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Birds on Wires


The late, great World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal used to say that there was a "chess virus" that many people were immune to, but he was glad that he was not. His brilliant career as the "Magician of Riga" (the capital of Latvia; Tal played as a Soviet in the late 1950s and 1960’s, when he won the championship, but he was raised in the Baltic) thrilled chess players all over the world.

There is a similar "virus" that grips some people who learn how to play go. And I can tell you the symptoms from personal experience.

In 1972, Bobby Fischer won the World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland, defeating the Russian champion Boris Spassky. I am a strong chess player, just below master strength, and in that year many people were intrigued by the game. A doctor I knew then asked me to play against him and I did so at rook odds (I took off a castle of mine from the board before the start of the game) and had no trouble winning.

This stunned the doctor, who was quite an intelligent person. He demanded that we play again, but the result was the same. After several games ended in the identical way, he said that he wanted to teach me a game that was called by the Japanese word, "go." He gave me a twenty-dollar bill and told me to go to Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles (I was hardly more than a teenager in those days). "Just look around there in shops and you’ll find a place to buy a go board, stones and bowls,” he told me.

I did so and found a small shop on Weller Street, close to Los Angeles City Hall. I bought all the items the doctor had told me to and returned home. The twenty dollars were sufficient for the purchases. (Try to do that today!) That evening, we sat down with the board between us. The doctor quickly explained the rules (which, as everyone knows, are so simple they can be grasped in a couple of minutes) and then we got ready to play.

The doctor had me place handicap stones on the board. I forget how many. "This is to help you fight," he said. Then he proceeded to play the next move, an invasion into "my" territory.

"Parachuter!" he cried out. I had no idea how to deal with the invader and lost ignominiously. My tormentor was exultant. "You can’t beat me at this simple game! Where is your great intellect now?!" he chuckled. I could only hang my head in my hands and wonder.

On a walk the next day, I happened to glance into the sky and noticed crows sitting on telephone wires. Nothing unusual there, but for a moment they appeared to me as representing go stones on a board.

Countless other initiates in the world of go have experienced the same phenomenon: seeing black birds on telephone wires and picturing go positions. This is not rare.

But what is unusual is that I have had a similar experience recently. I have posted here that in my Japanese go club (the South Bay Ki-in, located in the New Gardena Hotel, 1641 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, CA, 90274; Tel.: (310) 327-5757) I started off with a 5-1 record. If I continue at this pace, I will regain my 6 dan ranking that was taken away from me when a campaign was launched to "wring out ranking inflation" in the club. This is all in accordance with the acknowledgement of the members of the club. We got together last Saturday to settle things at our quarterly banquet. We discussed club business and regulations of our tournaments.

The experience referred to at the beginning of this posting is something that I remembered when I had a dream the other day. I realize that most people will look at this with skepticism, but it was startlingly vivid to me.

The dream was stark in its simplicity and probably only die hard go players can relate to it, but to me it was a revelation. It started with the same set-up as the earlier scene, with birds on wires. Suddenly they took to flight with their wings flapping. All was chaos. Then, it calmed down into a complex, critical go position on a board. But I knew exactly the correct move to play. As I stretched out my hand to move, I woke up. Poof! Everything disappeared.

But I took the dream as a sign to continue focusing on winning at go.

One other thing: I have been working on several projects with a Tokyo business consultant who has connections with all sorts of companies there. I mentioned that NHK (the national broadcasting corporation of Japan, similar to the BBC in England) had produced two videos about go, one five minutes long as a simple introduction to the game and the other one twenty minutes long, both explaining the rules as well as the history of go in Japan and its cultural significance. I had told the American Go Association about this and suggested that they approach NHK and ask for the rights to distribute the videos. Of course, the AGA ignored my suggestion and nothing was done. However, I told the Tokyo business consultant about this and he said that he has a contact there and will help me to get those rights the next time I am in Japan.

Now I continue my analysis of the Meijin title match. This game has just begun to be analyzed in the sponsoring Asahi Newspaper.

43rd Annual Best of Seven Meijin Title Match, Game 4

White: Iyama Yuta, Meijin

Black: Cho U 9 dan

Played on October 7 & 8, 2018.

Komi: 6 1/2 points

188 moves. White wins by resignation.


Figure 1: Power in the Center (1-30)

Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click here to do so.

White 2 and 4 are played on the star points, meaning that their power is directed towards the center of the board. Therefore, it is natural for Black to counter with the high move at 5. Interestingly, this move is very popular now. This despite the fact that it is weak in regards to the corner. White will try to exploit Black’s thinness there, such as by making an attachment at the 3-3 point.

White responds by invading Black’s other corner with 6. This is surprising because White will make less than 10 points of territory there, while Black will get thickness in the center in exchange. That will negate the influence of White’s star point stones at 2 and 4.

The joseki through Black 19 is also popular these days. Perhaps the reader might be reluctant to play a move like Black 9, since it seems loose, but there is no way for White to exploit the thinness of Black’s position since White’s two stones of 6 and 8 are also thin and weak. The upshot of the sequence through White 18 is that White makes standard shape in the corner. Black gets hanging connections at 13 and 19 which are thick and strong.

However, White gets sente and moves out with the stone at 14 to start a fight in the center. The hope is that Black will have trouble defending his split groups. On the other hand, Cho is a strong fighter himself, and rarely gives an inch in these kinds of battles.

The atari of Black 27 is a case in point. Black might suffer some damage against the group on the upper side, but if Black takes the White stone at 24 (a ponnuki capture; go proverb: A ponnuki is worth 30 points), the game is over.

White 30 is a thick move in the center that works well in connection with White’s star point stone at 4. Black now has to be careful making life for the group on the upper side. If White gets a stone on the point below 22, then a White stone below 14 puts Black’s stones of 9 and 15 into atari at the same time as White’s shape is ready to start a dangerous ko fight.


Figure 2: Complex Fighting in the Center (31-60) Black 39 connects at the marked stone

Black 33 is a restrained move. Black makes bad shape (go proverb: Do not make empty triangles), but it makes life for the group while leaving Black with multiple options in the center.

White has to respond here or suffer irreparable damage (i.e., Black’s ponnuki capture at 37). However, the cut of Black 35 expands the scope of the battle. It is impossible to predict how this skirmish will end.

White 36 through 40 build even more thickness in the center. Black answers with 41 and 43. In other words, this is a classic exchange of thickness for territory. At this stage in the game, an objective assessment would consider Black’s territory as superior to White’s thickness. But counting the board is not much help in this kind of fighting game.

What is clear, though, is that there was essentially no opening in this game! The invasion of White 6 in the upper right corner initiated the middlegame right off the bat.

Readers interested in getting stronger at fighting should study this figure carefully because it demonstrates tactical moves that one must master in order to attack and defend successfully. That is, cuts (35, 48, 54), attachments (45, 55) and moves made to extend the liberties of one’s group (52).


Figure 3: Thickness versus Territory (61-90) Black 69 captures at 65

Black 61 captures White’s two stones below. Did the reader see this move coming? It is simple, common technique for strong players. This is a theme in this figure: adding moves that subtly alter the position. The peep of Black 71 is a similar move. So is White 90.

White adding the stone of 62 is also the same. It does no harm to White, but if this move is not made now, there might not be time later to get it in.

The attachment of White 64 is one more example of the fighting technique demonstrated earlier. This move, followed by White 68, seal off the center. Once again, White gives up territory when Black captures White’s three stones with 69. (Black takes 6 points of territory here. Too small? It is the same amount of territory as in White’s upper right corner.)

White now captures at 70, solidifying the thickness in the center.

So Black peeps (another common fighting technique) at 71. This is not only the correct timing to get this move in, but it also aims at the cutting point two points to the right. Cutting is not a viable move now, but could be a significant threat later.

The action shifts to the lower left corner with the attack on the corner of Black 73. The sequence through Black 81 is a common joseki. Both sides play to try to take sente. White is anxious to get in the move at 82 that perfects White’s thickness in the center, while Black is content to allow that so as to get in the thick and strong move of 83. Look at how well this move works in connection with Black’s corner enclosure on the right. This is the standard follow-up move for Black in this joseki. The reader is urged to remember it. In this case, it is even better because it has to be answered by White 84 in order to stabilize White’s group here.

Pop quiz: Is it time to count the board?

Answer: Impossible. This is a fighting game. It is either do or die. The players are only concentrating on getting the best of the fight. Head to head, winner take all.

But look at White 82. This gives a lesson in both counting and strategy. The move threatens to capture three Black stones and rescue White’s two stones to the right, but that is too small at this stage in the game. (White can play atari against Black’s three stones and when Black takes White’s two stones, White plays atari again. This secures the upper left corner. If Black connects in order to save the three stones, White takes sente. That is, connecting by Black is worth approximately 5~8 points (depending on whether the cutting point two points above and one point to the left of White 82) ends up having to be defended or not. It is obvious that this is too small a move now.

Black 85 expands the territory on the right side while encroaching on White’s position in the center. The cutting point two points to the right of Black 71 may start to become significant.

White counterattacks with the invasion of 86. This is not really a dangerous move to play, even though it is played in the midst of Black’s position. Depending on how Black responds, White can fight against Black’s stones above or ravage the Black corner below.

Before responding, Black makes the placement (another fighting technique) of 87 and the hane (still one more fighting technique; go proverb: There is death in the hane) of 89. White counters with the peep of 90. Note the relationship between this move and White 86. A one space jump down from White 90 connects with White 86. This is a valuable technique to add to one’s arsenal. The reader is urged to remember it.


Figure 4: More Contention in the Center (91-120)

Black 93 both attacks White’s stone above and solidifies Black’s corner below. White plays the moves of 94 through 112 to take as much territory in the center as possible (while making a Black cut one point above and two points to the left of Black 111 irrelevant), while giving Black territory on the right side.

Black cuts at 113 in order to put quirks (aji) into the position. This in advance of attaching at 117 and jumping to 119. (Side note: Should White have filled in a liberty two points above 113 in sente sometime earlier? Black would have answered by playing atari with a cut five points above 113. This would alter the endgame possibilities in the corner. The cut of Black 113 would then be impossible, but the players had a good sense of the territorial balance and probably thought that Black’s cut of Black 113 would not have altered the position significantly.

The attachment of Black 117 also gives Black potential moves (aji) in this area. Again, this move (which is a forcing move since White has to answer solidly with 118) does no damage to Black, while it might be valuable later on.

Black 119 aims to reduce White’s territory in the center. Black has to connect this stone to the Black position on the lower side (or sacrifice the stone for an equivalent concession). White plays the hane of 120 to fight back.


Figure 5: More of the Same (121-150) White 130 captures at 122; White 132 connects at 121; Black 139 captures at 125

Black hanes at 121, trying desperately to make an incursion into White’s center. But White counters with 122 and Black is in a tight spot. Black 123 and 125 might be able to capture White’s stone in a ladder. (Black’s stone two points above and one to the right of the center point is a ladder breaker.) But White can reply with the atari of 126 and then then atari of 128 to make ko. Black is having no part of this and responds with the atari of Black 129.

The ko starts with White 130. This is called a "flower-viewing ko" in Japanese. That means it is as pleasurable as looking at flowers. White has little at stake while Black is desperate to win it.

White has little choice but to connect the ko with 132, but Black just jumps out at 133 (Note: After White 138, Black’s stone at 133 cannot be captured in a ladder; go proverb: If you cannot read out ladders, do not play go.)

Another ko starts with the moves through White 140. Black puts these stones in to give support to the maneuvers that begin with the knight’s move of 141. White has to be careful that a mistaken move does not allow Black to live within White’s territory in the center. (Or escape after neutralizing White’s big territory (moyo) in the center.)

Can Black pull this off after White 150?


Figure 6: Endgame Fighting (151-180)

The game has now passed from the middlegame to the endgame. Even though Black plays 151 and 153 to make life within White’s territory, this is nothing more than to reduce White’s position in the center (which extends to the left side).

That means sacrificing the Black stones in the center, but that cannot be helped. (In fact, it was part of Black’s strategy from the beginning.) After Black 173, connecting to the Black group on the upper side or capturing two Blacks stones with an atari below 152 are equivalent options. Therefore, Black’s invading group on the left side has succeeded. But at what cost?


Figure 7: The End (181-188)

Black’s desperate moves in the center provide no relief. White calmly takes control. White 188 wraps things up.

188 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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