Playing The First Move In The Upper Right Corner / Discussion

Traditional points to play the first move  

It is the custom for Black to play in the upper right corner first, on one of the marked points in the diagram. The rationale behind this gesture seems to be that White doesn't need to stretch to the opposite side of the goban in order to either occupy an empty corner or directly answer to the first black move. (White has to stretch if White wants to force Black into a parallel fuseki, but that's another matter.) In professional games it is very unusual for a game not to start in the top right corner. However it happens, like in a big title match in Japan a few years ago, Yoda Norimoto opened in the top left against Cho Chikun to demonstrate his determination to take the title from the title holder.

From a more pragmatic and modern point of view, there is another, albeit small, advantage to this habit: it facilitates classification and analysis of different lines of play, e.g. by a computer program searching game trees. This doesn't limit Black's opening options, as the board is symmetrical around tengen for the very first move.

-- Stefan

I used to think that the first move is played under the heart of the opponent. -- HolIgor

A good problem for this topic over at is [ext] here. -- unkx80

As far as I know, this is a traditional Japanese etiquette: 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. The disciple, starting the game playing Black, would bow to the Master, and in doing so would place the first stone with the right hand in his farthest corner, i.e. the upper right one. Playing there is therefore a ritual bow to your Master, or, in our more trivial times, to the stronger player. -- AvatarDJFlux

The right way  

Stefan mentioned that the circled points are the correct points to play. Just one thing to add is that I was also told that for example, Black 1, not a, is the correct way of starting the game because when White plays at 2 or b to attack the corner, his/her hand will not have to cover Black 1. -- unkx80

Examples in pro games don't support the dogmatic idea that 5-3 and 5-4 opening stones lie inside the 'polite triangle', though in Japan and Korea they are (almost always) in the upper right from Black's point of view. -- Charles Matthews

Dave Sigaty: A quick review of GoGoD CD for 5-3 openings shows that modern players in Japan, Korea, and China as well as classical players in Japan almost always open within the 'polite triangle'. But there are always a few guys who just don't "get it" (so Go does mirror life in general :-) Cho Chikun is one among modern players: 6 games listed, 4 started in the wrong triangle. The champion was problably Sekiyama Sendaiu, a 19th century player who was very fond of 5-3 and invariably "crossed the line" (of the triangle that is) in a series of games against Shusaku and another series against Shuho, both in the 1850's.

In the same source, for the 5-4 point, there are many examples of the play at P16 pre-1950 - in particular by Takagawa. So I don't think the 'triangle' theory really describes old etiquette, other than for komoku. -- Charles Matthews

Is there any such etiquette in China and Korea? -- Dave Sigaty

Can you extend this principle to other symmetric positions? For example, in the following position, would it be politer for Black to approach at a rather then b assuming that a is closer to the white player? -- BlueWyvern

Symmetric opening  

I don't think there's such an etiquette rule, just like it seems OK to play sanrensei either on the top or on the right (from Black's perspective). -- unkx80

I think AvatarDJFlux's comment makes more sense than the "closest to opponent" argument. I think that the issue disappears right after the first move. -- Dieter

Correct. Once Black has played his first move in one of the points indicated by Stefan, White is free to play on any part of the board, and so is Black for the third move.
The etiquette of playing first in the upper right corner is quite strong in Japan, due to its origin of a bow to the Master: I am not sure, but I believe to remember a game where Kobayashi played somewhere else and his opponent (and fierce rival) Takemiya criticised him strongly.
On the other hand, in other cases players who didn't follow the etiquette (e.g. Yoda recently) weren't criticised as much.
I have no idea whether in China or Korea there is the same etiquette.
Finally, if Black plays in the upper right corner, but in the symmetrical area with respect to Stefan's diagram (i.e. in the upper side of the upper right...) it is not exactly considered a breach of the etiquette, but sure it is considered unusual, almost disturbing for White...

-- AvatarDJFlux

In Game Two of the 47th Honinbo in May 1992, Cho Chikun played in the upper right corner but on the untraditional side of the diagonal. Otake: "From Kobayashi's point of view, it must have felt like a spear point thrust in front of his eyes. (Laughter)" (from John Power's translation of the Igo Club commentary) -- William Newman

Assuming White is sitting opposite from Black, and most players are right-handed - wouldn't the "nearest to opponent" principle dictate playing in the upper-left corner? Then it would be on White's right, more conveniently placed. I imagine the bow-to-master explanation is more accurate. -- Karl Knechtel

Does this have anything to do with the obscure custom that it is polite for the stronger player to face the door? It seems to me that this would seat him in front of the honorary alcove. -- BlueWyvern

When sitting in seiza before someone when you have a sword, it is customary to remove the sword and place it horizontally between you with the handle of your sword to your left side and the blade facing toward yourself. This makes it harder for you to draw your sword and attack the person in front of you (it also makes it easier for them to get to your sword).

By playing the stone in the upper right, not only would your right hand (your sword hand) be occupied, your opponent's first move would carry their hand from their right to their left... toward their sword handle. Perhaps that way they could continue the motion, draw their sword, and kill you easily if necessary :-)

-- Easco

How come none of the online Go clients flip the board around for the white player? -- Fhayashi

Hdouble: This would make it very difficult for the players to discuss the game ("upper right corner? from your perspective or mine?") Actually, I hear that at least one of the Windows net clients has a flip board option.

They could at least flip the number and letter coordinates along with the board, so A2 is always A2. Upper right / lower left, etc., would still be complicated. I think it would still be worth it, for the sake of simulating a real face-to-face game. -- Fhayashi

I noticed on the play-by-web server, It's Your Turn, they flip the board over. When I discussed the game with the other player at the end of a two-month game, he said that some things were "obvious" when you turned the board around. It did make comments like "living in the upper right would be tough" confusing until we realized what was going on... It's even worse that some places use A-T, omitting I, while others still use I as a coordinate. -- Chris Hayashida

(Anonymous comment, copied from GoEtiquette): The custom of playing in the top right on move 1 is not as universal in Japan as most people think, and no-one knows its true meaning. It's very unlikely to represent a ritual bow, as the bowing would have already happened. I suspect it is no more than a combination of being natural for a right-hander and being a good way, consciously or subconsciously, to stretch and so exert one's ki (qi).

Warp: Very unlikely? I didn't know it's forbidden to bow your master more than once. Why would it be unlikely? It's not like you could be too polite (specially in Japan).

The bowing theory sounds quite feasible and rational. And if it's true, then not playing on the upper right corner, specially if you play on a corner close to yourself, would be quite impolite. It would be like saying "I'm not bowing to you, so I'll play here, close to myself".

Dieter: I must say I find the natural and ki-exerting theory more plausible than the bowing. It's not forbidden to bow twice, no, but it is a bit odd to bow while moving, even if it is the first move. In martial arts, bowing comes before moving too.

Bill: One of the more elegant throws in aikido involves bowing deeply to the other person, throwing him without touching him.

scsiduck: I played a casual game against a Korean man in my neighbourhood, and when I played in the upper right corner, he explained that I should play on my own side first, saying "This is my side, that's your side" ... wonder if this is typical?

scsiduck: Just to follow up here, I went to the Korean Go Club in Toronto with a few KGS friends, and we encountered the same thing: "Don't play on my side first".

Random Comment?: And as Go reflects life it reflects the difference in culture between Japan and Korea.

Random Comment II?: Might as well just play where you want rather than play top right and offend one player trying to be polite to another.

MrShin: Here's a photo from "The Japanese Game of 'Go'", by Mihori Fukumensi. It is a game between Segoe Kensaku (white) and Go Seigen (black).

Note Wu's posture. Definitely bowing.

ilan: It seems to me that the online version of this should be: Playing the first move in the bottom left hand corner?.

    • Hicham:Why,Ilan? What is so special about that corner in online play?
    • Hikaru79: Because in a real game, if you play your top-right corner, it appears to your opponent in THEIR bottom-left. So in order to duplicate the effect that white sees online (where both players look at the board from the same orientation), black would have to play his first move in the bottom-left. See?

Gojira: Well, except that some go clients invert the board for white. So you can't always be sure where white will see it.

justdidit? the title of this page should be changed into:

Playing the first move in the upper right corner in Japan

It s a cultural fact only in Japan, not in any other country. Dieter: no, just like an encyclopedea will not talk about "driving left in left driving countries". The act is playing the upper right corner and where it is a cultural habit can be discussed in the article.

Playing The First Move In The Upper Right Corner / Discussion last edited by OscarBear on July 31, 2014 - 20:47
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