19x19 FOR BEGINNERS SERIES: Part 1: Sente and Gote

While I did scan the document, rather than read deeply - I think I am right that there was no mention of reverse sente, double sente or double gote. At the very least I think these should be mentioned as something the reader can study in their own time, if they feel they have a good grasp on the content included in the document. Also, I would be happy to proofread the documents, I actually had a few issues with the introduction, but as it was an introduction, I thought it best to keep my mouth shut.


To be fair, this is more of an endeavor for him to organize his thoughts and for his learning, rather than to actually be a guide for beginners.


Hi Legault - I’ve tried to make it clear that my abilities to comment on these things in depth will be limited - and also that I welcome the input of others.

So please, don’t be reticent - if you can describe the complexities of the things you mentioned - please do so. I’d love to read it.

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As I said in my introduction, the only reason I’m even opening my big mouth and saying anything about go is that I still have a fairly clear memory of how badly I understood all these concepts when I was 25 kyu. I figured my observations would be - at best - grossly incomplete and - at worst - possibly wrong. But I also expected the rest of the community here to come in and weigh in with their own opinions and observations.

You know the old joke, what do you get when have 3 Go aficionados in the same room? 5 different opinions, right?

I think I’ve also shown that - when someone calls me on my errors - I’m happy to edit my explanations so that - at least - I do no harm.

But yes - if any 25 kyu players ever stumble on these things, I fully expect them to read the rest of the thread, and the discussion therein. If your comments add to their overall understand of these concepts, then you are doing both me and them a fine favor.

So yes, I will try to approach all this with humility and a willingness to learn.


In regards to the different kinds of sente, it’s simple enough to explain, really.

Double sente refers to a move that is sente for both players. A typical example of this is an endgame first line hane, when both players have to defend against it. Double sente is often regarded as being more valuable than normal sente, even when the normal sente move is worth more in points.

Reverse sente is a move that is gote for you, but is sente for your opponent. Again, the first line hane comes to mind, but this time your opponent will be able to make a tiger’s eye or have a stone they can run to when they defend against the hane, so you will end in gote - however, if they played there first, then it would be sente for them.

Double gote is a position where neither player has sente locally. It is distinguished from calling a move gote, in that it is bad for both players to play there until there are no moves left that are not gote.

If it interests you, I’ll make a start on making some comments to the intial post of this thread - though it’ll take me some time.


Are “sente” and “gote” illusory concepts?

I don’t mean to say that these concepts are not helpful, nor that one cannot usefully distinguish between the two. Rather, I’m asking if whether these concepts are really just complicated emergent phenomenon that ultimately cannot be clearly defined for all situations.

So, I think one way “sente move” might be defined is to say that it is a move that “requires” a “local response”, whereas a “gote move” does not “require” a “local response” and the other player is “free” to “play elsewhere”. However, to grasp this definition one must then understand concepts like “requires”, “local response”, etc.

For example, suppose black puts a white stone in a ladder (which “works” since it would project across the board into empty space and eventually run into an edge unimpeded). If white then plays a stone across the board as a ladder breaker, is white really “playing elsewhere” or is that a form of “local response” since it is directly affecting that ladder?

Further, is a player really ever “free” to play wherever they like? Even in a situation where one player would appear to “have sente”, there might be only one (or very few) theoretically optimal moves (in the sense that they would not degrade the position to “lose any points” against a perfect opponent).

Of course, in the middle of the game or earlier, it’s impossible for us mere mortals to consider what the theoretically best options may be. But, in the endgame, rigorous evaluation of positions may start to become tractable, and one may even be able to determine the optimal line of play. Thus, perhaps we may be able firmly grasp what “sente” and “gote” means in some tractable endgame situations …

However, considering endgame theory raises even more hairy issues, like making sense of additional concepts like “double sente”, “reverse sente”, “double gote”, etc. Understanding these are further complicated by the existence of odd situations like mutual damage. Then, one might learn that the traditional basic endgame theory is considered obsolete and superseded by modern endgame theory, in which something called miai counting is considered to be superior to the older deiri counting of the traditional endgame theory, since the deiri counting may lead to incorrect play in some situations. It turns out that even concepts like “double sente”, “reverse sente”, etc. may just be obsolete heuristics that do not fully capture the complexity of the endgame. But wait, the miai counting system requires fractional values to quantify move/positions? And then, a couple of clever mathematicians applied combinatorial game theory (CGT) to develop late endgame theory that shows that real numbers alone are not enough! By the way, they definitively demonstrated the power of their theory by systematically constructing an endgame problem that would stump 9-dan pros, but that they could systematically solve with their unique mathematical theory. However, as one goes down the CGT rabbit hole, one finds that we need to have concepts like “star *”, “up ↑”, “down ↓”, “tinies” and “minies”, and their various combinations like ↑↑* (double up star) to quantify various increasingly-convoluted-positions.

NOTE: I don’t really understand any of those Sensei’s Library articles that I name drop in the previous paragraph. I’m not trying to be pedantic, and I’m stating that I don’t understand these topics. My point is just to say that I only know enough about “sente”/“gote” to begin to realize that how much vastly beyond my understanding these concepts seem to actually be.

Okay, let’s come back to a more basic question, are all moves either “sente” or “gote”? Or, does a third possibility exist?

It seems that the theory allows for a third possibility (although I don’t fully understand it):


While this is all true, I think that fundamentally, a basic guide to sente and gote are useful things. While there may be disagreements about exactly how we should understand the concepts, the fact of the matter is that these basic ideas have persisted, and it is only recently that they have begun to be questioned. A beginner player can gain a practical, if not entirely accurate tool in understanding the “outdated” theory of sente and gote.


Yes, I do think that practical, simplified notions of sente and gote can be given (in plain, informal language) and that these are useful tools for nearly all players.

Hence, it is certainly not my objective to discourage the type of discussion about how to present sente and gote to beginners. A little bit of inaccuracy saves a ton of explanation, while still providing an essential tool.

However, my point is a more philosophical one, about how these concepts may really be a lot more nebulous than they initially seem. In go and other pursuits, I think it’s quite amazing how, as humans, we can discover patterns that are both broad and imprecisely defined, and yet still find ways to turn them into useful tools. It is a beautiful part of Go, and also the broader human experience.

Consider how we do this everyday, and how nebulous (and endlessly debatable) concepts pervade our lives, societies, politics, etc., but they are anyways still useful for our high-level decision making. For example, “justice”, “democracy”, “fairness”, “equality”, “war”, “terrorism”, “love”, “family”, “community”, etc.

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Thank you for that detailed response! You raise a lot of good questions, and I will probably learn a lot from digging into all those links and trying to apply those layers of analysis to my own games.

But in the context of this thread, I keep coming back to a memory of my earlier self making attacking moves that were not sente by any stretch of the imagination when I hadn’t even settled my stones from the last attack. And I’m always trying to stretch way back there, and try to figure out how to explain those concepts to someone who didn’t know what “settling one’s stones” even was.

So yeah, the way I’ve been trying to structure these articles is - start off with the fundamentals - do a quick show and tell on how those are applied in real life - and then stretch that understanding just a little bit to show the beginning reader a hint of advanced play before they get overwhelmed and go running away.

I’m always aware that - if I try to stretch that too far, I’ll just lose the beginning reader.

So yes, I think all this high level discussion we’re having on the meta-concept of whether sente even applies is fascinating - but I’m a bit concerned that we may be losing the beginning reader because they haven’t had the experiences that would allow them to connect those words and concepts to something concrete.

Lastly - I’ll just offer this observation - I’ve noticed a few folks whose knowledge of Go is obviously deeper than mine say that they’ve skimmed the articles but have not read them. I totally understand. I am long winded - it’s more of a personal memoir than a strict guide - and I’m probably saying a lot of stuff you already know, so it’s difficult for the article to hold your attention. It’s all too easy to look at what’s missing from the story.

While I welcome your input, I ask you to keep in mind that the story was written for those who understand this game less than either of us. I’m trying to reach out and help them get on the train, so they can join this fascinating discussion with us. But I’m a bit concerned that - if we don’t slow down a bit - we may leave them huffing and panting behind us until they give up discouraged, and go try something else.


Yeah, I’m definitely dragging the thread wildly off-topic, since the original post is meant to be aimed at beginners.

I do not advocate for introducing any of those SL articles to beginners.

I just find these type of philosophical discussions interesting, and probably I should have started a new thread. Perhaps a moderator can manage splitting off this digression.


The biggest sin for me is constantly giving the 2 space high extension after the corner approach (worse still with the corner slide) as an example. Your own preferences in playing should not be presented as general teaching material for the masses when there is already a classic proper standard, especially when labeling it as ‘basics’. image
Moves 6 and 7 (much more so) are not good examples to emulate but the theory presented is understandable, even if only as a result of improper play from White, since W could try to make his own moyo thus making the point on having to ‘steal’ Sente to prevent the horrific moyo creation by black when W could very well do the same or break it immediately, moot.

Hi there! Would you care to make a counter-suggestion?

I mean, both the 2-space extension and the large knight’s move are routinely given as options on many sources, including the OGS joseki page:

Also - I keep trying to underscore the point that this is a guide for 25 kyus who routinely make blunders and fail to play securing moves because they don’t understand what “settling their stones” is all about. I’m trying to teach them to crawl before they can walk/run. Can you make a suggestion regarding what would be more helpful to the 25k/beginning player? Should I be suggesting a 2-point extension or the regular knight’s move instead?

Also - I’m a bit confused why you chose this particular image, since this was given as an example of what White DIDN’T want to happen from a whole-board play perspective (joseki variations aside…)

Open any joseki book and the classic example is the slide and 2 space extension to illustrate equally settled result from both. Your example is only played when trying to make a framework with it. In isolation, it is never shown. As such no intro books will recommend it in isolation as a standard since the ogeima makes the group open to the side and does not illustrate two settled groups.

Also it reinforces bad habits and theory by recommending it blindly in all your variations. Can you recommend the 2 space extension blindly? Yes. Because it is always a locally sound move, easy to understand with zero need for consideration of surroundings. There’s a reason why it’s a staple in beginner books.

To make it clear, that’s what I’m suggesting.

The pic was criticised for the concepts of Sente and how it’s not convincing since (because of bad play) 7 was never needed to be played and could approached at c11 or c14 immediately to avoid a moyo or make his own at r6 approach to try to build with his own star point. So simply put, finishing the lower left joseki added nothing to justify your later examples to approach the right instead of doing the lower left first. It’s just a diff game. Keep the 2 examples separate. Linking them was your mistake.

Interestingly enough the pic I attached is valid for 6 for moyo building with the corner, though overly optimistic with a mere star point and not at all going to happen if White does not allow it.
7 is an outright bad move for being too slow and lacking direction (opening urself up to the enemy corner and trying to make a moyo from the left side is misguided). To compound it, now when viewed sequentially after 6 makes 7 seem valid to beginners because “that ogeima was played twice so it must be good to keep playing that”. See what I mean by giving bad habits if u illustrate that as a standard example and it keeps recurring?

You know what - I give up.

Good luck on your own 25 kyus. I will not be writing any further articles in this series.

I can guess with certainty someone’s rank ±3, by their attitude against “Go for dummies” threads. I’m stupid AND lazy, so take that into account for my evaluation. Sometimes I just want

  • actually explained stuff that everyone takes for granted because they’ve known them for ever and/or mastered them fairly quickly, and
  • a more accessible solution than the piles of books, videos, joseki, tsumego, lectures, pro games, reviews, articles and whatnot that are constantly recommended by well-intentioned but ultimately dedicated Go students, who just can’t adjust (and I don’t blame them, they don’t have to) to a casual learner mindset.

For what is worth, I understood positively nothing from @Qqeasd replies, and I am a 24kyu. If they are meant for an inner discussion between higher ranks ok, if they are meant to replace the original post, sorry but no. Not everyone wants to be an astronaut, some of us are happy to be farmers.

@tonybe I think this beginners series needs work and a clearer structure (maybe focus more on certain parts and not try to cram too much in one section, I like the storytelling flair but it sometimes works against the flow), but there is a place for it.

I’ll say a TPK has more of a say whether a TPK oriented guide has a place than a high rank.


Please don’t let one person ruin a good thing.

I never thought of sente/gote in terms of the DEFCON way, and I’ll be using that in teaching games, so please don’t stop giving us good quality stuff to think about.

You have a lot of potential, as a teacher and as a player, so please don’t give up.


Well, it’s not just one person - it’s the last drop in the bucket. It just seems to me like the bulk of my responses has had me explaining why I’m not including advanced calculus in my explanations of basic arithmetic, or why I would dare include simplified (i.e. clumsy and possibly not the most advanced) examples when I should be using these much more efficient examples instead.

My next article was going to be on Settling the Stones, and when I started thinking about all the replies I was going to get asking me why didn’t talk about Sabaki, or approaching lightly, or honte, or ten other complex concepts that are completely beyond the usual scope of TPKs, it just became too much. All the inspiration I was feeling when I started out on this project has kind of run down the drain, and am tired of ice-skating uphill.

It seems to me this is the either the wrong place for such a guide, or I’m the wrong person to write it. I stuck my neck out - it got cut off - I got the message.

Don’t let the naysayers get you down. I’ve been following your posts and generally thinking to myself, uh-huh, uh-huh, maybe so, uh-huh (and so on). Imagine my surprise to see just how much fantastic stuff was proceeding from the keyboard of a 15 kyu player! Of course it’s imperfect. But it sure as hell accomplishes what you had set out to do here, which is to share your insights, support new players, and put a fine point on what you understand about Go. I don’t want to assume anything about what any particular user thought your aim was. But I feel that many of them did misunderstand, and it’s not necessarily their fault.

When a person sees how long a post is (as in your 3,500 piece above), the perception is going to be that the analysis is thorough. Their second thought is probably going to be that the subject is complex, so they’d better pay close attention to what you’re saying. I can definitely see how some people got from point A to point B. They see incomplete analysis and complexities that you didn’t discuss, and they took your invitation to help shore it up. But these assumptions just aren’t true in this case. Your analysis is long, but casual. It’s perfect for a newer player looking to sit down with the kind of long-form think piece that you’d find in the New York Times or the Atlantic, but for Go!

All this to say, I support what you’re doing. It’s your choice if you end it here, but I hope that you never stop evaluating what you know and don’t yet know about this great game. I’ve always maintained that teaching is among the best roads to improvement. I started teaching at 6 kyu, and it gave me the boom that I needed to break into the shodan rank. Perhaps your experience would be similar.


Thanks for the encouragement everyone. It means a lot. I’ll chew on it and see if I can come back with fighting spirit.


Not once did I ever say anything negatively but here we have white knights like @Gia feelig the need to play hero. shakes head

Please don’t be disheartened. I did mention that the diagram I attached does indeed further your theory albeit with some sequences which shouldn’t happen in proper play anyway. But newbies wouldn’t know that and u got your point across anyway. I just mentioned that as feedback is all.

While any advice from any player to one weaker than themselves is always helpful to the student no matter the strength level of the teacher, bad habits are hard to break. The feedback was given in the spirit of preventing that and I can say that even after re-reading everything I wrote I’m certain it was nothing but constructive and is devoid of any negativity whatsoever. If any negativity is taken from it like Gia or yourself to be disheartened by it, then I’m afraid it’s coming from your own inner demons alone. I applaud your efforts and if you truly meant it from earlier posts that you welcomed the input of others than this shouldn’t phase you.