Charles Matthews/A Debate Worth Having

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While we are paying attention to the opening plays, it is only right to point out that many authorities advise against placing excessive weight on them. For the most part amateur games are decided much later in the fighting; and improvement in the middle and end phases pays more immediate dividends. Certainly studying the corner openings by themselves is a dubious plan of action for most players.

Another point to make is that discussion of openings can take on a negative tone. Finding fault with plays that are well short of game-losing mistakes can seem overzealous. Where a player explains that a choice of variation was designed to lead into a familiar or comfortable type of position, that can be seen to be a valid way of setting about things, a gambit perhaps trading a current loss of a few points for future practical prospects.

What can be said on the other side is that these arguments may be pressed too far. There is the question of ?content? of games, looking beyond the result alone.

Denial of content is naturally a very serious attack on the reasons to play. Go players are fortunate that games which become fights typically do not do so in an indiscriminate way. Fighting may indeed snowball, taking on a momentum that gathers in issues and generates effects in parts of the board remote from the original bone of contention. That puts to the test the dispositions of forces from the early plays of the game.

In fact starting with an empty board throws each player temporarily into a realm of purified responsibility for the game. What is actually happening is hard to address in explicit language. If only briefly, metaphors of direction, dynamics, planning and pressure may take over as a description.

To players these metaphors are far from dead. It may be that they draw sustenance from what is to come, but the relationship with the middlegame is symbiotic. The opening shapes the fighting, whilst apparently minor decisions in the opening are often charged with full significance when the warfare becomes all-out.

A distinguished visitor to the Cambridge club in 1999 was Susumu Kanetake, who was at the time writing on T.E. Hulme, an influential critic from the first decades of the twentieth century. Hulme tended to use games as a simile alongside algebra and worn-down coinage, when explaining how common expressions become devalued, and speech becomes a ?mere? formal exchange.

Games players would take this as unfair; but to argue that convincingly the roots of content must be allowed their importance.

Charles Matthews

From the Trigantius archives.


HolIgor: My opinion is that it is very difficult to define a topic of discussion in the middle game while the opening and yose provide a lot for a talk.

The topics of the middle game are life and death, shapes, tesuji, i.e. the technique, and planning of the game which is very difficult to talk about as the positions are very difficult to classify.


"Many authorities advise against placing excessive weight on {opening plays}."

Well, of course one should not place excessive weight on any aspect of the game. Change the "excessive" to "much", though, and you have said something. Are there any authorities who advise against placing much weight on opening plays? I do not know of any.

I do know that pros spend more time per play, on average, in the opening as opposed to any other part of the game, while their longest huddles are over a few middle game plays. In my experience, amateurs spend relatively little time on opening plays. In my opinion, they would do better to emulate the pros in that regard. Amateurs in general do not give enough weight to opening plays.

Andrew Walkingshaw: with due deference to players much stronger than I am (I'm ~5k EGF), is it not possible that many amateurs place too much emphasis on opening moves (in the sense of joseki), and simultaneously, too little emphasis on them (in the sense of full-board thinking)?

Bill: Interesting point. :-)

I can't really talk, as I both play extremely fast and know almost no joseki, but it appears that way to me. The pros seem to be spending their time worrying about the full-board implications, whereas many of my peers spend time worrying about knowing joseki to forty or fifty ply deep - which seems a bit fruitless.

Also, it probably depends what kind of amateur players you're talking about: I've got to my present strength without worrying particularly about openings in particular. While I'm still making fifty-point mistakes in middle-game fighting, I can't really see the point. This is probably even more true for double-figure kyus, and I'm in no position to speak of the ways of dans...

(This looks like a restatement of what I interpret to be Charles's original point, but never mind...)

Charles Matthews/A Debate Worth Having last edited by Dieter on June 24, 2008 - 15:36
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