When In Doubt, Tenuki

    Keywords: Strategy

"When in doubt, tenuki."

There are a few justifications for this particular formulation:

  1. If you're doubtful about whether you can gain anything in the local situation, perhaps it is because your opponent simply is stronger in such situations; at any rate, your instinct is probably right. Why play another stone that might be gote when you can take the initiative (sente) to start elsewhere?
  2. If there have already been a couple of plays locally, and there's no obvious local response to the last move, chances are the biggest play is somewhere else on the board.
  3. If you don't think you need one more move locally to seal your opponent's fate, you may be right. Alternately, maybe all you really need is a ladder breaker. In that case, you can get away with playing it far away (at least for the time being). So why not do just that? By playing it further away, nearer to some other battle, you may well find a dual-purpose play, a great tesuji.

This precise formulation of the proverb was popularized by Bill Spight, but has a long career as a traditional Japanese proverb:

Bill: I made up this saying some time ago with tongue in cheek, but with some seriousness, too. To my surprise I have found a Japanese version [ext] here: "When you don't know where to play, tenuki."

I also ran across it in Go Seigen's 21st Century Go. The Japanese >>proverb has been around for a long time, I suppose.

Noah?: I have always thought of this as saying that if you don't know where to play in a local situation, logically that means that there is not 1 move that stands out. As such, if there is not 1 move that stands out, then there are 2 or more moves of similar or equal value to the player, and as such, he doesn't need to play, because if one move loses it's value, then the other will still be there, and then will be the time to play it. Of course that's not necessarily true, both moves could disappear at the same moment, but it does make sense that if you have a doubt of where to move, then you have options, and one of those options isn't much better than the others, so why choose now when you can play somewhere where there aren't options.

See also:

When In Doubt, Tenuki last edited by on June 24, 2014 - 08:49
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