Gentle Joseki, part V
by Pieter Mioch

An introduction to corner patterns, especially but not only meant for kyu players.


To be honest, I had this, what I thought excellent intro. Unfortunately, after reading it over one final time, I found that I it was both, boring and extremely heavy-handed. So, here I am, with no time and no introduction left, giving me a perfect excuse to do something totally different, a short go-story. Or, you just skip it and find out everything there's to know about the attachment move.

Short story

"Playing go" he said, "Playing go will not lead to anything, it will certainly not help your studies".

"How's that?" the girl opposite of the bespectacled man asked.

"Playing go is an addiction, the game is a drug, once you have experienced the touch of the stones, the smell of the wooden board, the thrill, you'll be hooked to it forever, maybe longer."

"No way! You can't be serious, professor. I know you're taking me for a ride. Treating me as if I were a freshman who doesn't know how to play, uh?"

The graying man took of his eyeglasses and allowed himself a smile, only just from the corners of his mouth. While rubbing the bridge of his nose he recalled how many times before he had warned youngsters just as the 19-year-old sophomore in front of him now, to no avail. Why would nobody believe him, why on earth did he even bother trying to warn these know-it-all kids? While putting back his glasses he bent from the waist and looked the comfortably seated brunette square in the eyes, "listen, how long have you been playing? Two, three weeks? Do you think you mastered the rules up to the point that you're able to get a glimpse of the infinite possibilities of the game?

"Sure, professor McLaren, no sweat, I still can't see what the fuss is all about, trying to capture stones of your opponent while not forgetting to look after your own stones, piece of cake"

"I take it then, that you're familiar with terms as "two eyes, a ko-fight, seki, and approach move?" the patient professor continued, "You also know that at the end of the game stones which cannot be saved anymore may be removed and counted as prisoners? You know that the dame points have to be filled in because otherwise counting the score might become confusing? You know all that and the other tens of small details necessary to master in order to be able to begin to comprehend what the game is all about?"

"Oh, so now you're trying to impress me with difficult sounding stuff, very impressive, professor? Oops, I've got to get going if I'm to make it to my Asian culture class. I still don't understand why you try to keep me from playing such a innocent game as go, you of all people must know that's an important part of South East Asian culture. Well, see you next week, professor, thanks for the tea, ciao"

Professor McLaren was alone again in his messy-in-an-organized-way office, Caren, as the name of his pupil was, Caren would fall for the temptations of go, there was no doubt in his mind, he'd seen it happening over and over again. Ignoring her so far successful study, ignoring her friends, her social live. Possibly she'd pick up a nasty habit too, smoking or something, while she'd spent the prime of her live sitting in front of a piece of wood, contemplating where to next put an oval piece of glass. Trying to beat the nerdy looking opponent often burdened with jam-jar like glasses and a bad complexion. McLaren sighed and knew that he had done what he could to keep the girl away from such a dark future, away from the game of go. Somehow realizing this made him feel sadder even. Resigned he slouched in the enormous chair at his desk and spoke the words to activate the computer at his desk "Hello Dave".

"Good day, professor McLaren, the usual I presume?" spoke the silky computer voice while a LCD screen was sliding out of the desk top and erected itself in front of the professor. "Let's see, where was I, oh, yes, installment 5."

He was glad the university had signed a contract with a local catv provider, the speed of the connection was way better than at his own place, which was, to be sure, out in the middle of nowhere. "Ah, here we are, thank you James". " 'Pleasure, Sir" McLaren's computer replied. "Let's see what we can pick-up here this time, a junky might as well enjoy himself" McLaren was muttering to himself while he started to read the web page on the jumbo-sized screen.

"Playing go" he said, "Playing go will..."

The Patterns

Black attaches

Diagram 1 This time I will try to tell you everything (well, a lot anyway) about what happens after the attachment play of black 1 in dia 1.

Diagram 1

A different story

Diagram 2 In dia 2 you can see black 1, the same move as in dia 1, played in a different situation. Now it's not played in the corner but on the side of the board. I think that the continuation given here is the most straightforward and simple possible. I don't know about you but ever since I learned this game I have felt like answering black's attachment (tsuke) 1 at white 2.

Diagram 2

Regardless whether the situation is in the corner, the side or in the middle. When playing white 2 it seemed to me that black was making no territory at all and that the result was clearly good for white?.

Well, it is not. Most of the time during the opening stage of the game black will welcome it if white were to start crawling under the black stones as if there were no tomorrow.

The result in dia 2 is not such a terrible disaster for white, but black has a very nice and thick position. Also, the white stones are more or less played out already and will not help white much in the future. With the black stones it's just the other way around, although black, to be sure, did not make any territory yet his stones will continue influencing the game, possibly right up to the end. The 8 points of territory white made are more often than not a bad trade-of compared to black's thickness.

Taking the head of three stones

Diagram 3 In the dia 3 black plays the fierce combination of 5-7, the nidan-bane (double diagonal move, blocking you opponent's stones). It may look as if black is helping white by letting 7 get captured. In many cases, however, this line of playing will give black an even better result than dia 2. After black plays the super vital point of 11 white scoop of action is severely limited due to lack of liberties. White A leads to a disaster when black answers at B, white C and black can capture 3 stones with D.

Diagram 3

Kikashi before defending

Diagram 4 Dia 4 shows a likely answer of white, eliminating all the bad "aji" (potential) and capturing at 1. Before thinking about defending his own weak points black has the nice kikashi's at 2 and 4, next it would be perfect if black could afford to defend at 6. In your own game, however, you might want to spend some time reading out what happens if white cuts at A next. If the fighting after white's cut seems too much for black it is probably a good idea to defend around A instead of 6. Wherever black chooses to defend it is important to realize that from white's point of view the exchange of the marked stones is terrible. The 3 white stones are not doing anything what so ever but black's 3 stones are influencing the whole board.

Diagram 4

Atari before defending

Diagram 5 In dia 5 white does not capture immediately since he doesn't like to be kikashi-ed as in the previous dia. Black now first plays an atari before descending with 4. Again, if the cut left after black 4 seems to be too bothersome, defending at A is good enough.

Diagram 5

"That is all very, very nice, and may even be true, but what on earth has it to do with corner joseki's?" I hear you think. Well everything actually, shapes tend to develop in a similar fashion with this amazing game, even if the location is completely different. Both players, naturally, try hard to put all their stones to optimum use, this explains the phenomenon. Just that a given sequence has a nice natural flow, however, does not mean that it's the only sequence possible.

Not very promising

Diagram 6 To get back to the original joseki in dia 6, it is save to say that crawling on the third line with 1 is not a very promising move for white, it is sometimes seen in professional games, not in the opening, however, but much later on in the game. You can of course try it in handicap games to confuse the situation but if black keeps his head cool and his stones together (and every now and then remembers the double hane) he will not get a bad result.

Diagram 6

Now when playing the black stones don't start being foolhardy and blindly play at A , whatever the situation. If, for example, the black stones are completely surrounded by a solid white positions and black is badly in need of some eyes do not hesitate to forget all about thickness and whatsoever. Just block at B, directly guarding the corner is the fastest way of making sure eyes, after all.

So, what exactly *are* white's option once black has attached?

The possible continuations

Diagram 7 Usually the only moves worth considering are A, B, C. and D. Please trust me, however, as I tell you that white C and D are mainly played with the idea in mind to frustrate the black player who very likely has studied all the available joseki books but has never heard of white playing at C or D. Both moves, however, occasionally do appear in pro games. I'll show you 2 variations for each, C and D.

Diagram 7

Black is thick

Diagram 8 Black's thick, no reason to complain.

Diagram 8

Black will fight

Diagram 9 Black will fight. White can try to prevent black from getting a rock-solid shape and connect at 3. Black 4 is a must; black prepares himself for battle. After white 7 it might look as if white has successfully played on both sides and got away with it. Not true. The 1-7 corner has no eyes as yet and white 3-5 will have to run for life when black chooses to play a pincer at the lower right side. (I know, I know, in high handicap games the black stones have a tendency to suddenly and spontaneously die, but they shouldn't) By the way, instead of black 2 in dia 9 is black A also a fine move, going for thickness, and thickness we love, remember?

Diagram 9

Take the 3,3 point

Diagram 10 Blocking at the 3-3 point with 2 is seldom bad, there's some room for variation on both sides but this is very much the general idea, black keeps the corner, scores some points while white makes himself comfortable at the upper side.

Diagram 10

Take the outside

Diagram 11 If black doesn't feel like making territory he can block on the outside and letting the corner to white. Black's strategy can be extremely efficient and powerful if he has stones on the left making his wall in to a large framework (moyo).

Diagram 11

Okay, so much for the gentle part of this episode of Gentle Joseki, now it is time to tackle the more serious moves, the ones that make you feel like you just rode your camel four 3 days through the desert when you think about them too much. (moves, not camels, that is)

Is the ladder ok?

Diagram 12 The white wedging move in dia 12 has the same taste as when white plays 1 at 2 and start digging himself in. It shows, however, a lot more fighting spirit and is quite playable. If white can capture black "[]" in a ladder black should try something different and not play 2-6. This result is good for white. It goes without saying that when the ladder is unfavorable white's original move 1 is very possible not ideal.

Diagram 12

Looks familiar?

Diagram 13 So, black will in most cases block at 1 in dia 13 after which there are, once more, plenty of variations (and there was much rejoicing). I'll give you one, which kind of looks familiar, doesn't it? Black gives up the corner when he plays the double hane at 7. Next when black takes the vital point of 11 it becomes clear that white 's making some territory while keeping the initiative and black makes a wall. White might somewhere along the line try to play atari at 17. He must be careful, however, with his timing when to play here. If white plays atari after black has played at 11 black will sacrifice one stone and play at 16, white 12, black 13, white captures, black 14 and white has to fill in, white being squeezed and all will be in for difficult fighting.

Diagram 13

How to extend?

Diagram 14 I guess most of you have seen this appearing in a game or two already, it is the most common way of handling the black attachment. Next white can choose between A, B or C. To extend all the way to D is overdoing things. After white played D he'll have a hard time dealing with a black play at X or B.

Extending to A or B makes it possible for white to move between the black stones and try to start a fight. When white has played the C extension he should not try to cut, see dia 15 and 15a.

Diagram 14

Oops, it's a ko!

Diagram 15  Diagram 15a
Because white 1 is a little far white has to play at 7 in order to guard against the cut at 8 and, at the same time, keep the struggle for liberties (semeai) alive in the corner by filling one of black's liberties in. Black, who wasn't born yesterday and read the whole sequence out right from the start, cuts with perfect timing at 8. This creates an ideal ko-threat black is going to need in the future. After black 24 it is white's turn to take the ko first. As you can see in dia 15a, however, black was waiting for this and finally plays the atari of 26. With 28 black takes back the ko and white cannot find a threat black'll answer usually.

Diagram 15 & 15a

I told you a minute ago I could hear you thinking, well, I'm doing it again:

"So I replayed and studied these 2 diagrams, now what? If I'm lucky I might get a chance to use this knowledge, someday, in the next century..."

Actually, there are tons of variations during every game, which bare close resemblance to many corner joseki's. Please have a good look at dia 16.

The same sequence

Diagram 16 A game way back from 1927 between Kitani (black) and Hashimoto Utaro who forced Kitani to resign this game in 216 moves.

This is nowhere near to the corner, all the same, there it is, exactly the same sequence you just, grudgingly, made your way through. Here white is not trying to capture black 5-13 so he doesn't need to stretch himself and block above 13. White solidly defends against the cut set up by excellent move black 13 and bide his time.

Diagram 16

White plays tightly

Diagram 17 White has played the tightest possible move at, black is now tempted to play at 2, although he very well knows that the basic joseki would be to play at 6 instead.

Diagram 17

The reason why black does not defend against white's threat of pushing through is shown here in dia 17. Black doesn't even bother to put up a fight! He lets his two stones go and black is perfectly happy with the 25 some points he made. If you read through the previous editions of Gentle Joseki carefully then you know that the points black made are not the only reason for letting white get his way. The second reason why black likes this results is the *shape* of white's stones.

All about efficiency

Diagram 18 Although black's stones are all doing their job, the all work nicely together to make a solid piece of territory, white stone A is not doing too much, it is overconcentrated, too solid. If white had the choice of placing A somewhere else he would at least want to extend as far as B. In other words, if there would be a stone at B to start with and not at A black might not be so willing to let white barge through with 3-7 in the previous dia.

Diagram 18

By the way, exactly why should black attach at 1? That is a tough question to answer. One answer could be like this. Black plays the attachment because he wants to play out the situation as much as possible so he doesn't need to worry about it in the future too much.

The above is as accurate as any answer, which means that whatever reason you can come up with in any kind of situation is true as long as you have enough breath left to explain it.

Try to experiment

Diagram 19 To give you something you can work with, however, you need to take a look at dia 19. Black 1 often is played because black has * a plan *. Right from the moment your learn to play go you can try to experiment with A, this is a steady approach and although it can get very messy too it often doesn't and keeps things fairly simple. The moment, however, a player find himself teaching the rules of go to somebody else and is no longer an absolute novice himself, he will start wondering if other moves are possible. Many players who are working their way through the 5-6 kyu barrier discover black B like this.

Diagram 19

A revelation?

Diagram 20 Black 1 in dia 20 many times comes as a revelation. All the same, it's a perfectly normal move with its due of pros and cons. Notice the quiet move of black 11, this is the best move here. Blocking white 10 immediately at A does not defend the corner properly, white very well might invade later on and make life. Instead of white 10 he sometimes might want to try to play at 11 after which black usually blocks at 10.

Diagram 20

Black too eager for points?

Diagram 21 I don't like black's way of playing in dia 21 very much, it seems black is too eager to secure points and does not care how the rest of the board looks like. Nevertheless, sigh, it is a possibility, white 2 at A is also a good move, the result is equal.

Diagram 21

Move of a Madman

Diagram 22 If you read Gentle Joseki 4 you'll remember that is said "The Move of a Madman?" somewhere near to the end. Here's this episode's move, which indeed looks as if black is not taking white seriously. To draw this conclusion right away, however, is a mistake. (it goes without saying I think black 1 in dia 22 shows an excellent attitude)

Diagram 22

Normally better for black

Diagram 23 White 1 is a frowned upon move. As you can see in dia 23 white managed to take the corner but black has made a very thick position in sente (while holding the initiative). The result is normally judged to be better for black. Playing black 10 at 11 leads to uncharted waters, the result is not predictable. If you are an extremely skillful fighter you can see what happens, otherwise you better forget about it and you won't miss it.

Diagram 23

A cool tesuji

Diagram 24 White 1 is much in the same spirit as black's original move in dia 22. The main reason why I show you this dia 24 is not the white move, however, but the outstanding move black 4. Black seems on a self-destructive course once he plays 4 but this is actually a very cool tesuji. The follow-up move of 6 is all-important. Do *not* forget it. The result is perhaps doable for white but when playing an approach move to the black 4-4 stone he certainly didn't count on this. The fighting in dia 24 is good, black is happy.

Diagram 24

Taken by suprise?

Diagram 25 I am unfortunately not strong enough to tell you how you should judge this result. I wanted to show you that top pros do play the moves I am talking about and I'm not making it up on the spot.

Black is Korea's finest veteran Cho Hunhyun who manages to clobber Lee Sungjae in this game. Maybe it's because of black 3, which took white by surprise, maybe not, food for thought, though.

Diagram 25

Be sure to come back next month for the next episode of "Gentle Joseki"

Appendix 01

Index of joseki's mentioned in this episode:

idx-01 idx-02 idx-03

idx-04 idx-05 idx-06 idx-07

Appendix 02

Japanese words and their English equivalents used in this article:

Go Seigen (1914-) Japanese reading of his Chinese name Wu Qing-yuan. The unrivaled go genius of the 20th century. Although he is approaching 90 now professionals like O Rissei and (until she moved to Korea) Rui Naiwei still recognize his genius and attend study sessions at Go's house in Tokyo. Korean hopes are high that 25-year-old Lee Changho will turn out to be the Go Seigen of the 21st century. For more about Go Seigen read Mindzine.
Go is, by the way, a family name. This, very appropriately, makes people address him as "Mr. Go", or "Go Sensei" (lit. "Go Master") in Japanese.
Kitani Family name, Kitani Minoru (1909-1975) was, together with Go Seigen the founder of the "shin-fuseki". For more about Kitani read Mindzine.
Yasunaga Family name, Yasunaga Hajime (1901-1994) was editor for the Nihon Ki-In and pro level amateur Go player

aji taste; remaining possibilities, however distant they may be
atari "check" on at least 1 stone
dan ranking system for stronger players
fuseki opening
gote not being able to leave the current situation first, allowing your opponent to be able the play elsewhere first
hoshi star; any of the 9 dots one the go board, the middle one is called "Tengen" (=center/origin of heaven). Hoshi is often used when talking about an opening move on the 4-4 point.
joseki a sequence of moves (in the corner) giving both players a locally equal results
kakari approach move to the corner
kikashi a move which is almost impossible to ignore, also "forcing move"
ko situation which occurs when it is possible to immediately re-capture the stone your opponent played in the previous move to capture 1 of your stones. Since there is no end to this there is the ko-rule, which prohibits a player to exactly recreate a previous board position.
komi compensation for white (usually 5-7 points) since black gets to play the first move. (often there is a half point komi, as in 5.5 stones komi, to prevent a game from ending in a draw)
komoku the 4-3 point
kori-gatachi inefficient shape, uneconomical, using to many stones to make only few points (hollow wall)
kyu rating system used for intermediate players
miai of equal value
moyo large framework often forcing the opponent to (try to) reduce it drastically in order to stay in the game
ni-ren-sei two 4-4 moves one the same side of the board
ponnuki the name of the shape when 4 stones capture one enemy stone
san-ren-sei 3 hoshi of the same color at the same side of the board
sente having the opportunity to play elsewhere first leaving the current situation. (example: He had sente so he decided to play tenuki)
shimari "closing" (the corner) formation, any 2 moves which effectively seal the corner, also "enclosure".
shin-fuseki "New Opening" a way of playing starting in the 1930's which does not accept the go-theory of the 19 century as being without its weak points.
tatami thick mats of woven rush stuffed with straw, traditional flooring
tenuki playing else first when judging the current situation does not require an immediate follow up
warui bad

Copyright by Pieter Mioch, February 2001