No general rules to good/bad strategy

My hate/love (in that order) relationship with this game is mainly because of the fact that there are no general rules. Which makes it so hard to really learn anything. About tactics, it’s possible to learn a bit, to recognize certain shapes or see certain traps (especially at the borders and corners), but all these long term advice you often hear seem to be as much true as untrue. Whenever I try to play according to these long-term strategy advices, my feeling is that I play even worse and suck even more. Examples:

  1. The rule to first focus on the corners. Seems to make sense, but I don’t know how many times I lost because I had the corners and nothing else
  2. Never start in the middle. Seems to make sense, but then someone comes along, put his first move in the centre and slaughters me
  3. Never attack with a stone directly touching the opponent’s stone. There are a few players who consistenly do this, and they ALWAYS win. Always. So apparantly it works for them.
  4. “Play big” in the beginning. When I play big, I end up with very small territories and no large influences. Actually, same as when I play “small”.

This post is partly to let off some steam (I just lost against someone who continuously put his stones next to mine even though I have been told time and again that this is wrong) and partly to wonder why this is. Why is there not a single general rule that is true at least most of the time? With chess, there are some rules that are true 95% of the time (castle early in the game, give rooks long lines, keep pawns together, don’t use the queen too early, etc…)

I find this is the main reason I like the small local battles (which I am improving in, because I recognize more tricks) but really get frustrated with openings and just the general complete board strategies because it seems impossible to get a grip on it.


In my opinion the first two rules are completely true, but you cannot expect to win, just by starting in the corner. If your opponent started in the center and still won that does not make the rule not true. You just probably made some bigger mistakes later.

I do not know who told you, but “never attach” is not a good rule. Attaching to a weak stone makes the stone stronger. That can be good or bad depending on the situation. If your opponent kept attaching everywhere, it was probably a mistake, but maye you just failed to punish it. A move is only bad if your opponent knows how to make it bad.

The “play big” rule is complicated. It is a good advice to start with, because otherwise begginers tend to completely cramp one corner and fail to even consider the rest of the board, but of course there are limits to that rule. If you watch some Japanese pro games you will see that they “play big”, but always remember to go back and fix weaknesses after. You cannot only make big moves, just as you cannot only focus on one corner. As with everything there needs to be balance. Balance good, Go good, everything good.

So to put this into some bottom line, I think you are approaching it from the wrong direction. “My opponent did what I was told is a mistake and won, the teacher must have been wrong”

  • adopt a more Japanese thinking
    “My opponent did what I was told is a mistake and won. What should I have done differently to punish?”

We can play a game if you want, and try some really in depth review, maybe you were just hearing the “rules” without proper explanations and that’s why it does not make sense…

yeah, yeah, chess is a simple game for peasants :stuck_out_tongue:


As in life away from the board hearing a principle and actually have deep understanding and being able to apply it are two different things.

  1. You focus on the corner because it is easiest and most effective to make territory there. But if you cling to them too much you give up rest of the board. You play GO on the whole 19x19 board.
  2. Doesn’t mean it is optimal strategy. It is not really all that bad strategy either. There were pros who made it work. Especially on DDK level you really do not decide game in fuseki.
  3. because it is sometimes effective way to create complications. If you struggle with this, try to think of answers to keep the situation simple or just tenuki or answer indirectly.
  4. “Big” moves are sometimes not those most obvious big looking moves. Sometime they are really unsuspecting small looking move in the corner that makes your group rock solid whilst preparing to harass opponent. Also there is this years old adage “urgent moves before big moves”

Anyway as you are DDK I suggest you have probably much more pressing issues than fuseki I would focus on them and not overthink it too much. As I grow as a player my understanding of all those “rules” you mentioned is still evolving. It is not clear cut kind of thing. More like zen koans you ponder endlessly.

BUT. if you really struggle with fuseki and feel like you want to get better I STRONGLY recommend these two books. They will give you everything you need on your level and more

Also WHY IN THE WORLD would you want there to be general rules that universally apply?! That would make game boring as hell. This way there is always space for originality and playful innovation. Even pros like Fujisawa Shuko or O Meien played openings that are “weird” by the standard prevailing notions and they were still great players.


Other responders focused on technicalities, but here’s a general rule: if you’re playing a reasonably stronger opponent, you’re probably going to lose no matter what you do. That’s because in go there’re so many intricacies to learn that one good idea you applied won’t matter if opponent is better at other stuff. For example, start in corners is a good idea, but 9 stones stronger opponent can basically play first 4 moves completely randomly and still win, cause their knowledge in other areas is still more advantageous than good starting moves. It even applies to equally rank opponents too. For example, if I see my opponent do silly opening moves I start to play very cautious, because if they have equal rank to mine with that bad opening, imagine how good their other skills are, right?

You can improve your chances by playing good opening or applying this or that principle, but it’s not going to be enough in every case. Like in chess, I can castle fast but still lose because I caught early king-side attack with my face. So you have to play good moves along the whole game and in the end they’ll join together and give you a win.

And there’re other technicalities. For example, you can apply a principle incorrectly (for example castle early into open files). Or you just don’t know how to punish (opponent gave you a bishop pair for no reason, but that doesn’t mean you automatically win, you need to know what to do with them). Same in go, there’re tons of “but not in this case” exceptions.


If you want to know how far people can go with nonsense, play lithograph on KGS. Most disgusting style I’ve seen in my life. Managed to get to 1k though.


Just follow the proverb: Don’t follow proverbs blindly :slight_smile:


that’s more of a “duh” than general rule really…

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There are few simple rules that apply in Go, the fun part is (similarily like with other eastern arts) you get to rediscover the purpose behind those rules over time. You get to question them, break them, fall because of them until you understand the spirit of those rules.

Wrong understanding: when I put my stones that’s an easy cash. I need to hold my ground there.
Better understanding: corners give me strategical advantage, they can become either a trap for opponent or a foothold for myself, they give me flexibility in shaping whole board strategy

Never heard of that rule. Starting in the middle is just a very subtle approach, gives the game a different spin. But to actually use center stone effectively you need to have the whole board picture in your head.

Bad understanding: Confrontation is attack. Playing contact moves is offensive. My opponent made a (bad) contact move so I have to a) tenuki b) kill his stone.
Better understanding: To attack in Go is to constrain opponents options, while gaining profit elsewhere. Therefor contact move cannot be a good attack because it creates options. Contact moves are great defensive play, building tactical opportunities when at disadvantage.

To this one I’ll say that there is a very specific priority list that every opening manual covers:

  1. Secure unstable groups.
  2. Attack weak opponents groups.
  3. Play big.

It works 99% of time. Go try it out :slight_smile:


The devil’s in the details. To be able to tell when a group is unstable/weak or what constitutes a big move you need at least sdk level judgement.


For me it’s more a love/hate relationship, but true, frustration is part of the journey.

Isn’t it the opposite? Learning is about understanding, If you’re blindly applying rules, you’re just automating, not learning.

Well, the people who told you that were wrong. And if you were just applying THEIR rule without trying to understand you were not learning.

And for me it’s the opposite… The good news for you is that in amateur games it’s often the local battles that dictate the result :slight_smile: @Jokes_Aside gave some sound advice, if you can move past your frustration it should be an exciting journey.


you’re probably spending too long on corners then. Get a nice framework for the corners, and then expand from there.

Some people are pretty good at tengen (I believe I played against someone who was recently on KGS). In fact, I believe there was a professional who once beat Honinbo Shuusaku while starting on tengen. So I wouldn’t say never start in the middle, but you need to know what you’re doing before you do that.

The reason we don’t generally do this is because it forces the one being “attacked” to become stronger, and is generally better for defense. However, there is something to be said about how it forces the person attacking to become stronger, too, and in certain circumstances it can be used to kill or to gain influence.

It’s more likely that you’re misinterpreting the attachment, or you’re not reading it out properly. Not that it doesn’t work.

There is a simple answer to this: You’re probably not playing big. Or you’re not defending properly. What might be happening is that you play too many big moves and leave many weaknesses behind for the opponent to invade or otherwise screw with you.

A relevant proverb is “urgent before big.” If you stand to lose a big point in exchange for you playing a (probably) lesser big point, then you should probably just defend the big point you might be about to lose.

I do recommend reading “Opening Theory Made Easy” (Otake Hideo) or “In the Beginning” (Ishigure Ikuro), as they might begin to clarify how the opening works.


Matthew Macfadyen won the final of the European Championship in 1980 by starting on tengen.

  1. Open at corners, and then start building your potential on sides and center. Always try to have some more underlying potential for territory than your opponent.

  2. Middle stones are awesome at influencing the figts all around the board, a single stone in tengen can break up most ladders from different josekis. If your opponent plays influence-style opening, you can bet that he aims on making the game as whole-board fighting slaughterfest. This strategy works nicely if you’re confident that you can outread your opponent in messy fights.

  3. Never attach to a weak stone IF you want to attack that specific stone. If you want to attack a strong position, then attaching is great way to go. Your opponent is already stronger than you in that area, so attachments, hanes and crosscuts will only create weaknesses where there wasn’t one.
    Or, if there are two weak groups, attach other one, get some forcing moves in and use that new-born mess to inflict pressure against the other weak group.

  4. Play urgent moves before big moves, a weak group is worth -30 points. And when playing big moves, make sure that those moves actyually are big. Also play your big moves in a way that they are also sente. Big move in gote is usually too passive to play in the opening.


I still like this rules of thumb list that Gerald Westhoff 6d once taught me:


I like Haylee’s ROSE system. It takes a slightly different approach to how to think about the position, and the acronym makes it easy to remember. Do you need to Respond to your opponent’s move? What Options are available (this involves an evaluation tree). Can you move with Sente? What are the Expected results? Here is the link (


I think that the flow chart Conrad shared is for the “E” part of ROSE.

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Thanks for all the advice. It certainly gives me a “handle” on “how to think”. Still, it’s quite different from any other game I know, because even with all that advice in mind, I don’t see any inmediate improvement in my game. (For example: “first protect weak groups”, which inevitably leads me to end up with one absolutely fantastic corner well protected, perfect wall, dream thickness and about 10 points and nothing else.) I guess the learning curve in GO is much slower than in any other game.
My conclusion over the past months has become that I need more of a “Zen” approach: not caring about winning or losing, being content with being a 20k (or worse) for years to come but meanwhile enjoying some of the battles. Enjoying the travelling, not the arrival.


Enjoying the journey sounds like a good plan. There’s a ‘9k’ next to my name and I can tell you I still feel largely clueless. :slight_smile:


I think there are three things I would recommend at this point:

  1. Get your games reviewed.
  2. Have a teaching lesson or two
  3. Start watching Dwyrin’s “Back To Basics” series

These things help you convert the abstract advice into the judgement that you need to progress


A lot of it comes down to how to judge those rules, and how to best go about reinforcing/attacking/claiming territory. If you’re putting all of your moves into securing one corner, you’ve probably played far beyond the point where your corner could be considered ‘strong’.

Good players can look at a group that I’d be extremely wary of, and say “this is a strong group, because if my opponent tries to attack at points A, B, or C, I can respond with X, Y, or Z and live.” Alternately, they’ll find ways of strengthening their weak groups that simultaneously.

Here’s a review of one of your recent losses:

In your case, one of your biggest weaknesses is that you play unnecessary defensive moves. If your group is already alive, or your stones are already connected, playing very small moves locally is effectively the same as passing. I thought you got off to a decent start, but in the late middlegame, you gave your opponent everything.