TheGameOfGoTheNationalGameOfJapan/General Methods of Play and Terminology of the Game


As will be shown more in detail in the chapter on Openings or “Joseki,” the game is commenced by playing in the corners of the board, and generally on one of the squares adjacent to the handicap point. The reason for this is that the corners of the board are natural fortresses, and can be more readily defended against attack. It is also easier to form territory in the corners of the board. Next to the corners of the board the sides of the board are easiest to defend, and territory is more easily formed along the sides than in the center, and in an ordinary game the play generally proceeds from the corners and edges to the center. The importance which the Japanese attach to the corners is shown by their saying “Yo sumi torarete go wo utsu na,” or “if the four corners are taken, cease playing.” Against a good player it is next to impossible to form territory in the center of the board, unless it is based on one of the sides or corners.

There is, however, an old rule of etiquette which is not consistent with this theory of the opening; it used to be regarded as exceedingly impolite and insulting to play the first stone on the handicap point in the center of the board, called “Ten gen.” It has been explained to me that the reason for this rule is that such a move was supposed to assure the victory to the first player, and it is related that when on one occasion Murase Shuho had defeated a rival many times in succession, the latter, becoming desperate, apologized for his rudeness and placed his stone on this spot, and Murase, nevertheless, succeeded in winning the game, which was regarded as evidence of his great skill. It has, however, been shown by Honinbo Dosaku that this move gives the first player no decisive advantage, and I have been also told by some Japanese that the reason that this move is regarded as impolite is because it is a wasted move, and implies a disrespect for the adversary’s skill, and from what experience I have had in the game I think the latter explanation is more plausible. At all events, such a move is most unusual and can only be utilized by a player of the highest skill.

When good players commence the game, from the first they have in mind the entire board, and they generally play a stone in each of the four corners and one or two around the edges of the board, sketching out, as it were, the territory which they ultimately hope to obtain. They do not at once attack each other’s stones, and it is not until the game is well advanced that anything like a hand to hand conflict occurs. Beginners are likely to engage at once in a close conflict. Their minds seem to be occupied with an intense desire to surround and capture the first stones the adversary places on the board, and often their opposing groups of stones, starting in one corner, will spread out in a struggling mass from that point all over the board. There is no surer indication of the play of a novice than this. It is just as if a battle were to commence without the guidance of a commanding officer, by indiscriminate fisticuffs among the common soldiers. Of the other extreme, or “Ji dori Go,” we have already spoken. Another way in which the play of experts may be recognized is that all the stones of a good player are likely to be connected in one or at most two groups, while poorer players find their stones divided up into small groups each of which has to struggle to form the necessary two “Me” in order to insure survival.

Assuming that we have advanced far enough to avoid premature encounters or “Ji dori Go,” and are placing our stones in advantageous positions, decently and in order, the question arises, how many spaces can be safely skipped from stone to stone in advancing our frontiers; that is to say, how far can stones be separated and yet be potentially connected, and therefore safe against attack? The answer is, that two spaces can safely be left if there are no adversary’s stones in the immediate vicinity. To demonstrate this, let us suppose that Black has stones at R 13 and R 16, and White tries to cut them off from each other. White’s best line of attack would be as follows:

 White     Black
  R 14      S 14
  R 15      S 15
  Q 16      R 17
  Q 13      R 12
  Q 12

and Black has made good his connection, or Black at his fourth move could play at Q 14, then

  W           B
 Q 15        R 12
 P 14 takes.

There are other continuations, but they are still worse for White. If, however, the adversary’s stones are already posted on the line of advance sometimes it is only safe to skip one point, and of course in close positions the stones must be played so that they are actually connected. The Japanese call this skipping of “Me” by the terms “Ikken tobi,” “Nikken tobi,” “Sangen tobi,” etc., which literally means “to fly one, two, or three spaces.” Although this is plain enough, these relations are nevertheless shown on Plate 13, Diagrams I, II, and III. When stones of opposite colors on the same line are separated by vacant space in a similar way (Diagram IV), then the terms “Ikken kakari,” “Nikken kakari,” etc., are used. “Kakari” really means “to hang” or “to be related,” but as used in this sense it might be translated “to attack.”

Sometimes the stones are placed in relation to each other like the Knight’s move in Chess. The Knight in Japanese is called “Keima,” or “the honorable horse,” and if the stones are of the same color the relation is called “Keima” or “Kogeima,” “Ko” being the diminutive. If the stones are of opposite colors, then the phrase “Keima” or “Kogeima kakari” is used as in the previous case. The Japanese also designate a relation similar to the Knight’s move, but farther apart, by special words; thus, if the stones are one space farther apart, it is called “Ogeima,” or “the Great Knight’s move,” and if the stone is advanced one step still farther, it is called “Daidaigeima,” or “the Great Great Knight’s move.” On Plate 13, Diagrams V, VI, and VII, are shown “Kogeima,” “Ogeima,” and “Daidaigeima.”

Plate 13 (Text removed from this Plate)  

The next question that will trouble the beginner is where to place his stones when his adversary is advancing into his territory, and beginners are likely to play their stones directly in contact with the advancing forces. This merely results in their being engulfed by the attacking line, and the stones and territory are both lost. If you wish to stop your adversary’s advance, play your stones a space or two apart from his, so that you have a chance to strengthen your line before his attack is upon you.

The next thing we will speak of is what the Japanese call the “Sente.” This word means literally “the leading hand,” but is best translated by our words “having the offensive.” It corresponds quite closely to the word “attack,” as it is used in Chess, but in describing a game of Go it is better to reserve the word “attack” for a stronger demonstration than is indicated by the word “Sente.” The “Sente” merely means that the player having it can compel his adversary to answer his moves or else sustain worse damage, and sometimes one player will have the “Sente” in one portion of the board, and his adversary may disregard the attack and by playing in some other quarter take the “Sente” there. Sometimes the defending player by his ingenious moves may turn the tables on his adversary and wrest the “Sente” from him. At all events, holding the “Sente” is an advantage, and the annotations on illustrative games abound with references to it, and conservative authors on the game advise abandoning a stone or two for the purpose of taking the “Sente.”

Sometimes a player has three stones surrounding a vacant space, as shown in Plate 13, Diagram VIII, and the question arises how to attack this group. This is done by playing on the fourth intersection. The Japanese call this “Nozoku,” or “peeping into,” and when a stone is played in this way it generally forces the adversary to fill up that “Me.” It may be mentioned here also that when your adversary is trying to form “Me” in a disputed territory, the way to circumvent him is to play your stones on one of the four points he will obviously need to complete his “Me,” and sometimes this is done before he has three of the necessary stones on the board. The term “Nozoku” is also applied to any stone which is played as a preliminary move in cutting the connection between two of the adversary’s stones or groups of stones.

Sometimes a situation occurs as shown in Plate 13, Diagram IX. Here it is supposed to be White’s move, and he must, of course, play at K 8, whereupon Black would play at K7 (“Osaeru”), and White would have to play at L 8 (“Nobiru”), and so on until, if these moves were persisted in, the formation would stretch in a zigzag line to the edge of the board. This situation is called “Shicho,” which really means “a running attack.” It results in the capture of the white stones when the edge of the board is reached, unless they happen to find a comrade posted on the line of retreat, for instance, at P 4, in which case they can be saved. Of course, between good players “Shicho” is never played out to the end, for they can at once see whether or not the stones will live, and often a stone placed seemingly at random in a distant part of the board is played partly with the object of supporting a retreating line should “Shicho” occur.

Plate 13, Diagram X, shows a situation that often arises, in which the White player, by putting his stone at M 1 on the edge of the board, can join his two groups of stones. This is so because if Black plays at L 1 or N 1, White can immediately kill the stone. This joining on the edge of the board is called by the special term “Watari,” which means “to cross over.” Sometimes we find the word is made in a similar way, although not at the extreme edge of the board.

A much more frequent situation is shown at Plate 13, Diagram XI. It is not worthy of special notice except because a special word is applied to it. If Black plays at S 1, it is called “Haneru,” which really means the flourish which is made in finishing an ideograph.

We will now take up a few of the other words that are used by the Japanese as they play the game. By far the most frequent of these are “Tsugu,” “Kiru,” “Nobiru,” and “Osaeru.” “Tsugu” means “to connect,” and when two stones are adjacent but on the diagonal, as shown in Plate 13, Diagram XII, it is necessary to connect them if an attack is threatened. This may be done by playing on either side; that is to say, at Q 17 or R 16. If, on the other hand, Black should play on both these points, the white stones would be forever separated, and this cutting off is called “Kiru,” although, as a rule, when such a situation is worthy of comment, one of the intersections has already been filled by the attacking player. Plate 13, Diagram XIII, illustrates “Kiru,” where, if a black stone is placed at Q 12, the white stones are separated. “Kiru” means “to cut,” and is recognizable as one of the component parts of that much abused and mispronounced word “Harakiri.” “Nobiru” means “to extend,” and when there is a line of stones it means the adding of another one at the end, not skipping a space as in the case of “Ikken tobi,” but extending with the stones absolutely connected. In Plate 13, Diagram XIV, if Black plays at Q 9 it would be called “Nobiru.” “Osaeru” means “to press down,” and this is what we do when we desire to prevent our adversary from extending his line, as seen in the preceding diagram. It is done by playing directly at the end of the adversary’s line, as shown in Diagram XV, where Black is supposed to play at Q 6. Here White must play on one side of the black stone, but it must be pointed out that unless there is support in the neighborhood for the stone used in “Osaeru,” the stone thus played runs the risk of capture. In Diagram IX, explaining “Shicho,” we also had an illustration of “Nobiru” and “Osaeru.”

If a stone is played on the intersection diagonally adjacent to another stone, it is called “Kosumu,” but this word is not nearly so much used as the other four. Sometimes also, when it is necessary to connect two groups of stones instead of placing the stone so as actually to connect them, as in the case of “Tsugu,” the stone is played so as to effectively guard the point of connection and thus prevent the adversary’s stone from separating the two groups. This play is called “Kake tsugu,” or “a hanging connection”; e.g., in Diagram XIII, if a white stone were played at Q 11 it would be an instance of “Kake tsugu” and would have rpevented the black stone from cutting off the White connection at Q 12, for, if the black stone were played there after a white stone had been placed at Q 11, White could capture it on the next move.

Passing from these words which describe the commonest moves in the game, we will mention the expression “Te okure” – literally “a slow hand” or “a slow move,” which means an unnecessary or wasted move. Many of the moves of a beginner are of this character, especially when he has a territory pretty well fenced in and cannot make up his mind whether or not it is necessary to strengthen the group before proceeding to another field of battle. In annotating the best games, also, it is used to mean a move that is not the best possible move, and we frequently hear it used by Japanese in criticizing the play.

“Semeai” is another word with which we must be familiar. It means “mutually attacking,” from “Semeru,” “to attack,” and “Au,” “to encounter,” that is to say, if the White player attacks a group of black stones, the Black player answers by endeavoring to surround the surrounding stones, and so on. In our Illustrative Game, Number 1, the play in the upper right-hand corner of the board is an example of “Semeai.” It is in positions of this kind that the condition of affairs called “Seki” often comes about.

Plate 13, Diagram XVI, shows a position which is illustrated only because a special name is applied to it. The Japanese call such a relation of stones “Cho tsugai,” literally, “the hinge of a door.”

The last expression which we will give is “Naka oshi gatchi,” which is the term applied to a victory by a large margin in the early part of the game. These Japanese words mean “to conquer by pushing the center.” Beginners are generally desirous of achieving a victory in this way, and are not content to allow their adversary any portion of the board. It is one of the first things to be remembered, that, no matter how skilful a player may be, his adversary will always be able to acquire some territory, and one of the maxims of the game is not to attempt to achieve too great a victory.

Before proceeding with the technical chapters on the Illustrative Games, Openings, etc., it may be well to say a word in regard to the method adopted for keeping a record of the game. The Japanese do this by simply showing a picture of the finished game, on which each stone is numbered as it was played. If a stone is taken and another stone is put in its place, an annotation is made over the diagram of the board with a reference to that intersection, stating that such a stone has been taken in “Ko.” Such a method with the necessary marginal annotation is good enough, but it is very hard to follow, as there is no means of telling where any stone is without searching all over the board for it; and while the Japanese are very clever at this, Occidental students of the game do not find it so easy. Therefore, I have adopted the method suggested by Korschelt, which in turn is founded on the custom of Chess annotation in use all over the world. The lines at the bottom of the board are lettered from A to T, the letter I being omitted, and at the sides of the board they are numbered up from 1 to 19. Thus it is always easy to locate any given stone. In the last few years the Japanese have commenced to adopt an analogous method of notation.

TheGameOfGoTheNationalGameOfJapan/General Methods of Play and Terminology of the Game last edited by MrTenuki on July 9, 2006 - 01:29
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