Go Strategy

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Go Strategy
series: NHK lecture
By: Sonoda Yuichi
Publisher: NHK, 2001
ISBN10 4-14-016103-4
222 pp.

Go Strategy: This book is a refreshing and somewhat unconventional treatment of go strategy. Its organizing skeleton is a collection of strategic precepts and concepts to which the lecture-sized sections are devoted. As a teaching vehicle, each section focuses on some whole-board position for which the principal issue is identified; and then a proposed line of play and variations are analyzed in light of the featured precept as well as earlier ones. The author is always careful to show how to handle tactical complications which could arise from following his advice. (He also shows what can happen if you don't follow his advice.)

That much is conventional. What is unconventional is Sonoda's own formulation of basic precepts, some with unfamiliar points of emphasis and some sounding downright paradoxical. Of course the goal is to give the reader a fresh perspective on the game. Sonoda remarks that occasionally his recommended lines of play are rather different from conventional wisdom; but nonetheless they should feel natural; and at any rate, "there are many paths to the top of the mountain."

His first principle is

  • playing near live stones is small, playing near not (yet) live stones is large.

He regards this as the simplest concrete formulation of efficient play, and the single most important thing that the reader will learn from the book. But wait! How near? And what is live -- is it only rock solid with two eyes, or does it include a single isolated 4-4 stone not yet under attack? Or what else? Well, that depends on the position. This precept is invoked in just about every section of the book. It is the author's Prime Directive and it applies, in his hands, to situations where you might not suspect it is a relevant issue.

Here are some more of Sonoda's precepts:

  • Don't make three eyes. (So cause your opponent to do so by forcing capture of a sacrifice stone.)
  • Solidifying live stones is OK. (Refers to opponent's stones, as in a leaning attack.)
  • Attack means allowing escape.
  • Enclosing territory makes it smaller.
  • Forcing your opponent to enclose territory increases your profit.
  • Don't attack, don't defend.

This last one sounds especially strange, but Bob McGuigan suggests (in the forum) that, in light of diagrams displayed below, it could be understood as "don't just attack, don't just defend." Along with this precept, Sonoda addresses the point that sometimes attacks are too severe or too prolonged or from the wrong direction or aimed at the wrong target or without any profitable objective; and that too often, threatened territory is defended early in the game when it should be traded for something else. This is all elaborated in a seventy page chapter, with sections devoted to specific sub-precepts.

In another chapter he devotes sections to sabaki, seriai (pushing and contact battles between groups of stones), and the relative strengths of various third and fourth line extensions.

One chapter is a "Crash course on 3-3 point and the corner" -- he feels that amateurs are surprisingly unfamiliar with variations from standard invasions under the 4-4 point, and associated life and death issues.

The final chapter analyzes a small collection of 4-stone handicap positions.

This is an exciting book -- it has taught me altogether new ways to think about positions, and his recommendations all feel natural, as he promises. After only one reading it has already helped my game, and I even have fun reinterpreting analyses in other books via Sonoda's framework. But learning how and when to apply the precepts is a long-term process, and I suspect that I'll be rereading it when I'm well past shodan (if I ever get that far).

Sonoda says that his book is aimed at a wide range of players, whether or not at dan level. It is certainly not a first introduction to strategic issues. Speaking as a 3-kyu (AGA) I would guess that while Go Strategy can surely be read with appreciation by single-digit kyu players, even post-dan players would be happy to learn to play as effectively as Sonoda illustrates in his examples.

Here are some sample positions from the book, with summaries of the analysis.

Don't attack, don't defend (four diagrams)

4 stone game  

In this common 4-stone handicap scenario, white has just played the marked stone. Sonoda dismisses black responses at either a (played out of "fear") or b because white easily gets excellent results, as he shows. But he doesn't like the frequently recommended pincer response at c either%%%%

Too severe  

For instance, the displayed sequence might occur, followed by Ba and Wb. But black has been forced into an uncomfortably low position and so, according to Sonoda, the severe pincer of B1 has backfired and he cannot recommend it.

Still not right  

The looser two-space pincer shown here ultimately imperils the pincer stone B1 and so cannot be recommended either.

Just right  

Sonoda's preferred response is the calm, three space pincer B1 shown here, right in the center between white and black. He devotes many pages to variations and continuations showing why. But basically, B1 is far enough from white so that black can fight hard on the upper right without having to watch his back. White does have room to extend to a ("attack means allowing escape"), but the extension is cramped and not so profitable. If white does turn around and invade at b, say, then B1 is close enough to the bottom to stay connected, and the lower side territory obtained by white is too small to compare with black's resulting thickness.

Don't enclose (two diagrams)

Enclosing territory  

If black starts to enclose her lower right territory with B1, the displayed sequence could follow. But white has also considerably benefited from the total exchange. Black must not play this way.

Reducing each other  

Instead, black should lean into white's moyo with B1. If white is so timid as to respond with W2 at B3 then black immediately plays B3 at a, threatening white's lower left; and assuming white defends, black retains sente to play at B5, ultimately getting much more profit than in the previous diagram.

But white must not play this way either! Instead, white should respond to B1 with a counter reduction leading, perhaps, to the displayed sequence. Both sides have been reduced, but "absolutely" the second diagram is better for black than the first. In addition, black has serious invasion aji at b, as detailed by Sonoda in twelve diagrams.

The sample diagrams "Entering a large moyo" in the review of Ishikura's How to Break Out of Beginning Kyu Levels (Immediate Results) also illustrate the "don't enclose" principle.

Playing near live stones is small (two diagrams)

Fuseki decisions  

This is the first whole-board position considered in the book. It has just been established that white's upper right corner group is unconditionally alive. Black to move. B1 and a are both considered, but B1 is judged better because it is farther from white's live corner group.

Following the joseki in the lower left, B7 (and the extension to b following W10) are adjudged as in the right direction because black's upper right group is thin, owing to the cutting points, and could use some support: playing near non-live stones is big.

These moves could be justified without Sonoda's particular formulation, of course; but he wants to get the reader to start thinking in these terms.

Forcing white to "make three eyes"  

Following W1, black plays the crosscut of B2 and B4 ("skillful play"), and then plays to sacrifice B4 and B10. He intends to force white to play near the live group.

The battle runs for another 25 moves, with additional sacrifices by black, and is far too long to reproduce here. But in the end black has a nice wall stretching along the line containing B6 and B8, taking sente to play at a, while above the wall white has a huge, highly compressed group filling much of the corner and stretching to within one space from the right corner group. Sonoda says he likes to describe white's over-concentration as "making three eyes."

(Sonoda does not discuss what white mistake contributed to such a dismal outcome; but one might presume that W1 was too near the live white stones and should have been on the side instead of the top.)

Lynx Indeed, the W1 was bad and the attachment on top and cut is the standard tesuji to force W into overconcentrated shape. There are some very scary variants, however, where W resists, and if W is strong enough on the outside, the cut may be overplay.

Don't just enclose (three diagrams)

Misled by proverb  

Sonoda feels that in this common reduction sequence, by responding to the cap of W1 with B2, black has been led badly astray by the knight's response proverb.

Bigger play.  

He recommends not responding directly to W1, but closing the corner instead, because the corner is bigger, and starting at the bottom instead of the top because white's lower position is thin ("non-live stones") and a move there is more of a threat. If next W3, then black can also enclose the top, and with this sequence, black has played much more efficiently than white.


If black prefers speedier play then in place of the previous B4 the attachment B1, "solidifying live stones", is also fine. Taking sente to invade the bottom, black can later anticipate Ba, Wb, Bc. The two marked white stones are low priority.

-- FredK

Tamsin: I have almost finished reading this book now, and I feel that I have learned a lot from it. There is a great deal of content: Sonoda does have recurrent themes, but there is enough variety to justify calling the book a real strategy manual. You will learn about attack and defence, a number of tesuji, how to build and destroy territory and many other topics. One beauty of Sonoda`s explanations is that they frequently answer questions that aren`t covered in the Western go literature. For example, everybody knows Kageyama`s advice about running fights, namely, that you have to get ahead. But, for years, I have wanted to know what to do when you can`t get ahead. Sonoda tells you what to do. If FredK`s review and all this aren`t enough to get you interested, then I might mention the final chapter, which is about `secret measures` - to make your opponent cry out in surprise!

This is one of the first books that I have encountered that really justifies the pain of reading it in a second language.

Questions & comments: tderz: You both say that you have 'read' the book.
Can you guess in how much this book on a subject requiring much explanation might be useful for me with almost no Japanese comprehension?
How much do the diagrams speak for themselves, how many are there?

Tamsin: You have a very good point, and I don`t have an easy answer for you. I study Japanese intensively and I live in Japan, and so I can read books so long as they don`t go beyond the 6th grade level (end of elementary school), which this one does not very often. As you can probably tell from FredK`s notes, he has studied Japanese for many years, and so among other rewards he can read books in the language. Now, I wouldn`t recommend anybody to learn Japanese simply to read go books, but if you happen to be learning Japanese and studying go, like me or like FredK, then reading Japanese books is a great way to improve in two areas simultaneously. I suppose then, that without wanting to sound exclusive, FredK/Japanese Book Reviews is of most use to people who are studying both the game and the language. Certainly I am very grateful to FredK for starting the page because I have found some very enjoyable and helpful books by way of it.

Unfortunately, you probably cannot get very much out of this book without reading the text. It`s not a problem book, although of course the diagrams aid comprehension greatly.

If, eventually, I can get good enough, I would very much like to translate this book and others like it for the Western market. I really hope somebody does so one day, because I`m starting to think it`s like Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go - The Next Level.

Depending on its legality, I might be persuaded to do a kind of synopsis of some chapters, and let them it have by email, if anybody is curious.

tderz: Tamsin, thank you for the extensive reply.
The reference to Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go sounds good enough to convince me to try to order it (have to find out how). The number of diagrams ? What would it tell me anyway?
I think then that a similar page for Chinese book reviews is useful. Incredible work for this has already been conducted by '[ext] Tchan001' on GoDiscussions. Yes, I agree, it gives so much positive stimulation to find a point of interest in the other language - I learned English that way!

Tamsin: You`re welcome, tderz :-) The book has very many diagrams, about 2 to every page, but as it`s not a problem collection, you need to be able to read Japanese to know what Sonoda is explaining. However, you know Chinese, so I guess you could probably get the general thrust of his argument from the kanji - helpfully, the most important things are printed in bold, and there`s a lot of repetition.

RichardHunter I have also read this book and liked it. I got the book after watching the lectures on TV. I am currently working through Omori's lectures. I particularly like the NHK books because you can be certain that the content represents the ideas of a pro not an amateur. The books are published several months after the TV lectures and usually follow the lecture content closely, though some do have deviations.

tderz: That sounds pretty interesting, thank you again to all of you.
Did s.o. tape/record those NGK lectures, resp. can one buy a DVD or so?

See also

Go Strategy last edited by Phelan on January 26, 2009 - 08:33
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