Let the most respected player sit in the better place

    Keywords: Culture & History

This is not required, but it's a nice form of politeness. (See also Go Etiquette.) The intent of this page is to collect some practical tips and to provide a historical background.

Tips for Modern Players

With western players, you may simply ask them to choose their favorite seat. Eastern players, on the other hand, may appreciate if you urge them a bit. In this case, you should be aware what may be the better place for them:

The better place may be

  • the one that overlooks the room or the scenery from a vantage point.
  • If there are parallel games going on in a friendly setting (where the distraction would be pleasant) then it may be the place that provides a good view of interesting games.
  • Outdoors, it may be the one in the shade.
  • In a restaurant, the seat that allows flirting with the person at the next table, although this could be risky because you have to know their taste. ;-)

(Japanese professionals) Tradition Discussion

Tamsin: Traditionally, shouldn't the stronger player or title holder be seated furthest from the door?

DJ: Not exactly. I quote what I had written in Playing the first move in the upper right corner: "... in the times of old, the Master would hold the white stones, and sit at the Goban in the place of honour, with his back to the tokonoma, the ornamental alcove very often graced with a calligraphy scroll and a flower arrangement."

DJ: I think this custom is still very much in use in Japan. Some time ago Cho Chikun had to play as white against Kajiwara, who was his teacher at the Kitani Dojo, after Kitani fell ill. He made sure to arrive early in order to leave the seat of honour to Kajiwara, his sensei, and refused to move when the match officials pointed out to him that, as the player holding white, he had to seat there.
It took quite a lot of effort by Kajiwara in order to convince him...

Bignose: There is also a more pragmatic reason: The player facing the door is able to see visitors approach or enter. White is presumably the stronger player, and Black has presumably travelled to see the master rather than the other way around. The position of "honour" is thus also the host's position. Granting it to the stronger player indicates respect.

Andrew Grant: Actually, in a number of cultures there is a tradition of seating the honoured guest facing the door, and for a very practical reason. The person with his back to the door was open to stealthy attack by assassins - a serious consideration in Japan in the middle ages, as well as in other cultures at other times.

John F. Leave doors out of it. A Japanese room can have several sliding doors and it is perfectly possible for a door to be beside the toko-no-ma. It would probably be best to leave the rather twee picture of calligraphy and flower arrangements out of it, too. The toko-no-ma means bedroom and its form derives from the Ainu practice of creating a raised bed space by placing rush mats on an earth floor. Its modern use as a space in a ceremony or for guests is just one usage.

Although it is true that the most respected player is often expected to sit with his back to the toko-no-ma wall, it would appear that the primary custom in go is to do with who gets White. There was a time (the Keian era) when the most respected player got White irrespective of strength, but played first because of lower strength. Yasui Sanchi's game with Nakanishi Genseki is one example. Respect here seemed to be based on social class, not go strength.

kungfu: Although JF has asked that doors be left out of it, I do wish to point out that this is common on Martial Arts culture as well. The master will face the door(s) of the room such that he may see who enters the room. In this way it is assumed he has command of the room, a seat given to the stronger player out of respect. The reasons for this custom might be different in the Go world though.

Dolgan: This habit is valid for karate and kendo. Ive been told it is because the teacher awaits the pupils. They come and go, but the teacher remains...

postglock: I know from a recent visit to China that this custom, of the host facing the door, is also true for meals. In a dinner at a restaurant (in a private room), the host took the seat facing the door (and his wife the opposite seat).


Let the most respected player sit in the better place last edited by postglock on September 2, 2006 - 08:13
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