Sunday, August 8, 2010

More on joseki

I gotta say I'm a little bummed I couldn't make it to this year's Go congress because of work but I vow that next year I will go.  Plus, it'll be in Los Angeles and I've only been in that city on layover while I was heading to the wild and wonderful country of Korea.  Anyhoo onto today's lesson.

Currently I'm working on the last installment of the "So You Want to Play Go?" series for dan level players and I'm having a blast writing it.  It has been a little tough because I couldn't break it down into sections like I had the three previous books, as in I didn't think it made any sense to have a section just on "Attacking" or "Sabaki" since I think most dan players have all of those concepts down.  So I did something I swore I never would do, write about joseki.

I asked Kim Dongyeop 9p about what one should do to get stronger and he told me that studying tsumego and joseki were the two most important things to get stronger quickly.  I knew about the tsumego but the joseki part surprised me.  I was always told that just studying joseki made one weak.  You wouldn't have the creative power to handle the varying situations you'll encounter in Go, so studying joseki would be a mental crutch.  Actually that's not true.  Once you reach a certain level you know enough to avoid the bad moves, and you can look at a joseki not to just be the bible of all Go knowledge but to show you good moves and better yet, help you understand why other moves are bad.  There are tons of josekis and it really is important to understand as many as possible.

As I'm learning more joseki though, I find it challenging to come to a point where I can say I "understand" a joseki, because in every game it's like there's this part where you just do your own thing.  Like take for instance this joseki.

I think just about everybody knows this joseki but the devil is in the details.  Nowadays you want to play White 14 because the Tiger's mouth feels just a tad slow and this gives more territory.  The problem is, the cut.  I know, you knew that, and you probably also know about the ladder.  But for those of you in the audience who don't...

When Black cuts with 1 this sequence will erupt.  Now instead of White 6 there is this really awesome Chinese trick move where you play 6 at 7 but maybe at some later date I'll show it to you.  What happens is a semeai begins and Black doesn't have enough liberties (5 to 4).  When Black cuts with 11 White has to protect that group so it doesn't get swallowed and makes enough liberties by connecting at 4.  The question then, is what to do with the two outside White stones.  If the ladder is good for White then Black's inside group dies.

Black can be fancy with this net stuff but White 2 is a tesuji for White to get out.  Now the ladder doesn't work because once Black ataris at 9 White gets out with 10.  Now, that's all well and good and maybe there are a few 1-2 dans that haven't studied this before, but let's go into why this is important: ladder breakers and aji.  See, Black may be dead on the inside but like I said before, it's a capturing race meaning if White loses liberties he has to take away Black's so he doesn't die.  That means Black can get a world of forcing moves.

For instance Black can start the semeai with 1.  All of this is pretty much forced.  Notice how neither of White's groups are doing so hot in the liberty department?  Let's put all of this together and see it at work in a real game.

This is Gu Li vs. Wang Yao.  Seeing as how we already looked at several sequences the lower right should be obvious.  Now onto Black's ladder breaker move.  How do we actually proceed in the lower right?

Black got his two moves in the upper left but now White fights Black in the lower right part to keep from being sealed in.  While White has almost no power at the top he's not going to let Black have much power at the bottom.  38 also helps to attack the two top Black stones so that Black cannot build a wall there to pester White's other group.  Black Influence there facing the top moyo would be bad for White.

I found so many different ways to play this position out but the strategy was usually the same.  So, at no point did I feel I mastered the joseki but I did feel that a part of Go strategy was much clearer to me and I could actually apply it to one of my own games.  Stuff like this will be in the fourth book, but I'd love any comments on what you'd like to see in it.  Email me at with any suggestions, or just to say hi!