Some Basic Tips for Fuseki

  Difficulty: Intermediate   Keywords: Opening

Stability and Potential Territory

Roughly speaking, when thinking about the flow of stones, there are two aspects you should take into consideration. They are: "stability of stones" and "space to build territory". To summarize VERY briefly and simply, the principles to apply are as follows.

  1. Choose bigger potential territory.
  2. Keep away from stable (strong) stones.

I hope to show how these two principles are applied to the opening, specifically, with some (3~5) sample games.

First Sample game - B1, a bad move  

This is a game that I watched at KGS recently. Both players are KGS 14kyu. (Black asked me to review his game.)

Watching this, we can see all moves before B1 being good or reasonable. But now we see this, B1 is moving down the right-side towards the bottom-right corner. A terribly bad move, a criminal and perhaps fatal mistake. In my view, it would not be strange if Black even resigns right now.

Anyway, why is this B1 such a horribly silly move? To see the reason, you should understand how solid and strong stones determine (or affect) the value of moves...

Before playing B1, Black should have asked himself the following two questions.

Question 1) Which stones are the strongest and most stable ones, and which are the weakest and most vulnerable?

Question 2) Which unsettled region is the biggest?

As a result of the right-bottom Kitani joseki, White got a VERY solid and stable base which is aiming at the upper-right corner.

This means at least two things:

1) Even if Black approaches the corner stones, there is no hope for Black to put a serious threat on them. Consequently Black can hardly expect any substantial development in the right side.

To say it again, at the right-bottom White is very stable and is limiting Black's development down the right-side.

2) From point of White's view to invest more stones in the right side is excessive and superfluous. I mean it would result in an overconcentration of stones. Why? It is because White already has very strong control of the right side.

Thus, it is more desirable for White to play somewhere else rather than on the right side. Therefore we see that, at present, right-side moves are waste for both White and Black.

Let's summarize. There are at least two reasons why this B1 move is so bad.

1) First, B1 is directed towards White's stable group around which he can NEVER hope to make a big development or to give a blow to that group.

2) Second, there are other areas that are wider than the right side. I think of the upper and the left side. In respect of making territories, why should Black lead his stones into a narrow region like the right-side??? Obviously bad flow...

O.K. then, the following is next question. What moves are recommendable for Black instead of B1???

In my view, upper side is a good and big place to play for Black. I recommend you to play one of a~d. Um...I don't know which is best among these 4 moves. (It is TOO hard for me!!!)

Someone might be afraid of White's e invasion into the bottom side and so want to defend with Black f.

But, don't worry about it. This invasion is NEVER serious trouble for Black.

I will show JUST one of many possible sequences after White's invasion below, because I'm TOO lazy to show all possible sequences.

First Sample game - White's what???  

Let's assume that Black plays B1. In my view, a good move, making a moyo and connecting the two marked Black stones in a well organized fashion.

So, White got angry and invaded to punish(?) Black. But nothing serious happens. The sequence from W2 to W10 is the most common variation after White's invasion.

(Caution : this sequece is not completed. If you want, look up your joseki dictionary to see the result of this variation.)

Anyway, this fuseki is much more speedy and active for Black than the real game. After this sequence, it is probable that Black would develop upper side and center substantially and have the initiative in the following middle game fight.

First Sample game - After the invasion...if he continues with a wrong strategy, then hell is waiting for White.  

Lastly, let's examine White's silly choice after invading the bottom-side. What about trying to build a moyo on the right side as White?

If White tries to take profit on the right side, the moves from W1 to W5 are expected. And this is the common variation.

Anyway, is this good for White? Never! Why? The reasons are as follows.

By playing this, White gets some profit on the right side.

1) BUT B6 is a really attractive point for both. This move is widening Black's upper side moyo and also limiting the development of White's left-bottom corner simultaneously. See, how active and lively the black stones are!!!

Can't see it? Um...regrettable... If you really can't see it, it's probably because you are too weak, so this page can't help you yet.

2) The profit that White got on the right side is not as much as you might think. And there are lots of aji and moves to reduce White's moyo like Black at s or r.

His addtional income by investing 3~5 moves at the right side is JUST about 15pts, at most less than 20pts. A very inefficient return rate.

Thus never play a pincer like black-a against W1 in a situation like this.

Just play B2 calmly and let him make a small profit inefficiently on the right side.

I have seen TOO MANY TIMES that many middle level players play a pincer (for example, black-a) against W1 being blinded by silly envy.

To say again, White's moves from W1~W5 are TOO CLOSE to his own strong stones (right-bottom base) and ignoring other big places. I have already said that to play near strong stones is usually a very bad idea.

Um...the end of explanation on sample game (1)


First Sample game - B1, a bad move  

Hikaru79: I checked's database for the position you showed to see if it was really as disastrous as you say. It is true that out of over 200 games (that's the maximum search result limit) with that position, B1 was not played in ANY of them. However, B1 at 'g' (very similar) did appear in two games: Kobayashi Koichi-Awaji Shuzo-1981-08-19 [1] and Hyeon Mijin-Won Seongjin-2002-12-10 .

I suppose my question is: What is it about the 4th line that makes it slightly more acceptable than the third? Or was it just a matter of context in those specific games that Black decided that a move there would help him over the whole board (moyo-building or such?)[2]

And by the way, thank you, bud1027, for coming to KGS and Sensei's Library and teaching us! ^__^

[1] At move 67! Quite different position. Charles

[2] I think it's just a matter of context. Without considering context of the specific game, I can't see a reason to believe that 4rd line is more acceptable than 3rd line.

And I dont have an account at "go.base", so can't examine the two cases that you mentioned. But I believe that the context in those 2 games must be different from the one in above sample game.

I guess, maybe the two moves are played in the last stage of fuseki after other places have been done.

bye@@@ bud1027

rubilia: May I ask a question by showing a diagram?

White to move  

The given principles tend to suggest one out of c~f here, but is that really better than something around a? (I guess, since the marked black hoshi stone is not really "strong", g could be considered, as well.)

HolIgor: A simple seach in the [ext] produced 3 moves in 20 games. a is the most popular move with 16 games, b and c happened in 2 games each. I was a little bit surprised with b. I would expect rather a move one point to the left of a, but it seems that in that case black is allowed to make move a long way from the strength. c is an understandable idea and goes well with the tips given in this page. But a is the most popular move here. I would admit that I would play it too. The idea is, of course, prevention of the creation of black moyo while it is safe yet. I am afraid that this goes beyond the tips given above. Go is a game of destruction as well as the game of creation.

Discouraging the extension  

Bill: I was surprised to see W1 explained, in a commentary on one of Go Seigen's games[1001], by saying that Black would not now extend from his enclosure on the right (which is what he would like to do). I was surprised because W1 is usual when black+circle is at a, because, after B2 - W5, White has a follow-up at b, which White does not have vs. black+circle.

After B2, instead of W5, White may sometimes play the sequence in this diagram.

Reply to rubilia.

Yesterday, I met rubilia at kgs, and we talked about this diagram. The following is the summary of that.bud1027

White to move  

1. White-a is best. Why?

You'r right. In this case, white-a is best, at least better than white-c (d) for sure. Why? The reasons are as follows.

Question 1 : Let's see this situation. now, there are (roughly) two spaces to build territory - "potential territory"-. one is upper side and the other is lower side.

So, White has two options to choose. The first is to build moyo at the upper side by playing c, and the second is to reduce or limit the development of Black's lower side moyo or formation. So then, he must ask himself this question.

Which one has bigger potential of development?

As you can see, the answer is "lower side". This is obvious. Therefore, the right direction into which stones must flow is NEVER upper side here, BUT lower side. White must restrain the threatening development of Black's lower side rather than build his own upper side moyo.

Question 2 : Being granted that to play in lower the side is White's right choice, it's time to consider which particular point is desirable and proper for White there to play.

For example, let's see p~t. In my view, all of them are bad moves. They are too close to black's strong base.

I mean, what is required for White in this case is to find a move which can reduce and restrain the development of Black's bottom right corner, simultaneously staying away from this strong formation.

In lower side, which point is such a move? I believe that the very white-a is such a move.

2. Supplementary explanations with 3 sample games

As you might recognize, the fact that white-a is the best move in above diagram is not contradictory to my initial explanations on the reasons why B1 is so silly in first sample game.

I hope to show this more clearly by examining some additional diagrams.

First Sample game - B1, a bad move  

This is first sample game. To simplify our discussion, let's confine our concerns to two spaces only: right side and upper side. And let's repeat the two questions that raised in your diagram.

Question 1 : Let's see this situation. Now, there are (roughly) two spaces to build territory - "potential territory". One is upper side and the other is right side.

As Black, we have two options to choose. The first is to build moyo in upper side by playing a, and the second is to reduce or limit the development of white's right side formation. So then, we should ask ourselves this question:

Which one has the biggest potential of development?

As you can see, the answer is "upper side". So, to play black-a is the natural and right choice, whilst black-b is a silly move.
Question 2 In this case, White's most stable stones are the marked ones in the bottom right corner.

The main point is this: Unlike in your above diagram, in this case, it is not necessary and urgent for Black to reduce the development of White's right side. To say it again, the upper side has a bigger potential of territory development than right side.

Thus, in our first sample game, Bb is such a move that invests stones into a less valuable space, simultaneously even approaching unnecessarily close to stable opponent's stones. Therefore, that move is a typical and perfect example of neglecting our basic fuseki priciples.

To explain this way of thinking more clearly, I will provide two additional examples below.

Second sample game - Chance to finish this game. Black to play.  

This is a game that I watched about 1 year ago in Cyber Oro, a Korean Go server. In my memory, the rank of both players was ...roughly 6~7kyu there. (Black asked me to review the game.)

Anyway, White commited a fatal and criminal!!! mistake just now. White's choice of hoshi joseki (marked stones) in the upper right corner was nothing but just silly nonsense. Now it's time for Black to finish this game and punish white to resign.

But how to? Now..., Black should ask himself the following question.

Question 1 : Which space has the biggest territory potential?

Roughly, he has two options. One is to build moyo in lower side by playing black-c, and the other is to limit and reduce the development of White's upper side by playing black-a or black-b.

Of these two, which one is bigger space? Obviously, the answer is "upper side".

Why? As a result of the hoshi joseki in upper-right corner, White got influence and Black took the some cash in the corner. And White can build a big moyo in upper side by playing around a.

Thus, it's urgent for Black to restrain this White's upper side. At present, the focus of this game is how effectively Black could reduce, limit and weaken White's upper right influece.

Being granted that the upper side is the right direction to play, next thing for Black to consider is how to stay away from White's strong wall, while simultaneously reducing and limiting the use of White's influence.

The following three diagrams are examples about the way how Black can do this.

diagram 1 - Black is cutting White's stones into two peices... "Happy Black!!!"  

Black plays B1. Good move. After playing this, the white wall looks really silly.

White is upset, so threatens and induces Black to move towards White's strong wall by playing W2.

Black jumps into center by playing B3, which is the point of this diagram. Why should black play B3? Why should he not extend two lines by playing Black-e?

It's because right upper White's wall is strong stones. To appoach them is dangerous for Black. This is a typical case that shows in which way my second tip - "to keep away from stable (strong) stones" - is meant to be applied.

diagram 2 - another considerable move.  

B3 is considerable too, and is on the same line of thinking. After B3, Black can choose to make a base by playing h, or to jump lightly into center by playing f or g.

diagram 2-1 : third considerable move.  

B1 is also reasonable move and more...cautious and conservative move. This move is one line left to our first example. The meaning of this is "to keep away from White's strong wall".

If White answers W2, in this case, Black can extend 2 lines to B3 safely because B1 in this diagram is further from White's wall than our move in the first diagram.

diagram 2-2 : third considerable move.  

In this diagram, if White approaches Black from the upper right corner, Black makes his base by playing B3. This is also a satisfactory result for Black.

In my thinking, intead of B7, t might be better. but im not sure...Um...confusing for me, which is better...? too

diagram 4-1 : Dangerous for Black.  

Lastly, let's examine briefly why B3 is a bad idea.

In normal situations, this extentsion is a common, and good move. But, in this case, we should consider White's thickness nearby. I mean, the present situation is NOT NORMAL.

For example, if Black extends like this, W4 is ready for White, a proper move that is putting pressure on Black and expanding the moyo of White's upper left corner. Of course, this is a neither good nor easy scenario for black.

diagram 4-2 : Dangerous for Black.  

And there is another trouble for Black. Later - I mean, in the middle game -, if White has enough good ko threats, he can threaten Black's corner and upper side group simultaneously by playing W4~W6. In stead of W6, white-a (stronger move) is also considerable for White.

Anyway, this attack can put Black in a very awkward position.

In conclusion, to appoach opponent's strong stones closely causes nothing but troubles for you.

Corner VS Side & Center

Why do (or should) we play in the corner as our first move in fuseki? Or, why are corners reasonable places to play first in fuseki?

This question is not independent of but closely related to our above topic - "stability of stones" and " space - potential territory" -.

Anyway, most common explanations in elementary Go books say that it's because the corner is easier and a more efficient space to make territory than the sides or center.

This explanation is incomplete and unsufficient, or, at best, just a part of the reasons. It also can be dangerous for beginners. I mean, this explanation can produce misundersandings on reasons why playing the corner is better (or, at least, reasonable), and consequently, mislead beginners' way of thinking to serious misplays in the opening.

Let's see the diagram below.

a diagram that I saw 10 years ago.  

To summarize briefly, their explanations are (or were) like this.

''<< In this diagram, in the corner there are 7 stones invested to make 9pts, at the side 11 stones, and in the center 16 stones. So, territory efficiency of stones is highest in corner, lowest in center.

Thus, you should play in corners at first in order to make territoy, secondly in side, and lastly in center. And it is hard to make territory, or to surround something, in the middle, thus to try to make territory in center is usually not such a good idea. >>''

In my memory, this was what I learned from common elementary go books about 10 years ago.

As I said earlier, this explantion is plainly wrong, or at best, incomplete and dangerous. It is likely to induce misunderstandings about the purpose (or function) of corner plays.

The corner is not a more proper nor better space to make territories than the sides or center, if we are concerned only with its possibility of development. The corner is a small space.

We play in the corner not because it's a big space (a good place to make territory), but because the corner is an urgent space to play (a good place to build a safe and stable base).

Let's see the next diagram.

19x19 diagram  

In this diagram, there are two black stones, 3-3 and tengen.

Of these two, which stone has the bigger potential of development? Or, to put it another way, which stone is directed towards the widest space? Surely the answer is "the stone at tengen".

As you know, Go is a game of surrounding. Your stones should advance into wide areas and surround them as fast as possible. Thus, as far as all other aspects are equal, there is no reason to play in the corner earlier than in the center or side. Why? As said already, a corner is a smaller space than the center...!

In short, if we consider JUST the "potential development", to play center (tengen, usually) is better than to play corner.

If that's the case, why do we play in the corner? It's because the corner helps to make a "stable and safe base" - a base for advancing into side and center. I mean, making territory at the corner is just a secondary objective of playing there. It's main objective is to get a safe and stable base for moving to wider spaces, side and center.


GoSeigen (White) vs. Iwamoto Honinbo  

bud1027 Thanks, Bill!!! I wanted to see the position in which W2 was played. the way, do you regard this game as an counter example on my explanation of rubilia's diagram?

If so, regrettable. I don't think so.

Obviously not, it's because of B1.

Bill: Yes, B1 makes a Black extension from the shimari more desirable, but Go Seigen did not mention that specifically in his commentary.

But, IMO, the shimari is not so strong as to make W2 bad, even without B1. With a kogeima shimari W2 is the preferred wedge. I do not think the difference is enough to make it bad, even if playing below the star point is preferred.

bud1027 In my view, this go-seigen's game is not proper as a counter example of rubilia's diagram(or question). I still believe that the move below the star point is better in our intial diagram, rubilia's one.

Unfortunately,at present I can't find satisfactory arguments for my belief. Anyway, i have a question for you.


If we assume this position....  

Bill, If we assume this position instead of go-seigen's game, you still think that W2 is a reasonble move or as good move as White - a?

Bill: Well, in a more symmetrical position, my feeling is to move towards the point of symmetry. ;-) W b looks good. :-)

At the same time, I wouldn't call either W a or W2 bad.

Some Basic Tips for Fuseki last edited by PeterHB on March 18, 2008 - 06:42
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