Gentle Joseki, part X
by Pieter Mioch

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


Thank you for showing up so many times and sending me a lot of kind and encouraging reactions. Gentle Joseki 10 is going to be the last episode in this series. I will continue next month with a new series. I hope to see you again, and your partner, your dog and your goldfish, not to speak of your mother in law.

For now let's first play another amazingly interesting game, truth or dare.
"You start" you say? Well, okay I suppose I could do that. "Truth". You want me to tell you the naked truth about go? Er.., assuming that I would have an answer, which part of it did you have in mind and in how many details?
Okay, let's do this, I'll answer three of your questions if you promise to not chicken out if I dare you next, deal?

  1. Why should we believe one word of what you write about go, are you any good anyway?

    Now, that's an easy question, two easy questions actually but all right. I sincerely think that trying to find flaws in what I write will help you much more than to just take it for granted. And, no, I'm not any good anyway. I didn't know much about the game before coming to Japan. Playing without thinking too much was my specialty, fast games and stuff like that. And, I didn't learn much while being an insei.

    But wait, there is one thing which I picked up in Japan and made my coming here on an Aeroflot airplane with very cute flight attendants, most of whom were male and had thick grizzly forearms not to speak of bad breath and ditto temper, worthwhile.

    Being as unreasonable cocksure as any spoiled youngster I thought I knew it all and had seen it all and that becoming a professional go player would only be a matter of time. Well, it took me long enough but I finally got it that I was totally wrong. While playing in Europe I often answered go questions from weaker players with confidence and a complete believe in my own abilities. After being crushed off the board for three years in a row I realized (finally, sigh, am I thick-headed or am I thick-headed) that my former confidence was not based on concrete knowledge and talent but just my positive win/lose score (until I started playing with pros, that is).

    What I learned was that for every answer I had ever given to queries of other players I had at best given an incomplete answer, conveniently leaving out all the "buts" because those would lead to hard to explain and tricky variations, which I felt were there but didn't understand myself.

    At worst my answers were just plain wrong, for example showing a variation which heavily depended on poor counter play by the opponent. I learned that giving a complete answer to even the easiest one of questions requires a very profound understanding of the game. There are only very few players among the European top who have such highly developed skills. All the others are just masters at another necessary ingredient for becoming a dan player; a rock-steady confidence in one's own abilities, more often than not based on hot air and an abundance of chest hair. One former European Fujitsu cup representative seems to have built his entire go-career, if not his complete life, on this (confidence, not chest hair, that is). Every now and then he beats a pro on even. I guess making confidence your field of expertise is well worth considering.

  2. How do I get stronger without really trying all that hard?

    Ah, that's an honest question which I would have answered honestly even if I were not under oath. You cannot get much stronger without putting a lot of effort into it. It is, of course, possible to not feel as if you're trying very hard but that's not the same thing as doing nothing, right?

    Getting stronger at go is as riding your bicycle up a slope which gets steeper the farther you get. In other words, you need to go for it in the beginning if you want to get anywhere later on. If you don't gather momentum in your first year or two I think it will become harder and harder to improve as time goes by. To put it in bicycle-slope terms: without momentum you cannot really expect to get a lot of back wind on your way up.

    Many, if not all, players who made it all the way to the amateur 5-6 dan level had at one moment or another a "growing spurt". This phenomenon is extremely enjoyable for the person who's experiencing one. It is as if your grade, which was not changing all that much suddenly, does not mean anything anymore. For example during such a grow spurt you still cannot win against your old buddy "A" who gives you 6 stones but player "B", who is at least as strong as your friend "A" cannot beat you on even anymore. A little while after that you'll be giving friend "A" 3 stones without ever having brought the six-stone handicap down stone by stone first. In a month' time I've seen it happen that people got stronger anything from 2 to 6 stones. The very first year of your go career especially seems to be the time to have such a rush. Not to say that you cannot expect one if you are already playing go for over 5 years but it will be more difficult and won't come "naturally". This is what I mean by "effort". In order to "ride the wave" you'll have to drown yourself in go, play tournaments, do problems etcetera. The most important thing is that you have to get so far as that the last thing you think of before turning out the lights is go and the first thing which comes to mind the next morning is go too, not school, not your job or your family. This and a cheeky attitude which enables you to be completely unimpressed by the moves of supposedly much stronger players will usually do the trick. Don't forget your health though as the above approach easily might make you feel dizzy and sick. Nothing long walks on the beach or in the forest can't cure.

    Doing anything with go is good but I have to warn against using English written books (other than game or problem collections, and, sometimes, joseki dictionaries). As an adult you'll try to completely digest the contents of any given book before you get the feeling you can move on. If you're a genius, fine, perfect, excellent remind me to ask for your autograph the next time we meet. If your just an ordinary person like 99% of us hairless apes than you will create an excellent opportunity to get stuck on some ill digested extremely important theme without realizing it. The niceness of most books is exactly what's wrong with them. And I feel that books which sell well are enjoyable reads and are so well written that anybody who reads them imagines himself at least 3 stones stronger, which is more often than not an illusion.

    A book gives you the feeling that you understand more, the feeling that you really got stronger. I honestly believe, however, that there is a tremendous gap between what you actually need to know in order to improve and the ability of written speech to transfer this information. Whether this is because the ineptness of language itself or the low level of understanding of even top players I am still busy figuring out for myself.

    To take this one step further - (this paragraph is killing me, I keep adding to it every time I try to check it) - I vaguely got the feeling that for many beginning and intermediate players rationalizing moves too much and trying to put thoughts into words is not such a hot idea. The "yes, but what if" attitude will often bring answers which are way too complicated and more often than not inaccurate. The question itself is, of course, necessary. To voice it, however, will rob you of the opportunity to figure things out on your own. The realization that trying to get "it" without help is more beneficial to a player than trying to voice ill formulated questions is in my eyes a gigantic step in the right direction.

    Clear-cut capturing sequences, live and death problems, that kind of stuff is a field that has a watertight solution and therefor can be treated with more liberty as not to see that here you *need* to be as rational as you can. But once you leave the field of straight tactics it is once again the best thing you can do to keep an open mind, at all times.

    (I know that I just keep on writing if I go trough the above again, so I won't. Hopefully Jan will protect me from bad grammar and spelling mistakes as well as incomprehensiveness.) - That's the nice thing of going over pro games: everybody knows that you cannot expect to understand even half of their moves. So right from the start you can give up on "I have to understand in order to be able to move on" idea and you just stare at the board and enjoy the patterns which sometimes resemble animal shapes and can look very nice. Besides, all the information you'll ever can expect to find about the game is all in the top pro games of the last 400 years or so. It's up to you to distillate this vast source of wisdom and get something useful out of it. Every professional in the world managed this in his/her pre-pro days.

  3. Last question: "Pieter. Is it true that you love the movie "The sound of Music" and that you watch it at least once a month?"

    Although this is not a go question I will address it anyway.
    I was afraid this would happen, somebody got the old rumor out of the closet and here I am again. I cannot deny it because nobody will believe me when I do, but I also cannot admit to this acquisition because I would be telling a lie!
    Well, if you're still here I suppose I can tell you what movie I do like. Restricting myself, for no good reason, to flicks shot in the nineties my favorite movie by far is "Dead Man" although I saw "Fight Club" a few times too many, too.

Now it's my turn.

I dare you to play your first two moves of your next ten games on the 5-4 point. No matter if you're black or white, as long as it's not a handicap game just do it.

Playing two moves on 5-4 will almost surely give your opponent a comfortable lead in territory. You, on the other hand will have a lot of stones facing the center which you have to put to good use in fighting or in moyo making in order to stay in the game.

It is very important to not panic and hurry to do one thing or another. Keep your cool and try to display healthy doses of confidence. Often your opponent will feel ill at easy playing against two 5-4 stones. Always a good idea but especially for less well known opening moves goes: give your opponent the chance of playing questionable moves. Trying to force things will usually not do this and you're gonna be the one playing strange and doubtful moves.

The Patterns

The 5-4 Move

Diagram 1 As with the opening moves on hoshi (4-4) and the far-out move at the 5-5 point an opening move at the 5-4 point (taka-moku) does not make any territory on its own, it does not protect the corner at all. I like 5-4 because it seems to be bragging about its obvious disregard of points. "Yeah, look at me, no points and I don't give a shee-it, whacha gonna do about it?" (pardon the moves' French) The 5-4 move has a psychological effect on your opponent for sure, exactly what kind of effect and how you can use it is beyond me, contact me if you find out.

Diagram 1

Three Moves to Think about

Diagram 2 Here you can see the moves black can choose from if he has the time to add another move in the corner.
What did you say, you don't want to play another move in the corner?? Well, fair enough I guess but have a look anyway because an extra move can be the best play on the whole board possible in not a few situations.
The most common follow-up would be to play at B and make a shimari (a formation of two moves which effectively seal of the corner.
To play at the 3-3 point with A is a good move too, it's a little tighter compared to a move at B and it loses some 2-3 points when talking about the size of territory made. All the same, A is a very feasible move when your opponent is strong in the direct vicinity. Making a shimari with a play at B leaves more room for your opponent to try "something" (invasion) under your stones

Diagram 2

Move C in the above diagram deserves a little extra attention, it's a non-standard corner enclosure but not unheard of in pro games. Let's have a closer look at it in dia 3.

Strange Shimari

Diagram 3 Black 1 is a mysterious move, it's not clear exactly how many points black made in the corner in spite of the two moves he played there. In the dia, however, an example is shown when you might consider playing the unorthodox move.
Instead of black 1 the usual move would be at A. After black's play at A the natural approach would be to play an extension towards B. If black is already strong in the upper right corner, however, one cannot help but feel that black is overdoing things playing like this. Black seems to be spending too many moves at one side of the board. Which brings me to black 1. It most probably will be the last move black is going to spend at the upper part of the board. Black's strategy is to wait until white plays between the strong black positions.

Diagram 3

China-Japan super match 1986-05-10

Diagram 4 Black: Kubo Katsuaki, 8p
White: Rui Naiwei, 7p (+resign)

Kubo is clearly going for the psychological effect here. All his moves from 1 to 7 are just screaming: "I am not in the least impressed by a female 7 dan professional from China, I can play any which way I want and *you* are gonna *lose* ". Or something like that, well tough words but things turned out differently from what Kubo had expected. His attitude was skillfully used against him and Rui quite convincingly killed 18 black stones at move 152 after which black resigned.
(complete game)

Diagram 4

An Alternative Approach

Diagram 5 White 1 is definitely not a normal move and although there are undoubtedly situations in which it would make an excellent play I'm not going to think one out.
White often is a little reluctant to enter the corner, usually at C, because he fears black has some nasty tricks up his sleeve and will let loose a terrifying joseki. Some people therefor choose to play at 1 after black can play any of the A-D moves and get a good result.
White refusing entering the corner will lose points. Note, by the way, that if there were a black stone at E already black might want to choose between C and D. These moves pay more importance to the side and less to the corner.
Move A and especially B are very tight and make sure black has room for eyes and possible some points in the future.

Diagram 5

Not Good

Diagram 6 If white 1 in dia 5 was a questionable approach move than white 1 in dia 6 is at least twice as questionable. Black answers at either 2 or A and gets a splendid result. Whatever reason you think you have found for playing white 1, think it over another 2-3 times before actually playing it.

Diagram 6

Finally, the Normal Approach

Diagram 7 White 1 here is by far the most common way the enter the corner, unless you have a really excellent reason for playing another move to enter the corner just play 1 and don't worry too much.

Diagram 7


Diagram 8 When leafing through Mr. Ishida's Joseki dictionary I see he gives five possible moves to play with black now, A-E as shown in the dia.

Diagram 8

Rebel without a cause

Diagram 9 Being a rebel (I sometimes park my car at the wrong side of the street) I would like to start off with black 1. It's not much of a move but from one thing you can be assured, your opponent will be surprised and suspect that you are either
  1. Totally insane and do not know anything about go
  2. A very crafty fellow with a profound knowledge of "hamete"

Diagram 9

Good for Black

Diagram 9a This is one of the few variations which is nice for black, unfortunately there are lots of sequences excellent for white. In this case white 7 is not the proper move.

Diagram 9a

Better for White

Diagram 9b White should play white 7 at 1 in this diagram.
This may look as a nice result for black but pros think white is thick and doing better here.

Diagram 9b

The Normal Stuff

Diagram 10 Black one is as common a move as they come. I think it is not really in the spirit of the 5-4 move but it is an excellent point all the same.

Diagram 10

As good as Joseki

Diagram 11 White 1 and 3 are the fastest way of ensuring space for future eyes. Black 4 is strictly speaking too tight, the real joseki would be to play at A and sometimes as far as B. Black 4, however, is a very solid move which enables black to forget about his stones here and regard them as settled. Although it is not the best move it tends to make things easier.

Diagram 11

The Correct Extension

Diagram 12 By the way, no matter which extension black may choose, A, B or C the correct extension (if not the only one possible) for white to play is at D. It is, however, not strictly necessary to play here, often white will play elsewhere (tenuki), counting on his solid shape to be able to make life in the future and/but nothing more.

Diagram 12

A Very Cool Move

Diagram 13 One way to go about punishing white for having played tenuki would be the shoulder hit of black 1. The sequence, which follows, is up to black 5 quite natural and easy to remember. The flaming tesuji (local kick-ass move) of white 6 is not so easy to get. Many player's first instinct would be to barge through and play black 7 at the place of white 8. Next, however, white plays A and any further black attempt to prevent white from hooking up his stones might well end in losing the side. Sometimes white 6 in the dia is too dangerous but on an empty board it is excellent, a super-shape move. Black will normally patiently defend at 7 and white works his way out to the center.

Diagram 13

1983-01-13 Preliminary round 1st Judan title

Diagram 14 Black: Iwata Tatsuaki, 9p
White: Kobayashi Koichi, 9p (+0.5)

Iwata Sensei is the oldest and most respected active pro in Nagoya. Unfortunately he is getting on in age (well, nothing unfortunate about that) and in recent years he has trouble going all the way. He cannot give everything for ten hours straight anymore, and this, to be sure, is unfortunate. The above game, however, is brilliant and I like to think of the result as just a minor detail.
The reason why I show this diagram is of course black 17 which is a little thin but nicely looks after all black's stones at the lower side. White, however, patiently waited until he got his hands free and invaded at A with move 76.
White 18, by the way, was a one-space approach move in the upper right corner.
(complete game)

Diagram 14

Your Move, A or B?

Diagram 15 Time to move on to the next move, the outside attachment. If you never saw this before but you somehow feel that a play at A next is okay for white you definitely have talent. The play at B might look natural but actually is a pretty bad move.

Diagram 15

Black's Doing Fine

Diagram 16 After black 4 there seem to be plenty moves possible but descending with 5 is about the best white can do. Black gets a good result by simply connecting at 6 but if he feels like it he might want to play the severe block at A.

Diagram 16

The Cut

Diagram 17 The cut at 4 is tesuji, white should accept this gift graciously because if he connects at 5 as shown in the dia he still has to make eyes in the corner. By the way, if the ladder works if black instead of 6 plays atari to the left of white 3 he should play it. If the ladder is good for white and black cannot immediately capture white 3 the stretch of 6 is good enough. After black 10 white can set his stone 3 in motion but provided he has not got several strong groups in the vicinity black will get the chance to develop his stones on both sides while white is running for eyes.

Diagram 17


Diagram 18 This is what white should go for, it may look very good for black but his territory is not secure yet. (white 5 is not absolutely necessary but it is a very nice point)

Diagram 18

The Corner is Hollow

Diagram 18a Black can save half of the corner but once he plays at 2 it's a one way street. Black 6 connects (above 4) and white can nicely get a small life. It is a hard question what exactly (and when) black has to solidify his territory without playing too slow.

Diagram 18a

A Joseki

Diagram 19 This is a joseki, provided that the ladder after black 5 really captures the white stone. If the ladder doesn't work for black he can try to get an equal result by playing black 5 at A. In contrast to dia 17, however, the white corner is alive and does not need any reinforcement. Making life in the corner as in dia 17 is painful for white since it automatically makes the black stones stronger. Here, in dia 19, this is not the case and although black 5 at A might at times be possible it is most often not a good idea.
It is very important, by the way, to resolve the ladder, i.e. capture the single white stone, at the earliest opportunity because if white can in the future run away with this stone black is really in a tight spot.

Diagram 19

The rule with the outside attachment is that you cut at the side you don't want. Giving one stone to your opponent enables you to get a big return.

A revelation?

Diagram 20 Black 1 is in my opinion the only follow up for black after white entered the corner, which is 100% the same idea as the original play at the 5-4 point. Instead of white 6 playing at A is a possibility too. Playing elsewhere is also common. Black 1 has many simple and straightforward variations (and even more not at all straightforward ones) but this is the only one I'm going to show you, sorry. If you are really eager to find out more about this black 1 move here you will have to very carefully study what happens if black plays 3 at 4.

Diagram 20

Entering at 3-3

Diagram 21 When black has a stone at A from the start or when developing towards the direction of A is very attractive for black, entering at the 3-3 point with white 1 is a splendid idea.

Diagram 21

A Go Seigen Game Example

Diagram 22 Date: 1934-11-14,15
Black: Go Seigen
White: Iwamoto Kaoru (+2)

Black 11 is normal; white 12 can also be played at C, which is a little low, but simple. After white 16 black usually connects at A and white stretches at B. Black 17 is interesting, white played at B next and black cut at C. A trade followed, black captured two white stones (16 and B) and white captured black stone 3.
(complete game)

Diagram 22

Be sure to drop by next month for the first episode of a new series of articles by Pieter Mioch.

Natsume's Go Club
Natsume's Go Club for foreigners in Nagoya
Find the one professional in the picture
(answer: see bottom of the page)

Appendix 01

Index of joseki's mentioned in this episode:

idx-01 idx-02 idx-03 idx-04 idx-05 idx-06 idx-07

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

Answer to the picture-pro question: the high school student looking guy with the glasses who sits next to me (I'm the yellow shirt) is Fumihiko Miyagawa 6p, we studied together
(how to survive 3 weeks after having played Pachinko for 30 minutes)

Copyright by Pieter Mioch, July 2001