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Daigo, episode 5

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"


Sunday the 25th of November was a beautiful day with clear skies and a nice temperature in Nagoya. Catalin Taranu had to play a game for the Chubu Keizai newspaper pro-ama match for which games are played at least once a month. The 28 year old Rumanian was chosen (not completely at random) to defend the honor of the pros in Central Japan. His opponent was a university of Nagoya graduate from China whose name in Japanese reads Ri Inri, I doubt if this is read the same in China. Allow me the liberty of adjusting the Japanese reading to "Li" which seems a more likely spelling.

Mr. Li works for Denso Information Technology Corporation (Denso Aitekku) and is a doctor of engineering, developing and working with a virtual environment in order to design and make car parts for Toyota. If you're interested and read Japanese you can find more about CAD/CAM/CAE and PDM at He recently beat the strongest go player of the Toyota go-team, a Mr. Koike, which made him the celebrity of the denso go-team.

At the beginning of the game the usual ritual of quibbling and dibbling about how many handicap stones Mr. Li should (may) take against Catalin was shorter than usual. If the players would both be Japanese this can take some time and only after one of the participants managed to convince the other of his worthlessness and absolute zero skill at go can the game start. To be sure, Mr. Li did attempt to take 4 stones but after Catalin's "Well, it's all the same to me, your choice" the issue was quickly settled at 3 stones.

Japan may or may not be among the strongest go countries in the world but one thing is sure, when looking at the Rumanian pro playing against a Chinese amateur and with a Dutchman for the Japanese newspaper coverage nobody can deny that they did a good job in spreading the game of go during the last century. If it weren't for Saijo 8p Catalin would probably not have found his way to Japan. If it weren't for the China-Japan Super matches Mr. Li would most likely not have picked up go. During the pre-game interview Mr. Li mentioned that he got interested in go because of the China-Japan Super matches and because of the first Chinese top pro since Go Seigen who could hold his own and stood his ground against the Japanese top contenders: Nie Weiping.

Usually at these pro-ama matches the pro has a hard time controlling the damage to the amateurs positions. Although you will not ever find a letter on paper about it, it seems good manners to keep the outcome of the game between 1-6 points in either way. A month ago a pro beat the amateur by 11 points and was visibly embarrassed by the big lead. The game between Catalin and Mr. Li was not quite the same story, though.

In the post game comment Catalin confessed, "well this nobi loses so many points for black, I felt that it didn't really matter how I would play but that I just couldn't lose."

Never count the game before the stones are back in their bowl is but all too true a proverb. Mr. Li came back with a vengeance and when Catalin played one move just a bit too quickly black was leading by about 8 points.
Just at that moment a friend of Mr. Li, Ito Youji, 9p came to have a look why it took so long. Normally these games are over inside an hour but thanks to slow play by both contestants they were playing for close to two hours. Catalin grunted at the sight of Ito, the difference on the board was not enough to resign right out but since there were no places left where white could hope to turn things around Catalin seemingly was forced to play out a lost game in front of a senior pro.

You can imagine he didn't really feel like that and played 3 rash moves in a row, black kept his cool and didn't fumble the ball but skillfully connected all his stones after which resignation was the only option left for Catalin.

Game 1
White Catalin Taranu, 5p
Black Li Inri, 6d
Handicap3 stones
Event Chubu Keizai newspaper pro-ama matches
Date November 25, 2001
Place Nagoya, Japan
ResultBlack wins by resignation
Game record  [download]

White resigns

Extra Diagram

This is the game the moment Catalin decide to call it a day, black has a comfortable lead and even though it's white's turn there's nothing to be done about it.

At first sight it might look as if white can cut off 6 black stones in the lower left quadrant. As a matter of fact white -can- capture the stones and he very much would like to do so.
Problem: why doesn't white cut the black stones? If you could find the answer inside 10 seconds you're at least 1st kyu, for every additional second it takes you your rank goes down by one. If you can't find the answer this means that you're probably not a dan-level player and also that you are too concentrated on the local position.

Extra Diagram

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

Back to reality, I'm not Catalin and this Daigo game is not of the kind of level you might expect from amateur high dan-level players. I'm not at all satisfied with my own game, but then again, who is. If you once in a while *are* rather glum with your own game this is often but a misinterpretation of the facts, such is live. Is ignorance bliss? Well, that's a hard one but to sidetrack the issue and dismiss the question, I'm pretty sure ignorance will stand in the way of any significant progress.

Black Makes 42 Points in the Corner

Game Diagram 33

Give or take a point the black corner territory is huge. All the same, if white would be able to build something of a wall around the black corner and in doing so create some thickness he might actually not be doing that badly. White's outside stones are, however, far from secure and can not be called thick or influence.
Unless white comes up with something very dramatic he will not be able to get back in the game. White 70 is not a very good start, although it does create some possibilities (double peep diagonal right under stone 69). Instead of white 70 playing elsewhere is probably better, black 69 was played at the inside of black's territory so for the time being white did not lose points here. After white 70, however, it seems highly unlikely that white will be able to settle his stones in sente (while holding the initiative) and the future white group around white 70 already seems too heavy to let go off.

Game Diagram 33

Whatever happens, especially when being behind by more than a small margin, it is unwise to let go of the initiative when you don't get compensation, preferably weak points in the enemy positions you can strike at with intention to kill.

White Lives

Diagram 1

Instead of game move black 69 blocking at 1 as in dia 1 is possible too. It's true that white can prevent black from getting a nice piece of territory by making two eyes, but this is gote, white will play the last move and black can decided what to do next. Usually gaining sente is worth -very- much, exactly how much depends on the position, of course.

Diagram 1

Peeping Right Away

Diagram 2

Another variation instead of game move white 70. After black 69 playing the double peep of white 1 feels like the right spirit, i.e. striking at your enemies vital point without first solidifying each and every one of your own stones (usually this results in your opponent's stones getting equally solid).

After white 3 probably the best thing black can do is to play atari twice at the place of stones 5 and 8. White can make a mini-group and gets two eyes but this does not close the gap of black's lead.

Black 4 and 8 are possible but spell bad aji, black seems to be able to get away with it but it is a bit unsafe and what's more, unnecessary. After white 13 black can escape but this way of playing is not to be recommended.

Diagram 2

The Double Peep

Game Diagram 34

White got around to the double peep but it is almost certain that this move would have been better if played immediately after black 69. There seems to be only one way to answer white 74, try to read out things a bit before moving on to diagram 3.

Game Diagram 34

Just to fill some space to give you the chance to work up a sweat before scrolling down, here's a bit more about an idea I half mentioned in an earlier episode of Daigo.

Except for unambiguous words as "atari, eyes, ko and a couple more, paying great importance to terminology and putting advanced go concepts in words works exactly as trying to get somewhere by first traveling half the distance and then half of half the distance and so on: It looks as if you're doing the right thing and that you are indeed getting somewhere but eventually you'll realize that you are not getting quite at your destination.

There is nobody on this planet who knows or can put in words (even the go-wonder himself) how exactly Lee Changho managed to become what he is today, one of the very few candidates for the title of world's strongest player, in such a very short time. There are no lists of problems and games a player needs to memorize before he will get somewhere. The process of turning raw talent and eager energy into a successful go player is a complete mystery, you can do this, you can do that but it is not possible to put your finger on what exactly did it and made the difference. One thing is sure, however, improving has little to do with trying to hunt for the exact meaning of a go term.

Sorry to bother you with a sci-fi novel I enjoyed reading very much, it is by Robert A Heinlein and called something like "Tunnel in the Sky". It's about these cadets who have to spend some time on a planet and survive there as the last part of their education before graduation. The instructor warns each cadet to be alert and to especially watch out for the "Stober" (writing this from memory, please correct me Heinlein fans). It turns out that this Stober warning is standard for the test (although there are a number of different planets used for the test) and that there is not actually an animal called Stober. The warning is purposely without details and is meant to make the cadets watch out for that being which is highest in the food chain and deserves being afraid of.

Still with me? So all the cadets are pretty scared for this Stober thing without knowing what it is or what it is supposed to look like. All the participants in the test make up a mental image of the Stober and, small wonder, they all come up with different pictures or try to apply it to the wild life they meet. And, second small wonder, they all have it wrong.

I very much feel that a lot of go terms are treated precisely the same way as Heinlein's "Stober" i.e. there is something what deserves a special term and everybody knows and understand the general idea but there's nobody among term-studying go players who has the perfect description.

Go terms are things you slap, at best, on a *real* mess of thoughts and confused ideas going around and around but it's not the term which defines the concept, the term is a big wooden crate full of, sometimes usable, junk.
At worst people learn first a term, than the general idea and a broad descriptions and than try to find situations in every day play where the term might be applicable. This is opposite from "ideal" learning which comprises playing, wondering a bit and one day coming up with a framework of ideas just begging for a particular name.

The go prodigy will first have a whole string of often pretty complicated and seemingly unrelated thoughts on matters which for him all are connected to each other by one powerful and obvious idea, a feeling if you like.

Improving for the average go player -you and me - too has everything to do with seeing the obvious and making ideas interlock in a new, and smart, fashion. Starting to name (groups of) ideas and concepts and applying a term to it is an after thought, it even can help others becoming aware of the necessity of thinking into a given direction, it also can help abbreviate long explanations when analyzing among players of very high level.

For us amateurs go-terms are something we can play with, show off a little every now and then. At times extremely useful to help others along but always lacking "that" most important ingredient for which you'll have to go digging around inside your skull and not outside of it.

White Does not Survive

Diagram 3

What about pushing through at black 1? White might get his hopes up when getting the chance to play the atari of white 2. Next white can connect his stones crossing underneath with white 6. Unfortunately for white, however, there's no way he can save all his stones after black 7.

Diagram 3


Diagram 04

White 2 seems a more interesting move compared with the previous dia, dia 3. After white 4 black might panic a bit but there's no reason to do so, after black 5 the white stones at the side are dead as before and capturing one outside black stone did not do white much good.
If white would struggle back and instead of cutting at 4 would play 'A' black will immediately play at 5, stealing an eye while at the same time preventing white from cutting at 4.

Diagram 4

Black Connects

Game Diagram 35

Playing at 75 black is telling white to go ahead, cut of one stone and make an eye or two. Black doesn't mind, ***as long as his stones remain strong and he gets the initiative.
It is worthwhile noticing that now the triangle marked black stone creates an ugly shape. Does this matter? Well, yes and no.
There is no such a thing as dead stones making beautiful shape, so this one black empty triangle is more than compensated for by the captured white stones. All the same, bad shape has got this name for a reason, it is inefficient and potentially more dangerous. When putting a shape on the board which is less than pure art check whether or not you got any compensation and/or if there lies some hidden (future) danger around the corner to wreck havoc among your stones.

Game Diagram 35

About Shape, Again

"Bad shape, uh? Bad shape, what's wrong with it?! If it works it works!" And more strong language much in the same spirit as what I used to advocate while still in Europe.

And it's true, however, it is only *part* of the truth. Bad shape it due to its nature a less efficient way of accomplishing a certain task, it often causes a premature lack of liberties for one thing. It also will leave more vulnerable points and weaknesses which somewhere in the future might be exploited by your opponent. "If it works it works!" is also my motto but poor shape will limit your future scoop of action. The more less-efficient shapes you have on the board the harder you have to think and continue to be aware of the vulnerability of your positions. The better a shape, the less you need to worry about the future and the more freedom of choice you can enjoy.

Not worrying about bad shape is only skin deep, after 20-30 moves your shapes will come back to haunt you and suddenly you discover that there is almost no room for action left and that you need to reinforce right away in order to keep your stones together, in order to survive.


Diagram 05

One option black does positively *not* have because of the shape of his stone-chains is to play atari and stretch with black 1 and 3 in the dia. Although there is no ladder for white to aim at (the marked black stone is in the way, thank god), white can combine a geta with exploiting the shortage of liberties of another (pivotal) black position. Up to white 12 is a one way street but now black finds out that he needs to defend against 'A' as well as 'B' next. This is black's worst nightmare come true, the presumably captured white stones suddenly come back to life again and white takes the lead.

Diagram 5


Game Diagram 36

White more or less used all the aji at the top and it gave him a group with two eyes right inside black's stronghold. Putting it like this it might sound as if white should be happy here but by now you understand that he isn't, shouldn't.
Well, that's exaggerating matters a bit, especially when realizing that it is not clear yet if black can play elsewhere next or if he needs to add another move. What do you think?

Game Diagram 36

No Ko

Diagram 6

Suppose that black has played tenuki and that white has the opportunity to start with the hane of white 1 as shown in the dia. Blocking with black 2 feels a bit scary and not a few players probably will let their emotions get in the way in deciding on what to do next. This is often a bad idea and can easily cost you a game.
When having a closer look it becomes clear that a rather simple (but ingenious) squeeze is enough to silence white at the top. White cannot connect because of a lack of liberties and he's effectively captured. If there's some aji left in the black stones it is more likely the cut at 'A' which will become a (future) target. If, under now difficult to imagine circumstances white would get a stone at 'A' this would change the whole story dramatically. For one thing, the squeeze of dia 6 would no longer work properly.

Diagram 6

Too Solid?

Game Diagram 37

Black 81 is strictly speaking not necessary, and if it weren't for the fact that black 81 also threatens to kill some white stones (details, details) than black 81 would be much better at 'A'. Black, however, seemed to be convinced that white would answer to black 81 and that next a move around 'A' would still be a good idea.

Game Diagram 37

White has Bigger Fish to Fry

Game Diagram 38

White plays justifiably elsewhere. Which is to say that white is losing the game and he is not going to change that by answering to black 81 and make his top stones alive.
White has to do something. Although nobody can say white didn't try the result to white 80 or thereabouts is not good enough, by a long shot. When that happens and you are behind in the game you're playing, just play tenuki regardless of how many stones exactly are in danger of passing away.

Game Diagram 38

Forcing Moves

Diagram 7

Black 1 in the dia is very, very big. All the same the game move of black 83 is proper I think. It is not that black really must capture one white stone but all the same, being forced to actually take the captured white stones of the board is not to black's liking.
White can get a little stronger which means just a little more chance of staging an upset somewhere. To be honest, if black keeps his cool and plays things out correctly his bottom stones ought to be able to create eyes and getting alive, white 12 and 14 are just too thin and black has too much space to maneuver left. For example black A-C are all moves black may consider in order to settle his stones.
That said, however, in average every day games white suddenly has a very good chance of turning things around and black should try to avoid that white even might start feeling that way, i.e. hopeful and regaining confidence.

Diagram 7

In every game you have to just sit back one or two times to let the dust settle and to see how things actually are going. This also is a good opportunity to try and find answers for all the moves you know your opponent is going to hit you with.

Evaluating the whole board position, however, does not necessarily mean that you're supposed to count the score in some detail. Getting the rough picture is enough. Especially when there are many situations left on the board which are not decided yet one way or another it is a good strategy to try to determine about how much you territory you can permit your opponent to make.

It may be not all that interesting or much fun, but to actually let your opponent make quite some territory is a perfect way to lull him a bit and to prevent him from starting wild and unpredictable fighting. I remember that when I first came to Japan and played with amateur 5-6 dans at local go clubs I very much felt frustrated because my opponents were not prepared to get involved in big time fighting. And, what's worse, when trying to provoke a fight and in doing so attempting to create an atmosphere I felt comfortable with, I lost (even faster).

Evaluating the Whole Board

Diagram 8

Black has made a lot of points in the upper right corner, well over 40 points. This means that black can let white make all the space marked into territory and still be in the lead. (because black gained some points elsewhere while white was busy securing the lower part of the board)
Further more, the situation at the left part of the board looks favorable for black too. For black when thinking like this you come to realize that the game might be close to over if black manages to make a living group at the bottom. Or, it is also possible to just let white do his worst and while checking that white bottom's territory will not exceed 50 points play a tight game.

Diagram 8

Next Move Problem

Game Diagram 39

Black played the slightly odd-looking tight move of 85. It is as if black is feeling the pressure of being in the lead and let it influence his play. White 86 is a natural move, no need to read a lot, no need to think very hard. If white wants something it starts with a play at 86, no matter what it exactly is what white wants :).
Although black has a comfortable lead he cannot afford to let the whole lower right quadrant turn into a huge white territory, so what is black going to do now?

Game Diagram 39

Will white find a way to destroy black after all? Is black so confident that he doesn't realize white is aiming at a quarter of the board?

Find out in the next episode of Daigo!

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

Copyright by Pieter Mioch, August 2001


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