Nerai / Discussion

Sub-page of Nerai

Japanese term (noun nerai 狙い, from the verb nerau 狙う) meaning an aim.

Bill Spight supplied this as the equivalent in English-Japanese translation of our threat, in the early days of the coffee machine on SL.

John Fairbairn has recently been commenting that this word, common in Japanese technical writing on go at the higher levels, has not often been rendered precisely in English translation. He suggests that a word such as target would usefully take the place of other expressions that in the past was been applied.

More from John and Bob McGuigan on this at Japanese Go Terms / Overused and Underused.

See Nerai and Nerai Examples.

Charles In the light of this, I see that my page the aji machine should at least be aliased to targets and transformation; because what I have always conceptualised as aji to live in some region isn't strictly aji (or at least in many cases it isn't accurate to call it that). What it is, is a nerai, namely the chance to construct a live group: also known as a virtual group.

HolIgor: Yes, aji is taste. When you played your stones, they seem to keep ground yet the result does not satisfy you. You have a bad feeling, you need to play one more stone to reinforce but you just cannot afford to lose tempo. Bad taste it is.

John F. Assuming I've understood you, I accept that this is a common way to talk in the west about aji. But it may be worth pointing up that this is not the normal Japanese usage. What you describe would just brutally be called a weak group. In Japanese aji is mostly something you add (aji o tsukeru), by deliberately playing stones inside the enemy's camp, or sacrificing some already there, i.e. it is a strategic decision, not a consequence of clumsy play.

HolIgor: No, I did not mean bad moves. I meant just a feeling of a bad taste when you captured some stones yet you know that the thing can turn around yet and you are confined, bound by your catch. Don't you physically feel a bad taste? There is a lot of examples in joseki. Look at the o-nadare with the outward turn. Three stones are captured yet any fight in the vicinity to this group is difficult. And so on.

Bob Myers: Certainly aji does not refer to plain old weaknesses. But can't it also arise as a by-product of normal play, say a joseki, at least as often or more so than by being added as John describes?

John F. I don't think I made myself plain - sorry. I was trying to say that aji is normally seen as, at least in part, as something that is added or arises deliberately (or semi-deliberately, or knowingly), and is not much used to describe weak points by bad play (though it can be). In discussions of good play (which is what is normally being discussed in books) it therefore becomes a strategic tool.

taiji : Example of 'aim':

tsuke nobi joseki cut variation  

W1 : Tenuki. W5 aims at the cut at a. As I understand it, then White takes either a or b as compensation for the cut at Black 4.

To aim is to set up something; a cut, an invasion, or a follow-up. Example, A kakari might aim to extend to the side. A ladder breaker played before the ladder exists usually aims at a cut, etc. To aim is to aim at accomplishing a purpose; however, each end result of every variation of your move may have a different aim. If your opponent sees a follow-up which does not include a good aim for you, he has refuted your play. If not, then you have hit the target you aimed at. "Good shot!" -taiji

p.s. this play B2-W3-B4-W5 is not possible for White. If White c will be followed by Black d. First, c is aji keshi for White (!) Furthermore, Black at c isn't good shape as far as I know, and may lead to korigatachi for Black.

Charles This isn't the intended kind of 'aim' really, for this page. Sometimes people talk about 'shopping list' models of middlegame fighting, in relation to priorities. Obviously the idea of 'threat' has some relation to 'target': if your supposed threat isn't answered, then you have to add playing a follow-up to it to your list.[1] But I'd say the nerai concept is supposed to consolidate those matters with others, such as invasions for which one should find time, and so on.

Bob Myers: I love the term nerai. It captures so intimately the nature of the game of go as a bag of interesting things that one side or the other will try to do in some order. And come to think of it, that's one good translation into English of nerai: interesting thing to try to do sometime soon.

If we are looking for a single English term to represent nerai, may I suggest idea? Try this out in practice; it actually works quite well. Black has several ideas here: the 3-3 invasion or the moyo expansion.

If idea doesn't work, as some people suggested below, because it's hard to "create" an idea or for an idea to "remain", how about opportunity or possibility?

Of course this is different from very local, tactical threats, such as a in the diagram above. That's just a threat, although it would also be called nerai in Japanese. The idea/possibility meaning of nerai is more related to the term when it's used to describe strategic alternatives.

John F. Bob's clearly got the "idea", as has Charles, and with so much common ground I'd be disappointed if we couldn't hammer out a useful definition and term. But I don't think "idea" is it. The reason is that nerai often occurs in contexts such as "nerai ga nokoru" and you can't really talk about an idea remaining. I think broadly nerai is used in two ways in fuseki: one is evaluative - a sequence is played and it is judged good or bad because a nerai remains; the other is mor like Charles's' shopping list - a list of targets to be considered as part of strategy. To use different terms in English for the two usages would lose the important unity. Maybe the right approach is to stick with nerai and use Bob's very good definition "interesting thing to try to do sometime soon"
BobMcGuigan I, too, think the "idea" idea is too limited. As I recall, in Japanese commentaries the term is sometimes used in the context of some sequence of moves creating a nerai. So, for example, a gote sequence might be acceptable because of some nerai that is created. I like the indefinite character of Bob Myers's definition because my sense is that a nerai is not something urgent.
DaveSigaty: I feel that the usage is most often along the lines of Bob Myers' alternative opportunity, since normally what is left over is favorable to Black or White. The other point in the way I have always thought about it is that the continuation is relatively well defined and therefore different from aji.
A basic joseki  

4-4 point one-space low pincer invasion, interception

kokiri: my understanding of nerai has always been based around this example which seems to fit between the above tactical example and Charles's strategic meaning. After W8, black plays tenuki. Later on Black may play at a, for example as an extension from the lower left, knowing that this threatens the follow-up b and so will probably be sente. Thus Black uses the nerai of the tactical weakness of b to further his strategic whole board aims.

RafaelCaetano: I don't see what's wrong with "aim". Maybe it's because when I read "an aim" I think primarily of "a clearly directed intent or purpose" (I got this from Merriam-Webster), not the literal translation "a target".

Charles I suppose 'aim' isn't seriously wrong. Another aspect I might bring up is this: we are told to play in an open-ended way. Speaking of various nerai may sharpen that, and make it more specific. So the nerai are the various 'ends' we have in mind; though in a sense we aren't committed yet to them.

Bill: At the risk of being a Philistine, I have always regarded nerai as ordinary language, not as go jargon.

John F. I suppose it's best to nip this wild thought in the bud :) Japanese go writers regard it as a term (not jargon) and include it in go dictionaries. And GSG (and others) use it so often that the frequency is well above any word being used ordinarily. the point is important, because if it's an ordinary word translators have licence to use elegant variation. Since it's not, translators have the duty to come up with a single, consistent term. Pace Charles below, but I'm reluctant to accept aim. I wonder whether collapsing various ideas from Charles and Bill and coining the phrase "virtual threat" might do?
Bill: Very good, John. Many thanks. :-)
How is nerai defined in Japanese go dictionaries?
And BTW, we should probably talk about fukumi, yes?
As for translation, I think it is often a good idea to use the English verb. E. g., "White aims at . . . ."
John F. I'll pass on posting definitions for the moment - I might feel like it at the weekend. But I agree **in principle** that it's worthwile to point up the whole range of related words: fukumi, aji, aya, te ga aru... However, as a practical point fukumi and aya are pretty rare and in my view not worth getting exercised about as a translation issue. In any case, the present discussion of nerai is in a fuseki context; fukumi is even rarer there. As to using verbs, my own very strong (actually VERY STRONG) preference is for words that can be used as verbs and nouns so that a consistent usage can be maintined, whatever the source sentence. Aim falls into that category, as does target (and "virtual threat does not; nor, in English, does nerai - one reason I dislike using Japanese terms sono mama).

Charles I think 'aim' is OK - if subject to possible misunderstandings - so long as we factor in flexibility: you will (in an even game) rarely dominate the game to the extent of fulfilling all those things aimed at.

dnerra Would option be another appropriate translation?

John F. At Bill's request, here are a couple of extracts from definitions in Japanese go term lexicons. (1) Nerau: to look for an opportunity by keeping an eye on the opponent's weak points. (2) Nerai: Keeping an eye on when a procedure to seize the opponent's weak point can be implemented effectively.

I have to say, though, that talking about meanings and translations is missing the point here. My original point is not that nerai is an interesting word, etc but that it is used a LOT by pros and is not used by westerners. I trailed the idea that if we learned to speak like pros we might, in the process, acquire a little of their wisdom. To give some specific ideas of what I mean by a lot: In Igo no Shinri, nerai occurs 46 times in that form alone. It also occurs as nerau, nerawaremasu, etc. Even common-or-garden words occur less often: arimasu (is; 36) and suru (do; 27) are two glaring examples.

For contrast (and remember this is a book about the fuseki): moyo occurs 7 times, shimari 7, hiraki 15, joseki 3, atsumi 10, sabaki 3. All these words litter the go conversations of westerners. However, so does uchikomi (invasion), which is obviously part of the nerai nexus; it occurs 32 times.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the odd facts this linguistic analysis throws up. I have no intention of going into it further here, except to mention one thing that should make sense to SL readers. You can see above that hiraki pops up rather more than shimari. Hiraki occurs on the side. Nerai and uchikomi moves tend to be on the side. In the book, the four words for side (left, right, etc) occur 191 times (and corner 25 times; centre 24). Now you see why I think Charles Matthews might be on to something when he tries to get us to focus our attention on the sides in fuseki. Basing myself on other lingustic data, I believe that the area between the middle of the side and the corner has even more special significance. I think Charles agrees that this is an idea worth exploring but that we are not yet sufficiently masters of the sides in general to make much of it[2]. I must stress that, while I believe I have uncovered many interesting facts through linguistic analysis, I can't claim any real expertise in interpreting those facts.

Bill: Thank you, John, for the definitions and the rest of your comments. Very interesting. :-)

I think the definitions clearly convey the sense of aiming at a target. Aim is ambiguous, as it can refer to purpose, which is too general. Threat is too general, as well. I agree that it is a good idea to have a standard translation, and I think that your suggestion of target, both as a noun and a verb, is excellent. At the same time, I think that aim at and aim have their place, stylistically. :-)

HolIgor: The term follow-up seems natural. The follow-ups are created and are left in the position depending on the reaction of the opponent. As Sai commented on the Hikaru's game with the Korean boys: each stones clear the way for themselves.

RafaelCaetano: I found a proverb which might relevant. It's in this [ext] list of proverbs, in Japanese. I'm not competent to translate it, though.

John F. Just noticed this nice contribution. Yes, it's relevant: Taking aim for too long means you lose your grasp on the situation. Waiting too long to attack is as bad as attacking too much. This page is from a set of iroha cards each with a go proverb, but instead of showing them in iroha order they are in akasatana order. This means that, despite the lack of navigation buttons, you can view the other pages in the set by substituting for nagyo.html in the URL: e.g. kagyo.html. Go is often featured on playing cards.

[1] In an odd way this discussion reminds me of something derived from my organisational and promotional work: how to conceptualise and organise a 'contacts list' of people and organisations that might be of help. This is a kind of generic thing, I can see. Go consistently throws up such good questions (not that the answers come cheap). Charles

[2] I think John is trying to provoke me into writing about the UniverseOfTheArmpit. Charles

John F. Actually I wasn't - too simple minded to do things like that. On the other hand, I'd be delighted if you did.

RobertJasiek: Since aim, threat, target etc. are used in various, other meanings, if one of these words is used for nerai, then it should get a modifier like 'aji aim', 'aji threat', 'aji target' or 'aji use'. We also say 'ko threat' when a threat is related to a ko. So why not say 'aji threat' when a threat is related to aji?

Nerai / Discussion last edited by on September 1, 2011 - 14:56
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