Dieter Verhofstadt / Go Terms

Sub-page of DieterVerhofstadt

There has been a lot of debate on go terms, especially when they borrow from Japanese terms and things go lost in translation.

I have been using the following terms, with their respective meaning:


What I mean by sente is: "a move is sente if (it is very likely that) answering locally is the best reply by the opponent, so that next the choice to play elsewhere lies with the player who started the sequence". Whether the opponent replies locally or not doesn't matter. The point is that the opponent had better replied locally because the result will be worse for them if they didn't.

So, when I say that "a move is not sente", it means that a player has played a move with the intention of keeping the initiative, but he made a wrong assessment. The opponent shouldn't reply locally because they can get a better result by playing elsewhere.

This means player A can have the intention for a move to be sente, but it really isn't. And player B can decide to reply or not to a move, whether it is sente or not. Sente is an objective quality of a move, not an aspect of the sequence effectively played.

If it weren't for the mix up with kikashi, I would use the English term "forcing move" because that's what the move does: it forces the opponent to answer locally (or else get a worse result). Kikashi however also carries the notion of "disposable stone?" and settling the shape, because the opponent has already committed to a choice, which may even be slightly inferior. This is a complex concept, while the concept of sente is fairly easy to understand.

The fact that someone is in a position to play a sente move, means they "have sente", which I would translate as "having the initiative". When someone has the initiative and plays a forcing move, they keep the initiative. This triplet "before, action, after" carries all the notions of sente, as I understand it.

The opposite is gote: you don't have the initiative (gote 1), are forced to answer locally (gote 2) and let the opponent the initiative to play elsewhere (gote 3).

Playing elsewhere is the common translation of tenuki. In contrast to sente, tenuki is a reflection on what has happened, rather than a quality of a move or a position. Answering locally is one choice, playing elsewhere is another. It doesn't say what's the best choice. Sente does.

If I could avoid confusion with how they're used, I'd stick with:

  • having the initiative
  • a forcing move
    • which keeps the initiative
    • which may settle the shape
    • and may result in a disposable stone
  • playing elsewhere, a choice when having the initiative

Strong group

"Strong group" is not a Japanese term but I list it here because I refuse to use "thickness".

Rather than losing myself again in the debate about the proper translation of atsui/atsumi/atsusa and the common term to do so, thick/thickness, I use "strong group" to reflect that a group can be left alone, that it will influence what happens in its vicinity in favor of the owner and that both owner and opponent had better play away from it, the owner because of overlapping influence, the opponent because of the negative impact on the livelihood of its stone played in the vicinity of a live group.

The notion of influence is there and so "strong groups" would rather find themselves oriented towards side and centre. When talking about a group in the corner, I would rather use "alive group" (or dead group) and the territory by virtue of which it is alive.

A strong group usually has two qualities: connectivity and eyespace. The opposite of a strong group is a weak group. (A weak group can have good connectivity but little eyespace, in which case we would call it heavy, or ample eyespace but a high seperability, in which case we would call it thin. However, the opposite of those terms is light and thick respectively, so this adds confusion. When a weak group has neither, it's probably either dead or light.)


The Western go community has long struggled with the translation of aji, partly because of the non-go meaning in Japanese of "taste", which is hard to transfer to English, partly because other candidates like "potential" didn't do the job, and also because "aji" is conveniently short. Although we have been distinguishing "good aji" and "bad aji", the term is mostly used in the latter sense. When we say "there's aji", we mean, "there's a weakness in this position that can be exploited (later)". The phrase "unfinished business" has been suggested but that fails again the convenience of brevity "aji" has.


Komi is the compensation White gets for going second in an even game. "Compensation" would be a good translation, but it's 4 syllables.


A tesuji is a "skillful technique". It carries the notion of being non-trivial and somewhat unexpected. It's a move that doesn't belong to the repertoire of basic technique. It's acquired move for a specific set of situations, or even one particular situation. Inevitably it also depends on the player's skill.

The line is difficult to draw: a snap back is generally seen as tesuji be it an elementary one, while a monkey jump is a rather standard move, although it's unexpected to a novice that one can jump that far.

Dieter Verhofstadt / Go Terms last edited by Dieter on June 11, 2020 - 20:04
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