5 Kinds of Moves

Every baduk player faces the same test: Judging the correct move.

For some, like Honinbo Shusai, in The Master of Go, this is a meditative act. In the case of Shusai’s challenger, the fictional Otaké (in real life Minoru Kitani), it is a restless process. As the author Kawabata makes plain, both dispositions can produce profound play.

As a novice I often play artless or, worse, thoughtless stones. These are the visible signs of my own inability, the source of which is an unsettled character.

Overcoming this condition is a twofold challenge. It means, first, conquering myself, which I can effect by Turning Pro. Secondly, I must develop a habit of deliberate practice focusing, in particular, on whole board thinking.

To assist with the latter Zhou Yuan (7D), my shifu, proposed the following hierarchy, which is based on the five Chinese elements:

  1. Gold. Moves aiming at cutting and connecting.
  2. Wood. Moves aiming at making life.
  3. Water. Moves aiming at making territory.
  4. Fire. Combat moves.
  5. Dirt. Endgame moves.

This framework provides a structure for judging moves that is both easy to recall and implement; and it is useful in actual play and post-game reviews. Your own mileage may vary, but I hope it proves helpful. Try it and let me know what you think.

Becoming An Apprentice

This week Zhou Yuan (7D) became my shifu (師傅), or “master,” and I his túdì (徒弟), or “apprentice.” Finding a mentor like this is definite progress in my efforts to engage in deliberate practice; I also hope it is the beginning of a productive relationship. Until now my instruction was exclusively self-taught. This is alright as far as it goes, but it also means that my training has been incomplete, if only due to ignorance.

In our first lesson Shifu and I were introduced and analyzed the game below. Although I won, my victory was a fluke: my opponent made a critical reading error. I should have lost. I am not proud of the way I played.

Shifu weaved helpful advice into his game analysis. Often I could not remember the moves that either I or my opponent made. According to Shifu, this is because I made moves without purpose. Had I thought about the intention behind a move, he said, I would be able to replay the game from start to finish, like a story. This technique seems far more intuitive than the rote memorization that I had been trying to practice – after all, every baduk game is a story.


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Consider that it all starts with a blank canvas: the empty goban. In alternating turns Black and White communicate their intentions by adding pieces to the board. Words prove unnecessary, the stones tell the tale. Moves may be deliberate, submissive, greedy, aggressive, puzzling, etc. but each (hopefully) is animated by some purpose, which the opponent and observer must discern. Baduk is a conversation without words. Shifu helped me see this reality, and for that I am grateful.

Note: Zhou Yuan (7D) is located in Germantown, MD and available to teach in the Washington, DC metropolitan region.