Monday, July 19, 2010

Today's Lesson

First off I got a lot of cool announcements and then we'll get into the Go stuff.  The Sunday Go Lessons site has a new look which you can check out at  I think it looks crisper than before and the layout is better, plus there is a neat tsumego of the day I got setup with the help of my bud Brian.  Second, I finished the cover for the tsumego book series I've been working on.  Here they are:

Hopefully I can have the first book done sometime around September but don't hold me to that.  Ok, enough of that, let's get into Today's Lesson.  Given the past few posts I noticed I focused more on game review, so this time I'll talk about a specific topic, namely positional judgement.

This topic is rather interesting because it is so broad yet it is the most essential thing you can do in any game.  Literally, just sit down and judge the situation and develop a plan that reflects what needs to be done.  Of course that sounds obvious to the point you're probably looking at me funny, but how many times have you made the wrong move at a critical juncture when it might have been better to just take a step back and be more methodical rather than leap into the fray?  The basis for positional judgment can be boiled down into simple steps.

1.  Count.  You should first "count" after the opening once the middle game is about to heat up.  In this phase, obviously you cannot be exact but you can ask the question "Who came out of the gate with solid points, how much, who has a sphere of influence, and what points of the board are still empty?  Where are the borders?  You can count again after the middle game fights have died down.  Really take your time, counting is like a muscle as it grows stronger with use.  I didn't count much before I started training here, and now I count the score without thinking about it.  In endgame, you should be counting like mad, almost every 5 moves or so (of course if a position hasn't changed you can just memorize the points and focus on what has changed instead of doing the whole board over and over again).

2. Identify weak groups and try to judge the benefit of attacking now vs. later.  Some people who play passively should really stick to this step because you miss golden opportunities when you let a weak group sit.  Don't just jump to attack, read a bit and see how you benefit.  If you don't move n.

3.  Read out aji.  Don't wave your hand over a part of the board and say there's aji, read it out.  Your territory isn't so solid when your opponent could threaten to undermine all your hard work by activating aji you weren't aware was there.

4. If you're ahead, play conservative (but not soft), if you're behind, you have to find a way to destroy the difference in points or make a do or die invasion. 

5. When fighting, don't lose sight of your main objective.  Because close quarters fighting is usually chock full of variations we tend to just go with our gut instead of trying to find the moves that reflect the strategy we came up with for the whole board.

Let's take an example from a real game.  This is Kim Sunmi (my teacher) and some other guy.

Sunmi is Black.  So, as you can see I started off with a relatively easy game and not a bloodbath.  White comes out of the opening with a lot of sure fire points, and Black is a little overconcentrated at the top but also has ... some points.  First, count!

White has about 51 points, 45 points from just territory and komi.  Is this exact?  Of course not!  But I estimate the left side at 15 (it helps when you count to also consider endgame.  When you look at an unfinished part guestimate as to how it will be finished and it'll help immensely with counting).  As for spheres of influence, the right side could become territory with one more move which could add 15-20 points easily to White's stash.  The lower left is a hazy spot because Black can invade there.

What about Black? The top is say 30 points give or take a few.  The bottom isn't much territory as it stands right now but could be a 40 point prize AND it lies on the border of Black and White's influence so it's prime real estate.  Now we have the general idea of who has how many points, where, and where the borders of our territorial frameworks resides, let's develop a point of attack.  It's White's turn.  He has more points now but Black has entrance into the center from two sides with thickness on the left to back her up in a fight should she need it, so White has to find a weak spot and start a fight.  Why fight? Well we fight when the peaceful means don't necessarily give us the best outcome.
This is the peaceful way where White just spreads out his picnic blanket, opens up the basket and hands Black a sandwich.  And no, the sandwich is not poisoned, its just turkey.  They both lie on the grass, staring at the blue sky and count their points.  The bottom and center become huge for Black while only the right side becomes huge for White.  I don't think that White has absolutely lost because of the lower left but I also don't see how this position is advantageous.  So, a fight it is.  Can you see a spot where White could cause some trouble?
Threatening to come out with what otherwise was  throwaway stone is a good way to start a fight.  Remember, we need to keep focus on the overall plan when we start laying stones down.  White wants to solidify the right but not at  the expense of giving Black the center like in the peaceful diagram we saw before.  White wants to be strong enough so the right side just falls under his control by pure force and at the same time leave options for keeping the center in check.  From Black's perspective she has a group at the top which could be cut off so that's a minus but she also has the opportunity to wall off the center.  When Black's 3 stones die the right side is mostly White's now but Black did well in getting stones towards the center.  The only problem in Black's position is that the throwaway stone now can cut off the top Black group which is a 20 point swing in White's favor (at least). 

Black didn't achieve victory this game but that matters little.  What I wanted to point out is how we can take stock of our position and make a plan that fits what should be done, not just play based on pure feeling and letting the inner recesses of our subconscious do all the work.