"In Go, losing by one point is the ultimate victory"

I remember I read the quote in my subject line many years ago, when I first got interested in the game. I think the author was trying to make several points at once:
first, that the real goal of a go player is mastery of the game, not the defeat of the opponent;
second, and consequently, that you really master the game when you are so much in control that you can make it end with exactly the score you want;
third, that keeping the two players’ scores as close as possible during the game is as important as coming out on top;
fourth, and relatedly, that making more points than necessary is a form of disrespect;
and so on…

The problem is that I don’t remember where I read it. Does anyone? Is it from Kawabata’s Master of Go, perhaps?

Help please!


In the context of a competitive game, I think it seems quite disrespectful to intentionally lose, just for showing off that one can do so with a desired margin.

Further, I don’t think that it demonstrates an absolute mastery of the game, but rather only a relative mastery over the strength of one’s opponent. I expect that for many players who can accurately count, they could easily do this against a much weaker opponent.


When I first saw your post I thought it was a misquote. I would have thought that “In Go, winning by the smallest possible margin is the ultimate victory”.

For what it’s worth, I don’t recall either from Kawabata’s ‘Master of Go’.

Totally agree.

I am reminded of ‘Hikaru no Go’ when the aim was to create simultaneous draws while appearing to play normally.

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The quote is correct, I think—even though the source is unknown…

To be more precise: it occurred in the context of a very broad discussion of the game of Go in the most general terms—in fact, if I remember correctly, it occurred while discussing Go as a way of life. Competition—paradoxically—was not the main point at stake. The relationship between the protagonist and the person on the other side of the board as mediated by the game was.
Anyway, I’ll keep looking.



even if what you (or whoever said it) you said is true, why must it be “losing by one point”? Can’t you do it like Akira Toya in Hikaru no Go who played 3 (or 4) tie games?

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An identical level of skill may be demonstrated by orchestrated draws or one (or half-point) wins.

Presumably the quote comes from a scenario where the better player is unwilling to win.

  • Scenario 1: A modest pupil is unwilling to defeat their teacher. How many consecutive one point wins before the teacher perceives the truth? Not many I suspect and any teacher worth their salt is pleased to be surpassed by a pupil. So perhaps a story of delicate etiquette?
  • Scenario 2: A master of the game must play against an insane emperor.
    Too afraid to win, or instructed to lose, he satisfies himself with a demonstration of complete control over the game.
    This reminds me of a similar tale from ‘The Game of Wei - Chi’ by Daniele Pecorini & Tong Shu, in which a Master plays some weak moves:

An Embarrassing Position

It is said that a first-rate player was summoned by the Emperor to play a game of Wei-Chi. He thought that if he were to win he might be considered lacking in respect for the Emperor, so he played some weak moves. The Emperor perceived this and said, “How can a player of your class play so as to lose the game?”
The master of Wei-Chi feared then that he had compromised himself by not having played seriously, and during the night studied the adjourned game so carefully that the next morning in a few moves he achieved a draw.


Although the winning/losing issue is important in tournaments, most players agree that the most exciting games are the closest ones. Winning or losing by one point, what a supreme refinement!

    — Mathieu François-Barseghian, The Ten Golden Rules of WéiQí Applied to Business Strategy


That’s a close one! Similar thought, I think. Thanks for the ref