Aiming at Shodan -- Three Faults that Hold you Back
Aiming at Shodan -- Three Faults that Hold You Back (額 謙 の 有段をめざす囲碁講座―足をひっぱる三つの大罪 ISBN4-480-87276-0) by Gaku Yuzuru, Chikumashobo Publisher(1996), 222 pages.
According to Gaku the greatest impediments to improvement in amateur Go, at the shodan barrier or the three-dan barrier or higher, are those bad playing habits which are unconscious. They subvert our judgement during games and lead to bad moves; but since we are unaware of them we take no corrective steps. So we continue to play less well than we could, with slow upward progress. The remedy should be obvious: become aware of these habits, and then learn to play properly in the affected situations. That is the subject of this book.
The 48 page introductory chapter, "Becoming aware of bad habits", presents Gaku's selection, based on his teaching experience, of the eight principal bad habits that plague amateur play. These are:
- Not distinguishing junk stones from key stones (key stones must be rescued from attempted capture, while junk stones should be sacrificed in return for forcing moves, or just abandoned if they're worthless enough)
- Shirking a fight in an area where one holds the advantage (sometimes out of misunderstanding the strength of one's own position)
- "Jealousy" (making needless, risky invasions to destroy the opponent's territory when one is not behind, sometimes out of a mistaken belief that otherwise one will lose, sometimes just out of greed)
- Not playing tenuki (when one should)
- Not distinguishing attack from capture (trying to capture whatever group one attacks instead of chasing and allowing escape while simultaneously building territory or thickness -- most often the group under attack *cannot* be captured, with reasonable defense, and the attempted capture overextends the attacker)
- Misjudging the effect of a move (the one example given involves a choice of two seemingly equivalent initial attack moves against a small group, one of which allows life in exchange for useless outside thickness facing a strong enemy position, the other of which steals the base, leading to a running attack combined with a leaning attack against the outside position)
- Needlessly playing aji keshi
- Playing for inconsistent objectives
Each category of fault is elaborated, in this initial chapter, with at least one theme diagram and with multiple variations showing both mistaken and correct play. According to Gaku, these faults are common even at high dan levels, and becoming aware of them in one's own play is an obvious first step in reducing their occurrence.
They clearly overlap somewhat, and while the remainder of the of the book is devoted to extended, chapter-length treatments of faults nos. 1, 2, and 4 -- the three faults of the title, apparently the most urgent to correct -- the rest of them continue to appear in passing, throughout these chapters: bad moves in actual positions often partake of several faults, simultaneously. Each of these three chapters is based on a selection of board positions taken from amateur games, often mid-dan level, contrasting the actual faulty lines of play with suggested, sound variations. Successive positions from some of the same games show up in different sections, even in different chapters -- the players obligingly provide an abundance of teaching material.
The 60 page junk stone vs. key stone chapter includes a selection of examples showing how just to tell which are which -- as an example, stones which separate weak enemy groups and can be rescued without really weakening one's own positions are key. But if the cost of rescue is likely to be too great,that alone would turn supposed key stones into junk stones. Conversely, events on the board can turn junk stones into key stones.
The 72 page fight-shirking chapter includes consciousness-raising examples on distinguishing strength from vulnerability, as well as advice on how not to compromise already strong structures. In addition to the avoidance of timid, unnecessary defensive moves, to some extent the chapter is about how to use thickness, as well as the avoidance of needless sabaki moves which also help the opponent. It includes some examples on avoiding tepid responses to early invasions in standard large-moyo fusekis.
The concluding 36 page tenuki chapter includes discussion of when it is, in fact, safe to seize sente -- recklessly abandoning a necessary defense, or a profitable attack from which the opponent cannot tenuki, is also not good.
While many books focus principally on models of good play, this one also pays considerable attention to the consequences of bad play. This is not just a negative focus on what to avoid -- the reader is being taught how to punish such errors. Actually, the punishment is found mostly in Gaku's own proposed variations. Since both players are amateurs the mistakes, typically, are at most only partially punished in the actual game records; and possibilities for subsequently regaining lost ground are also explored in variations. In fact, one of the tacit sub-themes of this book is that, in games as they are actually played (by amateurs), there are frequently second chances. (If the opponent has mastered this book, that could change...)
The positions discussed in the book range from mid-fuseki well into the fighting phases of the middle game. They are all quite practical, and the kinds of moves that Gaku criticizes sometimes have a distressing familiarity! When I first got this book it seemed rather difficult; but both my playing strength and my Japanese were about eight stones weaker than they are now, so I'm not sure which was the dominant factor. At any rate, I think the book should be quite readable by players about 5k or stronger, yet should also remain useful to players up through at least mid-dan strength. (The latter judgement is based on the fact that nearly all the examples are taken from games with players identified as dan or mid-dan level, sometimes even high dan.)
In fact, Gaku occasionally supplies sequences which, he feels, would be successfully played (or even found?) only by high-dan players. But, he stresses, playing according to fundamental principles will yield good results even without the sharpest lines.
Here are some examples to show how he discusses positions in his book, with abbreviated summaries of his analysis.
and are both good moves, but not simultaneously. Black should lean on one White group and then attack the other. By leaning on both, he has strengthened both and hemmed himself in. Much better is to omit (and then there will be no ) and begin with . Following , Black can then turn around and invade at a.
Even better is to begin with , , and Black b; then White must jump to 6. Following that, Black continues leaning on the side White group; then having built up some thickness, Black turns and attacks the center group with c. Several diagrams are included to show how this might proceed.
This position is from a game between dan level players. After both marked White stones seem to be in danger of being cut off by Black. Which should be connected with the others?
My own theory was to play Wa, connecting to and thereby preserving the upper territory, with a potential threat to slide into the corner. In fact this is what the White player actually did. But Gaku finds it to be an error, for after Wa, Bb, Wc, Bd, We, Bf, though W has achieved his objective, the string of three Black stones to the left of the now captured has become completely secure.
Dieter: May I add to this that these stones are important because they influence the centre and serve as a source of power to attack the white group on the right side? Otherwise they would be junk stones and securing them a wasted effort.
FredK: So in Gaku's terms one might then say that W's real error is not noticing that, for the reasons just given, B's three stones are themselves very much key, and that their safety is a substantially bigger issue than the isolated safety of either of W's marked stones.
In fact, is a key stone for this position. White should pre-empt Black by connecting with , ignoring , and playing and . Worrying about the fate of , at this moment, is a misjudgement based on too narrow a focus: after Black's three stones are floating, baseless, in a strong White area, and so White must attack. The sequence shown here, with followed by Wb, is one of the several possibilities discussed; and a possible White move at a still remains.
This is the final issue discussed in a game between dan level players to which ten pages, including twenty-one diagrams, are devoted.
The initial group of five white stones on the right came into existence because White tried to run with a pincered stone instead of treating it as a junk stone. However, with and , Black has opted to capture a stone of no strategic importance-- a junk stone-- instead of chasing the whole group, starting with a cap at x, as recommended by Gaku and detailed in the book.
So, after , W still has the slim chance to escape by jumping to x and running, though it is difficult. But instead, W plays tenuki and invades the upper right corner, where the displayed joseki sequence continues with Ba, Wb, Bc, and Wd.
Now Black has sente, and a second chance.
Black can, and in fact must, now attack White with the cap of , where the displayed sequence ends with at a.
But in the actual game Black plays the big point at b instead of , an "evasion". One senses the author's disappointment.
In this position White has defended against and solidified his group; but this is actually a failure diagram! Gaku demonstrates that White was fully alive after , and so, instead of , should have taken sente with a play at a. (A typical sabaki sequence is provided.) Instead, White has let Black first take the big point at .
Gaku acknowledges that White is probably uneasy about his ability to defend the group without the extra hane and connection but, he says, in a position like this White should still take sente and accept the loss of the game, if it comes to that! Eventually White's reading skills will improve; but not taking sente at such a moment is a bad habit which must be broken, because otherwise it would always remain a contributory factor in losing.