A Zen Way To Joseki / Discussion

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Sub-page of AZenWayToJoseki

Dieter: I like this essay very much and I agree with most of what it says. I particularly like the Zen analogy (or truth, if you want). I may be a little less convinced than DJ about Go's higher nature than merely a big fight. The only thing I disagree on is the level set for thoroughly studying joseki at pro level, which I would much rather locate at 5d than at 3d.

Alex Weldon: I would just like to voice (as I think I have elsewhere on Sensei's in the past) my total disagreement with the notion that there are certain things that should be studied at certain levels. I think a balanced diet of fuseki, joseki, tesuji, life and death, fighting, endgame, etc. is the right thing for a Go player of any level. Saying that one shouldn't worry about joseki until 3 dan (or 5 dan) is absurd. The value of learning, say, the standard way to deal with a 3-3 invasion is huge for a 20 kyu. The problem arises when one thinks of joseki as immutable and that any deviation can and should result in total annihilation. Well, it would also be a problem if one decided to forego all other forms of study in order to try to memorise every joseki in existence, but I don't know anyone who's done that, whereas I have known people who think that JUST studying pro games, or JUST doing tsumego is the best way to improve one's game.

Malweth: I agree to a degree, Alex... IMHO, there are different levels of the topics you've mentioned that should be studied at different rank levels. My personal thought is that actual joseki study isn't necessary at the 20-kyu level. Standard ways of dealing with a 3-3 invasion is something that can be learned by playing or playing (quickly) through the first 50 moves of pro games (which I would suggest at all levels). It's more important to learn standard moves than standard sequences at the 20k level (for example, attaching to a shoulder hit - which is useful if it happens at the 3-3 or elsewhere on the 3+4 lines). Fuseki study is much more useful at weaker ranks than Joseki study... I'd also like to point out that "Joseki study" and Joseki sequence memorization are very different things - the former is much more useful, but also much harder at the 20k level with little to no reading skills.

aLegendWai: DJ, I couldn't agree with you more. I am a person who doesn't treat joseki as absolute. Sometimes when I look at their moves, I just don't know what they are doing, their purpose etc. And sometimes their moves seem slow to me. I can't help rebel against joseki.

Unfortunately, I think quite many people trust joseki very much (including single-digit kyu) as a super authority. When I said joseki can be wrong, new joseki patterns continuously occur, they will simply say it is the analysis of pro for a long time. Can be wrong, but hardly wrong. They still wish to follow joseki.

I notices people sometimes comment moves based on joseki. Once someone did a review, it said this move was wrong and so on. The joseki move was correct. I asked why and show me how wrong it was. It didn't know how to explain, but saying this should be correct and ask me to follow.

It is my little opinion. Maybe it is only me with this idea. You may agree or disagree. I just can't help playing differently from the joseki especially when I don't know why I should do so. I think playing moves which I understand is far better than playing moves which I don't. And it is a bore and spiritless to always follow and follow blindly.

I have my own style and I like to try out new things. For most of the time, unless I understand the moves, I won't follow even if people say it is correct, or even pros don't play (or rarely play) this variation.

My weird style :) Probably it is! So that's why there's always a 30 kyu player who always argue things non-sense. :)

DJ: Dear Legend, Please do not get me wrong, and let me put mountains, rivers and clouds at their place.

Joseki *are* absolute truth. They are the distilled sweat of Professionals over a thousand-year time of playing and studying go at the highest levels and with the deepest intensity.
If Pro's agree to call a sequence joseki, stay assured that, at the present knowledge, that's the best way to play locally for an equal share.

You know, Go is not like politics in democracy, where everybody is entitled to have his/her own ideas, and even think, with full rights, that those ideas are better than others. Go is more like martial arts: stronger players will crush you ten time out of ten, no way out. There are not "other" ways to deal with a certain position, and Pro's know better. So I tend to trust them, just as I trust someone even only two stones stronger than me. He knows better. He crushes me eight times out of ten.

I was just saying that joseki's are a living body in evolution, that at our level we are not able to assess the "equality" of a corner sequence, that we should better study tsumego, tesuji, shape, direction of play, which, after all, are the bricks that build joseki's. So it is useless to "rebel". Just play freely, knowing that if, as I hope, you will progress on the Ki-do, the Way of Go, at a certain point you will have to deal with them, study them, and learn how to use them in a strategic framework.

HolIgor: I rebelled against joseki a lot. It is a hard work to understand the purpose of the moves. I started to play when I bought a 13x13 board. I knew something from the series of articles I read but that was not much. I played komoku and then answered an approach with keima extention. I beat all my friends and at some point joined the club.


In the club I was introduced to 30 most popular joseki I accurately copied in my notebook. And to my surprise, the first joseki there answered W1 with a. I could not understand this. Why? Why not take a wider play? B2 was also joseki, but not the most popular one. Understanding of a as a very robust and versatile move came later and a great part of that understanding is the understanding that Shusaku knew about the properties of this particular kosumi much more than I'd ever know. For me a knowledge of joseki is not the knowledge of the moves or even of the final position. For me it is the knowledge of the properties of the particular shape of stones which includes the ways to attack it, the ways to expand from it, the ways to erase its influence, the way to solidify it into territory.


For a very long time I was very dissatisfied with B2. It seemed so slow, almost like a loss of a move. I tried so many things: tenuki, pincers till at some point I just reconsiled. There is nothing 100% better, other moves just mean a choice of a completely different flow of the game. So, I became happy with B2.


Then some nasty kids played several times the following trick on me. Awful, isn't it. Black is almost crushed. So, the understanding of the joseki now included this kind of danger that has to be prevented in one way or another. And so on. The study of the properties of those several stones in the corner seems to never end.

[2] (Sebastian:) Are there any examples of "quasi-joseki?s" that are just short of a joseki for that reason, but would be really worth learning for beginners because they place security over a marginal gain? Maybe one of the ways HolIgor used to continue his "Joseki" diagram above?

Calvin: I can think of a couple of moves that might be considered "quasi-joseki", namely these non-invasion approaches to the 5-4 and 5-3 points. These are given in Michael Redmond's ABC's of Attack and Defense. White can try to respond more aggressively than this and some variations are discussed in Redmond's book, but white can't easily generate the fierce variations possible with the invasion approaches, because black generates miai by playing this way. (The miai is that black can either make a base on the outside as shown or can play at W2 and live easily if white doesn't play there first.) He also recommends the ogeima approach to the 3-4 for black in handicap games, because it doesn't lose much and avoids complications. He puts forth a general theme that if you have an advantage already it's possible to choose lines of play that are "good enough" and don't have many variations. It's a good book.

simple approach to 5-4  
simple approach to 5-3  

iopq: I'm just an 18k on KGS, but I've had a lot of games where I win by, say, 1.5 points. Do I really want to lose those two points by deviating from joseki?

DJ: Dear iopq, your wins of 1.5 points are most probably the result of the average of a large number of 20-points mistakes made both by you and by your opponent. I do not intend to offend you, as just the same applies to my (2k) wins or losses by 1.5 points...

I think that not even a 4D (amateur) can maintain a 1.5 point balance from start to end in a game - something that the average pro can sometimes do ;-)
Not always though, otherwise there would not be resignations...

kokiri - yes, i say - 2 points dropped in the opening is going to be far outweighted by later mistakes unless you are very strong indeed. anyway, better to play what looks good, possibly make a mistake and learn from it, than slavishly follow something you've learnt. Put it this way, what is more valuable, the 5 points you avoid losing in the current game, or the extra points you get from every game in the future as a result of what you have learnt?

revo: iopq, the question is, what do you do if your opponent deviates from your joseki-book? do you know, why he actually had to play the way you expected, and do you know how you can make him lose his two points for not doing so? Do you even know how to continue after this "wrong" move without losing points yourself? Most times I don't and I have to read the real situation and the whole board to decide. That's why I threw away my joseki books after I got used to some four or five basic variations.

Malweth: My response is, 2 points can certainly make a difference in any game, but the move that gives extra "points" is often harder to defend. In many cases it IS defensable, but the path is more difficult (especially for an 18-kyu).

iopq: I easily punish my opponents for deviating from joseki. I just go to SL during the game and find the refutation. Like in one game I did a 3-3 point invasion and my opponent did a hane on the wrong side... he resigned a dozen moves later. I actually read how to respond to the hane on the wrong side prior to the game. And the fact that we make twenty point mistakes doesn't mean that succeeding in getting that extra influence or that extra aji won't help you win one of those close games. When my opponents play moves that are so out of the blue they are not even mentioned in SL, I usually have an idea on how to get some extra territory or influence. Although sometimes my ideas backfire :) In any case, by studying joseki I prevent making REALLY dumb moves as a response to my opponent's joseki moves.

DJ: Are you saying that you secretely look in SL while playing on line??!? What a bad guy... ;-)
What if your opponent has a Pro at her side? Don't you know that here at SL we'are amateurs only??!?

Jokes apart, my personal belief is that looking in Joseki dictionaries to find the best move won't improve your game (at least at your level): it almost amount to learn joseki by heart - again, sooner or later you'll face a move not mentioned in the books (or in SL, for that matter), and you'll be on your own.
Wouldn't you think that studying Tesuji, LifeAnd Death, Direction Of Play would give you better tools to cope with the unexpected? :-)

BTW, should we move all this to the discussion page?

iopq: How can I improve by "studying" life and death? I do LIFE AND DEATH PROBLEMS, but I don't "study" it. Plus, my losses due to borked openings making me die in the corner went down by 100% percent. I'd rather memorize a whole joseki sequence than lose a corner again.

Mef: There is a subtle difference between studying tsumego and just doing problems. Studying involves looking at the initial position and reading out the solution fully. Once you are certain you've found the answer, and all possible lines work, then you check the answer to verify. If you still got it wrong, then check why you got it wrong. This will help you learn all sorts of techniques that can be applied in your own games for making and destroying eyes. In general, the main idea of studying tsumego is to improve your reading ability in general, and also to aid in things such as identifying where the vital point is. The problem with memorizing a joseki is that they can only help you should 2 conditions be met, 1: Your opponent must know the sequence as well, and 2: They must be willing to play it. Memorizing a sequence doesn't help you if your opponent deviates at move 5, and then you are just as lost as you were originally. By working on your reading ability in general though, that is something the will aid you in any given situation, no matter how your opponent plays.

iopq: I just post the variation on SL and next game I will know how to refute it or why it's bad. When I do tsumego I always try to read it out completely. But you can't really study something that improves your read unless you memorize tesuji. I agree that my opponent has to "agree" to play a joseki, but if I deviate FIRST I have a chance of playing a sub-optimal move that might make me lose the game. I don't mind if my opponent plays out of joseki because I know that I have a continuation available where I come out ahead. Plus, now I concentrate more on pro games instead of just clicking next move - I watch which joseki and non-joseki sequences they play and how that affects the entire board and I look them up on SL.

Imagist: I have a few quibbles to present to this approach. Namely, that your points are mostly self-defeating.

  • Yes, joseki are always changing. But this isn't a reason to stop learning joseki; rather it is a reason to learn the new variations, and, more importantly, learn from the new variations.
  • You correctly note that the difference in points can be minor between a joseki and a non-joseki move. That said, if one understands where the points can be gained, why not gain them? Furthermore, the difference in points is not always minor: take, for example, the 'severe hane' at 44PointOneSpaceLowPincerInvasionInterception#r3. I, for one have made 30+ point mistakes in the avalanche joseki more than once.
  • Some weak players who misunderstand the nature of the game do try to kill their opponent's groups as soon as their opponent deviates from joseki. This does not show that learning joseki directly is bad, it just shows that the players who do this are weak. Knowing joseki gives one a clue when your opponent deviates that you should be able to punish your opponent. I usually take such opportunities to gain a better understanding of the joseki by taking my time to find a way to punish the mistake. Sometimes I don't come up with anything that seems like a punishment to me. Sometimes I come up with a punishment that is worth only a few points, when the correct punishment would utterly destroy my opponent's position. Other times, I have studied the joseki thoroughly enough that I know the punishment beforehand and can dispense justice. In all of these cases, studying joseki helps me. What you are describing is Kyu Disease, not the evil of joseki study.

Let me make this amply clear: I find nothing wrong with studying joseki the zen way. But I find that I gain more from studying joseki my way, that is by learning joseki with all the details; understanding the purpose of each move (and thereby how to punish deviations). I usually pick a certain very specific joseki and learn one variation in-depth, focusing on each move, then learning as many variations as possible in the same way. If I had waited until 3dan to do this as you recommend, I would not be 4kyu (that is to say, I would be a good 4-5 stones weaker).

Tamsin: There's a lot of good stuff in this article, but I disagree with it for the following reason: just about every strong player, amateur or pro, that I've ever met or read has had one thing in common: an enormous amount of knowledge about the game. They have clearly studied the joseki, not only corner openings but middlegame patterns too, until they know them cold. There is so much to learn from the joseki, so why turn your face away from them? Think for yourself by all means, but if you can acquire valuable knowledge, then do so!

When I review a game with Alexandre Dinerchtein, my teacher, he always knows the appropriate joseki for the occasion. I asked him about this, and it turns out that he spent considerable time with a certain work by Ishida in his youth.

Tapir: It strikes me that this page claims memorising without fully understanding is not only bad, but a western practice of all things. I found "western" people insisting on explanation and unwilling to learn by heart to a sickening amount. And I know how much this same habit of mine works against me whenever I try to learn. As a opposed to that the buddhist tradition was kept over hundreds of years by memorising and repetition alone.

Words and meanings are changing too, still as an adult you will never learn a new language without memorising vocabulary.

MrMormon: This page has lost its Zen. :)

Paths: <= Harmony =>   ·   <= Mentality Path =>
A Zen Way To Joseki / Discussion last edited by tapir on January 14, 2011 - 01:49
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