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Sakata's style [#450]

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Bill: Sakata's style (2006-05-20 17:27) [#1605]

I have had a thought about Sakata's style that I thought I would share here.

Looking from the outside one obvious feature of Sakata's style is that he played kikashi early. T Mark Hall has commented that it was hard to transcribe Sakata's games because he would go off and make seemingly unrelated plays. Setting bombs is, I believe, the phrase Mark used. The main danger in playing that way is that you may end up playing aji keshi, choosing the wrong way to attack.

Sakata describes his own play as thin, but not in a negative way. He says the same of Go Seigen. His stones become thin because he strives to milk the last ounce of work out of them, to make them maximally efficient.

In Sakata's quote on the the kikashi page, he says that the value of kikashi lies in the work it does.

Putting these two statements together, I said, Aha! Aside from his great skill at shinogi, what kept Sakata's play from becoming fatally thin? While you don't think of kikashi as thick, its work often lies in it outside influence. Judiciously played kikashi, then, can provide support for thin positions. The two work together.

And work is the key. It is plain from his comments that Sakata places great value on the work of the stones. It is one of the organizing principles of his play. Studying Sakata's games would be a good way to learn about work.

reply Agreeing and expanding on Bill's insight (2006-05-21 11:24) [#1606]

John F. As the one who actually wrote the piece on T Mark's experiences with Sakata, and so having discussed it with him in some detail, I can chime with what Bill is saying.

My impression of the long and slightly agonised discussion of kikashi is that a few gallants, Bill most prominently, have been trying to wrench the meaning back from the western idea of it being more or less a synonym for sente. Bill has (rightly) taken people back down a road signposted "work" via what I regard as a detour marked "ajikeshi".

The visit to ajikeshi was necessary because it has become an idee fixe in the western consciousness, but I don't think I can recall it ever being mentioned in Japanese definitions of the word kikashi - certainly not near the front. In contrast, terms that come up at the front of Japanese definitions, such as uchidoki and kikashidoku or other notions of profit and (no) loss, are bypassed in the English.

As to why ajikeshi was a detour, I need to make a side trip myself - to hop on a time machine, in fact. We need to go back to China, and the 17th century. If you look at commentaries on games by masters such as Huang Longshi, one very common phrase is that White/Black "can play" a certain move, the one that was just played. In fact it was a kikashi move. The idea was that the move can be played **without loss** (or now is the time it can be played). The Chinese for this is luo de. The Japanese apparently borrowed the concept from China, but changed the character for "play" to the one they normally used ("hit" instead of "drop") and rendered the phrase as uchidoku.

The Japanese had similar problems of getting inside the Chinese phrase as we have with their phrases, and they soon latched on to the unrelated but not unuseful fact that -doku (toku = can) to them was also used to mean "profit". "Playing profit" did not mean very much and so this led to new coinages such as kikashidoku which are rather more explicit.

What is explicit about kikashi is that it means "causing to be effective" - another way of saying "doing work" (at least in the physics sense).

If you forget about the phrase "forcing move" and keep at the forefront of your mind notions of work, a lot of problems drop away. Since kikashi is used to describe a move that has been made successfully, it has had to have had a purpose elsewhere. Ajikeshi is not really in the frame by then. Sakata's purposes are more obscure than most players' (the reference to "thin" applies), but still the prevalent idea is that the kikashi move has become "effective" in that has achieved a purpose.

None of this is to say that ajikeshi is irrelevant, just that it's a side issue at that point. If you have a valid strategic aim and a kikashi move helps you achieve that strategy, you make it and ignore any collateral damage or tactical loss.

My impression is that westerners create problems for themselves by thinking of kikashi as a tactical concept instead of a strategic one.

This is compounded by bringing in the concept of efficiency. It would be a good idea to ban the word "efficiency" and always insist on "effectiveness" in this context. On the face of it, the idea of measurement implict in efficiency might seem to fit better with the Japanese insistence on mentioning profit, but that was an extraneous factor brought in by folk etymology. In fact, effective (simply meaning successful or successfully timed) is closer to the original Chinese idea.

In short, my message is that it is better to think of kikashi as a stragetic concept only, keep ajikeshi in the background, and, if you prefer, cleave to the Chinese version. But at the very least keep either the word "effective" or "(successful) work" in neon lights. And so, I think, I am ending up in exactly the same place as Bill.

CharlesMatthews: further thoughts (2006-05-21 12:35) [#1607]

Charles Matthews These discussions are a bit like those tunnels under a mountain dug from both ends: you hope to meet up in the middle.

On Sakata and Go, yes, the style comparison is valid. But Go Seigen had a greater talent in the opening, counted a lot as we know, and tended to win by simplifying in the later middlegame. Sakata's opening was less admirable, he read enormously, and his games led to big battles in the late middlegame.

Pedagogically, there is the issue, once 'forcing move' is an acquired concept, of distinguishing the forcing plays that harm one's position, from the (rarer) ones that improve one's position. Now, the prior discussion on kikashi (kikashi gains nothing) is the tunnel excavated from the other end. 'Improving one's position', say with a peep, is a kind of amateurish concept, in comparison. If sente is not lost, then it counts as prerogative, not gain. Still, there are clear mistakes where one falls down in either direction (clumsy play, or inattention to detail).

Getting back to Sakata, the other facet of his style that used to be discussed is the clarity (one old Go Review called it Apollonian). You get the feeling that he liked a definite problem to solve, and would be happy to probe to see it further clarified. This goes against the prevailing concept that go is a flowing game.

Dieter: Settling the shape (2006-05-22 11:20) [#1618]

One phrase of Sakata's that stuck in my mind was "so I decided to settle the shape and then decide how to play" in Killer of Go. This must be a good transcription of yosumiru, I guess. It seems to me that Sakata has been in explicit awe of the complexity of Go and that he always tried to simplify (probe) it in order to devise a manageable plan, sometimes at the expense of his position.

I've been trying lately to elaborate on English concepts, such as forcing move and disposable stone?, under the influence of Charles' ideas as stated in the articulation problem. We seem to be unable to transfer the concise Japanese concepts into our Western mindframe (I'll speak for myself) so I alined myself with those digging with a Western toolkit, hoping to meet the Bills and Johns halfway, as Charles so imaginatively puts it.

I believe the work a kikashi stone does, lies in its influence, being outside, and in its being disposable. That's the end result of a kikashi, but as with most concepts in Go, kikashi is a process and the core of the process is forcing the opponent into confirming a choice he made already (connect, capture), while keeping the iniative. That is what gives the stone its efficiency: if unanswered, it would have the same outside influence but it would be more painful to abandon it, because it hasn't been answered before and the opponent has made a play elsewhere.

Hence, I'm not so sure about excluding the notion of efficiency from the word, even if I'm not on par with John about Japanese terms.

Bill: Re: Settling the shape (2006-05-22 19:33) [#1619]

I'm not so sure that what was translated as settling the shape and then deciding how to play is the same as a probe, although it does seem to suggest that. I have the Killer of Go series in Japanese, but not the first book, which I guess I lent to somebody years ago, so I cannot check what Sakata actually said.

However, something I (sort of) learned from the Sakata no Go series (dan level), was the value, in many cases, of settling a position. Often I would look at the result of Sakata's recommended play and ask myself what was gained. But settling a position seemed to be a value in itself.

Later in the same series I read a single comment by Sakata that shed much light. He showed a variation that looked like an even exchange to me, and which I would probably have chosen in a game. But Sakata said that both players got good shape, and that wasn't good enough. Instead Sakata chose to jump into murky waters that even he could not read out.

So Sakata was willing to settle positions for a very small perceived advantage (the merest fraction of a point), but not necessarily for an even exchange.

BTW, I do not think that the problem of understanding go concepts is a cultural one, Eastern thought vs. Western thought. I think it reflects the relative paucity of dan level material in Western languages.

Sometimes I'll see a comment by John F to the effect that Western amateurs really do not understand some concept, and I'll think, most Japanese amateurs don't understand it, either. ;-) Re: Settling the shape (2006-05-22 20:57) [#1620]

John F. Bill, I'll agree entirely if you are saying that western brains are as near as dammit as good as oriental ones, but the context we are almost invariably starting with is discussion of a Japanese word. It seems absurd to suggest that Japanese and western users approach that on a level playing field. Even if you know Japanese well, you come armed with a different set of nuances and associations. That is why I've always thought it better to encourage western writers to ignore Japanese as much as possible. I think it's sad so many technical pages on SL are headed by Japanese terms. Matthew Macfadyen did good work in anglicising (or westernising) not just terms but ways of writing or even thinking about go. Charles Matthews has tried to do the same. But they are always up against the people who say goban :)

CharlesMatthews: Re: Settling the shape (2006-05-23 17:19) [#1624]

Charles I think there is actually a great deal of latitude in writing about amateur go, below 5 dan level. Very little of it has been exploited so far, with most books going down the Japanese journalism/Go World track. James Davies of course broke fresh ground, but that now seems long ago. And because of the generational structure of Western go, we are still in recovery from the 1960s in various ways. One aspect is Sakata's style, in fact; with others being komigo's advent, certain joseki still trotted out, and a poorly-integrated theory of the 4-4 point.

Bill: Re: Settling the shape (2006-05-24 18:00) [#1626]

I don't want to go too far afield. This is a page about Sakata. But let me clarify what I meant in terms of descriptive and prescriptive linguistics.

Here on SL we do not as a rule take definitions, explanations, or examples of go concepts from Japanese amateur web sites. From the standpoint of descriptive linguistics this is questionable, because that is how the language is actually used. From the standpoint of prescriptive linguistics, however, amateur usage does not tell us how the language should be used. What we want to do is understand go, and amateur understanding is simply not authoritative. (There are exceptions, OC. Bruce Wilcox is the authority on what sector lines are.) What Sakata has to say about, for example, kikashi, is authoritative, even if it is somewhat different from what another top pro has to say.

My own impression, in part from viewing Japanese amateur sites, is that Japanese amateurs often have similar misconceptions to those of Western amateurs, and that the difference between amateur and professional understanding is often greater than the cultural differences between amateurs. If great minds think alike, not so great minds often think alike, too, even if they are from different cultures.

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