Defending against trick plays

Hello everyone,

Since learn go week is coming, I thought I can contribute a little bit by creating a topic I find interesting for discussion here. This post is based on the talk I prepared for the learn go week event at my local club.

The topic is about trick play - which is regarded by most Go players including me as a dishonorable style of play - so I expect that many people will disagree with me bringing it up; but nevertheless I believe it would be a good topic to talk about.

Reader precaution: this post may cause paranoia in your next several games, resulting in a direct loss in your playing strength.

Let me start by a short story, about my go club.

I formed my university club 4 years ago - being 15 kyu at the time. The club had no teacher: I was their teacher and of course also the strongest player. This combined with the fact that a lot of my club members are veteran PvP game players resulted in a rather… thug-like environment. People in my club don’t even bat half an eye when they’re making trick play, and I wasn’t strong enough to punish that behaviour. In fact, many time did I find myself victim to such act. There is this one guy in my club - we call him the assassin - who actually decided to make trick play his main style. When you first play him, it is normal to be tricked easily without knowing; and even when you already know it, the game doesn’t get any better: you constantly doubt your own moves, and wondering if his last move had any ulterior motive. It’s mentally exhausting, and you feel chills running through your spine as if an assassin is pointing his dagger at your back. He’s 3 whole stones weaker than me, but it is no surprise when I sometimes lost to him by 30 or 40 points because of dead groups.

Winning against him feel great though. And through him I learned a lot of trick play concept. I’m not proud to say this, but sometimes during tournament when I felt behind I’d utilize them. You don’t know how easy the general Go populace fall to such tactics. In fact I’ve even won once against a 3 dan by targeting his pride. No one I met outside of my club had a defense mechanism against trick play.

Now I hope my little story has got your attention. Let’s start.

I. What is trick play.

I believe that most of us - at one point or another - has come across something similar to this scenario:

Near the end of a game between Ted and Fred, usually during byo-yomi, Fred played a move that at first glance seems like a simple dame-filling move. Ted - in his byo-yomi haste - came to believe that it must be a bad attempt at timesuji, and decided to play the next biggest endgame elsewhere. But - as you probably would have guessed - that move was in fact a threat to capture a huge group; and upon seeing Ted playing elsewhere, Fred immediately executed the sequence (with a big grin on his face) and easily got a 50 points lead in the game. Ted realized everything oh too late, and resigned in great frustration (another version of the story which include utilizing the Nuclear Tesuji is not mentioned here).

This is the crudest example of trick play.

Now some of you may begin to tell me that it is simply a mistake by Ted, because he wasn’t careful. That kind of trick play is no big deal, and only beginners will make that mistake. While I don’t totally agree with the later part, I do agree that this kind of trick is only child’s play. If you convert tricking skill into go’s ranking, I’d consider this to be a 20 kyu tsume-trick problem. Trick play is a lot deeper than that, it’s not just “Playing a tricky move and expecting your opponent to make the incorrect response” like most source make it out. That is simply wishful play. A master trickster will target not only your reading skill, but also your greed, pride, fear, impatience, every single negative human emotion that you have. Trick play, in my opinion, is “Making your opponent make the wrong move”.

I actually have a good example right here on OGS. Only the first 10 moves of this game are played by me, after that the assassin took over making a bet with me that if he can win against a 2k I’d have to treat him lunch that day. Please take a look through the game before you read on.

At a glance one may think that this game is a lot like the scenario described above: white made a fatal mistake at the end of the game. But do you find it strange that a player around his skill level would make that mistake which is more likely to happen in a 20 kyu-ish game? He still had a chance for a Ko for life at move 240 (which he most likely was going to win, he had too many Ko threats). Not only did he make the mistake, it seems that he didn’t even realize it until 3 moves later when he resigned. If you sat next to the culprit like I did, you will see that his mistake was not spontaneous: it was guided. The assassin controlled the tempo of the game and most likely the emotions of his opponent cunningly, and the big dragon was his target from the very beginning. The time control was very interesting too but OGS doesn’t record move time I guess.

I did mentioned a defense mechanism against trick play at the beginning of this post, so here’s an example: I caught wind of his intention at move 183. If you think that move is fishy you probably have good sense against trick play too. It was too obvious a mistake, resulting in black losing a huge chunk of the top right corner. It would only make sense if that move’s true aim was to made surrounding the center dragon seems natural. White was too happy with his gain to suspect foul play. Later black can also execute the eyes destroying sequence while looking like he was seeking security by trying to link his 2 groups together.

There was no more doubt at move 203: it does nothing but deprive white of a possible eye on the edge. So if ouke2013 was me he would probably make a solid 2 eyes then, since he was already leading by quite a lot. (I am by no mean saying that I’m better than him, just mean that if he was more experienced at trick play he could have secured his rightly-earned victory).

So you can see that tricking people is actually very serious business. It involve bold trades and readiness to take risk. One swindle requires a lot of calculation and preparation, and possibly a bachelor degree in music as well.

II. Some of the common tricks.
Here are some of the common trick-suji I sometimes used. They are never used separately though, always in combination.

  1. Haste or Impatience
    This is the category in which the Ted & Fred example fall into. It is usually utilized during byo-yomi, when the victim is pressured by time and thus usually spend less time evaluating situation. Usually the trickster would have already prepared the move before byo-yomi period, and wait until then to use it. The chance may come earlier too, if a big Ko surfaced. Trick moves that looks small but in fact much bigger will be used as a Ko threat, and the victim - because of his impatience - will fill the Ko threat ending up losing the trade.
    The weak point of this trick is that its success rate is very low when the victim is stronger than the trickster, since his reading and evaluation is much better.

  2. Pride
    In contrary, this is a trick mainly used against stronger player. This is usually most effective if planned before the game. The trickster will try to make it clear to the victim that their strength was far apart, say, 2 kyu vs 7 kyu for example. But he will then show fighting spirit with a drop of arrogant into his tone. This hurt the victim’s pride and he will try to punish the bastard hard, resulting in a lot of overplay. This trick is most commonly used in combination with “false security”.
    The weak point of this trick is that some people are really honestly nice, and upon hearing the strength different will wholeheartedly play a good teaching game, which will most likely turn into a very safe and relatively peaceful game. I hate it when this happen because I usually learn a lot from these games but god damn it I want to win! But he’s just too nice and that tesuji is great I should remember it for later and ooh so I should have connected there instead and damn it I can’t bring myself to trick such great a person T_T

  3. Greed
    I heard that a version of this trick is actually pretty legit and pros even have terms for it too. That version is to bait the victim into trying to capture a relatively big group. The group might actually end up dead, but with some liberties left and leaves lots of weak points in the victim’s position. In the long term the gain from capturing that group didn’t cancel out the loss from being attacked repeatedly.
    That is only one most common version but I guess you get the idea. If the bait come timely you can even bait your opponent into a losing fight too.
    Same with #1 this one will fail if your opponent is much stronger than you. You might actually end up counter-baited instead.

  4. False security
    This is in fact the most commonly used trick. The trickster deliberately play a little worse than he can. For example he defends his corner incorrectly allowing the victim to make big endgame moves against it later, or he obediently answers several forcing moves without resisting. This put the victim into false security state where he feels everything is going his way, thus dropping his defence becoming a fish on the cutting board waiting for execution.
    Weak point is people weaker than you are usually very paranoia and won’t be fooled that easily.

  5. Shock
    This is the follow up of false security. The victim is dealt a blow and suddenly woke up from his dream. The mistake - although not too big - negated his lead from earlier. He will then feels shocked and try to gain back what he has lost in frustration. But now his Pandora’s box was opened, and negative emotions will pour out like rivers. This is the real end. Probably by now the trickster don’t even need to try hiding his grin any more. Actually grinning now will be a good psychological attack.
    Weak point is in games with long thinking time some people will just go grab a drink and calm down.

I will stop going deeper into how to trick people like tempo or play order, since I, too, agree that trick plays are very bad manner and don’t encourage their usage. I myself never trick people at or below my level, and even when I do it’s only when playing against stronger players during tournament. I consider tournaments to be arenas, and all is fair in love and war.

The aim of this post is to raise your awareness of trick play.

III. Defending against trick play.

Do you know what’s most dangerous about trick play? Victims never learn. The same method can be used on the same person again and again and again AND again; and the victim would time and time again says “I can’t believe I made such stupid mistake!” and bury himself in a stack of beers, trying to forget his embarrassing loss. That is not the correct attitude. You must realize that your mistake was not spontaneous, you must accept that you were tricked. You must contemplate your loss and learn from your mistake what you did wrong. Were you too greedy? Did you underestimate your opponent? Was there a strange move in the game? You must learn to control your emotion and your pace. Only then will you start to develop the defence mechanism, which will not only repel trick play but also reduce your chance of making spontaneous mistake on your own.

There are, actually, some general guidelines to defend against trick play though:

  1. The prestige always come last.
    Usually the result of the trick come at a very late stage of the game. There are 2 reasons. Firstly, the later the trick came to fruition, the harder it is for its victim to reverse the damage. Secondly, every good magic need preparation. The trickster need time to observe and guide you from the prepared state that you have at the start to the emotion needed for the trick. It could be greed or impatience or anger, depending on which direction you sway.

  2. The last preparation steps are always made at least 5 moves before the execution.
    The last several moves will always be no-brainer moves to confuse your senses. That is always the case for all tricks - simple and complex alike. So if you suspect your opponent is a trickster, and you find him playing a lot of no-brainer moves - harmless simple endgame moves in succession for example - then be prepared, the dagger is coming. Actually those no-brainer moves are usually good pointers to where the real trick lies, because they usually will be made somewhere away from the real trick.

  3. No mater how hard he try, the wolf will show his tail here and there.
    Unexpected pause in mid game, moves that smell fishy, sudden change in play strength. You can detect those thing and suspect. While he may or may not be a trickster it is good to evaluate the whole board now and look for dangerous places and take mental note of them.

  4. All trick plays have the same hard counter. (pun intended)

If you follow these guidelines I think you will be able to guard against most common tricksters. The real trick for defending against trick play, though, is actually to keep good attitude while playing. Play seriously and cautiously, and don’t be controlled by your own emotions. It’s actually easier said than done, but it is always good to train yourself inside and outside the game.

I hope you find my post interesting and if from it you managed to actually caught a trickster in his crime I’d be really glad for you :slight_smile:


Personally, I admire anyone who can play in a way to make you overlook some things, especially many moves after the fact. I mean, something as common as the Chinese fuseki can be called a “trick play” because of how it often entices your (weaker) opponents to self-pincer, and I don’t think there’s anyone who could wholeheartedly claim that it’s dishonourable to use such a strategy.

I just looked at the game you linked. It’s really just a matter of thinking about the board as a whole vs thinking about the board as a bunch of individual battles. My own playing style is somewhat similar in the sense that I often choose to lose the battle to win the war. For example, using a ladderable cutting stone to place a ladder breaker (with the opponent sometimes forgetting about the cutting stone after a lengthy exchange), or starting a picnic ko you can’t win to get a couple free big moves. Basically, it’s finding miai on a global level to get some kind of an advantage regardless of how your opponent responds.


All your “trick plays” are actually part of the game.

You should spend your time on booze and hookers.

Well strictly speaking the rule does not forbid such tactic. But if you use them a lot you will be shunned by the community xD

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If playing go is a form of communication, then I would say that trick plays (in the purest sense of tactical trickery rather than whole board strategy) insist that go is a complex game that needn’t be simplified to be played or enjoyed. It’s actually a rather playful way to play.

If people are actually shunned by the go community simply for playing the way they want to play, I would wonder which group - the tricksters or the shunners - does a greater disservice to the game. Really, if you have issues with the way someone plays, then talk it out through a game of go - and play the way you want to play. If you have fun playing your own game, then there’s nothing to get upset about; if you’re upset that you lost because you got tricked, then get better, play again and try not to make the same mistakes.

Note: I wasn’t addressing the above to you specifically AVAVT. I’m trying to address anyone who seriously gets upset at people who use trick plays.


Do life-and-death exercises. Track your performance (uligo or go grinder). Always look for the big move, sente, cuts. Read ahead to find vulnerabilities. Exploit them if you don’t already have vulnerabilities of your own to fix.

MMAs will always beat street fighters because they study the science of the fight. Tell a trained fighter that there are no more rules and watch what happens to the other guy.

Make yourself that trained fighter.

Bottom line: play like this and your opponents won’t have time to play tricks, as you call them, because you’ll have them on their heels trying to recover.


Wonderful contribution to the discussion board. Thank you.

A lot of this is over my head. But it seems to me that in the linked game, B got in trouble, realized that saving the upper right group would not be enough to win the game, and looked for another solution. Keeping a big group from making two eyes is honorable play, isn’t it?

An interesting observation however I agree with Jamada above. The simple truth is GO is a game of war, a battle, and understanding your opponents psychology is part of the battle. Our GO club has a lady who plays for fun and will say that move is not nice, I remind her GO is not a nice game.

Pros think of Josekis and strategies that will work against an opponent is it dishonorable? One of the most interesting facets of pro games is the psychological warfare. Computers of course never deal with fear, pride, vanity, hunger, desire for an income, nor are they distracted by the pretty woman across the hall or the Goban! That is why we are so much more interesting.


I have a hard time accepting that there are dishonorable play styles. I don’t think that any legal move can be dishonorable. If you can cause your opponent to make suboptimal moves, then you should do it. If your opponent assumes that your move was a mistake because it doesn’t look like the most normal move under the circumstances, and then they move to punish your “mistake,” I think that there is nothing dishonorable in this. If they are too greedy to notice that their group is not guaranteed eyes yet, then it is their own hubris that has caused their downfall.

I do think it is possible to send disingenuous messages to your opponent through comments or body language. If I tell my opponent “I don’t know what to do,” and then make a carefully calculated trick play that looks like a mistake, that is dishonorable. Or if I throw down a “trick” stone in feigned disgust, giving the appearance that I have already given up on the area, then I am being dishonest.

I am tempted to start a poll and see if the community in general agrees that trick plays are “dishonorable.”

yes, exactly.

learn to read. any legal move is a legal move.

if someone plays and you ignore it, you should play better

As long as a trick move is legal, there is NOTHING WRONG with it, nor do I think is it dishonorable or deserved to be shunned. If you encounter or play out a trick move, it is your responsibility to accept the outcome of it, as well as learning reading skills and other qualities.

Recently I have been talking about a few trick moves and their refutations in my “Fridays with xhu98” program…so stay tuned for discussions on that :smile: Fridays with xhu98 (Cornel Burzo special coming up!)


I am a newbee just learning the game.
I didn’t realize there were such passions out there!
As a newbee I am surprised at this because I find that the nature of Go is very ruthless. It is very war-like.
You kill or get killed … but it remains a game.
The one thing I expect is politeness … which amongst beginners is not as common as you experienced players might assume. There is so much rudeness that the idea of someone tricking me to win is like comparing what i do to a school child’s run beingcompared to the olympics

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I am playing this 3 stone game at the moment I think my opponent is upset because he/she thinks that I am making trick plays. I don’t think I am, at least I am not deliberately doing it anyway. My feelings are hurt because my style of play has been labelled “ugly”. It kind of does look a bit ugly to me. I’d be interested to know what others think.

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ob3lix, I am also playing slowfox in a couple of games. he has criticized my play also. I think it’s just his thing.


I think the term “trick play” is being used with quite different meanings between the original post by @AVAVT and some of the subsequent discussion. We should distinguish “psychological manipulations” from the “trick play” traps that they are meant to set one up for.

SL provides the definition: "A trick play, or attempted swindle, attempts to entice the opponent into playing an “obvious” response which yields a poor result for her. If answered correctly, the result will typically be worse for the instigator of the trick than if he had played correctly."

Overplays are often good examples of trick plays. Anything that is actually the best move for the tactical situation is not a trick play, but rather simply tesuji. I think it’s fair to say that all of these (trick plays, overplay, tesuji) are just part of the game. Playing tough to answer moves that lead your opponent into making mistakes is a valid strategy, but utilizing tricks can backfire if your opponent does not fall for the traps and instead finds the tesujis that punish your overplays.

However, it seems that @AVAVT is not talking just about trick plays in themselves, but rather instead focusing on the surrounding psychological manipulation for pushing your opponent into responding to trick plays with the wrong moves. Trick plays create the positional traps for your opponent to make a mistake, but @AVAVT is really talking about the psychological tricks that set your opponent up to fall prey to those traps. I think the point is that these psychological manipulations can cause a player to make even bigger blunders against much simpler tricks. The key to avoiding such psychological tricks is probably less about getting stronger at reading, but more about preparing yourself mentally to resist these manipulations and to not let your guard down.

See how the post talks about waiting until the opponent’s time is running low to create more pressure in responding to a prepared trick move. The given “crudest example” describes masking the trick as a “bad attempt at timesuji” to manipulate the opponent into overlooking that the filled dame requires teire to avoid catastrophe. The other “common tricks” mentioned by @AVAVT are purely psychological manipulation of the opponent through their “pride”, “greed”, “false security”, and “shock”. “Tempo” and “play order” are only briefly alluded to, since @AVAVT seems to want to avoid encouraging their use, but I’m guessing an example of this would be playing a quick sequence of simple end-game moves but inserting a mundane looking dame-filling trick in that sequence to maximize the chance that it is overlooked and not properly responded to.

Arguably, these psychological manipulations are all just part of the game as well, since “all is fair in love and war”, but I can see how some of these psychological ploys would be frowned upon. Particularly, the “shock” technique, such as rubbing in your opponent’s mistake with a grin to push them into playing worse due to a distressed state of mind (in poker, this would be called “playing on-tilt”), probably wouldn’t make you many friends.


But it would make for a very entertaining anime villain/anti-hero.

(I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of using this image.)

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Players should speak with the stones, to criticize anothers play during a game unless it is a teaching game is not appropriate. Ugly moves are to me ones that do not serve a good purpose. Of course in handicap games one has to play sub optimal moves to gain an advantage in fighting. So play and have fun. I wish you all beautiful and devastating moves in the future.


@ob3lix: Nothing about your play in that game looks ugly to me. Your opponent is the one that is playing ugly moves and behaving in a rude and unjustifiable manner. He is probably just a sore loser, but maybe, perhaps, his complaints are an attempt at “trick play” (in the sense of psychological manipulation) of his own.


I’m very sorry because I didn’t replied in my own topic. There was too many things to answer and I was always short on time.

Luckily @yebellz 's post was very spot on and it clarified my points very well, thank you very much! :smiley:

When I think about overplay I think of it as playing a move that is not recommended, but lead to difficult position that require deep reading/understanding for both side. One which you yourself doesn’t know whether good or bad at the time you play. So it is more like a challenge of skill and not tricking.

Trick moves are used a lot while tricking people, but if you play them straightforwardly it is not really tricking, they’re just tricky moves that are hard to answer. If you make your opponent believe that that move “surely must be answered here” then ok, you’re tricking. If you just played it to test your opponent and s/he answered incorrectly, s/he’s just bad.

About the idea of saying there is nothing wrong with trick play, I only half agree. It is a very dangerous double-edged blade for 2 reasons I can think of:

  1. Relying too much on tricking will lead to habits. It means that when you are facing a difficult situation, instead of trying to find a better move, you focus on finding a way to make your opponent make a blunder. Instead of trying to push yourself past your limit, you are trying to drag your opponent below you. In my opinion it is bad for your growth in Go.

  2. Tricking people is bad! Like, wasn’t it stated in our moral code? If you get into the trickster path you will be doing really dark deeds because you want your opponent to go crazy. You would consistently poke into your his emotion, keep playing moves in tricky order instead of optimal ones, disrupt his concentration during important fights, then laugh at your opponent’s face when he made a blunder just to brush salt into his wound.
    Trick plays have one very clear goal in mind that is to win this particular game you are playing, and you don’t stop at whatever filthy trick needed to achieve your goal. The rule does not forbid you from laughing at your opponent’s face, but that doesn’t mean it is okay to do so.

If you swindled someone to get his wallet, he’d call the police. So if you swindle someone to get a win, the least you can expect is a little resentment. :stuck_out_tongue:

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Unlike stealing, tricks plays are not against the rules. If someone voluntarily puts their money on the poker table or pool table, it’s not your fault if your opponent underestimates you and loses.

In short, if you agree to the rules then you should accept the result without any undo resentment; don’t hate the player, hate the game. Or at least that’s what I think.