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How to Get Strong at Go: A Personal Approach

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There is a player in my Japanese go club, the South Bay Ki-in, located in the New Gardena Hotel, 1641 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, CA 90247; (310) 327-5757, who has been trying to graduate from the kyu ranks to shodan for several years. He has done everything that he can think of. He goes to several go clubs beside the South Bay Ki-in, participates in every tournament that he is able to, and reads all the go books in English that he can find. He is also indefatigable in researching all sorts of things related to go on line.

When I learned about the lengths that he goes to in order to try to advance at go, I offered my advice. It is based on what I did to get strong myself, and I have given this advice to many weaker players over the years.

First, I recommended that he study life and death problems. Virtually every strong go player suggests the same thing. Not only that, but they usually follow that advice themselves, studying life and death problems regularly. I do so myself. Not only do I make sure that a new life and death problem appears on GoWizardry every week, as well as translate the analysis that accompanies those problems, but I study dozens others of them on my own.

And I have told my friend that it does not matter if the life and death problems that he studies are difficult or not. The great Cho Chikun, who was renowned for the depth of his reading, used to study many fairly simple problems every day. When asked why he did this, Cho explained that he wanted to maintain his training; the solving of routine problems gave him a workout that kept him in good form.

My friend asked me what problems I was studying at the time, and although I was dubious about revealing this, I said that I happened to be working on a collection of difficult problems. And then, when he requested it, I lent the booklet to my friend. I did not think that it would be much help to him, and I urged him to look at the solution if he could not figure it out in a reasonable amount of time, such as 45 minutes or an hour.

However, I was surprised when my friend called the next day to say that he had solved all of the problems (about 45) in the booklet! How did he do that, I wondered out loud. "I just put the problems on a board and fiddled with the stones until I figured out the solution.," explained my friend.

"You can’t do that!" I exclaimed in exasperation. "You aren’t allowed to touch the stones to see what works or not! You have to just stare at the shape to find out where the vital points are. That is the point! Life and death problems are reading exercises to help you to get strong when you face opponents over the board. You can’t move around the stones in real games! Why should you be able to do that when studying problems?!"

I gave my friend a couple of other pieces of advice. "When I was your strength, I played out three professional games on a board three times every day. The first time was just to appreciate the game. The next time, I tried to play out the game from memory. I could usually replay the first 100 moves or so without trouble. Then I would look at the game record to play out the moves to the end. The third time I would play out the whole game, from beginning to end, from memory. I did this with three games every day."

It was irrelevant whether I understood all the moves or not. Just playing out the moves in the way described gave me a palpable sense of the game. The flow of the moves, the rhythm of play would become clear to me intuitively. So without any conscious effort on my part, I got stronger naturally. (Of course, playing out three games a day three times is actually not all that easy.)

Beside that, when I was my friend’s strength I met Haruyama Isamu, a strong professional player, who told me, "Amateur go players cannot not understand more than 10% of what goes on in professional go players’ games." Naturally, there are all kinds of quirks in board positions that amateurs cannot decipher, and tesuji that they have never experienced. So it is understandable that much would be opaque to them.

On the other hand, one of the great resources that is available these days is high level analysis explained for the benefit of amateurs. This is very useful for making clear what in the past would have been inexplicable for amateurs.

And this is also beneficial for building strength in go. It is for just that purpose that much of this type of analysis is made available on GoWizardry.

The following professional game is presented here in that spirit. It features Kato Masao, known as "Killer Kato," although his prowess at sabaki, or dealing skillfully with difficult situations, is more on display here.

Regardless of that, there is much to enjoy and to learn from in this game.

From Kido, August 1975

Kato, a Superfluity of Sabaki

In regards to fights in the game of go, rather than engineering survival [shinogi], attacking is difficult. Kato 8 dan is strong at attacking, and what is more, his success rate inconjunction with attacking is outstanding. So much so that he has even been dubbed, "Killer." However, the late Hosokawa Senjin [1899-1974; founder of the Kansai Ki-in, although he retired as a member of the Nihon Ki-in; known as "Ko Hosokawa" due to his skill at ko fights] was universally acknowledged for his fighting strength, and he bequeathed his fierce style to his star student, Ishii 8 dan of the Western Branch of the Nihon Ki-in.

The commentator remarked while observing this game, "This will not end peacefully." He then put a great deal of energy into analyzing this game.

Oza Tournament, 3rd Preliminary Round

White: Kato Masao 8 dan

Black: Ishii Kunio 8 dan

Komi = 5 1/2 points

164 moves. White wins by resignation.

Analysis by Rin Kaiho, 10 Dan

Kido, August 1975

A Confrontation of Power versus Power

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Figure 1: (1-22)
Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click here to do so.

The moves through the pincer of Black 7 comprise a common set-up.

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Diagram 1

After the sequence from the attachment of White 1 through the connection of Black 14 is played in accordance with joseki, White 15 makes the shape that one has been used to seeing up to now in this progression of moves. But omitting that to simply make the diagonal move at White 8 in this figure is White’s plan of action for initiating the fighting in this game.

It is all right to consider the knight’s move of Black 9 as an idea for avoiding to fall in line with White’s plan. (For Black 9) to punish White for having played elsewhere…

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Diagram 2

…it is also possible to play the attachment of Black 1, but after exchanging 2 for Black 3, White makes the fencing-in move of 4, flattening Black’s position into a low stance all across the left side, demonstrating the plan that White had in mind when making the diagonal move of 8.

Doing that bidding of White’s by playing in conformance with Diagram 2 could not be said to make Black particularly badly off, but psychologically the opponent’s ideas should be opposed in order to enhance winning chances.

Moving out with the diagonal move of White 10 (avoiding being sealed in with Black 10) is natural.

To oppose that White 10, it is usual for Black to defend with the knight’s move at as the response, but if Black defends with , it will incur the White attachment at — the diagonal move of Black 11 is played because that attachment of White was distasteful.

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Diagram 3

Having White block at 1, upon which Black plays at 2, is Black’s bidding.

In reply to White’s fencing-in move of 12, Black does not respond with the jump at , but solidifies the lower left with Black 13. This is a solid build-up of the position, but it makes White’s two stones of 6 and 10 light (so that they can be easily discarded). That relationship must be taken into consideration.

Both the points of White 14 and Black 15 and 17 are without doubt big points.

Exchanging White 18 for Black 19 and leaving it just like that to turn to block at White 20 is an unusual measure to take.

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Diagram 4

White 1 and 3 are standard, but White 20 is an ideal point to be contested, so White hurries to take it. The strategy is to provoke a fight on the right side.

It is natural for Black to play at 21 to punish White for having played elsewhere, but after White answers at 22, what is the next move to play?

As Expected, Chaotic Fighting

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Figure 2: (23-48)

The two-point pincer of Black 23 may be construed as an attack arising from fighting spirit, but the checking extension of White 24 is an ideal point, so it must be judged as problematical.

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Diagram 5

If Black 1 is played as the three-point pincer here, it is difficult for White to make the checking extension at , so it may be thought that White will be in a little of a quandary in deciding the move to play.

In answer to the knight’s move of Black 25, slicing through it with White 26 is an expected unyielding counterattack. Following the cut of Black 27 is a chaotic fight that White welcomed.

"That kind of slack move cannot be played." When that is said, there is nothing more to add, but for Black 25…

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Diagram 6

… the commonsense diagonal move of Black 1 would have been safe and sound.

The fight that develops after the groups are cut and split with Black 27 and White 28 flows in an inevitable course with the moves through White 34. However, when Black jumps to 35, it is a good opportunity for White to play the forcing move of the peep at 38. This is unsatisfactory for Black, so instead of 35…

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Diagram 7

… the diagonal move of Black 1 would make uncompromising shape. Trying to connect underneath with White 2 does not work because of the double attachment of Black 3 and 5.

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Diagram 8

The knight’s move of White 2 is a technique [suji] for moving out, in conjunction with the forcing move at . Nevertheless, Black would probably high-handedly use the fighting method of cutting with 3 and 5 in order to build thickness on the outside. After Black 5, White would naturally be met by Black , White and Black .

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Diagram 9

If White forces with the wedging-in move at 2 and jumps to 4, there is no worry about that, but it is difficult to make the exchange for Black 3, which solidifies the corner. Following Black 7, the possible play in the gap at is also worrisome.

The knight’s move of Black 43 occupies an essential point for attack and defense, but it was also possible to build up the position on the lower side with the jump here to Black 44. So the exchange of Black 43 for White 44 could have been kept in reserve, and the direct method of striking at the shoulder with Black 45 played. In response to the double-pronged attack with Black 45, White again counterattacked with 48.

At Last, A Huge Ko Fight

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Figure 3: (49-68) Black 65 takes ko; White 68, same

Black 49, 51 and 53 are a makeshift measure to carry through with Black’s original intention.

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Diagram 10

The usual technique [suji] is the hane of Black 1, but instead of cutting at , White can attach at 2 and things get complex and difficult.

When White hanes at 54, blocking with Black 55 is a questionable move. This gives White the opening to initiate a huge ko. For Black 55…

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Diagram 11

… replying with the severe move-in-a-row of Black 1 is a calm and collected move. White has no choice but to play at 2 in order to prevent Black from peeping at this point, so Black then peeps at 3 as a forcing move, and bottles the group up with 5. This blockading net is imperfect, but if White pushes through at , although Black has no alternative but to give way with , after White and the block of Black , it is inconceivable that Black will be at a disadvantage in the fighting to follow.

With the pincer attachment of White 64, at last a huge ko begins, but for Black 67…

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Diagram 12

… the capture of Black 1 is simple and easy. Even though this allows White to connect underneath with 2, Black peeps at 3 as a forcing move, then is well off with the knight’s move of Black 5.

Black tenaciously plays at 67, and now the problem is what ko threats exist…

Black Misses an Attack

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Figure 4: (69-99)

The ko threat of Black 69 and pushing through with Black 71 is certainly not small, but more so than anything, the cold, hard cash of White 70 is huge. This swap [furi-kawari] is insufficient for Black. In this board position, it is difficult for Black to win in terms of the territorial balance.

There is just one option available to recover from this inferior position, that is, by attacking the lower right corner. However, under these circumstances, pushing at Black 81 is a missed opportunity. The move at 82 gives White a respite. For Black 81…

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Diagram 13

… regardless of anything else, the invasion of Black 1 is the solitary opportunity to gain compensation for the loss of the ko. However, in response to the block of White 2, if Black hanes at 3, the sequence through White 8 secures the corner, so that the attack that Black went to all the trouble to launch ends with not much of a result. In this position…

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Diagram 14

… there is the resolute measure of aggressively playing Black 3 through 7 in the corner.

If White plays atari at 8, it is not necessary for Black to start a ko with . It is all right to connect with Black 9, and then there is nothing else for White to do but to make life with 10. When Black lives with 11, White is then forced to live in gote. Instead of White 10…

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Diagram 15

… trying to capture with White 1 is reckless. Attacking like this invites the pincer-attachment of Black 6, after which Black can connect underneath at 8, and White is lost.

White 80 is played to avoid any problems, but it would also be good to advance as far as .

White 86 is an ideal extension that gives White a winning board position.

A Do-or-Die Move Misfires

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Figure 5: (100-164) White 58 connects two stones

If White omits descending at 100…

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Diagram 16

… the attachment of Black 1 is big. Should White block at 3, drawing back to Black 2 lets Black aim at the cut at 6, and if White hanes over Black’s stone with 2, Black extends at 3, and then the diagonal move of Black 5 sets the stage for play within White’s group. As one example, thrusting through with White 6 is answered by the hane of Black 7. This aims at the hane at , but if White blocks with 8, Black lives with 9 through 13.

Instead of White 10 in the figure, expanding with White 37 on the left side was sufficient.

The attachment of Black 15 and the hane over White’s stone with Black 17 is the last aim that Black has in this game to attempt. For the atari of White 18…

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Diagram 17

… if White cuts at 1, the sequence from Black 2 through White 7 results in a race to capture. White wins this, but Black 8 forces White to take the stones off the board, so this is not profitable for White. Not only that, but when Black builds up thickness on the outside, there is even the threat of Black playing at to take away the eye of White’s big group of stones to put it in danger.

Black 31 is a sacrifice stone strategy, in answer to which the diagonal move of White 32 is proper technique [suji].

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Diagram 18

Should White extend at 1, Black pushes through at 2, and then if White , Black , or White is met by Black , extending through, and problems are created.

Even though Black makes captures through 37, White surrounds territory in the center through 52, so that effort of Black’s misfires.

164 moves. White wins by resignation.

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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