How Not to Play

by Jinryu

Taken from How Not to Play Go, by Yuan Zhou.


Another common misunderstanding is not taking sente (translation: initiative) seriously enough.  Sente in go is extremely important; it is power and freedom– these are things you should want to have, just like in life.  You should always find it painful to take gote (translation: reactionary role, opposite of initiative) and hence you should always check to see if it is really necessary to do so.


A somewhat different common problem is assuming that your opponent’s areas are bigger than your own.  This is sometimes referred to as the red eye problem, that is, being jealous of your opponent’s potential.  This problem emerges when you fail to compare your opponent’s areas to your own. Precise counting is not the issue here; the problem is not even making rough estimates of the relative size of your and your opponent’s areas.  Kyu players often invade too early, creating unnecessary difficulties simply because they see the opponent is mapping out a large area.  The appropriate initial question is not whether your opponent is getting a big area, but whether your opponent is getting more than you are, and that requires looking at the whole board, not just one local area.  Invasions are only appropriate when your opponent has developed more potential than you and there are no open areas left where you can make a balancing expansion of your own potential.

It is very important to remember that every play involves the whole board, the entire game, and hence it is crucial that each individual play be based on your judgement of the situation over the whole board.  Your first inclination when it is your time to play should not be “How do I defend against that move?” but “Can I find someplace else to play that will be more valuable in the long run?”

The real excitement and enjoyment of go develops when you see the game as one activity that involves the whole board.  Just as in life, although you can only act locally, you need to think globally.  Acting without paying attention to the global situation frequently leads to problems, and when it doesn’t, it is just an accident that you cannot take any pride in.


Another bad practice that kyu players easily fall into is wishful thinking.  A crude version of this is hoping that your opponent won’t see something that is obvious to you, such as that if he doesn’t defend his group you can capture it.  The illusion here is imagining that you will in effect be able to make several moves in a row.  You should never assume that players at your own level will not notice things that are clear to you.  Basing your moves on unrealistically optimistic assumptions about how your opponent will play is another road to disaster.