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Ten Best Go Proverbs

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The Sanno Festival is held at Hie Shrine in Tokyo from June 7 to 17, draws around 400 participants in Edo-era imperial court costumes for the parade that winds 25 kilometers through the streets of central Tokyo. The parade makes several stops along the way including Imperial Palace Gaien (a large park in front of the Imperial Palace). The head priest of Hie Shrine enters the palace and meets the Emperor.

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The late Abe Yoshiteru 9 dan (September 28, 1941~July 3, 2000) was renowned as a studious player who tried to be present in as many venues as serious games of go were played, either by professionals or amateurs. His love of the game was obvious to everyone.

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Quote: "Add a second stone to a sacrifice, then discard them both!"

Recommended by Kato Masao

Format by Murakami Akira

From Kido, March 1995

Those interested in viewing the original article in Japanese can click here to do so.

All players know the go proverb that states, "A ponnuki is worth 30 points." [Ponnuki = single stone capture; most effective in the center area of the go board.] Nevertheless, there are still those who blithely give up a ponnuki. Although the proverb is known well enough, the thinking is probably that, "Something like 30 points, since it is a proverb, must definitely be an exaggeration."

However, this is absolutely not an exaggeration. Other proverbs are also generally true, and it is just by taking them at face value that they prove to be helpful. Please do not dismiss proverbs out of hand, but instead modestly seek the nuggets of wisdom they contain and learn from them.

From the many go proverbs that exist, the most useful have been selected as the Best Ten. First, the reader is tested in a problem format. The idea is to advance familiarity with the proverbs through the solving of the problems. It is expected that this will enhance trust in the go proverbs.

The Effectiveness of Forcing Moves

White’s three marked stones have been played as forcing moves against Black’s knight’s move corner enclosure. Contrary to the motive behind playing the original moves that were specifically made to establish a player’s position, forcing moves make the opponent defend once, and are not expected to necessarily have long term effectiveness. It is best to consider them as sufficient if they fulfill that role.

Of course, it is not good to abandon them without a second thought.

Well then, how should these forcing moves be best used?

Problem 1

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White to Play

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Effective also for Professional Players

It may be thought that go proverbs were created quintessentially for the benefit of low kyu amateur players, but on the contrary, it is not infrequent for professionals to use them for reference sake. For example…

"My enemy’s vital point is my own vital point."

A go proverb like this one can come in handy when the position is complicated, and finding the next move is difficult. This proverb offers a big hint to wonder, "Where would the opponent want to play here?" It often happens that a good move can then be played. In the same way as that, "What move would it be unpleasant for the opponent to deal with?" might also be a thought leading to an effective move being played. From the opposite standpoint, considering that, "Having the opponent play here would be unpleasant," is a thought that has surely occurred to every reader.

It would be just as good if there was a proverb that stated, "Play at the place most unpleasant for the opponent," you know.

Do not run away with throw-away stones.

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Diagram 1

Stones used as forcing moves have already served their purpose. If they have a little potential [aji] remaining for later use, that is fine. In that sense, they are throw-away stones. It is not good to regret discarding these throw-away stones, and play something like White 1 to run away with them. Should White try to do so, Black will move out with 2 and 4, not only making the stones running away a big burden for White, but naturally applying pressure to White’s two space extension below.

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Correct Solution

The throw-away stones have residual potential [aji], so it is best to make use of just that.

White attaches at 1 and extends at 3 [in Japanese, tsuke-nobi, which is the name of a joseki many beginning players learn first]. In order to defend the cutting point at "a," Black adds the moves at 6 and 8, which obligingly fits in with White’s wishes.

The stones played as forcing moves have performed their function, allowing White to build fine thickness with the moves through 9.

Where Should the Extension be Made?

It is surely obvious that the upper side is the essential area to battle over. The question is that with Black to play, to what point should an extension be made?

The thing that must be focused on here is which point would establish the best base for both sides. In other words, confronting Black’s one space corner enclosure comprised of only two stones, White has a thick and strong position in the left area. With that difference understood, a place to play must be chosen. As a hint, among the choices of A, B or C, one is the Correct Solution.

Problem 2

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Black to Play

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Proverbs that Teach Mental Preparation

Besides the go proverbs that provide concrete instruction as to what moves to play, not a few of them teach things like how to think about go and mental preparation. Let’s present a number of those.

Capturing stones does not win games.

If a stone flies, that game cannot be won.

[Meaning that if a player carelessly has a stone slip from the hand, flying away, it is due to mental distraction that will have deadly consequences.]

With just one area under control, the game cannot be won.

Big stones never die.

Take territory while attacking.

Do not try to surround the center territory.

If four corners are taken, the game cannot be played.

These are typical examples. All of them seem simple, but rather than just nodding in agreement and leaving it at that, at least once they each should be carefully considered, and their meaning savored.

Trying to capture, trying to capture, ends with being captured.

Whether this is a go proverb or not is hard to say, but whether or not, it offers greatly valuable advice. However, readers, when the time comes to put these proverbs into action, will they end up being forgotten?

Do not approach thickness too closely.

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Correct Solution

The large knight’s move of Black 1 is the Correct Solution.

Perhaps it is thought that allowing White to make the extension to 2 is dissatisfying, but that is not so. By attaching with Black 3 and drawing back to 5, the breadth of both side’s territory is similar. In that case, since White originally expended moves in creating thickness, this is very dissatisfying.

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Diagram 1

Black 1 is somewhat greedy. White is left with the playing method of 2 followed by 4, and even if, in compensation for having this setup gouged out, Black builds thickness, it will not work effectively against any of White’s stones on the outside.

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Diagram 2

Black 1 is a terrible overplay. To the extent that Black approaches the area to the left, White’s invasion becomes more severe. So contrary to Black’s intention, White’s thickness on the left works more effectively.

Attacking

The one space jump of Black 1 is a good attacking move. In response to this, White attaches at 2 and extends at 4. As can be seen, White ends up running away without difficulty, which is no doubt how Black must have judged it. Black has a cutting point at "a," and this must have made Black even more apprehensive.

However, an attack against White has still not been lost. The next move is at the vital point of this shape that White would also like to play. By striking there, a large scale attack is produced, earning the advantage in the game.

Problem 3

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Black to Play

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Proverbs with Little Trustworthiness

Among the go proverbs, there are also those that may be considered as good without having much trustworthiness in terms of general application.

"Do not use thickness to make territory."

This is one of those. When thickness becomes a wall for a small amount of territory, it becomes overconcentrated shape, which is no good. But there is absolutely no obstacle to using it to make a large territory.

On the other hand, recently trends in the game have changed, so a go proverb can also become unsuitable. For example…

"With only one territory, there is no win."

With only one territory, if that is obliterated, everything is over, so it is certain that there is danger in this way of playing. And yet, recently there are many games played based on a large territorial framework strategy, such as three star points in a row opening, or the Chinese opening, so making one territory is not necessarily bad.

In particular, it seems that this proverb does not apply to Takemiya san. The same may be said of another proverb: "If all four corners are lost, the game cannot be won."

The enemy’s vital point is my own vital point.

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Correct Solution

Black 1 is the vital point of White’s shape. Playing that move impels White to make 2 in good form, giving Black impetus to connect at 3. Furthermore, White is forced to defend with 4. White is only able to move out into the center, saddled with heavy stones that lack eye shape for the entire group. Next, Black can attack on a large scale with a move at either "a" or "b."

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Diagram 1

The connection of Black 1 is passive. White 2 is the vital point for making shape. Once White is able to play here, Black will not be able to aim at mounting much of an attack.

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Diagram 2

Black 1 might seem to be severe, but it misses the vital point. Should White obligingly block at "a," the peep of Black 2 would be an effective move, but as might be expected, White will solidly drop a stone at 2 on the vital point of the shape, fixing a base for White’s stones in place.

Seeing the Whole Board

This is from an actual game that I played as Black.

At this point in the game, Black and White make one space jumps at 1 and 2. To the extent that White is one jump ahead, perhaps the feeling is that Black is coming under attack. Consequently, this is no place for the faint-hearted. In the upper area, Black has thickness in place, so is in no way in an inferior position.

One must turn to the attack, and thereby secure the advantage. Please take a close look at the whole board.

Problem 4

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Black to Play

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Important Proverbs

Ten proverbs that are considered particularly helpful have been selected, and problems have been composed to illustrate them, but in addition to those, several other important ones are introduced here.

A one space jump is never a bad move.

Slice through the knight’s move.

Do not surround territory that is open at the edge.

Take territory while attacking.

Add a stone to a sacrifice, then abandon them both.

Attack a corner from the wide side.

Among these, "Do not surround territory that is open at the edge" and "Attack a corner from the wide side" may be said to be aimed at advanced players.

Extrapolating from one dealt with in the text, "Do not approach thickness too closely," the admonition is not limited to the opponent’s thickness, but playing too closely to one’s own thickness will also result in overconcentrated shape. This is no good, and therefore must be paid attention to as well. Besides this, in relation to "Do not run away with throw-away stones" and "Do not discard essential stones," these are important proverbs, so please remember them.

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Attacking is Best Done with the Biggest Defensive Move

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Diagram 1

The jump of Black 1 is faint-hearted, and a mediocre move.

After incurring the jump of White 2, attacking this White group is already beyond control. What is more is that Black’s shape is such that the territorial framework above has been neutralized. These are severe disadvantageous elements for Black. One must say that Black 1 displays no strategy at all.

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Correct Solution

In the actual game, Black capped White’s stones with 1. In reply to White 2, Black attacks with 3 and 5, and because of that builds a large territory in the center.

When White continues with 6, Black 7 and 9 attack White’s big group of stones at the same time as keeping an eye on the block of Black "a" and the attachment of "b." Therefore, these stones will have no trouble in securing survival [shinogi].

Vital Points for Attack and Defense

There are also many proverbs concerning attack and defense in a local context.

At times when stones clash, many variations are possible. On top of that, a single mistake can end up sending one’s entire position out of whack. So proverbs often provide a big life raft in those situations.

The following three problems are applications of famous proverbs. Please bring that to mind and find the next moves.

Problem 5

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Black to Play

Remembering this proverb, putting aside fear, play actively and aggressively.

Problem 6

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Black to Play

In response to White’s attachment and cut, what is the move to play? There are various moves to play, but a proverb unmistakenly reveals the one move that is best.

Problem 7

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Black to Play

Black has just been cut by White’s marked stone. After discovering the aim of the cut, what is the move to play in reply?

Without looking, play at the head of two stones!

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Problem 5 Correct Solution

Black 1 is played at "the head of two stones." As a result of this hane, White’s development into the center is blocked, while the influence of the allied stones is enhanced.

When White answers at 2, Black 3 is also a vigorous move. This is a "two-step hane." After the move at 5, Black has a great advantage.

When faced with a crosscut, extend on one side!

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Problem 6 Correct Solution

Black 1 is a calm and collected move. Following this, it is fine to allow White to choose the way to play. Through Black 7, a single stone is captured, which is a division that gives Black no cause for dissatisfaction.

Should Black use 1 to play atari below, on the contrary it would give White impetus to play in good form, so please pay attention to that.

Capture the cutting stone.

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Problem 7 Correct Solution

The meaning is that when the opponent cuts one’s stones, that stone that cuts should be captured. That is because the shape created by the capture of a single stone by itself produces eye shape, and so is thick and strong.

White’s purpose in putting in the cutting stone of 2 is to then build thickness on the outside with 4 and 6.

Had White cut with the marked stone at 2, the key is for Black to capture with "a," discarding the two stones in the corner.

Vital Points for Life and Death

To end with, race to capture life and death problems are the focus.

In relation to life and death, just knowing the one proverbs that states, "There is death in the hane," cannot be overestimated as playing a valuable role.

During a race to capture, the principle of "One side has an eye, the other does not" [= "Me ari me nashi] and understanding the way of filling in liberties is important. There are proverbs that specifically explain that.

Therefore, please solve the three problems here that fall into these categories.

Problem 8

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Black to Play

It is necessary to determine which hane is effective.

Problem 9

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Black to Play

Which liberty should Black fill? If one gets flustered, one’s own stones will end up being captured.

Problem 10

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Black to Play

There is a race to capture with White’s five stones. For those who know the proverb, something like this is simple. Players who do not know it will probably be greatly distressed.

There is death in the hane.

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Problem 8 Correct Solution

In order to reduce the space inside the opponent’s group, a hane is effective.

Playing the hane of White 1 from this side is the Correct Solution. In reply to Black 2, White again hanes at 3. Then, if Black answers at 4, White can meet it with 5.

Should White use 1 to play at 3, following Black "a," White 1 is met by Black making life with "b." In addition, playing White 1 at 4 to create an oversized eye is stymied with Black descending at 3, and the group will not die.

Fill liberties starting on the outside!

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Problem 9 Correct Solution

By filling in a liberty on the outside with Black 1, White’s group is captured.

Black 1 played at something like either "a" or "b," filling inside liberties, on the contrary ends with Black being captured. Please confirm that.

Filling inside liberties ends up filling one’s own liberties. In other words, they are moves that "attack oneself."

When one side has an eye and the other does not, there is no race to capture.

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Problem 10 Correct Solution

Making an eye with Black 1 wins the race to capture. After Black 3, White "a" is answered by Black "b," so that in that shape it is not possible for White to insert a move at "c."

Using Black 1 to fill a liberty at 3 is met by White making the placement at 1, leading to Black’s defeat.

Blooming of the Center 30 Points — Chinese Proverbs

[NOTE: I do not read Chinese very well, so at times I can only guess either how the following Chinese words are to be read or what their exact meaning is.]

To find out the kind of go proverbs there are in China, Rui Naiwei 9 dan was consulted. The first one that Rui wrote about was:

Blooming center 30 points.

This is a famous proverb in Japan, too. That is, "A ponnuki is worth 30 points." The word, "blooming" is beautiful, isn’t it?

Just as they came to mind, Rui san taught us about the following:

Left/right same shape run center. (Play at the center of symmetrical shape.)

Four corners wear star. (After taking four corners, also occupying the center star point ensures the win.)

Running no good, no running. (If there is no good move to play, turn elsewhere.)

Game meeting difficult place small pointed pointed (With no idea where to play, use a diagonal move.)

Game meeting decision place arises. (Go requires decisiveness.)

Well 10 character long one side (In answer to a crosscut, extend on one side!)

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.

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