Keywords: Go term

Nerai (狙い) is a Japanese go term (noun, from the verb nerau) meaning threat, aim, target, follow-up.


Nerai is a word found often in Japanese go writing -- so often that it is clear that it is an important concept in the Japanese understanding of the game. It may belong to a select group of a half-dozen or less key strategic concepts.

Nerai is much less used by Westerners, however, which seems to indicate that their understanding of go doesn't embody this concept. Translators translate the term in many different ways, but almost always obscure its importance by using some everyday English word.

But how can we really be sure that nerai is a technical go term, and not just the everyday Japanese term meaning threat or aim or target? Basically, by its frequency in go materials. Go Seigen has been pointed out as one who uses the term a great deal: in Igo no Shinri?, nerai occurs 46 times in that form alone. It also occurs as nerau, nerawaremasu, etc. Even common-or-garden variety words occur less often: arimasu (is; 36) and suru (do; 27) are two glaring examples. Another good clue is that the word is found in Japanese go dictionaries.

Many Western go players have had their go evolution shaped by learning particular words, and then struggling to apply that concept in their games. Many more should, in our opinion, learn the word nerai and see how it can inform the development of their go sense.


Nerai, n.. 1. One of a group of interesting moves or sequences that a player is watching out for a favorable time to unleash (or his opponent looking for the chance to eliminate). Often, a move left as the result of a previous sequence; what kind of nerai is left, if any, is a common factor in evaluating sequences. 2. A tactical threat.

The first definition echoes that from a Japanese dictionary that says, "Nerai: Keeping an eye on when a procedure to seize the opponent's weak point can be implemented effectively."

Nerau, v.. 1. Keep in mind, and watch out for a favorable time to unleash, some particular move or sequence. 2. Threaten tactically.

As you can see from the two definitions, there is a strategic aspect to nerai and a tactical one. Leaving aside the tactical meaning, it's clear the strategic meaning actually underlies an entire theory of the flow of the go game.

In this theory, the basic game state is represented by a group of moves or sequences, presumably prioritized somehow, that each player maintains. Playing the game involves executing moves or sequences from this group one-by-one; but in the course of doing so other nerai resulting from those sequences may be added to the list (followups). Or, moves may be made with the purpose of creating one or more nerai, or eliminating one of the opponent's nerai. A player may choose a line of play for the fact that it creates a nerai for him, or does not create a nerai for his opponent.

Note: There is no recursion here. In other words, a move whose only purpose was to eliminate a nerai of the other player would not be considered a nerai for purposes of this model. A nerai seems to need to be something more concrete, and often somewhat confrontational, such as to split or invade or attack; a one-point jump, no matter how good a move, would not be considered a nerai unless it e.g. split two of the opponent's groups or threatened its life.

In other words, each player keeps a kind of bank account of the nerai currency, which either he or his opponent can make deposits to and withdrawals from. Go as Monopoly.


There is no single accepted English term for nerai. Here are some proposals, following John F.'s suggestion that it's best to find translations that can be used both as a verb and as a noun, so that a consistent usage can be maintained, whatever the source sentence.


Preferred translation. As a rather direct translation of nerai, it encompasses both local, tactical sequences as well as strategic type nerai. It's available in both noun form as well as the verb threaten.

If it is important to emphasize the tactical nature of the threat, we can say local threat or tactical threat.

If it is important to emphasize the nature of the nerai as stemming from another sequence, we can say follow-up threat.

If the translation threat has a weakness, it is that is fails to emphasize the currency aspect of nerai. Of course, even Japanese-speaking go players don't know this aspect until they are taught to associate it with what is otherwise an ordinary word they have been using since childhood.

'Threat in reserve' seems like a possibility.


Aim is a reasonable translation of nerai, although it feels a bit flaccid. It can also be used for both tactical and strategic nerai. It functions both as a verb and a noun. It also captures the aspect of nerai that although we aim at many things, not all of these aims will be accomplished.


Target is another reasonable candidate for a translation of nerai. It also functions both as a noun and a verb.


This page makes the point that nerai is a well-formed concept which should ideally be translated consistently to emphasize this. However, depending on the context if might also be possible to use terms like the following:

  • idea, opportunity, possibility, option. Obviously applicable to strategic sense of nerai only. They don't work well when there is a stronger followup sense to the nerai.
  • follow-up. This does often capture the idea of nerai quite closely. But we recommend using the compound follow-up threat for this case, to distinguish it from other non-nerai type follow-ups, such as to yose plays. Nerai-type follow-ups are to more macro early and mid-game sequences.

Relationship of Nerai and Aji

  • Nerai is a move which takes advantage of some aji.
  • Aji gives rise to nerai.
  • The existence of a nerai implies the presence of aji.

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Nerai last edited by AngusOg on December 29, 2011 - 20:48
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