The Magic of Go

Go and war

In a previous column, I implied that chess was a more warlike game than go. However, there have been many comparisons between go strategy and strategy used in war, or even in guerrilla warfare.

In the 1960s, the head of a go club in Yugoslavia was trying to obtain the same government support for his club as chess clubs enjoyed. He was rebuffed until he pointed out that go was a more democratic game than chess, with its feudal structure. He told government officials that in go, all the pieces were of equal value and could be thought of as «partisans» in a revolutionary struggle. Using this argument, his club quickly received the funding requested.

More than 25 years ago, The Protracted Game, written by Scott Boorman and published by Oxford University Press, created a bit of a sensation. Boorman’s thesis was that Mao Zedong’s takeover of China was based on the tactics and strategy of go.

The great military classic in China is Sanshiliu Ji (The Thirty-Six Stratagems). The author and the date of this work is unknown, but historical records indicate that it must have been written before A.D. 500. Some examples of the stratagems in this tract are:

* Watch the fire from the opposite shore!

* Lure the tiger out of the mountain!

* Close the door to capture the thief!

* Remove the ladder after the enemy goes upstairs!

* Sometimes retreat is the best option!

* Feint to the east to attack the west!

In 1990, one of China’s top players, Ma Xiaochun, wrote a book titledSanshiliu Ji Yu Weiqi. An English translation was published in the United States in 1996 by Yutopian Enterprises as The Thirty-Six Stratagems Applied to Go. In this book, Ma gives examples from professional games for each of these stratagems. His examples may be difficult for a novice to understand, but I will give a simple position of how the stratagem «Feint to the east to attack the west!» can be used.

go stratagems go stratagems

In Diagram 1, White has two weak groups: the six marked stones at the bottom and the three marked ones at the top.

Black feints an attack on the group at the bottom with 1 in Diagram 2. Since the white stones cannot make the necessary two eyes to live, White must escape into the center with 2 and 4. Black continues the attack with 5, a move which threatens to block White’s escape route into the center. After White 6, Black 7 keeps up the attack on the white stones below, but this move also affects the three white stones at the top. With 8 and 10, White has pretty much managed to escape into the center, but Black then plays 11, revealing the real target of his attack: the three marked white stones at the top-they are now as good as dead.

go stratagems

Answer to last week’s problem

After Black played the marked stone in Diagram 3, it was impossible for White (Koichi Kobayashi) to avoid losing some stones and territory. Kobayashi was forced to resign. Let’s see why.

White might resist by putting a stone in atari with 1 in Diagram 4. However, Black ataris three stones with 2. then squeezes with 4. After White captures with 5, Black ataris with 6. White cannot connect at the marked stone because he would find that 21 of his stones are in atari. Therefore, White must play 7 and Black captures four stones by playing at the marked stone.

If White defends on the right with 1 in Diagram 5, Black connects with 2. If White captures the marked stone with 3 and 5, he finds that 15 of his stones are in atari, and Black will capture them by playing where the marked stone was with 6.

go rules go tactics

Capturing the marked stone with White 1 and 3 in Diagram 6 also fails. After White connects with 5 at the marked stone, Black 6 puts 20 white stones in atari with 6.

go tactics go rules

White’s best move is to play 1 and 3 in Diagram 7, and let Black capture three stones with 2 and 4. White captures with 5, but his loss is too large, so Black wins by more than 10 points.

Honinbo Title Match

After resigning the second game on May 25, Cho Chikun came back to win the third game by 71/2 points on June 1. Cho now leads the series 2—1.