I played my first game of Go on a full-size board yesterday. Wasn’t my idea, either; Mikko said that he usually plays on a large board, so I obliged. In retrospect I guess I was clearly the stronger player in the game, so we should have had a handicap of some kind. Can’t know without trying, though.
I and Panda Go will now try to review the game in the most general terms with screen captures – I have some general points I want to make about Go strategy. It might also be interesting to see how little or how much I might remember about a Go game I played yesterday – some parts will be rather exact, others little more than impressions.
Mikko played black here, as we had some inkling that I would be at least more confident in my skills if not outright better.
Mikko started with a rather weird move, however, placing his first stone in Tengen, the center point of the board. I think that we’re both rather too amateurish players to do something like that, but of course Mikko can play however he wants. I opted to seize initiative in one of the corners.
For those who haven’t read any Go literature: playing in the Tengen seems to be a viable beginning play that radiates strength in all directions, but its use requires understanding of large-scale strategic dynamics that are difficult to grasp if you’re still working on basics. When you consider that Mikko has played with what, one or two other people and I haven’t played much more than that, playing in Tengen is just macho posturing. Later on it was quite interesting that Mikko actually got some use out of that center stone.
The actual play started in the lower right corner. I was probably pretty impetuous in following Mikko’s 4-4 with my own 3-3, but I wanted to test out a premise from my earlier study: I should be able to build a viable corner group against a slightly inferior opponent even going second, if could claim the 3-3 point on the inside of the opposing group.
I know that it might sound insufferably impetuous for a beginner like me to be writing about my Go experiences and rudimentary strategic understanding at all. My actual play is very crude and especially uneven: I make stupid mistakes often. Just last week I suffered a humiliating defeat against Pyry, who is actually not as skilled as I am; I just lost my head and ignored obvious threats then. A rather similar situation developed against Mikko here as well.
(Please remember that I’m replaying this from memory. The board is probably played in an order that makes no sense, I’m just trying to put the important stones in the right places. Doesn’t probably many any tactical sense either, as far as details are concerned.)
This corner arrangement shows well how lousy I can be as a player at times. My stones in the corner are quite dead. This also demonstrates the significance Mikko’s early Tengen had: he had this group of stones that were in a ladder (starting with stone 7 in the picture, although I’m sure it was a bit more intricate in actual play) from early on, but I couldn’t make use of it because his Tengen stone would have broken the ladder.
Play turned around in a bit foolish manner, I admit: by rights my corner group should have been Mikko’s, so what I did around this point in play was just building strong external groups in an effort to fence Mikko in. Thing is, instead of hastening to finish my group Mikko made some insignificant development moves I really forget now, which allowed me to finish my fence and end up in pretty much this arrangement shown here. (The real situation was created in a rather less idiotic manner, but as I’ve already said three times, it’s not as easy as one might imagine to remember a whole Go game just like that. The strategic point should be pretty solid, anyway.)
The points of main interest here are my corral starting at 32 and the situation down near white stone number 40. The key relationship here is that after the corral had been finished (in real play I did it after maneuvering Mikko to fill up the corralled area with stones, instead of other way around like the numbers here show) Mikko couldn’t play in the 1-1 point to threaten stone 40; doing that would allow me to immediately play in the empty eye his structure has. So being distracted by something minor on the left side (the particulars I forget) caused Mikko to leave me free to do what I wanted in the corner. I seem to remember that we judged Mikko’s group dead in the actual situation, while this recreation shows it as mutual life (a situation where neither player can kill another’s group); I’m probably playing some detail wrong. Not that pertinent considering that I ultimately never did kill that group in practice.
The Philosopher’s stone
So I’d played the first corner in a pretty lousy manner and been saved just by Mikko’s inexperience. After that I really got on a roll, though, with some play I’m pretty proud of. Here’s an effort at reconstructing the middle game. Lots of notable features there, such as my living group in the lower middle area (which was built by straining against black pressure on both sides instead of killing black stones as I show here; it was also smaller in reality).
The centerpiece strategic insight, however, was that long black group in the middle, which integrated Mikko’s Tengen stone. Mikko was careful to defend it against constrainment, but his tactical play was lacking: I sacrificed around half dozen stones in arrangements where Mikko ate them up and was then immediately forced to fill the resultant holes with his own stones; I sacrificed stones for influence, and did it pretty intentionally, too.
The philosopher’s stone is stone 88, out there all lonely. Its friend was stone 90, which was actually played first in actual play. 90 had a poor fate in the long run, but the philosopher’s stone (which I named almost immediately after playing it and proceeded to point out to all onlookers) remained just as crucial as it seems. Its position was so insanely strong that it conquered a fifth of the board for me all by its lonesome.
Go is a very psychological game in that much depends on how players interpret each other’s intentions. It came to me as a complete surprise after the game that Mikko had actually forgotten that his large central group would need to eventually find two eyes from somewhere, otherwise its strength would be largely illusory, however large it became. This was such a surprise because the singular goal of my own mid-game play was to prevent the group from forming eyes by utilizing my superior tactical play. It was pretty interesting to play in this manner, not trying to constrain the group from growing, but preventing it from conquering area. I’m sure that it wouldn’t work if the opponent were more determinate, but here it apparently ended up well for me.
Mikko was pretty strident in defending his central group for much of the game, even making one eye for it in the upper middle area there. However, when play went into the secondary area in the lower left corner (painted grey here), Mikko apparently forgot all about what his group would need to survive. When play later came back to the main group and we developed that left arm (right arm had already been defined before the foray into the lower corner), Mikko apparently only realized the danger when I pointed it out to him – if that arm couldn’t develop a second eye, it would only be a matter of time before my living groups choked his immensely large dead group to oblivion.
We played a bit more, with Mikko trying an unsuccessful breakthrough into that area guarded by the philosopher’s stone, but as that came to naught Mikko gave up. Even while Mikko had dominated the bottom left corner foray, that came to mean nothing when his huge group became captive and I won with something like 165 point difference.
(I could try to replay the corner battle there as well, but frankly it did not affect the main issues in any way – we probably wouldn’t have even played that area before Mikko gave up if we had more experience.)
Overall the game was very educational for both of us, not the least because this was my first game on the large board. We both made some stupid mistakes and there was some misleading play in that I played in the grey corner without any immediate purpose apart from filling area and preventing Mikko’s main group from connecting there. I’m sure Mikko also learned a thing or two about keeping groups alive from those last moves where he realized his predicament and tried desperately to seek life in death. Also, I’m happy that I’m starting to understand looser play where stones are not necessarily always in contact with the opposition – that philosopher’s stone would not have been as efficient as it was, had I played it in immediate contact with Mikko’s group.