Portland Hunger Games

by Janice Kim on April 14, 2012

In Which Thirty Hapless Contestants Willingly Enter the Grid to Learn to Make Higher-Order Mistakes

Friday Evening
Review of Game One

In the olden days (that is, the mid-Eighties), it used to be that Black always played in his or her upper right corner first. This was considered polite, so much so that one time in a professional match, Black played his first corner move not in his upper right, and his opponent refused to continue the game. In the immortal words of Cole Porter, however, nowadays, heaven knows, anything goes.

It does have some practical value, if you are going to start from a corner, to start from the same one so that it’s easier to group games together by opening. However, I also think it’s important if you are in a rut to do something radically different. For me, not playing in the upper right corner is too radical, but, that’s speaking as someone who has played first in the upper right corner probably 10,000 times, any other corner, zero.

So our first discussion point comes up in Move 1. I feel like a less-talented Go version of Oscar Wilde, to wit:

– What were you thinking about in your game this morning when you took fifteen minutes on the first move, Janice?
– I was choosing between the starpoint and the 3-4.
– And what were you thinking about in the game in the afternoon when you also took fifteen minutes on the first move?
– I was changing my mind.

You may have heard that the starpoint finishes the corner in one move, and the 3-4 point requires two moves. You may wonder exactly what that means, or why you should care. My convoluted thought process on the subject:
The idea of the opening is to set yourself up in the most favorable way you can so that the middle game and endgame go your way, but you can overcome even a horrific opening if your opponent makes one bad mistake afterwards. Since everyone is making bad mistakes pretty much all the freaking time, there’s not a lot of sense in focusing on fine-tuning your opening. You will improve your winning percentage far more by improving your reading skills by doing life-and-death problems, than you will by studying the opening.
That being said, you can learn how to play a great opening with *far less effort* than it takes to play a great middle or end game, so, you might as well. You might think learning the opening may be tedious or difficult, particularly memorizing several thousand joseki, and then taking the following mandatory annual continuing education joseki classes. But once you get the basic principles, particularly efficient stone deployment vis-a-vis the third and fourth lines, it will be a rare person who can play the opening better than you.
(Key words noted by asterisks: far less effort. Those are the key words. If this sounds disturbingly slacker to you, you can think: there is truth and beauty in efficiency.)
Americans tend to play the opening pretty well, because that’s been where the time is spent in books and lessons — learning middle game skills basically means time spent doing reading and counting exercises, and Go is supposed to be fun. But we do spend a lot of time focusing on mistakes and “bad” moves, and how to punish them (as if they were not their own punishment. No need, methinks, to engage a penalty for playing Frogger on the freeway, etc.) To balance things out, I like to focus on finding the great, rather than avoiding the bad, so let’s spend a little bit of time, O good opening players, on finding great moves in the opening.

[sgfPrepared id=”5″]

So this was move 1. We had about 2500 more moves to go in the workshop at this point, so I was a little concerned about time. Black has chosen a star point. This “finishes” the corner in one move, meaning Black’s great moves are going to be getting to the big side points first.
After White 2, Black has an option which corner to play (if he’s going to play in a corner). Your thoughts?

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