Gentle Joseki, part VIII
by Pieter Mioch

An introduction to corner patterns, especially but not only meant for kyu players.


Hi there, it's very nice of you to keep taking the trouble to open Gentle Joseki, thank you all. I am getting the feeling, though, that I am starting to repeat myself and that is not a good sign. I therefor decided to continue for another 3 episodes (this one included) after which I'll start something new. I'd be thankful if you can send me some suggestions of what to do next. Please do not forget that I am not an expert at this game, I'm not a professional, heck I ain't even on any dan-list anymore, sigh. Since I hate false modesty, however, I'll do some bragging too, just to make up for the last couple of lines. For two consecutive years my partner and I have managed to place third in the Central Japan amateur pair-go tournament. This in spite of the fact that, Hiroko, who is an ex-insei too, and I never play each other and only meet for the occasion.

Well, enough of that. And now for something different. Probably the best known 8 dan pro from Nagoya is Masataka Saijo Sensei. He is the one who recognized Catalin Taranu's talent first and later became his mentor. Long before scouting Catalin from Rumania, now 4 dan pro, Mr. Saijo was well known already thanks to his love for the game and his active promoting go at international events all over the world. He is a very friendly person who loves explaining the game to amateurs of any rank.

The first Saturday of April I was invited to come over and help out at "Amusement Natsume". This was until a couple of years back a real "karaoke snack" with girls of several nationalities singing until early in the morning and dancing on the tables. Quite a few professionals came here to let of steam and enjoy a glass water and whiskey. Some three years back, however, Mr. Natsume had enough of the dancing girls and decided to make his go-hobby his job. He always had a few go boards stashed away under the counter but now go has become the main thing at his place. I guess his bar must be unique in one or more ways when realizing that you can drink liquor, play go and sing karaoke all at the same time. I have no idea how Mr. Natsume does it but somehow he seems to be able to make a living like this and his long time customers, go pro's from all over Japan, keep coming to relax and sometimes play a teaching game or two with well-to-do amateurs, doctors, lawyers, you know what I'm talking about.

Since April a go club especially for foreigners has started at Natsume's and every Saturday from two o'clock the teaching staff, two Chinese guys graduated from the Beijing University, a Korean girl who started out as a hostess/waitress at Natsume but now runs her own bar, me and a couple of middle aged Japanese ladies gather to play with people who show up.

The first Saturday a couple of pros came to have a look too and it goes without saying that Mr. Saijo was amongst them. My old insei buddy Miyagawa 6 dan and Mr. Ito, 9 dan showed up escorting him. Because there was some time to kill I showed them "Gentle Joseki". Mr. Natsume has installed a desktop computer on his counter with a huge monitor facing the bar chairs. "And this is my column about joseki."

"I see you call it gentle joseki, Pieter, doesn't that sound a little girlish?" That was Mr. Saijo whose English is pretty good for a Japanese Go pro. "Yeah, 'guess so, but calling it "Easy Joseki" didn't sound so good, I thought". " Oh, I see, and what do you usually write about?" "Well, I try to keep things simple but not boring, Saijo Sensei, last episode, for example was about the 5-5 move. Here it is, what do you think about it?"

Well, I shouldn't have asked that question because the three pro's kept grilling me for the next half hour and I felt like being tortured by a three-headed 23 pro-dan monster. Although they were not at all satisfied with my answers, they seemed to like it. After having talked about gentle and not at all gentle joseki for what seemed hours (to me at least) finally the first two beginners showed up. I had prepared an easy introduction in English about the game. Just when I was about to start telling the two new comers the fundamentals of go, however, Mr. Saijo tapped me on my shoulder: "You can take over later but would you mind if I'd teach them first?" Saijo had noticeably changed at the sight of the two foreigners and with his glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other he started an explanation which was at the same time entertaining and comprehensible. After this he didn't let go of the beginners anymore and Ito 9 dan, Miyagawa and me sat at the counter playing a couple of games on IGS. We used my 3d* account for this and I tried approaching 4d* and 5d* people.

In the end Ito Sensei had to play another 3d* who thought his opponent was just an amateur. Maybe it was because it was Ito's first game on a computer or maybe he had had one watery whiskey too much already because at move 70 a group of him got killed and it seemed that the game was over.

What happened next, however, was very impressive. Keeping his cool and playing sharp but not unreasonable moves Ito managed to win the game by a small margin. Although his opponent was by no means a walkover Ito just knew better what the biggest points were on the board. It was rather uncanny to see something like this to happen "live" and in front of you, white turned around a seemingly lost game although black did not do anything strange. Better positional judgment and a perfect live-and-death knowledge allowing Ito to leave his stones although the lesser player might have played a reinforcement, these were the key to Ito's win.

Things you don't want to do

The 4-3, or "ko-moku" play is the most complicated opening move known today. There are uncountable variations and to master them all would take the average person a lifetime or three. Because of this versatility the 4-3 move is certainly worthwhile to have a closer look at how to put it to good use. As I often do in Gentle Joseki I'd like to approach discussing ko-moku from the opposite direction. Since it is not humanly possible to memorize all the patterns I'll keep it simple and concentrate at ways of playing which are regarded as being bad according to modern go theory. So, memorizing these "anti-joseki" patterns will help to stay away from bad moves and automatically make you play the correct patterns, piece of cake.

cute move

Diagram 1 Here it is, the 4-3 move, isn't it cute? I very much doubt it is the best opening move possible but I doubt it even more if anybody will come up with evidence to the contrary in the next century. Although not as popular as it once was, the ko-moku play is an excellent move. It is a little low but all the same it's way more positive compared to the 3-3 play.

Diagram 1

Not to discourage you but I seldom play ko-moku in my own games. It's not that I don't like it or that there are any hidden defects or stuff like that but when playing ko-moku I always feel I have to play a real "serious" game and think very hard. It goes without saying that this is not my strong suit, I prefer lightning games big time and the last serious games I played were in the Insei league some 300 years ago. (still dream about these games occasionally, they would take the whole day and seldom finish inside 6 hours)

Well, to make good on my promise of telling you what you shouldn't do please have a look at dia 2. Follow up moves like the diagonal (kosumi) move and the one-space jump (ikken-tobi) are often worth considering in case of having played at 4-4 (hoshi) but not with the ko-moku opening.

Never mind anybody's advice

Diagram 2 You won't hear me say, though, that you -never- should play at either A or B as a follow up move to the 4-3 play. It is safe to say, however, that A and B are regarded as bad moves. "How bad?" you ask? Humpf, as all good questions, that is not easy to answer. If the best move would be worth ten points than I guess that A and B are roughly the same value of between 8-9 points. In other words, as a novice to this game I don't think that there is anything wrong with freely playing them in your own games, never mind what anybody is telling you about books this and books that.

Diagram 1

So, what -are- the ten pointers? Which moves are given as the best continuation after having played at the 4-3 point?

Once Again, a Shimari

Diagram 3 There is no move which can hold a candle to black one in dia 3. Likewise, there is no formation as omnipotent as this small-knight's enclosure (shimari). If in an even game black can make two shimaries with his first four moves he can never have a bad game.

Diagram 3


Diagram 3a 15th Meijin league, January 1991
black: Cho Chikun
white: Rin Kaiho (+resign)

Now I thought that what I just said about black never having a bad game when making two shimaries was rather an understatement. I just finished searching for a good game example where black gets an easy win because of his shimaries. Till my surprise, however, *all* the five games I managed to find were won by white! It seems the vitality of the center oriented way of playing helps to reinforce one's confidence or something, that is to say, I have no clue as to why white wins all the games, probably coincidence.

Diagram 3a

Like I said before, however, the ko-moku opening is a kind of "serious" instead of the ol' rough'n tumble style street fighting it shows an attitude which some regard as more mature but others just think is boring (who said that?). When playing with a shimari it shows that you prefer to build solid, strong positions from where you will develop steadily while making territory. Opposite to this way of playing would be moyo making and preferring making influence instead of points. Both ways of placing your stones on the board are, of course, perfectly common. Even if you feel that one of them doesn't suit your temperament or character I still think it would be a very good idea to try both, playing solid and making territory versus playing light and building moyos.

Orthodox moves

Diagram 4 In dia 4 A-E show the moves which are regarded as orthodox, i.e. these are the plays black should be playing according to the book. The moves C, D and especially E are not very tight, however, and do not help black ensuring territory yet. Properly speaking, move E is not a follow up but a whole-board kind of play, not necessarily regarding the corner as being important.

Diagram 4

Let me repeat what I told you earlier about moves you shouldn't play. In dias 5-5c you can see moves which are regarded as being bad. None of those, however, will cost you the game. This even goes for pro's although it will be next to impossible to find a game record of a pro actually using one of these moves in the opening. To be sure, they are slack and have other shortcomings but I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were you. Try them, memorize them and when you feel you got an idea why they're not too sharp keep them for special occasions (explaining the game to your mother in law or something like that).

Non- Standard Moves

Diagram 5 Diagram 5a Diagram 5b Diagram 5c
I like the moves in dia 5-5c, though, just copying pro moves is good too, of course, but I honestly think that the road to fast improvement is playing lesser moves and come to understand why they're not so hot. You can be sure, however, that after the game, no matter what the result might be your opponent will keep telling you these moves cannot be good and you shouldn't be playing them and tons more of talk you sometimes have to put up with after the game which does not contribute to the game very much, although it can be great fun at times.

Diagram 5, 5a, 5b & 5c

Up to here I briefly described what to do with your ko-moku stone if you have the chance of playing a second move. It is, however, likely that you often do not have the chance of doing so and your opponent will play an approach move first.

Dealing With An Approach Move

Diagram 6 This is the typical way of thwarting black's shimari plans, the white "keima-kakari" or small knight approach move. Let's have a look at what you shouldn't be doing after this when playing black.

Diagram 6

Not Good Enough

Diagram 7 Black one in dia 7 is too small. The corner territory is only worth about six points, this does not justify the two black moves here. As I often said in previous episodes, one (opening) move should be worth about 5 points.

Diagram 7

Too Tight

Diagram 7a Dia 7a shows a likely continuation. The moves look normal but the result is so so, not really bad for black but a little slack . Not game-losing but a bit too tight, have a look at a better shape for black in dia 7b.

Diagram 7a

Superior Shape

Diagram 7b Undoubtedly the result in dia 7a is more solid for black compared to this diagram, dia 7b. All the same, the result in dia 7b is a joseki while dia 7a is not because black is over concentrated, spending too many moves in a cramped place, 'kind of how you feel after a huge dinner and the cake and coffee arrives just a little too early.

Diagram 7b

Too Solid

Diagram 8 In dia 8 you can see yet another move, black one, which is not standard and thought of as too solid, over protective if you want. Instead of black one a move at either A or B would be better.

Diagram 8

Shusaku's Kosumi

Diagram 9 This diagonal move is a border case. It is the famous "Shusaku kosumi" named after the 19th century Go-Master who virtually won all his games on black by playing it. Strange when you think about it, you can invent and play an excellent new move but as long as you're not going to win any games with it people will think it's worthless.

Diagram 9

According to modern go theory this move is not good enough if black has to give komi to white to make up for the advantage of having the first move. It's a very solid move, however, and I'm fond of it and often use it, when I play ko-moku, almost never, that is. It's also still being used in pro games which might help you a bit more to convince you it's playable.

One more word about the Shusaku kosumi, it is especially nice and easy to use when realizing that you have four next possible moves (compare this to the usual amount, which is about two or three).

Four Good Moves

Diagram 9a Diagram 9b Diagram 9c Diagram 9d
Black 1 in dia 9b is often played one or two spaces down, for example, when playing it after first having played one in dia 9a. Note that black 1 in dia 9c works best when there already is a black stone somewhere around A. The pincer in dia 9d gives a situation which was often seen in go of the 18th and 19th century but it still is played today.

Diagram 9a, 9b, 9c & 9d

A Shuei Game

Diagram 10 1875-08-22
black: Shuei
white: Nakagawa (+2pt)

The reason I selected the game of the 19th century shown in dia 10 is because when looking at it even a person who never played a game in his life can get an idea of what you can use a stone at the 4-3 point for. We have a shimari (upper right white formation) a hasami (pincer) at the left, the famous Shusaku kosumi in the lower right and an alternative way of approaching the opponent's 5-3 stone (lower left) with another move than at 4-3.

Diagram 10

I love the old master's games and I know that if you can bring yourself to replay say 3 of such games twice per day and manage to keep it up for a month your go skill will dramatically improve. Not that there's anything wrong with modern games but the fighting of today is of such ferocity and is so complicated that it is very hard for players other than top amateurs level players or up to learn something from them without any explanation. Older masters can play fierce too, of course, but old games were played with virtually no time limit so that top pros of these days had a very different mentality than their modern counter parts. They took their time and thought twice before embarking on a rash sequence of moves, the outcome of which is often far from clear.

In the last centuries time allowances have become shorter and shorter. In Korea 3 hours per person is common and it can be expected that the 5-hour allowance used in Japan will get shortened too. (this is already happening, not in all games, though) This is a very good tendency for amateurs who love to see pro games getting bloodier and bloodier, the less time pros have the higher the possibility is that the go board will turn in a raging full-scale battlefield right from move one.

Well, back to business, the ko-moku move. The most common approach move is the knight's move or keima kakari. Now black has three choices:

  1. solidify the 4-3 point by playing an extension
  2. playing a pincer and see what white wants
  3. ignore white altogether and play somewhere else

About Six Possibilities

Diagram 11 In dia 11 you can see the defensive oriented moves which black can play if he doesn't want to play a pincer. Move F is special and usually not played but certainly not unplayable. If black would answer at E the situation reverts to a 5-5 joseki (dia 23 in GJ-VII) were black's first move in the corner was at E, white plays 1 and black answers at ko-moku.

Diagram 11

You guessed already that my recommendation here is the play at A, it is solid and easy to understand, there is not much mischief your opponent can try to cook up. I'll show you an "and everybody lived happily ever after" joseki to give you an idea you can work with.

All Peace and Quiet?

Diagram 12 Dia 12 shows a sequence of both players can be happy with, however..

Diagram 12

Beyond Joseki

Diagram 12a Things can get hairy easily as you can see in dia 12a. Once black start throwing his weight around and plays aggressively at 1 white will immediately make clear he is not in the least impressed and start a counter offensive at 2. After white 4 you are in no-man's-land and you'll have to figure out what to do next by looking at the whole board and not overestimating your own fighting skill.

Diagram 12a


Diagram 13 In dia 13 I've tried to rank the possible pincers A-G in order of commonness. The play at G is not often seen (but possible) and A is gold record all-time favorite. Its main feature is that the situation does not settle easy and that there are numerous variations the results of which are not at all similar.

Diagram 13

When starting on Gentle Joseki 8, a month ago, I started to use the 4-3 move in my own games and it seemed to work contagious because many of my opponents started playing at 4-3 too. About 90% of my opponents played the A pincer in no time and I decided to play black 2 in dia 14 a couple of times.

In Love, Again

Diagram 14 I've been in love with this move ever since I saw it for the first time, some 14 years ago. It's perfect to catch your opponent off-guard with and it works very well with a black stone in the upper left corner to back it up.

Diagram 14

Looks Vital, But ...

Diagram 15 White 1 in dia 15 may seem as a logical move (ergo, it is logical, moving between two enemy stones in a way they cannot expect to link up, ever) but it is a miss fire. Black quietly plays the forcing moves of 2 and 4 and next comes back at 6 or A. White has no continuation which will make white 1 coming out good. White one only helped black strengthen himself and white only got a few points in the right corner back as compensation. The corner, by the way, which was his to start with.

Diagram 15

There are plenty of nice cozy joseki I could show you but since we're at the end of this episode I'll show you a long and difficult one.


Diagram 16 Black 2 is natural, white 5 is trying to link his own stones together while at the same time keeping black separated. Black 10 is an unexpected move but once you get to think about it the only way of saving the situation is by making a sacrifice. Up to 20 black more or less has sealed white off, the result is about equal.

Diagram 16

Some defects Left But Equal Result

Diagram 16a Black's formation, however, is by no means without its defects. White may very well continue with a play at one and starting a large-scale fight. Black's groups are not weak, however, and he should be able to handle the situation.

Diagram 16a

This is all for this time, I will continue with the 4-3 point and its variations in the next episode of Gentle Joseki, that will be episode 9. I still have to think up something "tying everything together and make it look good conclusion" for episode 10.

Be sure to come back next month for the next episode of "Gentle Joseki"

Appendix 01

Index of joseki's mentioned in this episode:

idx-01 idx-02 idx-03

idx-04 idx-05 idx-06

idx-07 idx-08

Appendix 02

Some Japanese words and their English equivalents:

aji taste; remaining possibilities, however distant they may be
atari "check" on at least 1 stone
dan ranking system for stronger players
fuseki opening
gote not being able to leave the current situation first, allowing your opponent to be able the play elsewhere first
hoshi star; any of the 9 dots one the go board, the middle one is called "Tengen" (=center/origin of heaven). Hoshi is often used when talking about an opening move on the 4-4 point.
joseki a sequence of moves (in the corner) giving both players a locally equal results
kakari approach move to the corner
kikashi a move which is almost impossible to ignore, also "forcing move"
ko situation which occurs when it is possible to immediately re-capture the stone your opponent played in the previous move to capture 1 of your stones. Since there is no end to this there is the ko-rule, which prohibits a player to exactly recreate a previous board position.
komi compensation for white (usually 5-7 points) since black gets to play the first move. (often there is a half point komi, as in 5.5 stones komi, to prevent a game from ending in a draw)
komoku the 4-3 point
kori-gatachi inefficient shape, uneconomical, using to many stones to make only few points (hollow wall)
kyu rating system used for intermediate players
miai of equal value
moyo large framework often forcing the opponent to (try to) reduce it drastically in order to stay in the game
ni-ren-sei two 4-4 moves one the same side of the board
ponnuki the name of the shape when 4 stones capture one enemy stone
san-ren-sei 3 hoshi of the same color at the same side of the board
sente having the opportunity to play elsewhere first leaving the current situation. (example: He had sente so he decided to play tenuki)
shimari "closing" (the corner) formation, any 2 moves which effectively seal the corner, also "enclosure".
shin-fuseki "New Opening" a way of playing starting in the 1930's which does not accept the go-theory of the 19 century as being without its weak points.
tatami thick mats of woven rush stuffed with straw, traditional flooring
tenuki playing else first when judging the current situation does not require an immediate follow up
warui bad

Copyright by Pieter Mioch, May 2001