Fuseki On Your Side

Charles Matthews 3-dan takes a sideways look at the Go openings

9 Dans at Play

While I have every intention of sticking to the original aim of these pieces, of looking at ways to play on one side of the board, it seems too self-denying never to include whole games. Besides it turns out that we have touched upon all the main elements of theory mentioned in the initial article. It therefore might be reasonable to look at some real life material, to see how far we have travelled.

Diagram 1

This is a game with an unorthodox opening. You could even call it a one-off: Black 5 is unusually placed. See for a moment if you can understand its meaning.

The players were Miyamoto Yoshihisa (Black) of the Kansai Ki-in (which split from the larger Nihon Ki-in nearly half a century ago), less well known to Western players than his brother and author Miyamoto Naoki; and Ishida Akira (White), co-author with James Davies of the excellent "Attack and Defense", one of the many genuinely strong players who never make it into the charmed circle of major title holders. The game is from 1996, in a knockout round to reach the final eight in the Tengen tournament. Both players are 9 dans.

Diagram 2

Black's idea is the tight pincer 7 when White approaches the top left corner. That is, after Black 7 the stone played as Black 5 appears to be in good balance on the side.

White's reaction is to jump out three times with 8, 10 and 12. These plays give Black territory in the upper left. They will also form a helpful background when and if White gets round to invading the top right. Since there are two definite gaps there (between 7 and 5, between 5 and 1) White need not rush. The play 12 has the particular effect of creating central influence for White. By adding this one stone, White ensures that the group will not be too weak in the foreseeable future; but also changes the weather in the rest of the game. Exactly how we shall have to discuss.

Black 13 is the now-familiar wedge. The question arises, how White should react to it.

Diagram 3

There is an imperfectly-suppressed complaint amongst some earnest students of modern Go openings, along the lines that anything can be explained with enough hindsight. A term like 'central influence', it may appear, can be deployed to prove whatever one chooses.

That's by no means fair, but does correspond to some of the growth pains of concept formation in Go. If you thought that the central influence of the marked white stone meant that White was going to build up a framework in the lower left, you'd be hard pressed to account for White's behaviour in the next few plays. White 16 indicates that White wishes to devalue the whole lower left corner - to leave it as an area where neither player can achieve a great deal. Instead White emphasises the lower right corner. White 14 limits Black's framework. If you wanted as White to play constructively in the lower left, you'd spend time wondering about a play at one of the 'x' points, to shut off the side. These plays, however, don't have an enormous effect on Black.

I agree that it's a hard road from having the effect of central influence pointed out, to being able to handle it competently in the myriad situations that come up in real games. That doesn't make commentary vacuous. You only have to try yourself to achieve the effects that 9 dan pros make without apparent effort, to see that none of it comes for free. A strong friend of mine is fond of the analogy of the swan swimming, where the hard work is all below the surface.

Diagram 4

All attention is now on the upper side. White goes into action, probing for weaknesses. Up to 42 White seems to have found enough to work with; but one should note how patient both players are, in the way of preparing the ground and leaving few defects.

Diagram 5

A major fight breaks out (White 80 is at 63). Black's play is criticised in the Kido Yearbook (43 should be 48, 51 should be 52, 75 is bad). It should at least be clear that once White has found an opening on the top side, the white stones to the left find their purpose in life as back-up in the fighting.

It might be absurd to write off Black's experimental opening on the basis of one game, but one can say that in this instance White did find enough defects to work up a good attack, while Black took around 40 points in the two corners.

Diagram 6

Attention switches to the lower side as Black invades with 83. White on the other hand has no intention of letting Black off the hook in the centre. White 92 is a typical idea of roundabout attack: apparently directed against Black's group on the lower side, which isn't so weak, its follow-up at 94 aims squarely at netting Black's big dragon (as the Chinese say).

Diagram 7

The rest of the game. Black resigned at White 174. Ko captures at 105/96: 108, 111, 114, 117, 154. White made it look quite simple to convert a good attacking position into a victory. The flurry of ko captures after 108 doesn't appear to have been a serious attempt by White to win there. The threats 109 and 115 by Black are the sort that can cost points later, and White presumably enjoyed seeing Black having to resort to them. When the game ends the black stones in the upper right centre are hanging by a thread.

White didn't in fact at any point press the main attack. The turning point was White 124, cutting Black apart on the lower side. White ended up being able to take profit in several directions. The resignation may surprise some. There is one area of the board, the lower left side, which is genuinely hard to count. Leaving it out of consideration White might be ten points ahead on the board, with komi on top of that. That is, we assume for purposes of argument that the one problematic area will give Black no more points than White in the end. It is really no coincidence that this is the part of the board flagged already in the third diagram as intended by White not to be significant for either player.

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[14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26]

First published 16 November 2000 as On Your Side on MindZine, Go Learning
© Charles Matthews 2000.