No Plan In The Opening

    Keywords: Opening

In the first article of [ext] his new column , Pieter Mioch gives the following advice:

At your first move(s), please, and by all means, do not have a plan.

He says that this is the essence of fuseki. His main argument for this controversial statement is that a predefined plan disregards your opponent and obstructs your flexibility.


BillSpight: This is a question I have been thinking about recently. On I passed on to a beginner the advice of chess master and writer E. A. Znosko-Borovski: "It is not a move that you seek, even the best move, but a realizable plan."

If people make plans, they will have to use WholeBoardThinking.

But I reflected that, in my play it is not so easy to discern a plan. My style is fairly miai-ish. I tend to make plays that prepare for various alternatives and leave them open. The board can end up looking quite different, depending on my opponent's replies. This does not mean that I do not have a plan, but that it is a very flexible one. :-)

And yes, I start planning early.

And, Dieter, you should say "other Sensei(s)". :-) (Is it "sensei" or "senseis"? There is no difference between singular and plural in Japanese, but there is in English.)

I read that comment and I liked it - and still do - but Pieter's comment left me in dubio. Assume my playing style is moyo-ish. My plan is to build thickness, and if my opponent comes in, I attack vigourously. I am the Takemiya of Ghent ! But my opponent thwarts my plans, and goes for influence too. There goes my plan.

Best of both worlds would probably be. Start with an open mind. Ask yourself which strategies are realizable after the very first moves and reevaluate your plan regularly.


"The key to not to choose a path to victory, but to choose so that all paths lead to a victory." Cavilo, The Vor Game --Frodosquall

I am more on the side of the planners. Since go is a dynamic game, I do not feel comfortable playing a stone without some idea that if my opponent answers with a I intend to play b because... Etc. To me trying to play with no plan at all is simply not feasible. Rather the counterweight to too-rigid planning is to constantly try to remember Von Moltke's famous statement that "No plan survives contact with the enemy."

Cho Chikun and Hashimoto Shoji are both famous for spending a lot of time early in their games reading out alternative fuseki strategies. It seems to me that this is something of a luxury when I am blundering through a 1 10 game on a go server! :-)

-- DaveSigaty

Just come across a statement by Cho Chikun in an old Go World. While commenting one of his fusekis (slightly shortened):
"I may start out with a plan, but what appears on the board is never what I intended. Even before my opponent departs from the plan, I depart from it myself."

-- Mark Wirdnam

I believe it should read "In the opening have a plan but don't be too attached to it." Or don't just have plan A; have plans B, C, D etc as well. In the opening your opponent will have to cooperate for you to realize your plan. In most cases your opponent will not want to cooperate, so you have to be prepared to alter your plan to deal with their response. In some cases you can use miai to make sure that your plan is realisable; but even then you need to be prepared to do something else if your opponent does something you didn't expect.

-- Barry Phease

HolIgor: It seems to me that people like to theorize on the opening too much. This happens mostly because a small number of stones on the board.

Many people advise to beginners to postpone the study of joseki because it might make them stick to the known patterns in spite of the true understanding of the position. I would advise not to pay much attention to the study of fuseki. If I, IGS 5k*, don't see what could be the implications of a fuseki move (high or low), I doubt if a beginner can see it. When I started to play on IGS my approach to the fuseki was to scatter the stones on the board and then to try to find out which of those stones I want to save and which are going to die and how I can force my partner to pay for those stones. For me the game is decided in the chuban, late chuban very often, the time when the groups die. I know that the better you put your stones in the opening the better are your chances in the fight, but unfortunately I am not able to see what is the significance of the move 24 for what happens at move 146.

I guess the number of games I played during the last 3 years is approaching 1500 (where is my shodan?). I have developed some ideas about the positions that I like to play in and the positions that are difficult for me. Some principles are very useful. One of those is the advise to play first in the region of mutual interest. Another one is to choose a move with two possible continuations (miai).

But I don't understand how a person at 15k level can even seriously think about fuseki. I would formulate it even harsher:

If there is a person out there that beats you at nine stones the study of fuseki is useless

This applies to me at the level of IGS 5k*. Because pros will beat me at 9 stones. This does not apply to Dave, Bill or unkx because nobody beats them at 9 stones.

BillSpight: There is a martial arts saying that there are 360 degrees in the martial arts. The point is that everybody is different, and that two people may have diametrically opposite approaches and still each reach mastery.

I know that the study of fuseki paid off for me right away. When I was Japanese 4-kyu over 30 years ago -- with inflation, probably Japanese 2-kyu or 1-kyu today --, I knew very few tesuji and almost no life and death. I did not even know the basic dead shapes!

What I did know was fuseki, at a fairly high amateur level. I thought a lot about making my stones work and about reducing the efficiency of my opponent's stones. I began to study shape then, and that helped me a lot in that regard.

To me it makes perfect sense to study fuseki. After all, those are the big moves. :-) Get the big moves right, and you can get away with mistakes on the smaller moves.

Of course, large positions can arise in the middle game and end game. In those days, it was rare for me not to have one group die (since I was ignorant of life and death). But even if two of my groups died I often had chances to win, because I had built up such an early lead. I also understood about sacrificing stones, and could often salvage something when losing stones or territory.

My path is not for everybody. In fact, I think that it would appeal to very few. And, looking back, I wish that it had not been so lopsided. But it does show the power of the fuseki.

I'd have to agree with Bill. Personally I enjoy playing the fuseki more than the rest of the game, and I feel more comfortable with it than other parts of my game. My experience has been sort of twofold. First of all, if I get ahead in the fuseki, I can afford to play conservatively in the middle game where I am weaker. I often find myself up fifty points after the fuseki, then lose forty in the middle game and come out ten ahead. The other piece is that middle game seems to improve more without study then the fuseki does, which makes study of the fuseki more fruitful then other portions of the game. Principles like extending from a cut tend to be picked up naturally after one does enough fighting. --BlueWyvern

50 points up in the opening? Unbelievable. That would be 2 keima shimari and a hoshi with the opponent passing each time. Look at the ongoing game 2. White played very bad fuseki and yet she is only 20 points behind if playing conservatively.


BillSpight: If Blue's opponents are double-digit kyus, it would not surprise me if he often got 50 points ahead in the opening. It could easily be that he is way, way ahead of them in the opening, behind in other areas.
It could also be that he overestimates his advantage. ;-)

Scartol: I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds by posting on something I know so little about. I detest fuseki, mostly because I recognize its immense importance. Fuseki is the reason I gave up chess -- I always felt like I was making a stupid move at the outset that would come back and haunt me later on (Go seems to offer more chances for redemption, heh).

As a result, I find myself very nervous during fuseki, but studying it intensely so as to make it easier.

Jasonred That's the second comparison to Chess here, the first being from Bill Spight: "chess master and writer E. A. Znosko-Borovski: "It is not a move that you seek, even the best move, but a realizable plan.""

Having played chess, I'd HAVE to say that the opening in chess is much more crucial; you can actually get checkmated in the first 2-3 turns if your opening is horrendous... so, planning is much more important for the opening in chess. In Go though, ESPECIALLY in timed games, there are just so many possibilities open. How do you plan in Go, when your opponent doesn't have to respond to your moves whatsoever, and can just make influence on the other side of the board? In chess, practically everything you do will have AT MOST 2-3 proper responses by your opponent. In other words, it's more or less possible to plan in Chess, but planning in Go is a headache... IMHO, the further along the game goes, the easier it is to "visualize" the end result in your mind, and to see, well, if I go here, he'll go here, if here, then he'll go here. and then plan a counter for every counter of his...

Worst of all, Go tends to "keep" the "damn, I didn't see that response by him" factor for the longest time, in terms of playing experience. Heck, even the best players in Go get hit by tesuji when they aren't expecting them at all. The worst part is, practically THE MOMENT our opponent slams down the piece, our mistake becomes glaringly obvious... What's that mean, that we can't even read ahead one move? That we skipped over that move while reading 3/5/10 moves ahead? Well, anyhow, it's Christmas, so it's a good time to be hit by Tesuji and have our noses turn red like Rudolf. Wait, or was that a EAR reddening tesuji...

Anyhow, my point is, Go is a lot more prone to the old "the best laid plans of mice and men"... so maybe it's best not to spend too much effort laying out your plan in the first place. Besides... in my experience of Go, only rarely does my opponent cooperate and let me actually launch my plan (the other times, I follow their plans, and more often, no one ends up following their original plans...)

BlueWyvern: Disclaimer, my previous statement was made a) when I was playing 20k+ and b) before I had developed a half decent sense of positional judgement. It may not have been 50 points, but suffice it to say, I used to build very sizeable leads in the opening. Not so much any more.

browncow: I am only an 18k* on IGS but i find studing and trying new fuseki the most interesting part of Go. Also by getting better grasp in opening I have a very large advantage against other double digit kyu's later in game. Just my thoughts, but might be useful. :-)

Like my friend Jakob used to say: "we need a plan to diverge from". - Migeru

As a double-digit kyu, I believe the study of fuseki will help me to strengthen my ability to plan ahead, and also the ability to recognize the could-be plans of my opponent. As I strengthen, I assume that further study would only be needed in patterns I am weak with/against, or if I enjoy it enough to continue, as browncow seems to be doing. --Achenar459

This is in direct response to HolIgor's post above. I think you can't tell anyone to disregard an important aspect of the game. What you seem to advocate is what I call "internet style", being:

  • Don't think during opening, just scatter some stones
  • When your opponent seems to build something that might become big, put some stones in it and live
  • Fight through middle game. Whoever kills first, wins.
  • If, per chance, you reach the endgame, the winner is more or less randomly determined

(This might be formulated a bit harshly, again :))

I use internet go as a way to study fuseki, since I can be sure that many opponents there will play the way described, so that I can practice how to deal with those horrid overplays and how to adjust my plans when challenged this way.

Of course, we cannot think through all the implications and possibilities of the opening moves, but no one can. Even pros use most of their time during a match for the opening and still make mistakes. However, one can see, or develop a feeling, how the different shapes, even if formed just by some general principles, determine the outset for the middle game. It is very well possible to lie ahead by 50 points at the beginning of the middle game, not by secured territory, but by potential. --Harleqin

SnotNose: One recent improvement in my game has been to consistently look a few moves ahead. Sounds simple but I didn't do it with every move until recently. I can only choose which moves to read ahead by hypothesizing a plan (or small set of plans) for both sides. While this approach does not always lead to the correct move, it has helped me avoid a lot of obviously bad moves. That is, my first instinct might be to play at A. Then I think about what plan(s) that may or may not be consistent with for both sides. Sometimes I find that A is horrible or too slow or something. Without the idea of a plan I couldn't even think about playing this way. In fact, I wouldn't know how to organize my thoughts at all. I wouldn't know how to approach the problem of where to move. I can't even imagine not having a plan. It's kind of like asking me not to think. I can't do that and win but I can do it and lose very easily.

kikashi: I think some of the confusion arises from the distinction between fuseki and planning. There are many good fuseki, but even if you use one you (or your opponent) may deviate from it and change the inherent equality of the board - komi assumed. I would say that fuseki ends after move 8 or so. Some whole-board positions go longer, sometimes a deviance will end fuseki in a shorter time-frame, but fuseki is something that it is most definitely worthwhile to consider, study, memorize, etc.

Take the san-ran-sei fusekis. There are a wealth of "accepted" variants for both white and black, but one has to understand the meaning and purpose behind both sides. And the chinese openings. If one has no plan, then how can using established fuseki be good? Better, I think, to play strange moves like the 6x6 and the "side openings" or a Great Wall if you want to experiment. For me, I use pro play as a guide and find a way to mess it up later. At least I look like a good player up to move 35!! :)

HolIgor: Fuseki ends when the first weak group appears. This may be as early as move 8 or as late as move 51. I believe that you are confused because some frameworks are called Chinese fuseki, Kobayashi fuseki etc. These names are actually wrong. They should be called frameworks, plans, ideas even, possibly openings. But fuseki is the stage of the game till the actual fight beging in which the opponents struggle to outline potential territories and spheres of influence. If you use san-ren-sei one sided development your opponent has a large freedom to develop his counter play in many different ways. Therefore, the variation tree in the fuseki is so immense that one memorise almost anything. You place a stone on a ajacent intersection and all future fights go in different directions. In fuseki the players are guided by general principles rather than by the firm knowledge. Actually, fuseki is the decisive part of the game but at my level I cannot extrapolate the fuseki position to the definite results. I am not able to do that because I am in no way sure of my middle game moves, in the ability to solve all life and death problems. Neither I am sure in my yose moves. Of course, as I have written several time in SL, my interpretation of the word fuseki is divination. Fuseki is played by feel.

Wrenn: I have a feeling that people are over thinking or trying to set to rigid bounds for "fuseki". While the fuseki may technically end when a fight begins, there are still important ideas related to fuseki that will appear later on in the game (pincer extension, forcing opponent's into a low position, etc). What someone means when they say they have no plan at the beginning means they do not go into a game saying "I will play a sanrensei today", but that they will put together an opening that probes opponent's weaknesses and makes their own stones work synergistically. That is what the fuseki is. To say one does not want their stones to work together, or to say one does not need to know where big points are in various positions sounds a little off to me. I have been able to play 5k player (I am 5k), and be leading by 80 points thanks to the fuseki, (then I made a mistake that cost 90 points, and lost the game but, it happens :P). Fuseki is just solid application of general ideals and theory, and should not be made into something too formal and rigid.

No Plan In The Opening last edited by on May 16, 2011 - 02:22
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