Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Joseki materials, Go Seigen, and Hikaru No Go

Memorize joseki to become weaker. Study joseki to become stronger.
Proverb - The Nihon Ki-in Handbook of Proverbs

Joseki cannot really be played so simply. Figuratively speaking, a joseki is like a medicine. A medicine precisely tailored to a particular illness is extremely effective, but making a habit of taking one and the same medicine all the time regardless of whether you have a headache, an abdominal pain, or a bone fracture is not very wise. Similarly, you should not use a particular joseki all the time just because you like it.

Please remember that medicine that is not suited for an illness is a poison. Be ever vigilant against joseki poisoning!
Go Seigen - A Way of Play For The 21st Century, 1997

That is precisely what is wrong with Go in Japan today. They are too attached to corner patterns (josekis). Go ought to be played on the whole board.
Go Seigen - The Pieter Mioch Interview, June 26th, 1999

Japan is weak because people study Shusaku and others of the past without understanding the essence of their play. If Japan is weak, then the great players of the past, like Shusaku, will be forgotten. That's unfortunate.
Ko Yongha - Hikaru No Go, Written by Yumi Hotta

I can't help but wonder if Yumi Hotta might have had Go Seigen in mind when she wrote the lines for Korean player Ko Yongha in the manga, Hikaru No Go. It did not directly address joseki but I interpreted it as a subtle chastisement of the state of local gameplay at the time. As if to underscore that point, in a latter part of the story during the opening ceremony of the youth Go competition, many Japanese members of the audience are unable to remember who Shusaku is when Yongha mentions his name. Whatever the case, Ms. Hotta's story thankfully has done a remarkable job of creating a renaissance in Go among the young.

Studying Joseki
I came across those quotes over the past three months as I began a very slow study of joseki; defined in Sensei's Library as a sequence of moves which results in what is normally considered a fair outcome for both players. I would often see examples of josekis during my game reviews.

Josekis are powerful and well-tested formations. Gilles Arcas, the developer of of the free Go application tool Drago (which you should have, if not already), had demonstrated to me the value of one joseki in his comment to one of my previous posts. Figure 1 below shows a White attempt to break a simple joseki pattern. After the capture of Black 2 by White, Black will capture all of the white stones to the left.

Figure 1: The joseki resists attack

But josekis, when applied blindly, do not necessarily result in a fair outcome when the whole board is taken into consideration. Consider Figure 2 below. Both the left and right formations are identical josekis but White is not likely in a better position than Black.

Figure 2: Pushing actions on both sides

Joseki Books and Articles
In my search for study materials, I have found many that demonstrate how josekis form but few elaborations on what makes them resistant. Perhaps the strength of the formation is obvious to stronger players.

The most immediately available resource, assuming that you have availed of Jan van der Steen's free registration, is gobase.org's article by Pieter Mioch which is entitled Gentle Joseki. This would give you a quick and easy-to-understand introduction to some basic corner patterns. This article got me started with blindly applying simple josekis but I gradually began to see how some variations could allow me to develop stronger positions when taking surrounding stones into account.

Mindful of Go Seigen's warning against joseki posioning, I am embarking on a search for more study materials which, hopefully, will allow me to understand the reasons behind the formations and their variations. I had acquired a copy of 38 Basic Joseki from Kinokuniya Bookstore but am browsing the web for more material that might be useful for a player of my lower rank.

Yang Yilun's books on Whole Board Thinking In Joseki are another option. These are sold by Slate and Shell. I am still trying to determine how helpful these would be for my level of understanding based on the sample pages (PDF link). What I have read thus far seems to assume some level of understanding on the reader's part. Perhaps his books are targeted at intermediate players.

Let me know if you have any suggestions that I should consider.

In Other News
ChiyoMama has started a new job and that might make my appearances on Kiseido Go Server even more infrequent and sporadic. There's a 60% probability that her department will relocate to our city within six months and reduce her commute to four minutes (or 25 if she chooses to walk). She's back in her original industry and discipline so all this is a big win for her and our family.

I managed to get a copy of Masao Kato's Attack and Kill which is currently out of print. Kato Honinbo apparently had a very aggressive style and was nicknamed Killer Kato. It looks like an intermediate-level book but it should hopefully be an interesting read when I'm up to it. I feel that there is such a great brain trust that is captured in Go books that it's a tragedy when any of them are no longer published.

Fuseki: Where would you play and why?
In yesterday's lunch-break game with narodniq (20k), I found myself having to choose among:
  • Approaching the upper right corner (which was already growing stronger) with a knight's move
  • Making a modest (but hopefully defensible) extension up to the star-point in the upper part of the board
  • Reinforcing the upper left
  • Staking out a larger moyo to the right

Black to play.

I eventually opted for the last choice and formed a variant of the Chinese opening to the right, but I wonder if that was the best and most balanced move. Where might you have played?


At 5:41 AM, November 08, 2005, Anonymous hdoong said...


I was wondering if you are taking any lessons from stronger players? It is indeed very hard to really read from books although I own many books myself. I find that I learn a lot about whole board joseki by getting much stronger players pointing out to me on how to play in accordance with the whole board position and strategy. I have benefited a lot learning joseki via game reviews instead of from joseki books. My two cents :)

Re the position on the board, I will play like you have as well, something like the Chinese fuseki. Looking at this diagram, I cannot but just feel that all the white stones are over concentrated on the left side, so my opinion is that black has a better set up and expanding the framework sounds good to my mind :)

At 6:47 AM, November 08, 2005, Blogger ChiyoDad said...

Hello hdoong,

There are stronger players on Kiseido Go Server who teach me through game reviews or through matches but I acknowledge that in-person lessons hold an advantage. Unfortunately, it's not easy for me to find the time for these during the day and I don't see that changing anytime in the future. My challenge is to make my online and book learning as effective as possible.

Perhaps that's the current challenge theme of this blog; the question of whether a person can be pulled up the ranks through the collective efforts of the online Go teaching ladder community (with only the occasional in-person lesson) and through the person's own self-study efforts. With regards to the former, communicating and teaching via the internet certainly may create some unique difficulties, but it's not impossible. With regards to the latter, even as all teachers and mentors guide and point the student in the right direction, the student must still undertake the journey of learning by his or her own effort.

I think that a lot of us are faced with the same challenge. In the end, if it becomes possible for one person in the online community, it becomes possible for all of us.

Best Regards,
- ChiyoDad

At 7:22 AM, November 08, 2005, Anonymous ScatCat said...

interesting position. I think i'd have played somewhere in the r5-6 area. I agree with hdoong about the relative positions. B has the better position by far....

At 7:47 AM, November 08, 2005, Blogger ChiyoDad said...

Hello ScatCat! Having handicap stones helps.

In retrospect, I'm thinking that an enclosure to Q16 might have given black the easy choice of extending to the left or downwards from the upper-right corner. Q16 almost looks like an over-extended stone.

At 8:24 AM, November 08, 2005, Blogger GreatnessBlog said...

D11 is really weak. That stone is completely unnecessary. It might be worth 5 points or something. The lower left group is very secure, the stone at D13's in no danger, and D11 doesn't gain any territory!

It looks like your play is somewhat inefficient. A good rule of thumb is corners first, then sides, then center. Don't put your stones too close together (like D11.) You guys are fighting over the left side first and leaving the other corners wide open.

As the board stands, white's got the whole left side basically locked up and black has a bunch on the bottom, so white has to be very concerned with the right side and, to a lesser extend the upper.

I would play around R14 or around Q10. If black gets to play Q10 (or R10 is probably safer for him) before white establishes some stones on that side, I think white's behind. If white eats up some territory on the right and splits the upper (extending to the star point or so and BTW c17 is too conservative) then white's doing well.

(I'm 14 kyu on kiseido.)

I enjoy when you give us real world problems!

At 8:27 AM, November 08, 2005, Blogger GreatnessBlog said...

(oops that should be "to a lesser extent" not "to a lesser extend." :)

At 2:12 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger frankiii said...

re: the challenge

I think the answer to your question of "can?" is obviously yes. The real challenge is how fast and how far. :) There are at least a few dans on KGS and IGS who, I recall, have said that they managed to achieve dan level simply by playing, studying pro games, and doing life & death problems. Perhaps they're exaggerating, but I have a feeling they're right.

PS: I'd play Q5 or so. :) I might play E9 just because it seems like a move that some high kyu reviewer would later tell me is "urgent". :D

At 5:47 PM, November 08, 2005, Anonymous hdoong said...


That's an interesting "experiment". I don't know about anyone else but we have one guy here who made it to the Dan level just by playing lots of games on kgs and review it later with higher level players. He combined this with doing lots of problems on goproblems.com. He got to become 5 kyu in less than a year and achieving Dan in less than 2 years just by doing this.

He now plays in our club in the Dan section. His KGS graph:

He played with this account for a while but as with KGS, the rank stayed there without going up much despite winning many games.

On the game diagram, we will need to think about sente vs. gote, which moves are sente moves, which moves are gote moves. This is an extremely important concept. E9, for example, is not really urgent at this point but is good at reducing the left side later, re, if white does not answer, you will have C9, C6 combination. On the contrary, a White play at E9 will also not mean anything to White. All his stones are overconcentrated on that side.

As it is, based on the "build a box like shape" idea, playing around R9 looks good. It will then be up to white to either play around O17 or to come in and try to break Black's structure, which Black should welcome.

2 cents :)

At 5:48 PM, November 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Figure 2 isn't joseki :)
D1(Q1) a\is unnecessary for white; ie white is supposed to end in sente with this sequence and not in gote by reinforcing with D1(Q1), which can be omitted even if black plays another move at G2(N2).


--- a fellow go player (5 dan)

At 6:26 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger ChiyoDad said...

Whoops! Stones Q1 and D1 in Figure 2 are overplays and don't conform to Diagram 8 of Mioch's article on Gentle Joseki. Thanks for the correction! I don't think the point of blindly applying joseki is lost though.

Regarding the experiment, it would be quite a challenge to see how far and fast one can progress. And for many of us, although we have neither the time nor the natural talent, the journey may still be worth taking.

At 4:54 AM, November 09, 2005, Blogger Woodard said...


Wow, you've been busy!

great idea putting these board positions up. One comment: you might want to make diagrams separate posts so that the comments clearly relate to one diagram or the other; it took me a few minutes at 7:30 am to realize which was which.

At our level I think it is more important to know why a joseki is a joseki, and why the moves are correct, than to memorize them. I see game reviews where even dan level players choose the wrong joseki. For example, if you learn the principle that an inside weak group in the corner should run out first, then dive into the corner second, when you see this behavior in Joseki you will understand the underlying principles and you will use them more effectively.

Just my $.02


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