With general direction of play, one must learn the correct way to approach and to play the game out, rather than simply scattering stones with no basis in thought. Such an idea can only be found through a process of understanding. Theory and practice are a dialectical. Theory without practice is inaccurate, practice without theory is misguided and even more impossible. But with pure theory, one has at least a good starting basis.
This is called a learned approach towards the game, which makes the game that much easier, it is most definitely a simple trick and a genuine secret for beginners (although still common knowledge to veterans). Take for example, what some people have suggested. If you change your thought process a little and turn it around, then you can get a better idea of how to proceed. It is not impossible to attain a perfectly clear understanding of what your possible options are each step down the line.
This article possibly reveals the evolution from Japanese opening theory to practical application of said theory with Chinese training methods and how they've solved a lot of secrets in the opening. Some state that even more passiveness is required from certain players. This generally agreed upon revolution in thought is to place emphasis on the opening. This is the correct doctrine for how Go should be played out on the board in general.
The following come from a traditional orthodox mindset where fierce battles in the middle game are thought to result from positional struggles in the opening. This is separate from aggressive play. It is also separate from aggressive play (such as found in the Korean fighting style of the past). There are stylistic preferences such as placing emphasis on positioning or tactics, but here we only discuss the positioninal aspects. Go may be considered a creative game of free interpretation and domination, but for the development of beginners, you should treat Go as 99% linear, with the 1% accounting for discrepancies and risky deviations that don't follow risk-minimizing standardization. However, as a separate thought Go might be treated as a 100% linear game, for the purpose of evaluating a loose set of moves and counter-moves available in the game, developing off of and putting emphasis on a strong opening. Now what does this mean?
Note that this type of linear thinking does not imply you should try to play the game out by applying a purely brute-force reading method. Instead, it implies the traditional idea that the opening phase of the game can be more or less interpreted to the full extent. In the words of a pro from the book series: Elementary Go series - Vol 1 - In the Beginning, "Amateurs sometimes rush through their initial moves, saving their powers for the fighting later, but this is more an indication that they do not understand the opening than a sign of talent."
For a beginner, it is in good principle to play a more balanced opening before you try and be more aggressive. This is due to how the game is structured and balanced, so that as long as you approach it from the context of the opening, a good response (for you) can be found close to a dangerous attack (from the opponent) down the variational tree. Also, this may be related to sente, since being able to get the first play in a local area gives you the upper hand in that area. Just the same, being able to play the next big move in a wide-open general area allows you to open up lots of possibilities for yourself. There also exists tedomari.
The positional game, or playing to obtain better positioning as a strict rule that permeates through every single move of the game into the endgame, is at the core for the basic direction of play. It is important to note that this is a theory different from what people refer to as simple positioning of your stones. Rather, this has the connotation that there exists an intrinsic positioning mechanic within the game of Go, which is different from merely trying to apply better positioning of your stones superficially. Once you understand this, then you'll realize that this game is a positional one at least at a basic level, and not one big massive fight. It also stresses a type of defensive style for playing your stones rather than focusing on offense, and attacking only when it is necessary and possible. Only when you understand this, do you have a good grasp of basic theory and know how to proceed from there into a more detailed analysis.
This aspect of the game involves emphasizing whole-board thinking over localization. Since Go is a calculation game and not a capture game, it is safe to say that Go is more about staking out one's territory for a controlled outcome, and that capturing stones is only a further way to bolster your score. It is perhaps an incorrect idea that Go is about wild capturing races. After all, there has to exist some sort of direction for your play, and you cannot spend all your time just thinking of deviant or abnormal variations. Instead, you should spend your time reading and developing upon the known good moves and counter-moves. If you were to engage someone who is infinitely better than you at reading and fighting, your best chance is to make rational plays. This is because the guy is just so strong that you cannot fight him move for move, and your best bet is to play the most solid branches, which is the right approach. (Innovation is based off of risk analysis, unless of course certain expert players think such erratic play is a safe route to go.) It might be true that there lies a sense of direction even in the most erratic, innovative, or forward-thinking of plays. Aggressive plays may lead to small gains until they are countered by better plays in the earlier stages of the game.
Therefore, one should start off with the common formulas before embarking on a journey of discovery to further his creative plays and find alternate routes to victory. This is because moves that are considered standard are essentially patterns that have been "set in stone" to some extent and cannot be easily countered, as they are balanced from all perspectives. You can think of them as guiding models to which newer moves are compared to, to determine if they are better. They also stress a type of equilibrium, provide even exchanges for both sides, and are of the utmost efficiency. They may be easier to play, and have been adopted as a solid way of play with many options available.
Interestingly, non-standard positions/shapes played out in a game usually revert back to standard shapes/positions (a type of bounce-back effect consistent with the idea that good opening form rewards you). There are instances where standard formulas have been completely debunked through creative play, but this is rare. Nonetheless, you must be able to deal with deviations, and punish them effectively. The only way to do this is to have an understanding of the inner meaning of the moves, since there is thinking and strategy behind each move. Since there is strategy behind even the opening moves of the game, it also leads to the explanation of why the topmost players perform moves which sometimes even cannot be understood by other pros.
The good shape of your stones is a heuristic for strong positioning in the long run.
By taking the most open-ended moves into consideration in the opening, you are placing the highest priority on obtaining the biggest value moves first and then gradually working your way down to the smaller value ones. Also, we can infer from all this that we can simplify the decision making process for considering your next move. The two steps in the decision making process is to firstly position your stones well and then to consider the details.
Taking another quote from the Great Quotes page here on SL:
The aim of go is relative advantage; the game is played all over the board, and the objective is to increase one's options and reduce those of the adversary. The goal is less victory than persistent strategic progress. - Dr. Henry Kissinger, quoted in Newsweek, 11/8/04
This methodology might seem like it isn't a working method at first, since a beginner unfamiliar with this thinking process might ask: "But there are so many other moves to consider which may lead to eventual conflict and a mess on the board, therefore we should just play naturally and size up which moves are biggest in value using localized thinking and go with the flow." But, somehow it works out. This way, your game will start to appear box-like and neat in form and you will begin to make true progress and eventually refine your general power-oriented moves into more specific precision-oriented ones. Still, even though the game evolves, openings will probably eventually tend to stabilize into fixed patterns as in chess.
Opening principles continue through every single move of the game into the endgame as long as it's applicable, moves can serve multi-purpose functions and affect the whole board in a positive light. For example, if your group was being threatened and you eventually had to make two eyes, would you first take the initiative and make a "sente" forcing play to reduce your opponent slightly and exchange a reduction move for his move and then go back to make your two eyes? Or, would you just passively make your 2nd eye safely in gote and not exchange a move that reduces your opponent's area slightly even if it's tempting and for free but gives him the ability to strengthen his area even further? Depending on the situation, I might choose to actually just make the 2nd eye in gote, allowing opportunities to reduce the opponent from a different angle even more severely later in the game, or set up better plays *for the long run*. This is a type of indirect tactic.
This technique works in other fields of competition such as chess, and even in sports such as wrestling where all techniques stem from stabilization. There is a key mechanic in driving a football forward where you push with your foot instead of applying direct force. In chess, for example, you can amaze your friends who play for fun and appear to be an expert merely by employing this theory. Some moves in chess made by experts sometimes appear to have no function, but in reality act as a positional gain or neutral move. You can do this too, by merely incorporating such an idea into your everyday moves. The instant you employ this, you will notice a significant improvement and even win against an opponent you couldn't defeat before on the first try (actually happened to a random stranger I showed this to).
The choice of opening moves and the flow of the game is dictated by factors such as gradual moves, and each moves' ease of use, but is also shaped by approaching the game with the intention of solving positions usually found in common play. This is why endgame counting can sometimes be important, for certain openings lead to a given result that has mostly been solved, and is observable by pros or even by amateur players. In theory, playstyles that do evolve or innovate upon the game *may* merely stress fights which still lead to a relatively close score. This *may* be possible and does not necessarily entail a chaotic mess. As a trend, there is balance within the game because of the existence of draws, which makes it possible for players of a close level in competition to reach rather even positions. The existence of the possibility of close games, oddly enough, prevents the game from losing balance and also makes it more fun. When both sides play correct and efficient moves, it becomes an even game, and fighting is but a means to this end. But, it must be noted that simplistic and traditional moves that aim strictly for balance may be improved upon and refuted with modern research. Ultimately, Go is about *what works in solvable play*, and an ultimate endgame position in Go may lead to a draw (some disagree). Go involves individual expression, and you have to decide for yourself what the best move is to become a truly good player. To be able to play a perfectly simple game is a sign of strength. Playing the most stable and solid game and working on your counting more than your reading, and emphasizing whole board view is also a good approach. It's also about knowing your limits, and gauging them to play to the best of your ability by not playing moves you don't understand.
Beside the key concept noted above, there are many other things that when combined, are the deciding factors in choosing your next best move and discovering what the best move implies. But from all this, we can infer that there is a type of linear mechanic within the game, and to play the game is to make the right move-for-move calculations. In the end, and as you get better, it's about everything combined and developing good opening skills while mixing it with sound reading skills. Also, and with top levels of professional play, the better the player the better they can do this on practice on the board. Professionals excel at both reading and opening theory although some may argue in the end that reading is what's key. However, the author believes the opening is what is key and a sort of reverse logic and counter-natural thought process. Playing stable moves and learning from your mistakes is a great way to improve and to progress rapidly through the game. It is a process of solving variations. At certain times, you may wish to play more aggressively or different in order to win however. If at times you're confused just remember that you should keep a simple approach to things. Reading and counting are the key workforces to everything, but the concentration is on the opening. All strategies including opening plays, no matter how complicated, can be played out simply on the board by an expert. There's also specific Direction of Play and how well your stones work together. Here, we just address the overall guidelines. So what should we be possibly be concentrating on to ensure our moves are as accurate as possible throughout the entire game? Probably not our reading, but our opening.
Chess contains this same principle found in its Center Theory.
Now what benefits does all this provide us? Following these principles allows us to effectively choose between certain moves and sequences we may want to play out on the board during the game. This is very effective in providing that guidance.
It is not clear why this theory works, but to have a better understanding of it here might be some listed reasons: so it goes back to playing a Positional Game, and it works concretely if you give it some thought. It might be because of the theory that the more open-ended and central the move is in the variational tree, the better opportunities you have. There exists the idea that the game is orderly in form, and that because of balance checks there exists a central path and route to go down in terms of choosing the best moves. This centralization theory exists at every layer and different playing levels. There is always a certain best move scenario which exists. This might be one of the reasons also why "standards" exist. In the past, the korean "fighting spirit" style stressed one key point: and that was that everything including the opening could be formulated orderly. However, it was done incorrectly even though the starting basis was correct and the key is not to read everything out plainly. The idea is to implement this positioning theory. This idea of an orderly universe or playing field may also revolutionize how academics work, and it is not a false guiding ideology nor an engineering approach. But, it is an integral concept of how you should work your way down from a centralized point while also pursuing the scientific method in further analysis of the position. Some may regard these as delusions but in reality if one approaches it correctly, it is merely a misconception that these certain "belief systems" are delusional starting points.
As for Direction of Play, the author's opinion is that playing for defense can be effective. Playing a strong opening is a good idea in Go that will allow you to succeed. There have always been two different styles or thinking methods even in chess. Namely, there were those who concentrated on playing out the game following from a proper opening, and those who focused more on a highly calculative type of game. One is focused on playing a macro-oriented counting game by taking an approach to analyzing the game's framework. The other is to read variations out deeper and thereby reflects what some people can observe sometimes to be highly aggressive fighting games. What is ultimately key, however, is not the principle but the practice. Combine both aspects by utilizing a proper opening as the primary function while relying on reading as the proof. And it is about finding the one true best way to play that works. Note that a proper opening stance doesn't mean everything has to be orderly, it is simply an idea and fighting games could still well fall into this idea. Go is about finding accurate solutions and what works in actuality, but we must also keep in mind our guiding principles. It is about defensive play and deviating only when it's possible.
By "defensive style", you should be passive with your moves and evaluate the framework of the game first rather than stemming from and beginning with local evaluation. Certain direction applications such as playing for corners first or considering influence over territory is at a more specific level and will not be described in this article. In reality, this article points out the general core mechanic that explains everything else including the above-said directional practical applications of theory. In fact, approaching corners first isn't mandatory, it is only effective. Learning about the opening first is more important for a beginner than corner joseki patterns, which is also fine but comes later. Turning points in the game are also covered by this theoretical mechanic. This is not just some guiding ideology. This is merely the principle of placing emphasis on the true definition of playing an opening game and the guiding principles for overall play. It can be said that principles are nothing without proof, however it can also be said that application is nothing without principles. Make sure your move is a principled move before reading out the details. Also choose the principled move that works well overall when you're unclear on where to go next. Or read things out and choose the more tactical and aggressive one if you are certain it will work when making your next move. These are the guidelines for a correct mindset when playing Go and removing the fear of the unknown. This theory itself is an explanation of the manifestation of this concrete mechanic found in Go and how it gives you more opportunities to fall back on from mistakes by playing open-ended moves. In order to completely understand this theory however, you'll have to dissect and figure out the specific reasons why it works yourself. It boils down to calculation and best-play scenarios, yes. But to clarify, once again, this just explains how one goes about playing out a concrete positioning game, and this theory is simply an overall starting guideline to playing out a game of Go.