Sub-page of DieterVerhofstadt

The following can be seen as a guidance for play, based on proverbs, principles and techniques. The reasoning is that in every stage of the game we have a certain purpose and apply techniques. I've been trying to rebuild those proverbs up from the ground at DieterVerhofstadt/IdeasOnGoTheory.

Table of contents

1. In the opening


  1. establish stones in open area - development
  2. surround the opponent - avoid being surrounded
  3. cut and connect (on a large scale)

Basic development of stones (haengma)

See also Haengma tutorial for beginners

  1. Iron pillar - solid
  2. Kosumi - slightly faster, special purpose (relation with friendly and opposite keima)
  3. One space jump - defensive development
  4. Keima - fast, directional development - attack
  5. Two space jump - very fast, loose - sacrifice
  6. Large keima - very fast, directional - flexible

Principles for large scale operations

  1. Cut weak groups - split on a large scale
  2. Approach from the wider side
  3. Block on the wider side

Principles for small scale operations

  1. Count liberties especially Don't take away your own liberties
  2. Cut/connect at a small scale
  3. First corners then sides then center

Basic technique for close combat

  1. Hane the contact play
  2. Extend from atari if it creates more liberties
  3. Block the push through
  4. Block the diagonal creating the same shape as
  5. Extend from a diagonal contact play
  6. Connect against the peep
  7. Hane at the head
  8. Stretch from a bump
  9. Extend from a crosscut in the absence of neighbouring stones

2. Middle game


  1. develop big areas
  2. (de)stabilize important stones (many stones, or big open area)
  3. acquire central influence
  4. maintain the balance of territory vs thickness (development vs stability)
  5. make life for surrounded stones



  1. make a base first, then jump out
  2. play at the border of two moyos? (struggle to get ahead)
  3. invade an area if it becomes too big, reduce if it can be that big
  4. play away from strong or stable positions
  5. Don't build influence in the direction of stable positions
  6. On a 19x19 board, gladly accept fourth line territory


  1. Attack from a distance
  2. Surround the enemy group, then play the vital point
  3. When the opponent does not defend a surrounded group, read carefully and kill.
  4. Don't let your groups become surrounded


  1. Sacrifice unimportant stones
  2. Do not sacrifice cutting stones (see meaning of stones)

Techniques for large scale operations

  1. reduce at sector lines
  2. invade at the largest open spot
  3. Build box shaped territories

Techniques for small scale operations (basic tesuji)

  1. solid connection, hanging connection
  2. net, ladder, loose ladder
  3. strike across the keima
  4. snap-back
  5. Don't peep where you can cut
  6. Capture the cutting stones
  7. Cut the side you don't want (because your opponent will have to capture the cutting stone).
  8. Nets are better than ladders
  9. Capture the ladder as soon as possible
  10. sometimes a placement to rob eyeshape first
  11. Make no empty triangles and avoid moves leading to them
  12. Do not peep at bamboo joints and don't make moves leading to them


  1. Counting liberties
  2. Know your eye shapes for life and death
  3. Use ko to resist and complexify the game

3. End game

  1. counting the score?
  2. mutual damage
  3. sente then gote then reverse sente
  4. only treat life threatening moves as real sente

4. Meta proverbs

  1. The enemy's key point is yours
  2. leave equivalent options for your next move
  3. Don't touch equivalence (miai) until you've a clear reason to choose
  4. When you don't find a locally satisfying play, consider tenuki


On KGS I have been experimenting with a new account, playing moves that comply with Go Theory. When choosing a move, I awkwardly play the theoretical move, even if my emotions are crying to do otherwise. Emotions are surely key for human intelligence, but emotions are also responsible for the majority of our bad habits. Those bad habits mostly fall into two categories: attacking/defending worthless stones and fear of losing territory.

The experiment also teaches me the reasons why I play moves that I did not include in my list of theoretical principles. Thus I can decide whether these reasons are good principles themselves, or stubborn remainders of bad habits.

I started this experiment, contradictorily, after Guo Juan's lecture to the BGF. She showed different examples of rules that are overthrown by pros nowadays, typically by the Koreans. Japanese have been relying on proverbs and formulas too much. The Koreans have replaced old joseki with new ones and constantly defy common sense with sharp reading. A second reason were the articles by Denis Feldmann on [ext], where he urges us amateurs to obey Go Theory and not fool ourselves into the thought that our reading is sharp enough to outplay theory. I thought it would be interesting, in my quest to become a really good player, to first immerse myself in a bath of Go Theory and then add the sharp reading.

First results after playing this way on KGS.

I found myself connecting my groups much more and defending my territory much less. This turned out to have a great effect in the later stages of the game. I guess that's called thickness. In the late middle game, I often had an occasion to kill (parts of) large groups.

I also lost some games in fighting, because I didn't do any reading beyond a result that could be evaluated by one of the proverbs. Obviously reading is necessary to win fights and games, and often reading supersedes the theoretical move.

There is no proverb that warns against connecting along dame. While I connected my groups, the opponent walked along on the fourth line. - I solved this by including proverbs regarding this issue.

In the opening, I almost instinctively prevent my opponent from making two corner enclosures (see Allowing two enclosures/discussion). I also combine pincers with extensions. The latter is surely according to go theory. The first is also a proverb, but one which is difficult to convincingly demonstrate.

Also in the opening, I found myself mindlessly playing joseki. Since I have been receiving teaching by Guo Juan, I treat joseki as virtual groups and try to fit them into my fuseki. This is already better than before. Still, in fast games I play joseki without consciously applying go theory. There is some hard work left for me to unlearn this bad habit.

Another experiment

I'd like to try and play like this, while club members are reading out loud and suggesting principles and techniques.

Comments by other deshi.

PeterMielke: This sounds a bit like [ext] Design Patterns in the OOP community, only with the proverbs the context isn't stated. But there are [ext] problems - cf. pattern language.

Remillard: Some of the technical proverbs have links to terms inside them, but they don't have an overall link to THE proverb that explains what they mean. Should these be added to the proverbs page? For example: "Knight's move against capping play from the third line". Keima and Boshi are explained as singular concepts, but the overall proverb is not explained.

For what it's worth, I really like this page. I use proverbs as guiding tools for any number of situations and I've found that some situations simply don't arise anymore if good technique is played early and played often.

Dieter: Thanks. I like to make a difference between a proverb and what I consider to be a heuristic. A proverb is a heuristic which is generally accepted and exists as a real proverb in Japanese Go literature. But that is only what I consider to be a proverb. Already the proverbs page contains a lot of proverbs that are either doubtful or self-invented and often both.

Remillard: Well regardless if it's a proverb or a heuristic, would it make sense to make a page for the items that don't have one yet? Perhaps that's in the works, I don't mean to be nosey. Just terribly curious about the ones I haven't heard before (like the Knight's Move one).

Tamsin Your KGS experiment sounds a bit like my checklists idea. You will probably find that although your play can benefit from a certain systemisation of approach to move selection your principles will not even slightly cover all the eventualities and idiosyncrasies of a typical go game. It might be better simply to learn go theory very thoroughly and to endeavour not to depart from it unless you can see very good reason to do so.

Another point I'd like to make: you mention the bad habit of playing from a fear of losing territory. It dawned on me recently, as a result of playing with Alexandre Dinerchtein, that there is a fundamental issue at stake here that many people often get completely wrong. There is a huge difference between passively defending territory and between claiming territory. Weak players try their best to cling to territory (a typical example of this is habitually answering a low approach to the hoshi point with the kosumitsuke), while stronger players are much more mindful of the value of thickness. However, it is not uncommon to see players in this stage giving away large territorial points because they are loth to make territory-oriented plays instead of thick ones. This is what happened to me: I was quite good at fighting, launching attacks and building thickness, but I was at a loss for something to do in quiet positions. I realised that the answer is to take the biggest point one can. Clinging to imagined territory is one thing, but actively creating the potential for territory is altogether different, and better.

Thad: Can you clarify the point about using a two point jump to sacrifice? An example perhaps? Dieter: I created using the two point jump to sacrifice

DieterVerhofstadt/ListOfTrustworthyProverbs last edited by tapir on December 3, 2011 - 22:07
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