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Daigo, episode 2

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"


Imamura, 8 dan professional is a 33-year old rather handsome pro belonging to the Nihon Ki-In of Nagoya. Although we're only a month or two apart in age and in spite of the fact that we both play go I don't know him very well. As a matter of fact, we never got to talk at all, even though we ran into each other regularly at the Ki-In.

This is why I welcomed the pro-ama game I had to cover for the Nagoya Keizai shinbun last month, July 2001. Every month one or more strong amateurs of some standing get the chance to show what they're worth against a pro. The July game I attended to was between Mr. Tsuboi, section chief from "Nihon-Gashi" and Imamura Yoshiaki.

Imamura suggested the handicap used to be 3 stones but Mr. Tsuboi wouldn't have any of it and quickly placed a fourth stone on the board. It was a nice and worthwhile game which Mr. Tsuboi unfortunately lost by 4 points, a post-game analyses followed after which I got at my computer to try and evenly spread the game out over 10 episodes. One of the things I touched a couple of times through the articles was that even among pro's there can be quite a difference in strength. I felt justified in making this point since a while ago when Cho Chikun and O Rissei were fighting it out over the 24th Kisei title one of the attending professionals mentioned that he perhaps could not expect to win against Cho, even if he were to receive a two-stone handicap. A fellow pro dryly added to this: "Well, are you positive you'll win with three stones then?".

Remarks like this say, of course, quite a bit about Cho's strength, or maybe it says even more about the 9 (!) dans who made the comment. It certainly says a lot about the inflation present in the rating system, maybe in the future pro's will be demoted the moment their results get bad.

So, in the Nagoya newspaper I wrote something like "The color of Imamura's 8-dan rank is by no means thinning as is sometimes the case with pro rankings". I half-and-half expected it to be edited out but they let it stand as I wrote it, they sure know how to please their collaborators. During the same game comment a few days later I again talked about Imamura's strength and that a win against him on 4 stones would be of the same value as winning against a 9 dan player. The next day I got a telephone call from the Nihon Ki-In. I braced myself for some severe criticism and somebody asking me who the h-ll I thought I was.

Luckily I was worrying too much, a habit which'll kill me some day, and the call from the Ki-In was only to provide me with some inside information! As it turned out I was closer to the truth than I had imagined with my remarks about Imamura being such a strong pro -- I really meant it though and was not just turning up the flattery to make a good impression -- the fact is, Imamura is *strong*.

The Oteai is the official rating tournament in which you have to get x wins over an y period before you can get promoted. The higher the rank the more wins you need. The unexpected touch to this system is that once a player scores enough wins to bring about a promotion the candidate himself has to make the application for his next rank. In other words, if a player were to forget to apply although he has a sufficient score, he will have to start from zero again and once more needs to win x games over an y period.

The call from the Ki-In informed me that Imamura sensei has consciously passed (!!) on at least two opportunities to be promoted to 9 dan! So here we have a pro 8 dan with a heavily positive score, i.e., he's walking over the better part of his opponents, who refuses to be promoted because he thinks he does not deserve the highest rank yet. You'll have to decide for yourself whether Imamura sensei is just forgetful or if he has this rare and often troublesome gift, character.

The Oteai system, by the way, will not survive next year in its present shape, I'm not sure about the definite changes but there was a lot of talking about hooking up the ranking system to the other, newspaper sponsored tournaments like the Kisei, the Meijin and the Honinbo title. So maybe Imamura is just waiting for the Oteai system to change and then win the Kisei title or something, that would be a very impressive way to get a 9 dan promotion!

When I asked to Romanian 5 dan pro Catalin Taranu when he thinks he'll make 6 dan he shook his head. "Even if I would win all my games for the Oteai straight, it won't be in time before the change to the new system is made. So, I have no idea when and if I can say goodbye to my 5-dan rating, sigh.

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

Keeping Your Stones Together

Diagram 01

This may come as a surprise but the pro's took black 1 to be the most natural move in this situation. The reason given was surprisingly simple too, "Black does not like to let the Tengen stone get separated".
This "Keep stones together" concept is very important but unfortunately rather difficult to implement. If you'd take it literally you would be playing every move next to the previous one which is, of course, the only way to be 100% sure your opponent won't cut you somewhere in the future!

A narrowed down version of the same concept is perhaps more workable and goes like this:

"After the opening stage of the game, which usually takes 4~12 moves, if you have stones separated from each other by 4 or more spaces (preferably on the same longitude/ latitude or only 1 board line apart) consider adding a move, especially when this gap is between single stones. If your stones are 4 or more spaces apart but one side (or both sides) is a strong position, for example a shimari, then you might consider leaving the gap as it is."

Diagram 1

Well, now you know why short and good sounding proverbs are *much* more popular, if you make an attempt to write out what is exactly meant it does not sound so good anymore and the stronger player will miss a chance to impress the novice (lucky novice).
It is, of course, best to cut back on words as much as possible and just, quietly, show some situations which help making things clear.

Meijin Title 1968/Sep/21,22

Diagram 02

Black: Rin Kaiho defending Meijin
White: Takagawa Kaku challenger
Komi: 5.0 points
Result: white wins by jigo

White has no big gaps between his stones, the biggest distance his stones are from each other is three spaces. If black decides to invade here white ought to be able to put enough pressure on black to make a very solid position. White might even kill black although this usually is not as easy as it might look.
Black, trying to make most of his advantage of the first move, is racing around the board, he skillfully sacrificed one stone (left upper corner) and in return he got to make two shimari and an impressive looking framework. If white wants to invade somewhere (the potential black territory is much bigger than white's potential territory so it is not really a matter of wanting/ not wanting) he can start with counting the spaces between the black stones.

Judging like this black has two "defects" in his position, he has a four-space extension at the bottom and a five-point extension at the left. White does not want to get in trouble to close to black's shimari in the lower left corner and therefore his normal invasions would be at A or B. Also possible are white C, which is a skilful probing move, or white D. This last move says it is all-right for black to make his potential territory into real territory as long as it is not above the 3rd line (= not enough to win). By the way, there are even more ways for white to deal with the black territory, the four mentioned above, however, are all well-known and considered standard, add them to your repertoire while trying moves you thought up yourself.

Diagram 2

The game ended in a draw but white won anyway according to the rules. Later they changed this rather inelegant rule by making the komi 5.5 points, this is also not really a subtle way of avoiding a deadlock but the need to decide games fast is something you have to thank the newspapers for who want a crisp and clear tournament to sell to their readers, not some match which just keeps going on and on because of all the jigo's.

The Continuation

Diagram 02a

Replay this game between two "Dinosaurs" of the Japanese go scene from white 1 and try to get a feel for exactly how strong each stone on the board is. By the way, would you have dug in your stones as fast and solid as black did with move 10-14, 20 and 22, too?

Diagram 2a

Not to White's liking

Diagram 03

Another reason why the one-space jump shown in dia 1 is a nice move is shown in dia 3. Suppose that black got the chance of playing an extra move, somewhere in the future, for example the /\ stone at the left. Now white is starting to feel a little claustrophobic. Normally white would want to run away to the center but, for example, a white jump to A does not look very promising. If white would play at A it seems as if the three /\ stones are forming a kind of a far-away net which might very well prove tight enough (with the addition of a move or two) to keep white from breaking free. This would mean that white'll have to make eyes locally, something which is not considered very attractive in the early stage of the game.

Diagram 3

Digging yourself in and making a secure living group in the opening is sometimes inevitable but in 99% of the cases it will result in your opponent's stones becoming stronger too, and *his* stones will end up on the outside, surrounding you and still actively taking part in the game. Your stones, alive but on the inside, are more or less played out already. Even if you could get some points in return for being locked up it's seldom enough.

What I'm trying to get trough here is that you should not play moves like white 1 and 3 in the dia and think "Well, maybe black got stronger, so what?" The exchange of white 1-3 and black 2-4 is good for black, when playing white you should be reluctant to play this way and that goes double (make that triple) for handicap games where the reverse situation is only too often seen, thin white stones are somehow managing to isolate black stones.

In handicap games, more often than not, black finds himself suddenly surrounded by white stones and deems it necessary to play some moves on the inside to make eyes, thus strengthening the white stones which automatically will reduce the effectiveness of the handicap stones by anything from 10 to 90%. If the inside black stones die, it's a major disaster, if the black stones manage to make eyes but strengthen white it's maybe not "major" but it's still a disaster.

Important: If the same white 1-3 sequence would be played much later on, close to or already in the endgame, than it is a different story altogether and the white moves might be excellent plays and the biggest points on the board.

The Other Moves

Diagram 04

This was the next move problem of last episode. Black A seems the most natural move. Black B or D do not seem to be bad moves either but they do not make it easier for black to let the center stone come out nice. Black C was not discussed or suggested at all by the study group pro's in Gifu. If I'd be forced to come up with a plausible sounding reason for this I guess it is because of the Tengen stone, again. Of the four moves A-D, black C seems to be the least concerned about Tengen.

Diagram 4

A Kind of a Defect

Diagram 05

Although this black formation is natural in a way too, it has the drawback of being vulnerable to a white invasion at A. If white plays here too soon black is not really worried since he can choose between either blocking at B or C. A black stone at B will make white's left weaker so black is not complaining there. Later on, however, black will start to feel the need for eyes, to get settled he will have to add a full move for a piece of the board which is territorial wise not at all interesting.

Diagram 5

Learn to Let Stones Go

Diagram 05a

This is definitely the last word I'm going to say about this next move problem, I promise to get on with the game in a minute.
After the white invasion one point to the left of A in dia 5a, many a players' first instinct is maybe to try to somehow connect the black stones. Although this is often a good idea, if possible that is, it is not the only option and it often throws away golden opportunities to attack, all for the sake of one lousy stone. Black 1 in dia 5a is a move you should remember and come to like. After white 2 black seems to have achieved nothing at all but when black plays the skilful shape-moves of 3 and 5 next, suddenly white's capture does not seem so big anymore.

If white really wants the black stone he even will have to add another move after black 7, although connecting at A makes a rather awkward shape. If white plays at A black has several interesting moves. The fancy loose connection play at B is nice to move out to the center but black C is very attractive, too.

Black C is not cutable and white's stone is afloat. Depending on the situation black D is also a move worth thinking about (although this move does not apply to the game). By the way, instead of white 4 a play at 7 (hane) is sometimes better, for one thing it probably will avoid making the white stones look like a blob of putty.

Diagram 5a

White Plays Steady

Game Diagram 09

In the game black played the approach move of 13, perhaps to inquire if white would pincer or play an extension. White, after having given it some thought, decided to maintain his original attitude of playing steady moves, making solid positions and waiting to see what on earth black is going to do with his stone on Tengen.

Game Diagram 9

Bold Attack

Diagram 06

To play a pincer at for example white 1 feels like a challenge to black to finally show what he's got and at the same time gives the black player the chance to bring Tengen (back) into the game. Black, hating Joseki, plays the fierce counter pincer of black 6 and if white continues with an orthodox approach, the one-space jump of 7, black goes all-out with 8-14. Although playing a pincer (like white 1) seems possible white should be very careful to not end up as in dia 6. Black's position is still thin but there does not seem to be an easy way out for white. To avoid being locked up like this perhaps playing a two-space jump with white 5 after which white'll ignore black 10 is better.
Note that black's aim is to put pressure on white and get a strong position on the outside while holding the initiative which is worth very much since for either player it will mean the chance of playing around A first. Black is not thinking about capturing the white stones, of course not, (coughbucoughllsh coughitcough).

Diagram 6

Going for Influence

Game Diagram 10

Black 15 seems pretty much in the same spirit as his previous moves, i.e., going for influence and not worrying about thin shapes or territory so much.

By the way, when doing the post mortem you always feel like asking: "But why can't black play one space to the left?" or "Isn't playing on the third line possible?".

Speaking for myself, I used to not take questions like this very serious when there was a difference of say 5 stones or more. This not taking the weaker player serious can be rather convenient, it is an excellent way of masking that you actually have not the faintest idea of how to answer the question. It goes without saying that I'm doing my best to atone to the go community for my poor attitude (of the past, I hope).

Game Diagram 10

In the opening, to correctly explain what all the differences are between a given play and the same play on an adjacent spot is very hard

When analyzing with the Gifu professional players they often just put a white stone on the board when I suggest a certain black move. "The move you're suggesting might be playable but you have to show what you have in mind" is what the pro is saying when silently waiting for your next move. If you don't come up with some interesting continuation you'll get the cold shoulder: "If you didn't even bother to read out a continuation what are you asking questions for?" is what the chilled piece of meat is telling you.
The second way of reacting is less pride-harming and makes you feel like a pro yourself for a minute or two. Sometimes when you suggest a move a pro will say something like: "Sore mo ikkyoku". "That move is also a game" what the pro means is that the move suggested is possible too and it would take a lot of analyzing see whether is was good or bad and why exactly.

A Little Low

Diagram 07

Black 1 in dia 7 feels too low. Even if white would play the most peaceful continuation somehow black's stones seem to be too far apart to make an effective framework. For example if the upper side is threatening to become a huge potential territory then white has the nice reducing move of A to hold the black position in hand.

After white A black has to choice whether he is going to crawl along the third line or whether he will move out and try to attack the white reducing move, the latter one is often more interesting.

Furthermore, the gap between black [] and black 3 is a little wide, white could at any time play in between and settle himself easily.

Diagram 7

Kakari, White Approaches

Game Diagram 11

White 16 is a move as common as they come, it also bridges the widest open space on the board so it only seems natural.

Game Diagram 11

Usually when I want to show you a sequence longer than 3 moves I restrict myself to stuff I saw the pro's put on the board or moves I'm pretty sure are joseki. Dia 8 is an exception on this "rule" and although I'm confident that this sequence up to white 7 is not too outrageous, at least it looks natural, after black 8 my sight grows fuzzy. Although I probably could stare at my monitor for three hours and (fall asleep) read out what is most likely to happen I will let that up to you, dear reader.

Anti-Tengen Strategy

Diagram 08

Anyway, whatever the proper continuation might be, it seems that white 1 is better than the game move, the small knight approach move in the upper right corner. White 1 does not give black the opportunity of playing a pincer and this will surely help avoiding ways of playing for black which might make good use of Tengen.
Black 2 seems to be good enough a response and next white plays a very nice keima at 3. If black 4 white 5 is an excellent way of putting some pressure on black, who now has to start being serious about settling his stones.

Keeping the initiative is very important for white because after successfully having sealed in black, white gets the chance of playing 19 and 21. White almost has isolated the black Tengen stone and he succeeded in making some dandy (I must cut back on the Marilyn Monroe movies) territory along the way.
Black's upper territory is by no means secure yet and white has many points he can choose from to enter (A-D). In the lower left corner, to be honest, white has a defect left at E, too. When black gets the chance of playing here first white will most likely have to let go of some points (answering the black move on the second line, to the right of E).

Diagram 08

Questionable Pincer?

Game Diagram 12

Black 1 is the closest pincer possible, any closer and the black move will become an attachment which is a different kind of move. Black 17 tries to force white into the corner after which black can seal white off and try to make the most of his center oriented strategy.

Game Diagram 12

Not Bad for White

Diagram 09

Here white entered the corner at 1, just as black seemed to hope. At a glance the result looks better for black, his tengen stone really seems to do something there in the middle of the board. Dia 9 may look ok for black but it actually is not too bad for white either. He managed to take over the corner in sente (while holding the initiative) so he can choose where to play next, which usually makes all the difference in the world. Besides the sente issue there is another reason why white is doing ok here. Black's tengen stone is not in a very good place. If black would be allowed to take the center stone of the board and place it elsewhere he would be much helped by adding a move at A or somewhere around B. Although both these moves are better moves than tengen this does not necessarily mean that tengen is useless. White will have to be very careful how he goes about invading the upper part of the board later on.

White's continuation after black 6, by the way, could be at C, making sure his bottom left stones will not get in trouble later on in the game while at the same time inquiring what black is going to do with his stone at the bottom. After having played out the situation at the lower part of the board a bit white will take his time thinking out the best move for invading black's moyo and play there.

Instead of entering at the 3-3 point jumping out with white D feels a little better. I think, however that both moves, entering the corner or jumping out are playable here and that neither move is clearly superior. Although I guess that not a few players would rather jump out and prevent black from getting a big looking framework instead of entering the corner. Well, in many situations it is not so much that there is only one move possible which is determined by pure logic, the game of go is often about choosing the playing style you like and which fits your character.

Diagram 09

If I really would start preaching I could say that in these fast, modern times the emphasis seems to be on standing out, no matter if there's something to stand out for or not. Standing out can be put in go terms as playing bold moves, staking out huge moyo's, getting involved in any fight, regardless of the fact if there's actually is something worth fighting about. On the other hand, representing the wisdom of time, there is the patient and quiet attitude which reflects on the playing style. Not necessarily meaning playing low moves but sometimes low, sometimes a little higher though never in a hurry is the idea. Getting involved in a fight is sometimes a must but never something to seek out or go after. Each generation has go pro's of both styles although it feels that in Japan the "silent" playing style has the upper hand. Not one of my pro turned insei buddies has a flashy style. As a matter of fact, Nakane 7p, Nakao 7p and Hane Naoki 8p all have a very tight, very solid rather slow looking style. All of them, however, have a convincing positive score in their tournament games.

Going over a bunch of Go Seigen games I strongly got the impression that the demi-god from China does not fit either category. All his games are so fierce and incredible complex but his style always seems to say: "Oops, there we go again, three groups having only one eye and another two groups which might be alive if I could get a ko-fight going and set-up some kind of a swap". In other words, he doesn't seem to be after trouble but he *never* takes the easy way out once things are starting to get hairy.

Well, excuse me for getting carried away a bit there, back to the game


Game Diagram 13

The double approach move of white, even though black played a severe pincer, was already popular among Go Seigen and Kitani Minoru well over 60 years ago. For some 40 years it was not seen too much anymore but in the 90's they got it out of stasis and until the day of today it has been enjoying extreme popularity. I very much doubt these surges of popularity have much to do with the move in question being a breakthrough in go theory. It seems that the moment somebody realizes that there are still some uncharted corridors of a given move this move will hit the spotlight for a couple of years until a next move takes its place. The international go scene should be thankful to the youngest generation go-stars in Korea who seem to be running down any corridor like crazy, the darker the better, never mind the pitfalls or barbed wire.

Game Diagram 13

Standard Pattern

Diagram 10

This is a variation which has stood its ground for some years, it seems that both sides can live with the end result, although pro's have been wrecking their brains to see whether it is possible to get similar shape on the board without the white 6 - black 7 exchange. White would be very happy if he could omit this since it is helping black to fix up his shape a lot.

Diagram 10

Bad for White

Diagram 10a

This is from a game between two Chinese female pro's although one has changed her nationality and the other is playing in Korea :-)

Entering at 8 is supposed to be inferior to dia 10 for white. Although white can take over the corner black is doing well because his outside position is incredibly thick. Black has sente too, and is happy.

Diagram 10a

Go Seigen

Diagram 10b

Now, tell me honestly, don't you think that black 5 is a calm, peaceful move? Go Seigen played this in a number of games and every time he played it got really complicated. The point is that no matter how much white would like to play at A since the black corner is alive and not weak black will immediately push through and cut. When this happens white suddenly realizes that he is in trouble. White 4 might be fashionable but if you play it without having thought about dia 10b you're in for a nasty surprise. (Well you could, of course, count on the fact that your opponent knows the joseki in dia 10 and is rather proud about it, if that's the case you don't need to worry about a thing since he'll play the joseki through to the last move, no matter what.)

Diagram 10b

2000-01-13, Fuchan-Cup, Semifinal

Diagram 10c

Black: Okada Yumiko 4p
White: Rui Naiwei 9p (+ resign)
Result: White by resign

This is a good example of "living Joseki". The exchange I talked about in dia 10 would normally be played instead of black 11, black at A and white cuts at B. After this exchange entering at 11 is regarded as better for white, but without it black felt she could enter at 3-3. Ms. Okada most likely attended a study group where this way of playing was analyzed.

Unfortunately not every pro makes up a new move per game, that kind of creative power is but bestowed on few mortals, a mere few blessed men among the ignorant. Carrying the torch of the dream and originality, the future of go.

Diagram 10c

(Sorry, I'll cut that out next time, I suddenly had to think of Kawabata Yasunari's style which in Japanese reads very much like the above, when that man got started he just wouldn't stop.)

The Kosumi

Game Diagram 14

Black chose a rare move in response to the white double approach move, the diagonal move of 19. Black 19 is usually a little slack, it is solid but does not put much pressure on white. White enters at the 3-3 point, if he would not do that now black will play here with his next move, regardless of where white played. Blocking at 21 is natural, it's the side which is more attractive for black to make a potential territory. You might want to try playing white 22 above black 21 (hane). It seems a possible way of playing, even so, it probably will turn out to be just a move order change, giving the same end result. Black 23 looks funny but there is a lot to say for this move

Game Diagram 14

Do Not Forget White 2

Diagram 11

Black 1 looks like a standard move. Now white has a move worth memorizing, the innocent looking trust of white 2. Black has some choice what to do next but eventually he'll have to defend at 3. White plays hane at 4, black blocks and white defend. At first sight the black player would be tempted to defend at A but here we've reached a delicate matter having to do with good and bad shape.

Diagram 11

People love talking about it but mostly that just adds to the confusion, I'll try to make an example of briefness (adding only little confusion, the more Coca-Cola Light you drink, the thinner you'll get :-)

Black does not want to play at A. If black would play at A the /\ stones might as well not be on the board since they serve close to no purpose anymore (they would provide the black stones with 2 extra liberties if they would not be there!). Especially in the early stage of the game to find yourself with stones, which are "wasted" without compensation is a disaster, which spells "Bad Shape".

So black does not play at A but plays elsewhere or perhaps the shoulder hit of B.

Next Move Problem

Diagram 12

Black to play, Is black going to be cut in pieces, will a trade-off follow where each party gets to eat one stone of the opponent?

Diagram 12

Find out the answer in the next episode of DAIGO.


Many thanks go to:

Simon Goss, for proofreading.
Jan van der Steen, for checking and adjusting the html and for hosting this column.

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

Copyright by Pieter Mioch, September 2001


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