Keywords: Rules, Go term

Chinese: 猜先 cāi xiān, 猜子 cāi zǐ
Japanese: 握り (nigiri)
Korean: 돌 가리기 (tol kariki)

Nigiri is a Japanese go term (from the Japanese, lit. "grab", "grasp", "squeeze") adopted into English, referring to the procedure common in Japan at the beginning of an even game to decide who will play the black stones; the equivalent of flipping a coin to determine who kicks off a game of football. The steps are:

  1. The first player grabs (hence the name) a handful of white stones and places his hand(s) on the go board, without showing stones to the other player.
  2. The second player states his guess as to whether the number of stones is "odd" or "even" by placing one or two black stones on the go board and calling aloud. (In Japanese, 奇数先 or kisuu-sen for odd, or 偶数先, guusuu-sen for even. Old-style 半先 han-sen (odd) and 丁先 chou-sen (even) may also be used).
  3. The first player then opens his hand(s), arranging the stones in pairs to make it easy to see whether the number is odd or even.
  4. If the second player has guessed correctly, he takes Black.

At the beginning of a series of games, such as a seven-game championship series, or even just a series of games between friends in a club, nigiri will be used to determine who plays black in the first game; in succeeding games, the colors will alternate. In the final game of the series with a tie-score (say the 7th game after 3-3 tie), the players will re-nigiri (nigiri-naoshi) to determine who takes what color in the last game.

The senior (stronger or older) player is normally the one who performs the nigiri (takes the handful of stones); if neither player has obvious seniority, such as in a friendly club game, then the player sitting nearer the white stones does so.

Note that in Ing rules, the player who won the nigiri doesn't take black but chooses his color; due to the 8-point komi, most players choose white. Here's the relevant Ing rule:

Choosing colors: In an even game, colors are chosen as follows. The older player takes a handful of white stones and his opponent guesses even or odd. If he guesses correctly, he can choose black or white. Otherwise, the older player chooses black or white.

According to John Fairbairn, in at least some pro tournaments in China, colours will likely be decided by a public drawing of lots, since professional go is more of a spectator sport there.

Nigiri in set-of-three handicap

The old Match handicap system had set-of-three handicaps such as sen-ai-sen (B-W-B). When players at such a handicap play a one-off game, the guesser specifies two numbers from one, two and three. Then the grabber arranges stones in sets of three.

Nigiri as tie-breaker

Nigiri can also be used to choose things other than playing colour. For example in some tournaments it is used as a two-person tie-breaker. This scheme is easily extended to include a three-way tie-break:

  1. Each player grabs a handful of stones.
  2. Each player displays the stones in pairs.
  3. If there is an "odd one out" (one even against two odd or one odd against two even), the odd one out has won the nigiri.
  4. If all have the same (three even or three odd), repeat the process.

An alternative, albeit completely non-standard, way to determine who begins is the Pie Rule.

Pasky: Do we have any idea how old nigiri is? Did it appear only in Japan already, or does it come from old China? What method to decide who is white did they use in old China?

Nigiri Stories

SAS: In Fernando Aguilar's account of his game against Hasegawa Sunao, he says: "Hasegawa looked at the players' presentation card and noticed that my date of birth was some months before his, so he passed the white stones to me to do nigiri." (This is just a rough translation - my Spanish is not very good, to say the least.) This shows how it is the older player who takes the handful of white stones.

In Hikaru No Go manga episode 14, the Go Go Igo mini-lesson at the end by Umezawa Yukari, she states that "The older person does nigiri" and has the older girl grab the white stones while the younger boy places one black stone saying "Odd first," or two black stones saying "Even first." If he is correct, he plays black.

Arden Chan

In online games, the server can randomly choose who plays black.

Nigiri is, of course, also a type of sushi - specifically the little blocks of rice with topping balanced on them. It would be interesting to know whether it is the same "grab" meaning or not. JennyRadcliffe

The word nigiri is also found in the compound nigiri zushi, the kind of [ext] sushi created by a sushi chef squeezing a portion of rice between his left hand and right index and middle fingers.

Chris Hayashida: Yes, it is. It's the squeezing of the rice into the riceballs. When I think of [ext] onigiri, I think of the salted rice balls that I ate for lunch when I was a kid. That's also why it's easy for me to remember to nigiri with the white stones... who wants to eat a black rice ball?

Aschwin van der Woude: Nigiri when talking about sushi is actually short for nigirimeshi (握り飯). Nigiri (握り) means gripping something with your hand, and meshi (飯) is simply boiled rice. So when making a rice ball that way, it is called Onigiri (お握り).

Nigiri last edited by hnishy on December 28, 2022 - 14:55
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