A Zen Way to Joseki

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  Difficulty: Advanced   Keywords: Joseki

AvatarDJFlux: I would like to share with you my personal approach to Joseki. Much of what you'll find below has already been said in other pages, while some related concepts can also be found in another blurb of mine, but, as there seems to be no end to people asking for the ultimate Joseki dictionary, I'll happily stress some concepts.

Once upon a time, a great Zen Master was asked to tell his experiences on the path to enlightenment. He said:
"When I was young and I didn't know what Zen was, the mountains were mountains, rivers were rivers and clouds clouds. Then I started to practice Zen, and after some time of studying the mountains weren't mountains any more, rivers were not rivers, and the clouds were not clouds."
"Now that I am enlightened mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers and clouds clouds."

So it goes with Joseki. When you start to play Go you have no idea of what a Joseki is. You play freely in the corners. Not knowing anything, you play moves that you like, relying on the little you know, on your still limited ability to read ahead, on what you want to do and how to reach your goal. Very often you get crushed.

Disappointed, you start studying, and discover that there are set corner sequences called Joseki which are said to give equal result. Set sequences??!? If they are set they can be studied and memorised!!! Such an approach appeals very much to the rational western mind: categorise, memorise and fish the right one out when you need a specific something.
So you go and seek the ultimate Joseki repository, hoping to find a way to have a perfect joseki for all seasons.

Pity that:

  • Joseki are not set. They are a living organism, they change, they adapt, they are improved, they become obsolete. A pro finds a new move that gives an advantage: no joseki anymore. Another pro finds a countermeasure: new Joseki%%%
  • Very often a certain move is not considered Joseki just because it entails a loss of, say, two points. That's enormous for pro standards, but should we, weak amateurs, be bothered, when a few moves later we are likely to play a strategic mistake (for instance a wrong direction of play) that could costs us some thirty points? [2]
  • Your opponent won't play as you expect him. Amateurs more often than not deviate from the so-called set sequence. Pros do the same but for a very different reason, see above, and with very different results. As we have read somewhere that a deviation from Joseki should be punished, we look for a way to kill our opponent's groups. Of course in oh so many instances we fail to do that and we get frustrated. So frustrated that we could lose the game! To punish a deviating move we should first have thoroughly understood the real meaning of each and every move in the sequence (see 3-3 point invasion query 5), and then maybe we do not realise that the possible punishment is just the infliction of a two-point loss. See above.

So hopefully after some struggle you will understand that Joseki are not that important after all, at least until you reach, say, 3 dan amateur (see below).
If you think that Go is about fighting power and tactical combat, think twice, or else move to chess (no offence intended, chess is a thoroughly enjoyable intellectual game). Of course fighting power is important, and what happens in internet Go and in the fashionable styles prevailing in the international pro arena stand there to demonstrate it, but I happen to believe that Go is more than mere tactics and more than an intellectual game.

In the end you may realise that we should play having in mind a strategic goal and that we should play freely in the corners to reach that goal, relying on our ability to read ahead. I believe that we should play moves that we like, a style we enjoy. I also believe that we shouldn't mind losing a lot, provided we learn something. The circle has been closed, but we are more aware.

If you'd like to hear some advice from a 50-year old player, the weakest of the 2k, do the following:

  • Study the strategic concepts, the Direction Of Play, Positional Judgement, how to use Thickness, How to Set the Pace in a Game? (WMBT? Pace?[1] DJ: Not really: I had something different in mind: I'll write something in the Pace page). In this respect, I fully support Charles when he says that Fuseki and Side Patterns are more interesting. Go is about strategy!!%%%
  • Play along pro games.
  • Study Tesuji and Life And Death to improve your reading ability.
  • Deviate from Joseki as much as possible, but do that with awareness: try to reach your strategic goal regardless, or to stop your opponent from reaching his/her goal. Read ahead%%%
  • Play simple joseki with weaker players and difficult ones with stronger players. Enjoy the latter, such as the Nadare, Taisha, Muramasa's Magic Sword, but not for the sake of mastering variations: do that for the sake of entering deep, unknown and dark waters and learn to swim better and better.
  • Meanwhile, study the Endgame: it is an invaluable source of Tesuji, and it teaches you the patience of counting...

If you do that proficiently, you may find yourself a 3 dan. Only then is it about time to start a serious study of joseki: now you may have the needed tools to understand what it is that pros call Joseki.
Again, not to memorise a thousand variations, but to be able to adapt your corner play to your strategic plan!

DJ: Before someone fields the obvious objection, yes, yes, I am not a 3 dan...
What to do, I do not practice what I preach, I am just too lazy... :-)

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A Zen Way to Joseki last edited by tapir on January 14, 2011 - 17:32
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