I’ve been playing the game of Go for quite a long time now, since sometime in the mid-80’s. Early on, I was playing chess with my friend Vox and we started adding Go to the mix, playing some chess followed by a game of Go. Eventually, the chess faded away in the face of the delicious, mind-bending complexity and poetry of Go. We’ve since played thousands of games against one another. I’ve had other opponents, and for a while played at a Go club too, but the ongoing Go battle Vox and I have enjoyed has been epic.
There have been various times when one or the other of us has taken strides forward in the game and started winning consistently. At one point, Vox pushed ahead and forced me to accept handicap stones – up to 4 of them. What an indignity! Handicap stones provide extra stones on the board to start the game, but at specific points, known as star points. They can be very powerful, I’ve learned, once you figure out how to use them to your advantage. It took me a dreadfully long time to figure this out, but once I did, the handicap dropped away, and it became clear that Vox could not give me stones and expect to win more than occasional games.
Over the summer, we reached a point where neither of us could afford even a little mistake. We’ve been remarkably evenly matched. Last night, we played four games. I won three of them, but one of those was by the barest of margins – half a point after komi. Last night’s games were lively, scrappy matches. We’re both struggling to get ahead, and that often leads to making over-plays, unreasonable, pushy moves that will win the game if you’re allowed to get away with it. We punished one another severely last night with this kind of play. In one game, I trapped a significant group of Vox’s stones, and was feeling very proud of myself, when Vox demonstrated to me that I had another, larger group that was weak and struggling for air. I could not save them, and to win, I had to de-stabilize and kill another group on the board. There was some potential, or aji, as we call it in more than one area, but careful play by Vox silenced my attacks and I lost the game as my large group perished.
In another of the games last night, Vox tried to limit my potential territory by playing stones near my strength. His idea was to try to play lightly and create living shape in an area I wanted as territory. We call this making sabaki. He played too near my strength though and I punished him by splitting his groups, isolating them and attacking in multiple areas. It seemed inevitable that his defences would give out somewhere and they did, as I made some good kills for an easy win.
I may have had a successful night last night, but Vox will be concocting his revenge for next time out.