General proverb discussion

We have a thread for OGS proverbs but not for discussing regular old Go sayings.

Sensei’s Library has a list of them here.


I thought I’d begin by giving my 4k-level opinion on some of them.

  1. The enemy’s key point is yours. This is often but not always the case. For instance, in the position below, Black is very interested in playing at A but White wouldn’t think of playing there directly. Instead, White would rather play at B or C. However, I think key point may have been given a more tactical application in this proverb.

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  1. Play on the point of symmetry. This one seems to be wrong practically as much as it’s right. When rephrased as the less catchy Consider the point of symmetry, though, I think it has a lot more value. Even if the point of symmetry is only correct 25% of the time, that still makes it a good first candidate move.

  2. Beware of going back to patch up. This proverb warns the player not to enter sente-looking situations that are ultimately gote. I think, though, that it’s largely eclipsed by Don’t atari the cutting stone. It does also have some relation to avoiding over-early endgame, I suppose.

  3. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. An instruction to avoid playing too aggressively from a weak position. A useful proverb that seems to become progressively more subtle to implement as one gets stronger.

  4. Respond to attachment with a hane. I’d want to reword this as Consider haneing against the attachment (and if it doesn’t work, you should probably extend).

  5. Hane on the head of two stones. Very useful and basic proverb. In some situations though, when the opponent has nearby strength, it can be more prudent to just extend.

  6. Beginners play atari. I found the proverb we were discussing in the other thread ^^ I have my doubts about how constructive this saying really is, actually, since atari appear even in quite basic joseki like Play Go at online-go.com! | OGS, as well as in any position with a ladder, and during a squeeze, etc. etc… not to mention how crucial atari are to life and death.

  7. The empty triangle is bad. This usually stands up, at least in kyu games.

  8. The one-point jump is never bad. This is all very well to say until you’ve reviewed many games featuring the “pre-peeped jump” or “emo jump” A → B, in which White can immediately push through at 口. It’s also not uncommon that the wedge is an issue, especially in running fights.

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  1. Cutting right through a knight’s move is very big. I like to rephrase this as Don’t allow the ripped keima shape., but it’s the same useful advice.

  2. Don’t peep where you can cut. Basic, common, and useful proverb, especially in the range, say, 6–12k.

  3. Even a moron connects against a peep. Like with some other sayings, there is definitely a kernel of truth – a simple connection is usually the best response. But there’s no need to coat that kernel in such absolutist language. There are plenty of situations in which one can respond to a peep by pushing against the peeping stone, or by threatening a net, or by utilising leaning aji.

  4. Use contact moves for defence. Very useful. I prefer the more double-sided variant “A contact fight makes both groups stronger”, which relates to one of my own favourite sayings “Attaching is not attacking.”

  5. Never ignore a shoulderhit. I find this holds up well, at least at kyu level. The exception is mainly the opinion of stronger players looking at the games of weaker ones, identifying certain shoulderhits as being in a small area of the board and thus not being urgent to respond to. Perhaps “When shoulderhit, first consider responding.” would be more diplomatic, but I think a perfectly good kyu-level game can be played with rigorous application of the original proverb.

  6. The bamboo joint may be short of liberties. I’ve been noticing the truth of this one more lately. It refers to how there are two “imaginary liberties” inside the bamboo joint, neither of which actually exist if connection needs to be maintained, as the opponent can remove them both in sente by threatening to push through.

  7. Nets are better than ladders. This is intuitive: a ladder created bad aji elsewhere on the board; a net doesn’t. This is not to say that nets don’t have their own issues, of course.

  8. Approach / block on the wider side. This seems obvious and thus redundant. It’s distingushing which side is widest that is the issue – nobody intentionally focuses on what believe to be the less important area. I suppose the proverb is meant topographically, ie. referring to the literally widest side.

  9. Five liberties are needed for tactical stability. A very versatile proverb that I’ve got pretty good use out of. Consider the diagram below. In the first diagram, where Black has four liberties, White has the push and cut sequence. In the second, where Black has five, that possiblity no longer exists.

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  1. Capture laddered stones at the earliest opportunity. This proverb really hinges on what “earliest opportunity” is taken to mean. If it refers to one’s next turn then I think it’s probably wrong more than it’s right. However, if you like to play solidly then it would definitely be worth application. A diluted form like “Be mindful of the ladder.” might be more useful to most players, though.

  2. Urgent points before big points. This is useful insofar as you distinguish the two terms. It can be argued that all urgent points are big points, and a little less convincingly that all big points are urgent. Essentialy it means “don’t rush off to a nice-looking spot when there’s still potential to be attacked or bullied in the area you’re leaving”, which I think is better expressed by “Don’t go fishing when your house is on fire.” That phrasing has started to grate on me, though, as I’ve heard it too often.

  3. Play away from thickness. Basic and useful. It relates to Redmond’s “proverb” that if you make a big mistake, you should continue by playing a long way away.

  4. Don’t use thickness to make territory. This is a very textured saying that depends greatly on what is considered “thickness” and what is considered “territory” in any specific position, and even the definition of that verb “use”. Overall it is moderately useful but not all that clear. It also appears as Don’t enclose your influence. I much prefer the following proverb, Make territory by attacking,, which has greater clarity.

  5. A ponnuki is worth thirty points. A proverb so famous that it inspired the “thirty-point ponnuki variant” on VGS. The number thirty seems pretty meaningless. The sentiment of the saying is that ponnuki are usually more valuable than the weak player thinks, which is true in certain positions (in which the ponnuki faces onto the centre or side) and false in others. A more accurate phrasing is A central ponnuki is worth thirty points.

  6. Make a fist before striking. ie. “fix your defects before attacking”. This is simiar to the glasshouse proverb, but more understandable in my opinion. The glasshouse saying requires the student to imagine an entire setting with some kind of conservatory or greenhouse – the fist saying is much more intuitive.

  7. _Feint to the east, attack in the west._This is useful until you internalise what a leaning attack is, after which you can refer to the technique by name rather than through a proverb.

  8. Rich men don’t pick quarrels. Meaning that when ahead one can afford to play slackly. This is one of the more controversial messages, which can be criticised from both competitive and didactic angles. I remember, I think, Fan Hui and Ke Jie commenting on its fallacy, with one of them remarking “Who would declare themselves rich?” Still, application of the proverb is an aid to a certain style of play, like that of Kobayashi who used his “manageable slackness” style to great success.

  9. Play kikashi before living. A good message, but it does of course rely on those kikashi not being aji keshi or a needless wastage of ko threats.

  10. Reduction is worth as much as invasion. Crucial at my level. I think a big part of the 1–5k improvement path is learning not to underestimate reduction or overestimate invasions which will probably live small.

  11. Big dragons never die. Nonsense! Big dragons die very often in games at any level. I’ve seen them die many times in TPK games, DDK games, in SDK games including my own, in dan games on OGS and on Twitch, in professional games on Fox or Tygem, and even in top professional tournaments. What’s more, this proverb seems to encourage the student not to even attempt to kill those large eyeless groups, which promotes a stunted understanding of life and death. This is the only one I soundly disagree with.

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Impressive list!

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I like
“Sacrifice plums for peaches”

And surely the only issue with it is that it’s hard for kyus to tell plums and peaches apart. Either that or I find that having sacrificed my plums, I don’t actually get the peach anyway…

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The more proverbs you know and truly understand, the higher your rank.
The more proverbs you sin against, the lower your rank.

Okay, let’s admit it right away: I am a sinner.
:crazy_face:

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Is b all that interested in playing A here? You don’t actually see that pincer often in modern play, with B being the main choice. Granted, there are counterexamples on both a strategic and tactical level, but this doesn’t appear to be one. Ofc if you want a more detailed “fix” to the proverb, I often say “many times the best way to prevent your opponent from playing a move is to play it yourself.” But I still provide the original proverb for ease of memory

not always the very next move, but there was actually a chess player talking to me about a similar idea in chess, where he was mulling over when Magnus Carlsen said “if you have a move that you know you’re going to have to play eventually, you should probably play it soon.” The idea being that a ladder is a huge forcing move in a lot of cases, which means they can make similarly huge threats out of forcing you to take the ladder, which is very valuable. A more general statement might be “Don’t wait for the threat to fix the aji.”

Other than that, I would agree with a lot of points, and my complaints for the rest are not major

I also question if the proverb covers this kind of situation. A “key point” is more than merely where one player wants to play. It’s synonymous with “vital point,” which Sensei’s Library defines as “an important shape point for both players” that is “usually urgent.” Of course, that definition would make the proverb circular: “An important point for both players is important for you.” I think the proverb implies that you haven’t internalized the definition and is trying to teach it to you. It all comes down to recognizing key points. In the corner position depicted, you could say that B is a key point.

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that proverb is mostly useful in tsumego (but not only)

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David Mitchell’s Go Proverbs:

  • There is death in the hane.
  • Strange things happen at the 1-2 point.
  • The L group is dead.
  • Don’t overlook the edge of the board.
  • If you don’t know shicho don’t play go.
  • There is damezumari at the bamboo joint.
  • Large groups never die.
  • Get to know the ishi no shita.
  • Eyes win semeais.
  • Don’t make dangos.
  • Know the eye stealing tesuji.
  • Connect with good shape.
  • Don’t disturb symmetry.
  • Play at the centre of the three.
  • Crosscut? Extend!
  • At the end of ‘n’ stones play hane.
  • Ikken tobi is rarely a bad move.
  • The third line is for territory, the fourth line is for influence.
  • Keima attacks, ikken tobi defends.
  • Attack weak groups simultaneously.
  • If you have six groups one is dead.
  • Sacrifice for shape.
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29 big dragon never die.

yes it’s true they do sometimes.
the teaching of this proverb is not that you shouldn’t try to kill them but that in that kind of hunt, the bigger it’s evolving the more opportunities are created for it to live.

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I think you seem to be missing when these proverbs apply. So I think I’ll try and explain that so that these proverbs make more sense to you.

-2. This is mostly a life/death proverb. A lot of life and death problems rely on this vital point.

-3. This one is actually really important for the mid-game. You can’t attack at all if you have a weak group, and you are straight-up losing if you have more than one weak group.

-5. The hane is probably the strongest single move I know of, especially against an attachment. You want to reduce your opponents liberties especially since this kind of attachment is usually the start of an invasion / reduction. Letting it go passively by extending is going to lose you a lot of points.

-7. This is also more of a tsumego problem, where reducing eye space is often the correct way to start.

-9. If you’re considering the one-space jump but are unsure, then the one-space jump is a fine move. It’s not like you’re always considering a one space jump.

-12. You don’t necessarily have to play the straightforward connection, it’s just saying “don’t get cut” in a fun way.

-13. Attaching can be attacking. (clamp)

-17. It’s not necessarily “obvious and therefore redundant”, because proverbs are also meant to help new / weaker players.

-19. This is essentially honte, so don’t look down on it! This kind of thinking got me to dan.

-26. I always took this as the reverse of “if you are behind, start fights”. Essentially if you’re behind, don’t die quietly (Mark drilled that into me…), so this is like the opposite of that. “don’t give your opponent the opportunity to come back”.

-29. I’ve seen games where dragons I thought were going to die, find eyes in weird places. I think it’s more of a warning to the person trying to kill the dragon, than it is encouragement for the person with the dragon.

Also you really like to reword things eh?

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Also, I guess the one proverb that helped me the most, was…

You only have one weak group. The rest are dead.

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A great list and review so thanks to @bugcat for the OP and thanks to all others for the interesting replies.

Here’s my 2 cents:

This is from Kageyama’s Fundamentals. There is also the related “cut where you can cut” from the same chapter. In the book, Kageyama goes into more detail to say that by “can cut” he means you read the position and your cutting stone won’t just immediately get captured or some other bad outcome. And by “cut where you can cut” he means you read the position, your cut will hold but you’re not sure how the rest of the situation will turn out (maybe there are lots of variations or the reading is beyond you) - well, cut anyway, to hell with the consequences, deal with them later… just make the cut already!

Also from Kageyama’s Fundamentals. However, these days, the term “moron” is considered offensive so I suggest the inoffensive but equivalent meaning “even a fool connects against a peep”. One should always promote inclusive language.

I have also heard it as “Don’t use thickness to surround territory” and/or “use thickness to attack”. Assuming the user of this proverb known what territory is (a questionable assumption as a lot of players don’t), then I find “use thickness to attack” is the clearest. For the record, I would define thickness as a solid, influential, alive position. If it’s missing any one of those three ingredients, then it’s not thickness (see for example, GoPro Yeonwoo on 3-3 invasion @ 2:10 https://youtu.be/1qpSyOpK-xw?t=130).

(since also addressed by @Kaworu_Nagisa

I wouldn’t say slackly. More like one should always be aware of the score and play accordingly. If you’re way behind, you’re going to have to cut, invade, complicate, kill a big dragon, etc. If you’re ahead, then you’re better off fixing your weaknesses so that your opponent cannot do the above. So maybe this proverb would be better worded as “Don’t pick a fight when you’re ahead” or “Don’t take risks when you’re ahead”.

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I prefer the less extreme version Six groups lose.

In my experience, it’s not that hard to live with six groups, but you probably are going to lose the game due to living small once or multiple times.

I would define thickness as a solid, influential, alive position.

“A thick group is a living group.” is something I like to say.

It’s a paraphrase of something Redmond said in commenting on the style of Cho Chikun.

It’s an admonishment of assuming that all influential groups are thick when they’re often not, being actually “thinfluence” due to not having enough eyeshape.

by “cut where you can cut” he means you read the position, your cut will hold but you’re not sure how the rest of the situation will turn out (maybe there are lots of variations or the reading is beyond you) - well, cut anyway, to hell with the consequences, deal with them later… just make the cut already!

I disagree with this from a realistic perspective, although perhaps its intention is as a learning technique. There are many common situations in which it’s not a good idea to make a tactically possible cut. For instance, if you have another weak group nearby which could fall victim to a splitting attack, or if the opponent is so thick that there won’t be enough counterplay available by which to make good shape.

I think you have the idea that always X is an acceptable cipher for often X or even sometimes X.

eg. Play on the point of symmetry. is a blanket statement. It does not say “Consider playing…”, "One should usually play…" etc.

Whether always X = often X or sometimes X in the “proverbial language convention” is, I suppose, a linguistic question. One can also ask whether that presentation is helpful, sacrificing accuracy for catchiness.

Not forget how many groups your opponent has too.

It’s recommended to attack from weak stones, not from the strong ones. So the wording here may confuse.

Never heard that proverb myself before but ok. This glass house make me think of the specific situation where some of your stones are surrounded (by some other weak stones=glass house)
In that case, trying to break through by capturing these surrounding weak stones may not work well as you are yourself weaker.
I find it to be of limited use but still helpful to correct standard failure in the learning time.

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Proverbs - often metaphorical and put into a formulaic wording - are simple, concrete, traditional sayings that express a perceived truth based on common sense or experience.

I think it is wise to take proverbs seriously but risky to take them too literally. It is best to view them as general guidelines - that may apply in a certain context - and not as absolute truths - for there may be conflicting proverbs.

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“If either player takes all the corners, Black should resign…”

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Is my English poor again or do you really mean that black doesn’t know how to manage a 4 corners game?

Anyway the only variant of this 4 corners proverbs I trust is
“If your opponent has 4 corners and the center, resign.”

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