Continuum of security
Preface: This is an attempt to sketch out an important concept that was never explained to me explicitly. I've tried to avoid repeating other, more helpful, lessons on these matters, and I think I've been successful. However, I welcome responses and/or additions. -- The Author
One of the trickiest things for me as a beginner (and even now as a somewhat competent single-kyu) has been understanding a particular kind of balance. As that page shows, Go is a constant vortex of tension between territory and power. It's hard enough to see this in play, much less understand it.
It's natural to think that the person with the most territory is doing better. (The first time someone asked me, mid-game, who was winning, I just stared at them blankly -- how does one answer? I soon realized that Go players never ask this, because it's more a koan than a proper question.) But of course, the balance of power is as important -- perhaps more so -- than the balance of territory.
Recently, I've come to understand this tension as a continuum of security, which permeates every game at every level, with interesting variations when it comes to differing strengths. This concept has much to do with light versus heavy play, and being overconcentrated versus not, but it goes a little further than either of these alone.
The continuum looks like this:
Security <--------------------------------------> Distance
On the one end, we have security; the ease of mind that comes from being safe. A shape with two eyes would be located at the extreme end of this side of the continuum.
On the other end, we have distance; the ability to reach over large parts of the board. The four stones played in each of the corners of most games today is a good choice for the extreme end of this side.
The point for beginners is this: You can't have it all; but to win, you must have both. This is the essential balance that must be struck for successful Go.
The most common style I see in the Go of beginners is something like this:
Black lives in total security in one corner (or makes an insanely thick wall impervious to attack). Security is the #1 concern of every beginner I've ever worked with, and for good reason -- nothing hurts more than watching a group die when you've worked so hard to give it life. So they make groups that gain very little territory, but are 100% safe.
Soon after, however, most beginners start to realize that they're stuck at one end of the continuum and, like a pendulum, swing over to the other side and put more emphasis on distance. They cover lots of distance, but find themselves scrambling to live (and dying a lot).
An important corollary of this continuum is that stronger players will tell you (as a beginner) to trade territory for influence; what they may not tell you is that this influence is for distance, and that it comes as the cost of security. The trick is learning how to use that distance/influence to get territory (usually by attacking).
After playing for almost two years now, I'm convinced of two things:
- Every player is dealing with this problem; and
- All progress is some variant on this pendulum-like motion.
Even now, I feel as though I've played well so long as I don't lose any major groups (even if I fall short on territory and therefore lose).
The trick is to find the patterns, the tesuji, and the methods that most elegantly -- and effectively -- grace the middle of this continuum. There are many time-tested examples of these, but I won't duplicate other SL pages; just know that they're out there.
My final points are as follows:
- Beginners: Be mindful of where you are on this continuum, in terms of your general attitude, your preferred style of play, and -- ideally -- every move you make.
- Post-Beginners (ie, the rest of us): Make sure you explain to weaker players how influence should be used, and that timidity can be just as deadly in Go as carelessness.
 In Zen Buddhism, a koan is a question without a definite answer, meant to inspire metathought/mindfulness/there's probably a better phrase/term I could use here, and assist the disciple toward enlightement. The most common example is "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" (Not the original phrasing)