Pre-Loading Ko-Threats

by Jinryu

From now on, I’ll refer to “Go,” the Japanese term for the board game, as “baduk.” Using the Korean name for the same game simplifies things a bit because then it’s less confusing with the verb “go.”

There’s a situation that arises when playing baduk called a Ko fight. It’s a bit difficult to explain but I’ll try.

In a situation where control over one area of combat is being contested by both players and neither one wants to yield enough initiative to the enemy to land the decisive blow, both players try to successively reveal “ko
threats.” Think of ko threats like revealing hostages. It’s a pretty hardcore way of dealing with repeat contestations and appeals to a small (but critical) place of play.

If you want it in really exagerrated simplified terms, imagine this scanerio:

A cab pulls up to the curb to pick up a passenger, but both Jane and John step forward to take it.

“I was here first,” says Jane.

Now, in real life, John would probably repeat the same thing, but claiming the same truth of himself, just louder. In Baduk it’s a bit more civilized. There’s a rule that says you can’t immediately ‘stalemate’ a situation by trying to simply ‘undo’ the opponent’s move with your own. This rule exists because logistically, we’d get nowhere. Go actually has a rule that says that you cannot make a play that simply returns the board to the same state as it previously was before your opponent made his turn. So, you have to play elsewhere, to change the situation, before you’re allowed to address this local one again.

Going somewhere else, of course, is normally bad, because then, Jane would metaphorically be losing her cab.

But– if you kept loaded “ko threats” somewhere on the board, that is to say, *hostages, *then you could legally make a play against those hostages (which would change the board) and then come back to this local site of conflict afterwards.

For example, since John won’t get anywhere saying “I was here first,” just like Jane just did, instead, he says: “Well, you can take this cab, but once you do, I’ll go back to the office and trash your desk.”

So, Jane now has a choice– she can decisively take this cab. However she will lose her office as a result. The threat of trashing her office is a ko-threat– John loaded this situation in advance as a trump card for bargaining when things came from push to shove. His playing this trump card now changes the situation– maybe in the morning, the boss will see that Jane’s office is a huge mess and then John will get the promotion instead of her.

So Jane counters with: “You can take this cab, but then, *I’ll eat your family.*”

And that, my friends, is your quick lesson in Ko-threats.

Application to real life?

If you get into a situation where you’re just deadlocked with someone and getting nowhere, the solution to your problem may be compeltely unrelated to the problem in front of you. Do your homework– prepare in advance, and you can cut down anyone who stands before you.