Sow Discord in the Enemy's Camp

  Difficulty: Beginner   Keywords: Tactics, Strategy, Proverb

The original stratagem of the Secret art of war is to discover the enemy's spies and then feed them false information.

It is not easy to apply this strategem to Go. Here's some discussion:

One interpretation:

Since you are desperate (and you are probably losing), it can't hurt to invade a base that has not yet established two eyes. Your opponent might have to respond (you gain sente) and he might mess up, allowing you to destroy his group. If played right, you lose no points because for every piece you play in his camp, he has to respond with a piece of his own. So you lose one stone and he loses a space on the board.

This is probably not very elegant. But you are desperate.

Isn't the net result one point for the other player. You place one stone in his territory, he defends with a stone of his own. You end up dying. Each of his stones lose him one point of territory. Each of your stones give a prisoner and a point of territory, so it gives him +2. with a net difference of +1 in his favor for each stone... I guess it depends if you play with the Japanese or Chinese rule sets.

StormCrow: No, the space you played on was already his territory, so that was already your opponent's point. A move inside your opponent's territory that is responded to is zero-sum. That's why ko threats don't generally lose points.

Evpsych: Was it already his territory if you end up getting it later? i.e. are you stealing territory that is his, or instantiating the future reality of it being yours, which is latent in the situation even though it appears to be his? (If there is a better page for this question, feel free to move it.) (Answer to my own question: StormCrow is referring to the situation where you lose the battle for the group.)

Comb Formation  

Here is an example:

The Comb Formation is alive. However, if White were desperate, she could play at a or b. This requires Black to respond to keep the group alive. So the net point exchange is 0; but Black may commit a fatal error (White hopes) and not protect the group, in which case White has won the group.

-- SifuEric

Wouldn't c be a point better, as it forces black to reinforce? ~srn347

unkx80: You have a point, but from a practical point of view, such moves wastes ko threats. Also, if this is overdone, then I don't think that it is nice etiquette. If you think that you are really losing and have no chance of winning, perhaps you should just resign?

SifuEric: I think you are absolutely right. I was just trying to give my interpretation of the strategy. Especially if you have no chance of winning, resign. You will keep your dignity and people will still play you. I would only use this strategy if winning that particular game were extremely important (and etiquette not quite as important). Never in a friendly game.

Gorobei: The main problem of applying war proverbs to Go is that they often just don't apply. Much of the writing of Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and the author(s) of the 36 stratagems is concerned with explaining how war is more than just massed troops fighting to the death on a muddy field.

Many stratagems, if applied to Go, would be considered bad sportsmanship (or "gamesmanship" for those who have read Stephen Potter or watched Bobby Riggs) E.g...

  • Before playing in an online exihibition match, play several games showing a glaring weakness, and make sure the opponent learns of these games.
  • If playing a live game, let the opponent find out that three 6-Dan players will be coming to observe... when the match is played, three actors chatter excitedly whenever your opponent plays a bold move, and shake their heads to each other whenever he plays a defensive move.
  • Have two girls in miniskirts spectate. One comments on how the opponent is very good, and wishes she could have someone explain why he made certain moves. The other says she is getting bored and reminds her friend that the only reason they came to this tournament was to find men... if the game hasn't finished in 20 minutes they should leave.
  • Migeru Memorize the complete works of Shakespeare and liberally quote from them [ext] as the game progresses.

TakeNGive 10k: Who is the enemy? Where is the camp?
The "enemy" is your opponent/partner. The "camp" is her/his mind. I think this proverb, if it applies to Go at all (Gorobei's points noted!), suggests that you play in a way that makes your opponent have self-doubt. For example, set up a ko because you know your 25-kyu opponent is still afraid to fight ko. I'm having trouble thinking of a way to do this against a stronger player. Maybe some of the "probing" moves I've read about but don't understand can be interpreted in this category?

Andre Engels 3D: If I were to choose an interpretation of this in Go terms, I would first look at the preparation of invasions: Start with some easily discarded kikashi, which only serve to 'sow discord', before you throw in the important invasion stones. Another thing would indeed be probing moves. By making the opponent play first, you are making his stones sit on the wrong places. More generally, one could apply this proverb to any tactic that makes the opponent's stones have incorrect shape for the occasion.

Karl Knechtel ~14k: I have done this sort of thing successfully against computer opponents. I will play out my ko threats at the end of the game, not with a fully-calculated plan, but because the computer won't care. Often one threat will lead to another until eventually the play is very big locally (sometimes I think this is due to suboptimal play by the computer, but I am never patient enough to analyze these things fully), and if I do not end up winning outright then the computer often ends up setting up an actual ko there - so I go and play a ko threat somewhere else. That threat is too small, so the computer takes the ko and seemingly renders my huge desperate play moot - except that I win the ko threat that I wouldn't otherwise have been entitled to. Almost like "Make a feint to the east while attacking in the west" I suppose, only much less polite ;) One time I took an extra 10 points against GNU Go this way when I thought I was losing - it turns out I was winning anyway, but I still enjoyed playing the sequence because I had to think quite a bit about every play in order to achieve the gain. (Had GNU Go not been able to stop me with the ko, it would have been a much bigger loss than 10 points - I think it was about 30.)

Rich: If one really wants to apply military strategy to go, I read this as using aji and kikashi to its full potential; knowing how to, and then having the timing for it. In its original intent it applies to demoralising the rank and file; a Go general can rely on perfectly obedient troops, only his judgement is to blame for his defeat.

BobMcGuigan: Since it is good to make your stones work together maybe another interpretation would be to play so as to make your opponent's stones poorly coordinated.

Floris: I don't think one should resign inmediately when he is 20 points behind. The best way to go when behind very much is thorougly analyse your opponents position and look for weak points, or look for places where weak points may be created. The time to resign is when all the weak points have been defended against and there is nothing left to fight for. Hoping your opponent will make a mistake and play on is NOT good atitude.

Crimson: I remember a game not long ago, where my opponent was weak in the opening, and wasted many moves. So I took the bigger side of the board, including the centre. After the opening I was about 120 pts. ahead of my oponent! But then he attacked me inside my territory, as you can probably guess, I was pretty annoyed, and I tried chasing him to the centre so he won't live. I should've pushed him to the corner... Then he started playing inside my territory and I was very angry, and didn't think too much. At the end, from a lead of 120 points, I LOST BY 30! In an after-game analysis I found I made some really stupid moves. Psychological attacks can definitely work.

In a more recent game, I played white, and my opponent started with a strong attack on one of my corners. I saw it is a little hard for me to stop, so I started making extension to the centre and to the whole board. I decided I must be very aggresive to win. It made my opponent weaker so he/she missed some good moves, and I managed to win by 49.5 moku. Most of this came from the centre.

Rakshasa: Sounds like you had 120 point lead with imaginary territory. Just the size of the number is enough to guess that it was invadeable.

Crimson: I'm not too sure what you mean by imaginary, but anyway my territory had a very defined border. There was only one gap, one space, that if my opponent would play there he would gain no more than 1 point. Yes, it wasn't even divided. The board had only one wall. It was so annoying, after the game I noticed I made some mistake I would never do under normal conditions. This mistake enabled my opponent to enter my territory, otherwise his group would be dead or alive but small.

Sow Discord in the Enemy's Camp last edited by Dieter on April 16, 2021 - 15:55
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