all sorts of ways to enjoy go deeply, and to simultaneously get stronger systematically.

One Make friends. (There is no substitute for 4 or 5 go friends with whom you share interests.)

Two Find a mentor. (It does not have to be someone who is much stronger. Someone who can look out for your interests is best.)

Three Find a rival. (It is not good if the rival is too strong or too weak.)

Four Television [where lightning games are broadcast, such as the NHK Cup], newspapers; which publish daily go columns], go magazines [of which there are still several published in Japan every month], and books. (Watch and read as if you could gobble everything up. In that way you can get stronger on your own. However, this column in Kido, Shukaku Game Talk, is of no value in getting stronger.)

Five Teach go to your family. (Dreaming of your son becoming the Meijin or Honinbo enlarges the scope of your imagination and the richness of your spirit.)

Six Participate in go tournaments and related events. [In Japan there are all sorts of go seminars and lectures conducted.]

Seven Write down your thoughts in a go diary. (Reflections on your mistakes in games, pride in wins or good moves, evil words about a rival, anything is fine.)

Eight Compile a collection of your games. (Do not fail to include your losses.)

Nine Play rengo team games. (It is best to play with 4 or 5 intimate friends.)

Ten Play postal go. (Even played go by mail with someone who lives close to you is fun.) [Today, the advice would be to play online, seek out websites that focus on go, and read digital publications.]

Eleven In the subway or on buses, while taking a bath, or in the toilet, use the tie productively. (There are various methods that can be contemplated.) [Japanese go magazines usually include pocket-sized booklets that fulfill this role admirably.]

Twelve Use your lunchtime productively. (In the end, could you only manage two or three poorly played games where the stones are carelessly slapped down?)

Thirteen Make a scrapbook with snippets of go magazines and books that you cut out. (Things like positions that are striking to you, life and death problems, and tesuji.)

Fourteen Around once a year, take a go trip with your friends. (With 4 or 5 friends, it does not have to be that far, maybe to a hot spring resort [of which there are many all over Japan that offer surprisingly affordable rates; here in California the Murrieta Hot Springs among other places provide a similar experience] for a one or two night go trip is good. Set up your own Meijin league and give prizes…)

In this way, by pursuing a number of possibilities in all kinds of venues, you can enjoy yourself and before you know it you will end up getting a stone or two stronger.

The Horizon

More than ten years ago I was asked for advice from an older colleague.

"What could I perhaps do to get stronger?"

Now, I had considerable knowledge about this fellow’s game, so…

"No good, you know. There is no way that you can get stronger,"

I replied. I’ve really done it, I thought to myself, but once the words were blurted out, they could not be taken back. A human being does not have a tail. If the desire was voiced to have a tail grafted on, a magnificent one, like that of a lion or a Siamese cat, for the doctor who was asked for this request to be satisfied, to say, "No good. That kind of thing is not possible," would show that he was not an outstanding doctor.

Anyone who saw a game played by this older colleague would know that his go ability was next to nonexistent, so in a moment of distraction, I simply blurted out that answer that struck right at his weakness. From time to time I think back on that with regret, which comes welling up from inside of me. I think of how great it would be if he would get stronger.

Those who wish to comment on the opinions expressed here may send their thoughts to info@GoWizardry.com. The most interesting responses will be addressed in future postings.

Robert J. Terry

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