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Keys to Becoming Shodan: Balance

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Black to Play

Before exploring the theme this time, the reader is asked to examine the board position above and come up with a move for Black. White has just made the diagonal move with the marked stone, bringing Black’s three stones under attack. Can the reader work out a way for Black to play in order to survive? Or is there another way to play so as to salvage enough as possible from the situation?

This comes from a game played by Rin Kaiho (Black) against Takagawa Kaku in the 30th Annual Honinbo League and published in the March 1975 issue of Kido magazine. The reason that this game is interesting is because these kinds of positions are often seen in go clubs. Quite frequently a weaker player will become overwhelmed and simply abandon the Black stones, since they seem to be in deadly peril and it is difficult to find moves to play that are effective.

But over and above that, the sequence that Rin came up with is so wonderfully poised in execution that it is a great illustration of the role of “balance” in reaching shodan strength. Every player aspiring to that goal should play this game over carefully to see how great players put that policy into action.

In my own Japanese go club, such positions may be seen being played out every week. It is sad to see how weaker players abandon hope in situations that are even less dangerous.

What is most discouraging is that there are various words of wisdom posted on the walls of the club to encourage thoughtful play. Here is an example of one that in a way extolls balance in one’s appraisal of the board:

強さとは才能でも技術でもない。大局観をもつことだ。依田紀基

Tsuyosa to wa sainō de mo gijutsu de mo nai. Taikyoku-kan wo motsu koto da. Yoda Norimoto

Strength is neither to be found in talent nor in technique. It is in possessing a full board vision. Yoda Norimoto [former Meijin]

All too often players become overly focused on a small portion of the board to the exclusion of everything else. This can only be detrimental to one’s grasp of the essential elements of the position. One should always strive to overcome such tunnel vision.

The way that Rin engineered a masterful strategy in the game under discussion is as pretty as a picture:

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Show Interactive Diagram

Black 1 and 3 are the key moves. They secure one eye for the Black group. Then, an elaborate series of moves, starting with Black 15, enable Black to attach at 17 and follow up with the moves through 33 to ensure that there is another eye available on the lower side. Bravo!

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Show Interactive Diagram

In his analysis of the game, Ishida Yoshio, Meijin-Honinbo, points out that if White tries to attack all-out with 1 and 3 in the diagram above, Black cuts at 2 and exploits the thinness of White’s position to get out of trouble with the moves at 4 and 6.

It is regrettable when players give up on positions like this and sacrifice their group because they cannot see how weak the other side actually is.

Here are the complete moves of the game:

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(1-159)
Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click Here to do so.

White: Takagawa Kaku 9 dan; Black: Rin Kaiho 9 dan

30th Annual Honinbo League, played on December 26, 1974 at the Nihon Ki-in, Ichigaya, Tokyo.

159 moves. Black wins by resignation.p>

Giving up on a position without trying to fully exploit the opportunities at one’s command is the worst way to fail to maintain balance in go. One must make sure that one appreciates all of the resources available to play at the highest level that one can.

Balance may be seen at every stage in the game. From the very large moves in the beginning of a game to the smallest endgame plays at the finish, it is obvious how a sense of balance plays an important role. All that one has to do is pay close attention to how the moves balance out.

In many ways, this kind of balance in go is similar to situations in other sports. In tennis, for instance, players do all that they can to maintain balance in their game while at the same time doing everything possible to throw the opponent off balance. They throw up top spin lobs, paint the corners of the court, use difficult angles for their plays and drop shots to disrupt the rhythym and balance in the other side’s game. A serve and volley strategy might be said to epitomize the idea of throwing the adversary off balance, since the idea is to take a dominating position at the net.

Although it might not be obvious that the same kind of feeling for balance is important in go, at the same time it is clear that moves that surprise the opponent can give one an edge. If one always plays predictable moves, it is easy to counter one’s strategy. It is only when moves catch the other side off guard that they become the most effective. Again, this is all wrapped up in the concept of balance, and whether in tennis or go, similar considerations apply. In fact, just about all sports depend upon balance for good play. Even a game like baseball.

This might be surprising, but baseball players have to maintain balance above all to have a chance to excel. Just think of the most common statistic in the game: the batting average. In baseball, only the finest players can regularly achieve a .300 batting average. And yet, that means that out of every ten times they step up to the plate, they will fail at least seven times! In most other pursuits, if one were to fail 70% of the time, one would be considered a failure! But in baseball, it only the cream of the crop who can reach that level!

And those elite baseball players are only able to perform in such a way because of tremendous inner discipline. Of course, there are other factors, like hand-eye coordination and timing, that figure into the equation, but ultimately it is the player’s sense of balance that is key to attaining the desired result.

Now, this is not to say that one should spend all one’s time watching tennis matches or baseball games. It is just that when one happens to be watching such sports, it is instructive to pay attention to these things. And it is true of all other sports as well, such as basketball or ice hockey. If one can appreciate the balance that well-trained players exhibit in their own sports, one might be inspired to imitate their model.

Of course, in go the best models are the games played by the top professional players. It is always instructive to go over those games. But rather than just seeking out fighting games or the ones that feature unusual joseki or other things, take some time to discover how they strive to play balanced moves. It is an exercise that is well worth the effort.

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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