4-4 point, low approach, tenuki

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The 4-4 Point Low Approach, Tenuki is a common pattern seen in amateur and professional play, particularly in the AI era. Contemporary go emphasizes sente and fast play, so it is very common to tenuki in response to a corner approach in many circumstances, assuming that there is a bigger point elsewhere on the board. While it is common to play away for a few moves, the defender would still like to be the first player to come back to this corner. In recent professional games, the defender ultimately plays the first follow-up (~84%) of the time[1].

If the approacher returns first after tenuki, this usually results in a double approach. A second White move in the area applies a great deal of pressure on the Black corner, and Black is not guaranteed to live efficiently in the corner. The struggle for a satisfactory result can result in many difficult variations that involve fighting, trades, and multiple ladders. Double approach joseki are also highly sensitive to the whole board context, and there are many nuances and complications that can potentially occur if the joseki moves are played from memory without fully understanding them.

Historically, the double approach was believed to be extremely severe for the star point, and it was rarely allowed. However, this traditional belief was overturned during the AI revolution, since AI programs seem to believe that the defender can obtain an adequate result after a double approach. While AI has revealed many new ideas, several professionals have stated that they have difficulty managing AI's favorite fighting variation[2][3], which can be very dangerous for the defender if handled incorrectly. Weaker amateurs should take caution when interpreting moves recommended by AI, as the more aggressive variations can backfire on kyu players who lack fighting and reading skills that are necessary to play the most advanced moves. For reference, the New York Institute of Go? has rated common star point double approach joseki for 3-4 dan players[4].

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Moves are listed by frequency in professional games[1], which is sensitive to whole-board position. Bolded moves are commonly considered joseki.

4-4 point, low approach, tenuki, 3-3 invasion 4-4 point, double low approach 4-4 point, low-high double approach
White to play  


Take Both Sides

Double Low Approach  

The double low approach with W1 aims to develop both sides and destabilize Black's corner. It is generally speaking White's strongest local move and it is preferred by AI programs in most circumstances, regardless if White lacks potential in any direction or if the ladder works for Black. To some extent, the W1 double low approach is the most aggressive move and threatens a fight, particularly if White aims to play the W5 attachment at a.

In contemporary go, Black's attachment with B2 and hane with W3 is the only playable continuation. Given that this is a symmetrical position, it is Black's privilege to choose the side that B2 attaches on. Traditionally, Black was advised to attach to the stronger stone in order to attack the contralateral side, although this theme is not always true in the AI era. Currently, this decision is multifactorial and depends on multiple considerations, including the ladder and the player's judgement about which joseki are most likely to be played.

A wide variety of variations are possible after this move, and this abridged overview only seeks to summarize some of the most popular variations and most common concepts for joseki choice. It is important to note that AI often has a default preference for for the W5 attachment at a, which can result in complicated fighting. Weaker amateurs may want to chose a simpler variation depending on their comfort with this position.

Attach Variations
Ladder Variation  
Attach (Fighting)  
Attach (Settle)  
  • The W1 attach (Dia 1) is White's strongest local move, as it diminishes Black's eye space in the corner. In the future, it may be more difficult for Black to create life in the corner.
  • White must consider the ladder before playing the attachment W1. If the ladder favors Black, Black has the option to take the outside with a ponnuki (Dia 2). Eunkyo Do (1p) says that she feels this is good for Black[5], given that that a ponnuki is worth thirty points and White still has a weakness at z. However, it appears that this is dependent on the whole board context, since the ponnuki can sometimes be overconcentrated or devalued by the opponent's influence. Professionals and AI do not always capture the ponnuki even if the ladder is working, so this sequence is best regarded as a possible but not guaranteed option that may be played if it is suitable for the whole board.
  • The solid connection with B1 (Dia 3) is the most common pattern seen in professional play in the AI era. This is a fighting variation that Choi Cheol Han (9p) has expressed frustration with, saying it is even difficult for professionals to handle[3]. The W2 diagonal at a is White's strongest local response, as it threatens the cut at z (after White fixes the weakness at y), but Black will lose momentum if they try to fix the the cut directly. Instead, Black will often attack from the outside without returning to fix the cut. The marked square is a vital point for Black's corner in the sense that the corner is nearly alive if it is disconnected from the main dragon.
  • Given the difficulty and complexity of the fighting variation (Dia 3), attaching with the B1 table shape (Dia 4) is a simplification very commonly seen in amateur and professional games. This joseki ends in gote for Black with a position facing the left and White with a strong position facing the top. This is more or less an even result for either player depending on the whole board context and placement of surrounding stones on the sides.
Other Common Variations
2-space extension  
3-3 Invasion  
  • The other continuations are broadly considered less good for White, and they are most commonly played when the W1 attachment is not possible (e.g. the ladder does not work and Black is likely to capture a ponnuki, or the fighting/settle variations seem to yield a poor result for White).
  • The W1 push (Dia 1) generally allows Black to to secure the corner, and in most cases it is easier for both players to settle. A common simple variation is depicted in Dia 2.
  • As before, White's strongest local continuation is the W1 diagonal (Dia 3), which threatens the cut at z (after White fixes the weakness at y). One simple response suggested by AI is the B2 footsweep (Dia 3), which aims to defend the corner more directly and ignore the threat of a future cut. However, there is some remaining aji in the corner.
  • The B2 diagonal attachment (Dia 4) is a traditional joseki move that directly protects the threatened cut. One possible continuation is depicted in Dia 4, but an important nuance is that the W5 solid connection (versus W5 at w, which is simpler) enables a future clamp at a that can destroy the corner territory. A Black move around y enables the cut at z, so Black will usually capture the two White stones as compensation if White plays the clamp. By corollary, if White protects the cut at z, Black must invest another move in the corner.
  • Jumping into the 3-3 point with W1 (Dia 5) is possible in some circumstances but usually less satisfactory for White on an open board. Choi Cheol Han (9p) says that Black is too thick and a black move around z is sente against the corner[2].
  • The W1 diagonal (Dia 6) is also possible but somewhat slack. Nonetheless, Eunkyo Do (1p) calls it a "beautiful" joseki[5] notable for its simplicity. White has a relatively stable position and Black is fully connected into the center. It can be a good option if White has potential on the top side.

Take Corner Territory

3-3 Invasion  

Jumping into the 3-3 point with W1 is a simple variation that prioritizes territory. This pattern resembles the 4-4 point one-space low pincer invasion, interception joseki, but without the pincer stone. The lack of a pincer stone means that the white+circle stone retains significant vitality, and it is not easy for Black to capture. Often times, both players will tenuki at the depicted board position.

The 3-3 invasion after tenuki was not especially common before the AI revolution, but it has risen in popularity in recent years. This can be a good move that is sometimes recommended by AI when Black lacks potential to the upper side.

Prioritize One Side

Common High-Low Approach Variations
Outside Hane  
Outside Hane, 3-3  
Outside Hane, Connect  
Ponuki Exchange  
Inside Hane  
Inside Hane, Simple  
Inside Hane, Atari Side  
Old Handicap Joseki  
  • The one-space high approach with W1 after tenuki is a less common move that is primarily played when everything else seems unsatisfactory. This is particularly true when White wants to influence the direction of play and does not want Black to attach on a particular side. It is considered joseki in the context of a three-space high pincer (or a similar loose pincer), but otherwise it is considered less severe than the double low approach and tends to give Black a more comfortable result. In the absence of a pincer stone, this move is not particularly liked by AI, but professionals continue to play it anyways.
  • The most common outside-hane 3-3-invasion variation is depicted in Dia 2, which is influenced by a ladder and includes a ko as part of the joseki. W11 takes the ko and B12 is a local ko threat at a. If White believes they can win the ko, this is almost certainly a good result for White, but generally speaking there are no ko threats in the opening and White will usually connect with W13 at y. If the ladder is good for White, this is a satisfactory result for White. If the ladder is good for Black, White will generally need to push with W13 at z and B14 will capture the ko at y, which is playable for both.
  • It is somewhat difficult to describe common joseki for the high-low approach because this sequence of moves is highly situational, and professionals tend to play different moves from game to game. In some sense, there are many playable moves and a plethora of valid options. A common theme is depicted in Dia 3, wherein White attempts to obtain influence on the left side while simultaneously creating a small position in the corner. White generally cannot live comfortably in the corner in sente, so Black will have the first move to play on the outside. Jiang Weijie says that this is generally better for Black in the Ai Weiqi Joseki Dictionary. However, this theme can be more tolerable if White has potential or supporting stones on the left side.
  • One pattern that has appeared multiple times in professional games is depicted in Dia 4, which illustrates a ponnuki exchange. Ryan Li (3p) feels that this is extremely good for White, but he admits that AI unexpectedly thinks this is an even result[6]. This variation is notably absent from Jiang Weijie's AI Weiqi Joseki Dictionary, which may indicate a lack of consensus among professionals about whether this variation is considered joseki.
  • The inside hane with W1 (Dia 5) is less common but also possible if White wishes to emphasize the top side. White can choose a fighting variation with W6 at b if they possess the ladder.
  • If White lacks the ladder, their only option is the W7 diagonal at a (Dia 5), sacrifices the three stones in exchange for the corner and potential towards the top side (Dia 6).
  • If Black is concerned about a potential fight, they may atari sideways with B4 to take the side territory, while permitting White to form a wall (Dia 7).
  • The traditional joseki is depicted in Dia 8, which involves the B2 attachment on the low stone. This is widely considered to be a local loss for Black. In Fuseki Revolution, Shibano Toramaru calls this a handicap joseki, which is realistically only considered by Black when there is an existing stone on the left side. This variation is seen surprisingly often in contemporary professional games despite the chagrin of AI's poor evaluation, as Black sometimes plays this way to deny White from taking influence towards the left side.


When to play the double low approach?

Kim Kyeongeun (4p) (B) vs. Cho Hye-yeon (9p) (W) (2023)  

yuzukitea: The double low approach is an all-purpose move that is highly regarded by AI in a majority of circumstances, and generally speaking it is more pragmatic to search for reasons not to play it. This assessment is very complex and involves some whole-board predictions about the moves the opponent is likely to play. From this perspective, the joseki choice in this position is adversarial in nature.

Kim Kyeongeun vs. Cho Hye-yeon (2023) is a useful example for exercising this thought process. White approached the bottom right corner with W1, but backing off simply with B2 at b is not very appealing because the right side is small; the white+circle stone diminishes the value of the right side. The largest move on this board is certainly in the upper left, but what factors should Black consider?

If Black considers the double low approach with B2 at a, which side is White likely to attach on?

Answer: White is likely to attach on the left side, because the the top side of the board is the weak/thin. It is also coincidentally true that White has the ladder after White attaches on the left side, but it isn't very likely that White will opt for the ponnuki variation because the black+circle stone on the undercuts the left side and diminishes the value of influence. Instead, White sees that the black+square stones lack a base and there is some potential added value if White gets some additional stones on the top side, which can possibly act as a pincer or splitting attack in the future.

From Black's perspective, Kim Kyeongeun is not concerned if White attaches on the left and plays either the fighting variation or the simple variation. If the fighting variation occurs, Black probably will not play the diagonal at w and instead opt for a one or two-space extension like z, which works together with the black+square stones. If the simple variation occurs, White's gote extension at z leaves plenty of space on the top side for the black+square stones to acquire a base later. Moreover, the black+square stones are relatively resilient and can tolerate some punishment on the upper side without coming under serious threat.

Given that B2 at a appears to be fine, there is really no reason to consider the high-low approach with B2 at d. The left side of the board is small, Black cannot win a ko, and the ladder is bad for Black. Jumping into the 3-3 with B2 at c is possible, given that White lacks potential on the top side, but it is likely to result in a fight with multiple weak groups.

When to play the 3-3 invasion?

He Yuhan (6p) (B) vs. Chen Yunong (6p) (W) (2023)  

When to play the high-low double approach?

Cho Seung-ah (5p) (B) vs. Wang Chenxing (5p) (W) (2022)  


4-4 point, low approach, tenuki last edited by yuzukitea on December 19, 2023 - 22:59
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