A Mental Move Checklist

This post is inspired by Haylee’s YouTube video about ROSE – a system to decide where to play next. This post is also influenced by discussions on Sensei’s Library and on the Go forum LifeIn19x19.

How many of us have made a hasty move in Go? Maybe it is the strong urge to atari an opponent’s group, or an urge to respond where we could have played tenuki. And furthermore, how many of us have made a move that, almost immediately, we realise leaves one of our groups in peril? Blunders abound! Who was it that said “the trick to winning Go is making less mistakes than the opponent”?…

Let’s discuss with an example. I’ve adapted the material from a position in the excellent series Lectures on Go Techniques by Cho Hun-hyeon.

White has just extended by playing the marked stone. This is a key stone because it keeps Black separated, so White playing the marked stone is an important move. Since Black is separated, how should the two Black groups be handled?

A hasty move would be to protect the weakness by connecting. But this makes White develop excellent shape, and still leaves White the option to attack on the right side or on the bottom.

A blunder (“poka” in Japanese) would be to protect the bottom group and miss the weakness. Black dies.

Now that we are not blundering or making hasty moves, it is especially important to evaluate the position after choosing candidate moves! This has to be based on reading out the sequences of the candidate moves and weighing up the ensuing positions against themselves. These two moves look like they are good options, but they both end in bad positions.

The correct move is a quiet one, calm and collected. It prevents the previous sequence, and no matter where White plays next, Black can attack the floating White stones.

Remember in Go to follow the Mental Move Checklist:

  1. Am I OK? Is anything going to die? (Conversely: is the opponent OK? Is there a move that wins outright?)
  2. Do I need to respond to my opponent’s last move? (i.e. is that sente?) If you need to respond, what is the best way? Remember: candidates, reading, and evaluation.
  3. If I do not need to respond, can I take sente? (Remember: playing sente moves is often better than playing a big point in gote). Remember: candidates, reading, and evaluation.
  4. If I cannot play anything in sente, play the biggest point. Remember: candidates, reading, and evaluation.
  5. Say to yourself: “WAIT”! Sit back and look at the whole board. Does this move make sense? One final check.

A final point about tenuki: in general, moves that threaten territory, but not the life of groups attached to it, are less important than you might think. Most of go is about the survival of groups, and – unless we are talking about more than 15 points or so – during the opening and middlegame it is usually safe to tenuki any move which only threatens to reduce your territory and nothing else.

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