Kikashi Sente Discussion

    Keywords: Strategy

Table of diagrams
Black 1 is a sente.
More kikashi
Sente vs. kikashi

There are some moves on the board that have to be answered by the opponent, otherwise a local position would crumble. These moves are called forcing moves or kikashi. Playing these moves usually gives some positional advantages to the forcing side, but a ko threat is lost as the result.

I think losing a ko-threat is not really an issue. Deliberately losing flexibility is. Dieter

It also often happens that playing a kikashi which does not gain enough profit is actually aji keshi.

Black 1 is a sente.  

White has to answer at W2 or a in order to live in the corner. That's not kikashi however; 1 is not a kikashi stone.

Kikashi stones should be considered lightly in many cases and sacrificed if their defence makes the formation too heavy.

Sometimes weaker players come up with a move which they consider kikashi, but which is actually a thank you move. This should be avoided.

All of us, weak or strong have to be aware of kikashi being possible thank you moves. --Dieter

Tapir: Isn't it the other way round? Thank you moves are definitely not kikashi, but many moves we amateurs play as if they were kikashi really are not kikashi, but sankyu-moves or even probes where we missed the other possible answer.

DieterVerhofstadt: B1 in the above diagram is not an example of kikashi, but an example of local sente. There is an important difference between kikashi and sente, and once again, I don't want to affirm here that I understand it. Here is an attempt to distinguish between kikashi and sente:

Kikashi or forcing moves , are moves that are played in order to force the opponent to answer in a certain way. The kikashi stones don't achieve a local advantage, but are meant to serve later purposes. If the opponent answers in the expected way - submissively - and tries to capture them later, they are often sacrificed, as they have already served their purpose.

Sente moves are moves that require an answer, if the opponent doesn't want to suffer a local defeat. The difference with kikashi moves, is that sente moves do achieve a local goal and that they should not be sacrificed if you don't want that local achievement go to waste.

Charles Matthews The main point is that kikashi are sente and (a) aren't to be criticised for bad aji keshi and (b) don't require defensive plays afterwards, so are light not heavy. Otherwise forcing plays can be a mistake.

Dieter seconds this phrasing by Charles.

Some examples:


B1 is a peep, a typical example of a kikashi. Due to his marked tiger shape, White is already connected, and there is hardly any aji left in this position. So Black's move is justified: he forces White to confirm the choice she already made: connect her stones.

B1 does several things at a time: it destroys some eye shape, and it can serve as a ladder breaker later, or be a stone that is just in the right spot to win a semeai. But B1 is a stone to be treated lightly. It is not an important stone. It is a kikashi.


From the same diagram, we see that White can also peep at Black's marked TigerShape. This move is sente : it also forces the opponent to answer, but it has a local achievement too. W1 enhances the strength of the white wall, and should by no means be sacrificed, since that would imply the sacrifice of the whole wall !

More kikashi  

Suppose White is ahead in territory but Black has more influence. With W1 and W3, White forces Black to take some territory at the top. After his submissive answers, she jumps to W5. Her stones W1, W3 and W5 will have some influence on the proceedings in the center. If Black makes an attempt to capture W1 and W3, they should be sacrificed in order to strengthen W5.

It may be useful to illustrate the difference between a local sente move, a kikashi and a probe. If we define kikashi in general by a move which forces an answer, then a local sente move and a probe are just different ends of the spectrum, so to speak. But it seems that a kikashi, in addition to 'forcing an answer' is also often used to describe a move which is ready to be sacrificed, which is played outside the normal line of play, answered and then left alone. As such, a kikashi is much more 'speculative' than a local sente move or a probe.

Of course, the distinction between kikashi and thank you moves is another subject, and not always easy to make.


In Strategic Concepts of Go, Nagahara defines kikashi as follows:

"A kikashi is a forcing move played to produce an effect. That is, a kikashi is a play which must be answered, usually in just one way, the exchange of the kikashi and the answer being useful in some way to the player of the kikashi. The terms kikashi and sente may seem to have the same meaning, but kikashi is applied to moves which are more or less incidental to the main flow of play. Once played, kikashi stones can typically be abandoned without any great loss."

See also kikashi and influence.

BillSpight: Just a linguistic note.

From a linguist's or lexicographer's point of view, words typically have more than one meaning. I can identify three main senses of sente, for instance. This point of view is descriptive: how do people actually use the word?

There is also a prescriptive point of view: How should people use the word? There is not always agreement on this, of course, or else people would use the word as they should. ;-) From a technical point of view, it is nice to make a clear distinction between synonyms, so that they do not overlap. One may then prescribe a meaning for a technical term that is narrower than common usage.

In the case of sente and kikashi I think that there is plainly an overlap in common usage, rather than a clear distinction. (And this does not bother me. :-)) It is a question of nuance.

Sente vs. kikashi  

In this diagram I think that most Japanese go players would describe the plays, B1 and W4 as kikashi and sente, respectively. If asked if B1 was sente, they would say of course. If asked if W4 was kikashi, they would say yes, but. It sounds a little funny.

However, they would later call the black stone at B1 a kikashi stone; but would not call the white stone at W4 a kikashi stone. A kikashi stone is one you can easily throw away.

I'm not living in Japan, now. Maybe DaveSigaty would like to check my sense of usage.

DaveSigaty: I can't clarify the actual usage. I would like to blame my Japanese ability but I suspect that also my general conversations about Go do not rise to the necessary heights.

I think that the following is very interesting. It is from Brian Chandler's "Translator's Notes and Terminology" at the beginning of Beyond Forcing Moves:

"As I was browsing in the Nihon Ki-in bookshop one day the Japanese subtitle of this book caught my eye. It is simply kiki kikashi. The obvious translation, though not a very helpful one, is simply Forcing Moves and Forcing Moves. The first term kiki refers simply to moves which force a particular reply. Although kikashi is also translated as 'forcing move' a nuance is lost by translating this word the same way.
To clarify the difference, it may be enlightening to look at the original Japanese terms. Kiki and kikashi are the noun forms of the verbs kiku and kikasu respectively. In normal usage kiku means simply 'work' or 'take effect', in the sense that aspirin 'works' for a headache. Kikasu is the causative form of the same verb ('cause to work'), and in ordinary language it is hard to attach any particular meaning to it. In other words, a native speaker of Japanese knowing nothing of Go would not understand its meaning immediately. This suggests that a special term is in order in English, too.
There is a third grammatical variant of the same basic word, which is kikasare, or very literally 'suffering by being caused to work'. Basically this is the passive form of kikashi, so it means that you have let your opponent gain some kikashi value against you.
Here is my attempt to define these three concepts, together with a list of some of the terms you may find used for them.
kiki - a move which the opponent must answer in a particular way; a move which forces a reply; a move which is sente against some stones, or threatens to live/kill; leverage. ('Leverage' is my own coinage, and it is intended to be more or less self-explanatory. The aji in your opponent's stones is the raw material against which 'leverage' acts; conversely, thickness is the property of stones against which you can get no leverage.)
kikashi - a move which exploits an opponent's forced response to provide some gain.
kikasare - letting the opponent make an effective kikashi against you. I have used 'being kikashi'd' (being forced; playing submissively) in this book. It is not an expression I think particularly elegant, not the least because I am not sure how to spell the past participle of the verb 'to kikashi', but I hope that it gives slightly more of a hint as to what is going on."

In addition to the help with the meaning of kikashi, I also like this for the definition of thickness which is different from (and I think more subtle than) the way I have thought about it up to now.

Very interesting. :-)

Thanks, Dave.


One good use for forcing moves: If you are playing a rengo and you are weaker than your partner, you can play a forcing move so that you don't have to respond to a hairy situation and possibly screw it up, and possibly you could end up denying your opponents' strong player the chance to move. -BlueWyvern

Harpreet: I've been told (while playing aji-keshi) that I was playing sente moves that were not kikashi. That is they were forcing (in the sense that they required a response) but not useful. Kikashi means "useful move". Perhaps that isn't the formal definition but it does coincide with what is written above (specifically, the "cause to work" part). I learned this terminology distinction from a stronger, Japanese-speaking player.

Charles I've added something about the distinction on the thank you move page. It would actually be helpful to have a non-alias 'forcing move' page to refer to that page and this one.

Charles Matthews A very old joke from my club: a move is sente if you hope your opponent doesn't answer it ... There are no true forcing moves in go. But there are many moves that ought to be answered locally.

Perhaps there is a possible tenuki graph, which oscillates:

  • complete beginners don't know what should be answered at all;
  • players with a little more experience answer many plays

and so on, up and down, through amateur kyu and dan grades, before you get some agreement, perhaps at strong amateur level, on which plays really are proper to call 'forcing'.

Confused: Would this be an acceptable definition?

Forcing Move: A move your opponent answers the way you hoped he would.

Charles A move your opponent answers the way you thought he would, even though he knew you thought he would think he should and hoped he wouldn't.

Perhaps 'confused' will apply to several of us shortly.

Anyway, the fundamental point isn't whether you are going to get an answer - who knows? It's the distinction between a kikashi and a thank you move.

Confused: I thought, the distinction was something like this:

  • Forcing move: Move where the best course of action for my opponent is to play where I want him to.
  • Sente: Forcing move with an immediate benefit for me, topped by the bonus not to give my opponent the chance to play somewhere else.
  • Kikashi: Forcing move, where my opponent doesn't like the result but without immediate neccessity for me.
  • Thank you move: Forcing move, which gives my opponent the chance to play where he wanted to play anyway without immediate benefit for me. Bad for me, because I could have played somewhere else where it would have mattered more. Thank you move could also apply to sente moves, where I could have reached the same goal with a less favorable result for my opponent by a different way.


I agree with everything, except that sente always gives an immediate benefit except for keeping the initiative. Okay, here I go:

  1. Having global sente : there is no part of the board requiring an immediate answer in order not to crumble and to make the game difficult. You can decide where to play next. You have the initiative
  2. Taking global sente : there is a part of the board requiring action, but realizing that by paying attention to it, you'll never get to play first in that other interesting area, so you decide to take the initiative at the loss of an inferior local position due to your neglecting it.
  3. Playing a sente move (local sente): playing a move (sequence) that has a big chance of you ending up in situation 1 and makes it very difficult for your opponent to bring himself in situation 2.
  4. Kikashi: a move that (if the opponent answers) determines a certain position (pos 1) whereas otherwise it would contain aji or you would prefer to keep options open in that area. The kikashi is played when you have made up your mind about a related situation (pos2) and the kikashi settles the pos 1 in a way that cooperates well with your plan in pos 2. It is related to a probe: there the intention is to see how the opponent responds in pos 1and then shape your plan accordingly in pos 2.

The whole point is between brackets: (if the opponent answers). The kikashi is supposed to be local sente in pos 1 and to affect the global position more if unanswered, than your leaving pos 2. However, locally that sente move may incur a minor loss, but combined with the plan it gives an advantage.

Pos 1 and pos 2 can be far away from each other or touch the same group (such as play kikashi before living).

Rob Van Zeijst in his column The magic of Go: For an amateur, it is often hard to determine whether a move is a kikashi or a waste of potential. The average player will decide that a move is a kikashi if it is answered, as this will indicate that he has kept sente (initiative). There is no simple description for a kikashi. If in doubt, follow this rule of the thumb: A kikashi has outside significance while the answer to it usually has no or little value.

This appears to mirror the idea given about kikashi in James Davies's book, Attack and Defense, incidentally: the only proviso is whether the outside significance creates more aji than the use of the forcing move dissipates.

Substantially stronger players than I could probably have long and bitter arguments over that...

- Andrew Walkingshaw

Content of this discussion has been the source for the pages kikashi and Kikashi / Discussion. Dieter

Chess players have a technical term for kikashi: zwichenzug, in German literally "switching move". (See intermediate plays.)

Bill: I thought it was, Zwischenzug, or in between move. It's sente, but I'm not sure it's kikashi. For instance:


W2 is a Zwischenzug, a sente played in between B1 and W4.

Andrew Walkingshaw: Another subtlety is that a zwischenzug is by definition absolutely forcing (say, a check) in a way that a kikashi in Go isn't - as such, it's generally a part of an absolutely concrete piece of tactics. Kikashi aren't, generally; they're played for their strategic rather than tactical value.

As such, the difference in motivation makes the link a bit tenuous, I feel.

Charles Matthews In fact the major timing issue for playing kikashi is frequently the fact that they cannot be played in interleaved fashion with other fights. Imagine for example you have a kikashi related to a ladder than can arise: it is probably skilful to play it before the sequence leading to the ladder is launched, because it is less likely to be forcing once the ladder is in being.

One case where you could equate kikashi and intermediate plays, I suppose, is in applying the proverb play kikashi before living. Before inevitably living in gote with a group, one plays as kikashi any useful and effective moves there are, which threaten to make life some simpler way. The point though in this case is that such plays might not be forcing at a later time, once you have made the group live.

I frankly feel that we could wind up this discussion and instead have a page Forcing Move Misunderstandings, since just about all possible misconceptions of the kikashi concept have by now been posted.


The reference above to a kikashi move being aji keshi if it doesn't get enough profit doesn't seem quite right to me. I always thought that a kikashi is aji keshi if making it takes away some possibility that you might want to play later (the aji that is erased). For example, Black might peep at a white one-space jump, forcing White to connect, thus losing the possibility of peeping on the other side.

Charles Yes, this point can be expressed another way, by saying that some forcing plays are 'auto-probes'.

Timing is also very important in kikashi. Take Black's peep at the tiger's mouth above as an example. If the white stones become strong enough to the left and right, White might not answer the peep.

ekberg: How about this definition of kikashi:

A sente move, which improves the player's fighting potential, while the answer doesn't improve the opponent's position

By "fighting potential" is meant things like aji, influence, framework, eyespace and escape routes (but not territory, so endgame sente moves would not qualify).

From this definition follows:

  • since it doesn't improve the opponent's position and doesn't lose sente, it is a "free" move, so it can be disposed without cost, if the sacrifice gains at least something for the player
  • thank-you moves don't qualify, since these improve the opponent's position
  • aji-keshi moves don't qualify, since these reduce the player's total potential

Any comments and counter-examples are welcome!

Tapir: I believe it is terribly important that the move doesn't leave much choice to the opponent but has one obvious answer only. If it doesn't then it isn't kikashi I would say. Probes are sente too - how could they be asking moves without an answer. In fact I would rename the page to forcing move outright, because I believe this forcing character is so important for the term. Also: fighting potential is a rather vague concept, which is good for many kikashi but probably not for all.

Kikashi Sente Discussion last edited by tapir on January 4, 2012 - 15:24
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