Fewer places to play in the middle game


Calvin: Recently, I've been going through some elementary books I haven't read in a while just to see if I notice anything different in them than I did before. In the introduction to Volume IV of the Learn to Play Go series, the authors have these encouraging words:

"Many people feel lost in the middle game. It's true that it's hard to know if you are making mistakes in the opening, so it may seem easier. And there are more stones on the board in the middle game, so it may appear more complex. But actually there are fewer places to play in the middle game than in the opening, and you are playing with more information, so don't let the middle game throw you."

I've heard Janice Kim say similar things in lectures, and I'm trying to get my head around this because I'm not sure I believe it. First of all, in the opening there are some rather orthodox rules of thumb for opening play that indicate the proper direction of play, the biggest areas of the board, the areas which are miai, the priorities of various types of moves, etc. Now it's true that if you ignore these than maybe you can play almost anywhere. But if you follow them, then you are somewhat restricted, but at least you are restricted by simple rules. Ignoring very complex joseki for the moment, the tactical complexity of the middle game is much greater than that of the fuseki, so it's hard for me to believe the above statement. It's not that I feel the authority to disagree, it's just that I wonder who these players are who feel there are fewer possible places to play in the middle game and why am I not one of them? Is it just something you see as you get stronger?

Mef: It's True, people just tend to get caught up in the swirl of middle game without their rules of the opening. In fact it's even simpler in middle game, there's more or less only one rule: Find the weakest group, and attack it or defend it depending on whose it is.

Calvin: I use that rule, and it's a good one. The number of possible plays to consider is still large. Plus, I am troubled by questions like: "what is a group?" It's not as obvious as it used to be. Maybe a group is not just a bunch of stones, but is a bunch of stones that have some purpose and are worth defending. And stopping there can be pretty dangerous. It isn't always possible to profit from attack, and sometimes it's a really bad idea to defend, even if you can see the moves to do it.

Velobici: We have said that there are opening rules. How about a middle game rules. First, count the board...when ahead simply and eliminate aji...when behind complicate the game and create aji. Second, apply the first rule to the area of the board that has the greatest value. This sounds pretty endgameish, and to an extent it is. One major difference is that the endgame is truly countable...the middle game less so.

Malweth: I believe that the premise that there are fewer plays in the middle game really intends the purpose "there are fewer correct plays in the middle game." Certainly the literal meaning is true - there are less spots to play because there are more stones played (than in the opening).

So can this purpose be examined? First of all, in my games, as reviewed by a high dan (or versus my teacher Ion Florescu), there are many times where the statement "this is the only move" is made in the mid-game. Why is it the only move?

Invariably, there are a number of groups on the board. (A group can be defined as a set of stones that are completely connected). The purpose of the middle game is to determine what groups are available, which need reinforcement, which are attackable, and which can be reinforced while attacking.

Those moves which serve multiple purposes (splitting while reinforcing, attacking while reinforcing, etc) are most important. Moves which simply reinforce are second most important, and moves which attack are least important. Of course, the size of play is also a big consideration - a move that defends a group that is already surrounded and can be killed or saved in 1 move is typically called "urgent." If playing elsewhere is bigger the urgency is nonexistant. I see weaker players defending tiny territories to live very often even when there are much bigger points on the board. It's almost impossible to come up with a definitely prioritized list of rules in the middle game because size of play is always a concern. And this is why there are fewer places to play - the biggest moves on the board are usually fewer.

Important thoughts in the middle game, however:

  • Stones that cut weak groups are important and should be saved/killed
  • Stones that have no base must escape
  • Stones that are light can be used to build power instead of escaping
  • Groups that are weak need to be defended or attacked
  • Moyo must be defended and made bigger when possible.
  • Moyos must be invaded, or reduced if invasion is impossible.

I'm sure there're more points to consider, but many of the above are concepts which require a developed intuition and good reading ability.

Fewer places to play in the middle game last edited by malweth on July 2, 2005 - 14:43
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