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Daigo, episode 1

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

About the Title: DAIGO (or TAIGO) can be translated as "enlightenment". I adopted it, however, because of the proverb, "Taigi wa Taigo no Motoi" which, in English, reads, "Great Doubt is the Beginning of Great Enlightenment." By the way, I'm not allergic to it or anything but this word, enlightenment, often gives me goose bumps, I don't know why. So, lets simplify the proverb to, "If you never question anything, you won't get very far."


When writing "Gentle Joseki", I often felt I was running down a summery field full of breathtaking butterflies of all shapes and sizes. Blundering through knee-high grass, tightly holding my net with both hands, I was trying to catch as many of the winged creatures as possible. After every attempt I would find out that I only caught some lesser species, although these had nice colors too.

At times I caught a satisfying quantity, but was unable to describe them in proper language; at other times, I only caught one or two, but I could explain them better, even if I did worry about boring the reader.
Whether or not I caught all this go-wisdom fluttering and flying around my head, I would always, eventually, end up alone again; between truckloads of weeds and just a few flowers. The thing to do was to search the horizon for a "butterfly nest" and kick it a bit to see if any new butterflies would emerge.

In "DaiGo", I will not desperately hunt anything. Neither will I do a lot of running around. The game analyses will deal with virtually *every* move played and the going will be slow. If people start complaining I might want to reconsider this, but, for now, I'll set off at a pace of something between 10 and 30 moves per DAIGO episode.

Pro Talk

The other day I was hanging around and killing time with Shimojima and Miyagawa, both 6 dan pros. If there's one thing you should brush up on to prepare your self for a trip to Japan it is this "hanging around". Everyone I have ever met here is very good at it, and the go insei and professionals are no exception. Actually, I think they're exceptionally good at chewing the fat (what a remarkable expression) while waiting for something to happen. If nothing happens then eventually someone will be forced to leave to give go lessons somewhere; this can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 hours or more. Anyway, listening to the conversation it seemed that Yumi Hotta (who by now can buy a house with the royalties for her successful manga creation "Hikaru no Go") had called Shimojima and asked, bluntly, "How many games can a professional simultaneously rig so black wins every game by exactly one point?"

Shimojima, six years the younger, was asking Miyagawa (29) politely for his opinion. "How about it, Sensei? I had no idea what to tell Mrs. Hotta and I promised to call her back." Miyagawa: "It's an impossible question, good luck with it."

"But I have to tell Mrs. Hotta something, don't I?"

Miyagawa: "Look, the problem is that you only can rig a game so closely if the amateur(s) in question play reasonably well. It is unbelievable if you seriously start calculating how many points some people just throw away in the endgame. There's no way on earth, short from filling in your own territory and other less subtle methods, that you can precisely determine the outcome when playing against the wrong person. If you really want to, you can tell Mrs. Hotta that 3-4 games must be doable, but I for one would never bet my life on it, not if it has to look real."

"Yeah, that makes sense, I guess the 3-4 game number was probably what she was hoping for. I'll just tell her that."

Now, don't get me wrong. At no moment was either Shimojima or Miyagawa speaking with contempt for weaker players. This is just a good example showing that many amateurs, Mrs. Hotta included, think that professional players are a step closer to god and that they pretty much know everything about anything. Nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from extraordinary fighting skills, a lot of pros often have no clue about the whys and hows; they just don't show it. After all, that's what they get paid for. By the way, I'm not talking about the world's top ten players, of course.

On another, later occasion, when I was hanging around again, keeping Miyagawa company, we came to talk about talent. Miyagawa surprised me big time and turned out to be a self-made philosopher. "Talent" he said, "the only talent I believe in is the ability to persevere in one's studies."

The Game

An e-mail match played over a 4 month period between an up-and-coming European 5-dan and myself.

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

Perfect Harmony

Game Diagram 0

There it is again, an empty board, isn't it beautiful? Unfortunately you are going to have to intrude on this perfect harmony. It's your move and whether you look at Go as a contest between two people, between two minds, a fascinating way of sharpening your mind, or a cool way to have fun, you have to get started eventually.

Game Diagram 0

Right now, I will give you the most important and useful piece of advice for dealing with the opening stage of the game. Once you know this you might as well skip the analyses and move on to the middle game. You would miss out on a lot of stuff but I mean it when I say that this sentence below is the essence of fuseki:

At your first move(s), please, and by all means, do not have a plan.

Keep loose, be relaxed and play any move you like, a move you like. Trying moves you saw stronger players make is good. Going your own way and playing whatever you feel like is better. Combining the two is best. Try to remember a bit about what happened and use that information in your next game.

"But I want to try this or that opening," you say. "But I want to try this wonderful trick joseki," you say. Well, great, way to go, but aren't you forgetting that this game is played with two people? If you get a chance to do everything you planned before touching the first stone, go ahead, but never, ever, try to force your ideas on your opponent, regardless of what they are doing. A plan is the worst thing possible, it kills the open-mindedness that is the most powerful and most essential thing you need to counter and adapt to your opponent's every move.

So, right from the start with your first move, you're going to play what you like, because you want to see the look on your opponent's face when you play at the 6-6 point, or because you just feel down and want to play at the 3-3 point.

You've just learned how to double your appreciation of a game of go and, if you can implement the above, I'm sure you'll be playing two stones stronger within a week. Are there any rules about where black should play his first move?

Upper Right

Diagram 2

It's not a strict rule but, most of the time, you will see people, pros and amateurs alike, play their first move in the upper right corner. Playing one of the squared marked points is considered good manners, but nobody will probably say anything if you flout it. The leading Japanese pro Yoda did this once in a match game, however, and the newspapers were stunned.

Diagram 2

There are many more useful things to think about, concerning your first move (don't think of naked fantasy objects, don't just throw your stone anywhere on the board); but it's time to show you the first move of the game, of my game.

I hate writing, "I did this because..." or "My opponent did not realize that...", so, if you don't mind I will just discuss the game in the black player - white player format. This game started at 9:36:30 o'clock, on May 4, 1999. The average playing speed was about one move per day.

The First Move

Game Diagram 1

Black's first move was at the 4-4 point, also called "hoshi". These days, I have the distinct feeling that the perfect first move for black is not somewhere on the third line, but not on the forth line either. Although it makes the game difficult right from the start, for the person who tries it, I think that the ideal first move is closer to the middle of the board than commonly thought. A play on the fifth or even sixth line might come in extremely handy when doing some whole board fighting. Almost nobody plays moves at such high altitudes because if there's no fighting at all, the lower a stone is (3rd or 4th line), the more efficiently it can be put to use to secure territory. A play on the sixth line might as well not be there at all, strictly speaking, in terms of the likelihood of a move making territory.

Game Diagram 1

Now, what should white be thinking to play his first move of the game? Are there many things to consider before deciding to play in corner A, B or C?

The person who manages to ponder over whether to take corner A or C will almost certainly not be able to finish a game of go in less than two hours. Which is not to say that, if it were my turn, I would actually seriously think about A or C. My winning percentage of recent games in which I played either move deserves brief consideration.

There are books and theories about the second move of the game being the losing move, but frankly I don't buy it. The beautiful thing about the opening or fuseki stage of go is that no living being knows exactly what and how it works. This explains why there are tons of best-selling books written by professional players about the opening; they are often different but all claim to be correct. Well, as long as the book is actually written by a pro, of course, they are telling the truth, or at least a part of it. The bad thing about the truth, though, is that there is so much of it! Most books I glance through (they have a huge and up-to-date go book collection at the new library here) dealing with fuseki eventually end up showing rather down to earth joseki to demonstrate that this or that is good or bad. It seems that the author, pros to be sure, are extremely reluctant to go out on a limb and seriously discuss far-out strategies. Even the latest Korean books are dealing with new patterns of standard opening/joseki moves.

Don't Worry

Diagram 3 As long as I don't see any books telling why white 2 is a bad move and also provide irrefutable proof that the white 2 - black 3 exchange is bad for white, I will certainly not believe that white should worry about their first move being a a "losing" move. I do advise you, however, to stay off the first line.

Diagram 3

Having said all this, there are, of course, things you might want to consider before playing white 2.

a Matter of Choice

Diagram 4

When white chooses to play at 2 as shown here, one likely possibility, at some point in the opening, could be the joseki up to 9. This gives white territory and black gets a nice moyo-like (potential territory framework) formation. In other words, if you don't like a game where sure territory fights against a moyo, then white 2 (and the joseki up to 8) is perhaps an unfortunate choice, though never a losing choice.

Diagram 4

Is pincering a good strategy to thwart black's moyo?

No Black Moyo?

Diagram 4a

The pincer of white 2 seems to let go of the idea of making territory and instead tries to prevent black from making anything like a framework. After black 7, however, black's marked stone is in a nice position.

Diagram 4a

Moyo versus Territory

Diagram 4b

This is exactly the same position as dia 4a. The only difference is that I took away a white stone and a black stone. Can you see that white is the one going for the low, solid territory and that black is busy making a moyo? Funny, isn't it, how you can sometimes be positive that you're doing something else, preventing a certain situation from occurring, but after the smoke has cleared it turns out the opposite!

Diagram 4b

By the way, white's reduction of this moyo by playing A, and black's counter at B, is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind, and I can't imagine white being happy with it.

Letting Go of the Corner

Diagram 5

On the other hand, if white plays at the 5-3 point as in dia 5 (or at the 5-4 point) it is much more likely that the right side of the board will become white's sphere of influence. I'm not saying that things will definitely develop as in dia 5. Entering the corner with black 3, however, is a very natural move, which easily sets in motion a sequence leading to dia 5 or something similar.

Diagram 5

Diagonal Opening

Game Diagram 2

White 2 at hoshi in the upper left corner leaves black the opportunity to play a diagonal opening, thus reducing the likelihood that this will become a game of big moyos, each player claiming half the board. Note that after black 3, neither player has made any sure territory yet; they prefer to develop their stones quickly, playing high at 4-4 instead of playing low and tight. Usually in a game like this the points exactly in between the corner hoshi (side hoshi?) are extremely valuable.

Game Diagram 2

Black is doing O.K.

Diagram 6  Diagram 6a
Something tells me that dias 6 and 6a are both better for black; it feels as if black 6 is worth more than the standard komi (compensation for the first move of 5.5 points). This kind of opening pattern always reminds me of the New Fuseki period of the 1930s and the original Chinese way of playing, in which the first 4 moves or so were always the same, the diagonal hoshi, as decided by the rules.

Diagram 6 & 6a

Some while ago, I read that Bobby Fischer, the Lee Chang Ho of chess of the 1970s, suggested alternative chess rules in which the opening situation of every game is different and decided at random. Perhaps in the future go will also be played like this, although it seems hard to believe now. It would, however, force players to get away from their favorite patterns, an idea that seems to have some merit, and one that might stimulate players to think more than they have up until now.

To get back at the game, white has one empty corner left to occupy, and there does not seem to be any particularly good or bad move. As white you now have the option of choosing between being approached (which black certainly will do if white plays at the 4-3 point), or approaching (if white plays at the 5-3 or 5-4 point, black will usually enter the corner, getting the same result as if black played in the corner first, white played an approach move, and black ignored him and played elsewhere).

White can, of course, play at the 4-4 or 3-3 point in the remaining corner, which tends to lead to (locally) shorter and perhaps simpler ways of playing.

Mind you, a move at the 4-4 point can lead to very complicated fighting and is by no means an "easy" move. The relatively easy move is the 3-3 point.

Aquarium Ornament?

Diagram 7

After white 1 at 3-3, black 2 is one of the first moves that comes to mind. This keeps white low and builds "something" towards the center. After white 7, black A is often seen. Playing elsewhere, for example at B, is also possible. Black C is an overplay; black cannot expect white to just crawl along the second line. Black C will lead to a fight because white will push through and cut without second thoughts. If you don't show your opponent that you have fangs, from time to time, he'll be walking all over you in no time and use your head as an ornament to put in his aquarium.

Diagram 7

Approaching is Natural

Game Diagram 3

White played at ko-moku with his second move; black's next move can be expected at A, B, C or D. If black approaches at A, something like dia 4 might entail. After a black approach move at B, white can extend along the bottom, although this feels a bit old-fashioned. Alternatively, he can play a pincer at the right side.

Game Diagram 3

A Game from 1982-05-13

Diagram 8 Black: Sato Masaharu, 7p
White: Ishida Akira, 8p
Result: B+Resign

A fuseki (opening) as common as they come. Any person who has been playing for a couple of months could get this on the board. After black 13 the "traditional" moves are A, B and C, while D and E are more modern and extremely popular nowadays.

Diagram 8

Cho and Kobayashi

Diagram 9 Date: 1992-05-27,28
Event: 47th Honinbo title
Black: Cho Chikun
White: Kobayashi Koichi
Result: W+Resign

Here, black 9 is very nice with the back up of the black hoshi in the upper left corner. Instead of making a moyo (not something Cho is famous for) with a black follow-up move at C or D, black chooses to get out his old, spiked glove and slap it in white's face as a challenge. For white, going along with black and playing at A is not bad. During the match, however, it seems likely that the tense atmosphere in the playing room would have spoken for itself. The almost-palpable feeling coming from the contestants that says,
"I'm not going to give you an inch if I can help it. I'm going to be at your throat at every chance, and you had better be ready." White pushed through and cut, and difficult fighting followed.

Diagram 9

It would be nice if somebody could check if any game records survive of games between these two Japanese go giants when they both were "only" students at the school of master Kitani. Cho and Kobayashi have met each other in so many different arenas and have played so many extremely intense matches that I guess they must feel part of each other by now.

A Distant Approach Move

Diagram 10

Black 1 here is more or less in the same spirit as a move at A. With either move, it is less attractive for white to play a pincer since the black approach move is at close to the white corner stone. Any pincer white might play would not have a great impact on black.

Diagram 10

An Unexpected Turn

Game Diagram 4

Black 5 was a move nobody expected, and it's not seen often. I think black is more concerned with trying something different than anything else. Black will have a hard time making the tengen stone come out nicely and this can be expected to become the focus of the game. White 6 is only natural, not hurried, and playing a tight game, waiting to see what black is going to do.

Game Diagram 4

One thing you should realize when talking about tengen is that this play is not about trying to make territory in the middle of the board. This can easily be seen below:

Wasted Move

Diagram 11

You won't see this kind of shape in your own games very often. But, now that you have it in front of you, it is obvious that a black play on the triangle spot would be a wasted move. It is not necessary to defend this territory. If you really want to do something in the middle, a move at the 14-9 point looks better.

Diagram 11

This is not to say that black cannot put his tengen stone to good use when making a large territorial framework, a moyo. Takemiya's games of the 80s are a very good example of how to make huge side/center oriented territory. I still, however, would like you to only think about the possible territory one can make with a tengen stone as an afterthought and not a prime directive.

Go Seigen Game

Diagram 12 Date: 1962-06-27,28
Black: Hashimoto Utaro
White: Go Seigen
Result: W+7 pnt.

This is the right spirit. Black played his first move at tengen and is threatening to make over a third of the board his. White has often little choice when this occurs, and, as can be seen in the game example, white invaded black's sphere of influence. The only thing black needs to be careful about is that the weak white stones don't easily link up or make eyes. Ideally speaking, the only thing left for white would be to jump out and try to escape or make eyes in the center of the board, and voila, there is black's tengen stone exactly at the right spot!

Diagram 12

Well, white wasn't born yesterday and he (being Go Seigen), of course, had read out this whole scenario; he probably invented it himself. After black 6, white played A, black B and white cut at C. White then had to sacrifice a couple of stones, but he quite neatly succeeded in making a living group inside black's moyo while leaving tons of aji to look forward to.

I'm in love with many moves of this amazing game and the tengen play is certainly one of them. Putting it to good use is often difficult, but playing against a tengen opening is no piece of cake either.

Poetic License

Game Diagram 5

Yesterday I was in Gifu, and I had a chance to put this on the board at the pro study group. Since most of the pro were finished, and it was still too early to start playing Mah-Jong, they were willing to kick it around a bit.
To make a long story short, "Er, that does not compute, not enough information, er, does not compute, not ..." That was the general opinion. The tengen stone changes a lot of the normal ways of thinking about fuseki. Having played an early move right in the middle of the board seems to give black a kind of a poetic license. Now, he has all kinds of (crazy) options, and, although the pro's were giving it some serious thought, it is way too early to decide on *the* best next move. Everything depends on the continuation, and a rigid state of mind here would be dangerous. To show a couple of the follow-up moves discussed, those at or around A, B, C and D all look playable.

Game Diagram 5

Remember, it's how you use available troops that counts; their location is but a minor detail. (I'm sure some dead general said this at one time or another, the argument which followed with his troops doing him in.)


Game Diagram 6

Black chose to play the over-extension of 7. If this move were more to the left, white could still consider an extension from his shimari to the left of A. Now, however, A is too tight, and if white plays here, black will probably switch to somewhere around B. This will leave white a little low, and black racing to grab all the big points.

Game Diagram 6

White probably did not play an approach move at C because he didn't like the prospect of being pincered at D. This way of playing seems to make the black stones come out nicely.

Tengen Looks Nice

Diagram 13

It is not as if white's way of playing is wrong or bad. The point is that the black tengen stone looks a kind of natural, sitting there right in the middle of the board, and is doing a good job of setting up a huge moyo.

Diagram 13

Black Not So Happy

Diagram 14 White can try to initiate the fashionable joseki shown in dia 14. The end result is not to black's liking, and his triangle-marked stones are not very effective.

Diagram 14

Black Happy

Diagram 15 Black, however, will walk away from the joseki in dia 14. He will certainly not play it just because it happens to be the latest trend. Black will play a very simple and older joseki as shown in dia 15. After white 9, black can choose to play "honte" (proper reinforcement) at A, B, C and sometimes D.

Diagram 15

White's next move seems to be part of the psychological warfare that more often than not takes place when two players meet each other at the go board, right from the "Have a nice game" at the beginning.

Entering the Dragon?

Game Diagram 7

White 8 is a kind of "in your face" move. It is, as we saw, by no means the only point on the board. White, however, was probably concerned about a possible black moyo because of the presence of the tengen stone. So, before any kind of moyo can materialize, white enters early, seemingly confident that while he's playing in what looks like a black stronghold he'll be able to easily settle his stone(s).

Game Diagram 7

Just to mention some possible replies, black A, B and C all look common. Black B is the move to play if black wants to continue building his moyo.

Black Is Not Complaining

Diagram 16

If white enters at the 3-3 point, something like dia 16 could occur. This is very much to black's liking and it seems that white has to come up with something else. Instead of the 3-3 point, jumping to A looks better, but, even so, black is not complaining.

Diagram 16

Playable as Well

Diagram 17

Because of the presence of the marked black stone, playing a pincer with black 1 is often judged too tight or over-concentrated. This might be clearer if the marked stone were one space to the left, but, in its current position it is playable, although my guess is that many players would prefer the marked stone to be at least as far as A

Diagram 17

Balance of Power

Game Diagram 8

The sequence from black 9 to white 12 looks very much like a textbook example. Usually black is reluctant to make the black 9, white 10 exchange, because his corner is still vulnerable, and white can easily invade later at the 3-3 point. The reason for black 9 is to prevent white from sliding in at A. And, because of the marked black stone, white cannot extend further than 12, which leaves him one point short of the optimal extension. Of course, white read out this possibility and he doesn't mind it too much. White's strategy is to single out the marked black stone and try to shift the balance of power at the lower part of the board. Whether this is a good idea or asking for too much, because of the "extra" black stone on tengen, remains to be seen.

Game Diagram 8

Hanging on to the Corner

Diagram 18 The invasion at the 3-3 point is not likely to happen any time soon; it is too small. In the future, however, white will be aiming at playing here. If black wants to keep as much of the corner territory as possible, dia 18 is probably best.

Diagram 18

Sealing White In

Diagram 19 Black can also choose to strengthen himself in "sente" (while holding the initiative) as shown in dia 19. Instead of 5, white could play at 6, after which black usually pushes through and cuts. (Remember this from Gentle Joseki? Cut at the side you don't want.)

Diagram 19

Next move?

Diagram 20

Next move problem. The pros unanimously choose one move as the most natural, two moves as "possible" (not good, not bad, everything depends on the continuation) and one move they did not mention at all.

Diagram 20

Determine how the pros evaluated the moves A, B, C and D, and find out the answer in the next episode of DAIGO.


Many thanks go to:

Kirk McElhearn, for proofreading (the text was perfect when I send it out, any mistaces you vind ar kunningly insertet bye heem).
John Fairbairn, for telling me about the "Records of Great Doubts" by Zhu Zi and the origin of the Japanese "daigo/taigo".
Jan van der Steen, for checking and adjusting the html and putting up (with me) my stuff.

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

Copyright by Pieter Mioch, August 2001


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