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DaiGo
Daigo, episode 6

A monthly column by Pieter Mioch featuring a thorough game commentary tastefully seasoned with go-related stories and clues to the meaning of life.

"If you never question anything, you won't get very far"

Introduction

You might have read through part 1 and 2 of the interview I did with Catalin Taranu 5p. Part 3 is almost finished and it has turned out bigger than the first two articles combined. It's completely about Japan and contains a lot of information about Catalin you won't be able to find anywhere else so, by all means, go and have a look.

Recently it has become clear that you don't need to be born in South East Asia in order to make it to pro level. There was James Kerwin and others who kind of raised that suspicion already some time ago but now Michael Redmond has made it all the way to 9 dan (hope he'll win a title someday) and the latest pros Hans Pietsch and Catalin Taranu are also doing fine there's no doubt in my mind, given a little talent and a lot of stamina anybody can become pro.

Some years ago I would help out as an interpreter (=gofer) at the world amateur championship and the nicest part of that job was that you get to sit knee to knee to a strong pro who would show the participants, both from Europe, useful stuff about their games afterwards. It was during such an occasion that the 9 dan doing the commentary would mutter to himself: "wow, how many joseki does this guy know?" while shaking his head in disbelieve. The pro was visibly impressed by the vast knowledge of obscure corner patterns one of the players was displaying (showing of) and most likely he was not the first pro to be amazed by technical memory of foreign amateur champions. In Japan, to be sure, the average amateur is not that knowledgeable when talking about joseki.

Unfortunately this technical skill alone is not enough to make somebody a pro (although quite a few have tried this approach, and failed). What is most needed now - also judging from the Catalin interview - seems to be a change in attitude and improving the mentality of the player. As to what the exact nature of these changes would be and how to work such a miracle you can find a few hints Catalin made in the interview, I hope somebody will find them (useful).

Please, don't get me wrong I don't say that you have to learn how to play the sitar and wear bright orange clothing, however a nice color it may be. You also needn't worry about doing Zen meditation and Ying and Yang philosophy. Although I'm positive some people will be helped by this. One thing is sure, most pro's I met here did not seem to be particularly interested in the aforementioned. I did, however, meet a pro who confessed he was a Jehovah's witness.

The Game

The diagrams below are printed in two colors, one for the actual game and one for the explanatory diagrams and side-tracks, as follows:


 

 
Game Diagrams

Common Approach

Diagram 1

A perfectly common way of answering the white kosumi would be black 1. It is important to be aware that once you play a move like 1 you make it more difficult to sacrifice and treat the situation lightly. It is equally important though to understand that black 1 is not directly played with the idea of securing eyes at the side yet as it is played mainly to get a solid formation which black can use to jump from and somewhere along the line, while attempting to get away, make life.
If, for example, white descends with 2 black will not block at the right of 2 but he'll jump out at 3 and although it is not clear exactly how many eyes the black stones have it seems unlikely they'll die.
Instead of the keima black 3 he also can think of playing an attachment at A or an attachment at B. As you'll know for sure, the weaker your stones the more attachments you (want to) play because you are not worried about strengthening your opponent anymore, you're much too busy securing life.

Diagram 1

Skillful Probe?

Diagram 1a

The probe of black 1 is a very interesting move in this situation. If it works is open for discussion but it will undoubtedly succeed in giving white a headache trying to find the best way to deal with it.
First of all, black 1 is a light move and it is not really black's intention to start some big time fighting. After white 2 black plays another light move, the hane of black 3. Probably the best thing for white to do is to capture one black stone with 4 and 6. White got stronger where he already was pretty strong and black is happy since he got a bit stronger, too. Contrary to the original white position, however, the black stones were rather weak. Next black has a few moves to consider. A, B, C and D all have there merits, in my own game I'd have a hard time deciding on which one to play. Moves like C and D do not attempt to move out as much as they are creating local eye shape. Before black chooses either one he'd better be pretty sure that he's indeed able to make eyes were white to prevent him from escaping in any direction.

Diagram 1a

Variation

Diagram 1b

If white feels the former dia is too meek a way of dealing with the black stones he can play at 2 and try to stir things up a bit. Black 3 is the only move here (well, black might want to keep it in reserve and leave it unplayed, but it locally would be the most natural move) and from white 4 it feels like a one way street. Next black A and B are excellent points, white did not really succeed in putting black on the spot, although he made a couple extra points in the corner.

Diagram 1b

Attaching

Game Diagram 40

In the game black choose to play a probe at 87 right away. This is a good move. Playing an attachment when your stones are still weak and do not have much room for eyes is a powerful strategy. Ideally you would pose your opponent with the following dilemma:

  1. Do I play the most solid move, which protects my territory but has little or none attacking value? or,
  2. Do I play the most aggressive looking counter which aims at capturing the whole enemy group although failing to kill the stones would mean a considerable loss in territory?

Game Diagram 40

By the way, if you try this "play attachments with weak stones" approach, be sure to check if your opponent does not have a move which does both, A) defend his territory and B) keeps on a severe attack. If your move can be countered in such a way your attachment was ill selected.

Defending

Diagram 2

After black played the marked stone white might for example answer at 1 or A. Both these white moves are not necessarily bad but because of this simple exchange of moves a lot of pressure disappears and black is happy, his stones are not even weak looking anymore.

Diagram 2

Attacking

Game Diagram 41

Now this is a move to my heart, ignoring the opponent probes and just carry on with an eye stealing strategy. All the same, it is questionable if white 88 is correct or not. If in the end the black stones make eyes move 88 probably will have cost white some points. What to do next when playing black is very hard to decide on. It is not that I wouldn't know what black should play. It's just that he has quite a few moves he can choose from which all require extensive reading ahead (Darn, I don't know what black should do:-)

Game Diagram 41

Making Eyes at the Side

Diagram 3

One possible approach which looks natural is shown here. Black enlarges his eye space with 1 and 3 before blocking at 5. White 6 is necessary to keep the pressure on but when black first plays two forcing moves at 7 and 9 and then comes back at 11 the black stones look not about to die.

Having said this, black is not alive yet either. White can strike at A after which it is no longer possible to make eyes at the side for black. Let's see what happens in the next dia

Diagram 3

Black is Not Impressed

Diagram 3a

After white strikes at 1 black is tempted to answer at 3 or 5. These moves, however, invite white to cut at the place of black 2 next and black will have to add another move in order to prevent his three stones at the right from being captured. If doing so would at the same time ensure eyes or make a living group there wouldn't be anything wrong with it. But, you saw it already, adding another move does not result in more then one eye for black and next it is white's turn again. The above sequence could very well be dangerous for black.
So, for this reason there is nothing for black to do but to patiently connect at 2 in order to hold the initiative. After black 6 things might not look so good for him but because the outside white liberties are filled in now black 8 has become sente and after this black 10 makes an excellent move. Next black has either the play at A or B to further make eye space or threaten to do something. Black is not worried about white playing at C and stealing an eye. A move like this is still much to early and white only should think about it if black is completely surrounded and has nowhere left to make eyes.

Diagram 3a

Black Dodges

Game Diagram 42

Black chose to play at 89, maybe in an attempt to leapfrog out of the white sphere of influence. I suspect this move was much played because of the huge lead black has. It does not look like the most normal move and it seems a bit sweet because black is running away from a chance to do some damage to the white corner before worrying about eyes.

Game Diagram 42

On the other hand, black might just be a very calculating person who has figured out that he can sacrifice a couple of stones in order to make a safe escape with the rest and still be ahead in the game. This way of thinking puts things in a whole different kind of light, black 89 may not be the best move or not even very sharp but it could turn out to be the move which is the safest way of keeping black in the lead.

To twist this a little, if black were to lose this game he might want to blame black 89 although the same move could easily be interpreted as the winning move in case of the game ending favorable for black.

Best Move Problem

Diagram 4

This is what the board looks after 89 moves. Although it looks far from easy, if possible at all, white has no choice but to keep going after the black group.
Sometimes during teaching games people may ask: "What is the best move here?" Well, I think that question next to impossible to answer. The best move for what? Going out in style? Staging a miracle upset? The optimal *reasonable* move? The thickest move leaving the least bad aji?
In other words, "the best move" is too undefined a term, at least for me, to do something with. Here the strategy for white is too find that move which, if successful, will bring him back in the game. Needles to add, white should try to avoid coming up with a move which is just too aggressive and far out. To rephrase: white should make an overplay which is not easy to punish.
A move at/ around A, B or C comes to mind but you will not hear me say that that line of playing is "the best" , whatever that means.

Diagram 4

A Reasonable Move

Game Diagram 43

White 90 is not an overplay, it is a normal move attacking the black stones while strengthening the corner. In one aspect or another it might even be "the best move". The scale of the attack, however, is rather small and even if white manages to capture some stones the question remains whether this'll be enough to close the gap.
Black 91 is maybe not a very inspired move (black keeps refusing to play towards the white corner as in answer to white 90 a move to the right of 92 looks possible too) but it is also a kind of a waiting to see what white is going to do move. White's atari at 92 is, again, a normal move it is also a bit low, though.

Game Diagram 43

White's Shape

Diagram 5

This is the shape of the territory white made at the bottom before move 90. The corner itself and the three white stones at the right look all right but the marked stones are far from being in optimal position.
Granted that white very well might expand his territory, the low position of the white stones is a valuable indication for black, signaling that he has no business playing there but at the same time telling him that letting white get some points at the bottom is nothing to worry about yet since the white stones are a bit awkward.
The only way for white to put his low stones to good use in attacking the black stones is to hope that black will insist on playing at/ near the lower side of the board. In other words, the white stones are not ideal for making territory and, provided black won't lend him a hand, are not very effective in attacking

Diagram 5

White's Shape II

Diagram 5a

Now white has add two more moves and the shape of his territory has changed a little. It has become even clearer now that the marked white stones are superfluous, they are not really necessary for making white territory. Yes, yes, I know, white is making some points with them because there are some black stones in the neighborhood but the amount of points made is no way near enough for justifying two whole moves there (at the second line).

Diagram 5a

What I'm saying is, black played inside the white sphere of influence and he managed to make white defend with every move. Sometimes this is just the way things are but most of the time the moment your opponent gets it in his head to go and play nearby your strong positions attacking is the most positive thing to do (mind you, I didn't say "the best thing" ;)

White's Shape III

Diagram 6

The exchange of black 1, white 2 etcetera is not a complete disaster for white but it looks like a submissive way of playing and missing a chance to attack. Such a chance is exactly what white is hoping for and by frustrating white's whishes black is doing fine.

Diagram 6

Black Let White Do His Thing

Game Diagram 44

By now I hope that black 93 does not come as a surprise to you anymore. If it does, go over the above text once more and let it soak through for a day or two. Black correctly felt he had no business trying to do something at the bottom and the knight's move of 93 is just perfect. (no, I don't know if it's "the best move", go away).
White is really trying very hard to get his teeth into something, preferably a heavy eyeless black group, but the harder white is trying to get a hold of something the less he seems to be succeeding.

Game Diagram 44

I'm not trying to imitate Noriyuki (Pat) Morita here and forgive me if I sound like him but the best way for dealing with an attack is without a doubt to not be there in the first place! If you were to just pick up one single thing from the Daigo articles then please let it be this Karate Kid wisdom: avoid being a target in the opponent's sphere of influence, if you have to play there keep it light, play attachments, forcing moves and be ready to sacrifice your tail or even everything as it might come to that.

Ko Or No Ko?

Diagram 7

The stronger a player gets the more he'll learn to appreciate the phenomenon of the ko fight. Coming to like ko is inevitable if you want to get anywhere with this game. Overdoing things is, however, a very real danger. If black would play at 1, a move which does look full of fighting spirit and guts, black just shows how thick his skull actually is. First of all, white is losing this game, any fight a ko fight or whatever is to his advantage, nothing to lose, a win-win situation. Second, the ko is a perfect means for white to finally get something in his claws and try to kill it. White does not need to take to ko right away, connecting it will not do black much good. The dia shows that the black stones really get heavy (no clear eye shape, too many stones connected to let go of) because of the ko shape.
I have to admit that it still does not seem very likely that black will die, the surrounding white stones are not that strong, but all the same, white's spirits are up again and who knows what might happen.

Diagram 7

the Solid Connection

Diagram 7a

You weren't thinking about connecting at 1, were you? Well, actually, you even might get away with it, - BUT - this way of playing is something you should try to avoid. Black cannot hope to make two eyes locally and he'll have to move out and run.

Diagram 7a

Flexible

Game Diagram 45

White captures at 94 and this gives him a very solid shape, normally he'd be happy with it. In this game, however, it might feel to white as if he has to put up with some moldy crusts instead of the Tuna sandwich. To make things even worse, all the extra points white might gain at the bottom black gets back by attacking the weak white stones at the right side! White did not gain much, there still is no weak black group he can attack and he also does not have any realistic prospects on making a huge piece of territory somewhere, white is not happy.

Game Diagram 45

A Swap

Diagram 8

Suppose white would play at 1 and feel he has accomplished quite something. Black will help him right away to get a more realistic view of matters and play at 2 (or A, although this is just a little thin). If you now compare the points white made with his move at 1 and the points black made by playing at 2 you see for yourself that there's almost no difference. Black is doing fine.

Diagram 8

Black's Strategy Works: Proof

Diagram 8a

To make clear once and for all that black didn't do bad three stones are added for both sides, solidifying the positions in a simple way. Now the extra points both players scored are easy to calculate. By surrounding three black stones white made about 15-16 points extra. Black captured three white stones and made 16+ points (the plus is for the huge endgame move black got at A)
In every game played anywhere in the world players will get the chance of letting go a few stones just to get back about the same value or even more elsewhere. It's in the human nature, however, to hold on as long as you possibly can to something you invested in even if it'll mean your undoing (of course, I'm talking about the stock market now)

Diagram 8a

White's Tenuki

Game Diagram 46

White played tenuki because the right side is not so interesting anymore, there are still some points to score there but that's almost endgame and never enough for white to turn the tables and take the lead.
Black 97 and 99 are almost certainly not the best moves possible, i.e. they're not very sharp and let white get his way without even attempting to put up a fight. Instead of black 97 playing at 100 looks more normal, it secures two eyes in the corner and aims at the same time at big endgame moves into white's territory.
For black 99 it's the same story, this move looks much better at the place of 100. Black probably didn't choose this line of playing because although white cannot hope to make eyes in the corner there is some aji. In other words, black is digging himself in, securing life regardless of how many points he loses, black seems to feel that white does not have a chance to do something and get back in the game.

Game Diagram 46

Simple

Game Diagram 47

The follow up is the same story as in the previous diagram, black uses a well known joseki to make eyes in the corner and white got some stones on the outside.

Game Diagram 47

This seems a good place to stop and let you wonder a little about what on earth white can do to make the game his. Next episode of Daigo will bring the climax and lots of stones will die. It will all be over with one of the players resigning in 30 moves. Was it white who realized that he might as well sign off and go home? Did black forget to take care of his stones properly? And, who were the players anyhow?

Be sure to come back next month for the final battle!

[Daigo 1] [Daigo 2] [Daigo 3] [Daigo 4] [Daigo 5] [Daigo 6] [Daigo 7]

Copyright by Pieter Mioch, August 2001

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