Never wrestle with a pig
This is the first half of a (fairly) well-known English proverb that is quite relevant to Go. The full thing runs "Never wrestle with a pig - you'll both get dirty, and the pig will love it," but that's a bit too long and unwieldy as a page title.
How does the proverb pertain to Go? Well, it's what I (Alex) repeat to myself whenever faced with unreasonable opponents, as happens occasionally in tournaments, and more or less every game on IGS or KGS.
Anyone with much Go experience (except, perhaps, those who only ever play against the same small group of opponents) has encountered the sort of player I'm talking about - the one whose only Go training seems to be tsumego, and thousands of blitz games, refuses to follow any known joseki (or, at least, anything except the taisha, the large avalanche or the Magic Sword), and forgoes anything resembling a territory or a moyo in favour of five hundred weak groups running every which-way. In short, a player in whose mind the game of Go is one protracted bloodbath, without much in the way of strategy or long-term planning.
In case you're still not seeing where this is going, these players are the "pigs," in the proverb.
When faced with unreasonable moves, one's first impulse is often to feel the need to "punish" the "overplay," because we have, ourselves, been cautioned that our own overplays are likely to be punished by our opponents. This is all well and good, except that, faced with an extremely unreasonable move, the temptation is to find an equally extreme punishment, one that will end the game right then and there.
The usual consequence of trying to punish too severely, however, is that complications arise, and opportunities present themselves for the opponent to make further unreasonable moves, to which you respond severely, so that yet more havoc breaks loose, and so forth. He attacks your weak group with two weak groups of his own, so you cut one of them apart, and make it three on two, then he cuts you back and it's four on three, and pretty soon, the whole board is a mess of ugly shapes and interconnected life-and-death problems.
The problem with going down this road is that it allows these opponents to play the sort of game they're familiar with, and given that their Go knowledge is so unbalanced, the difference between playing the game as they know it and playing the game as you know it may equate to several stones difference in strength.
In other words, if you wrestle with the pig, you'll both get dirty and the pig will love it.
It's inevitable that some "wrestling" will ensue - few games of Go get to the endgame without some kind of complicated fighting breaking out - but that doesn't mean you should tear off your shirt and jump into the mud pit at the first opportunity. Rather, the first few times the opponent attempts to pick a fight, consider accepting simple exchanges that favour you, usually by doing one of the following three things:
- Letting a "probably killable" invasion live small in return for imposing thickness, instead of trying to kill,
- Sacrificing a stone or small group under attack, usually in return for thickness, or
- Simply ignoring the unreasonable move if the opponent has no clear and severe follow-up, and playing tenuki.
You cannot, of course, allow every invasion the opponent makes to live, if he continues invading in places where he has no business living. Nor can you let him capture every stone he wants to capture, or tenuki every time the situation looks confusing. However, if you do so the first few times, in ways that benefit you, then by the fourth or fifth time he tries to stir up trouble, your whole-board position should be so superior to his that punishing his folly in a game-deciding way will be much easier than if you had accepted his challenge to a fight right off the bat.
This advice should not be considered contradictory to the notion that you must stand up to bullies. A bullying strategy is quite different from an "unreasonable maniac" strategy - a bully will prey on a fearful player by forcing his opponent to accept loss-making exchanges by threatening complications. He does not necessarily want complications to occur - he would prefer his opponent to answer submissively each time and consequently fall behind. The maniac, on the other hand, plays so aggressively that seemingly submissive responses to his attacks are actually beneficial to his opponent. Whereas the bully will win if the opponent avoids complications, the maniac will surely lose unless the opponent is lured into fighting. Thus, you stand up to a bully, but play patiently against a maniac - telling which is which is part of the art of Go.
See also :Punishing and Correcting Joseki Mistakes