WGW37: Tesuji More Useful Than Tsumego?

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Weekly Go Wednesday, Issue #37

Last Friday, I mentioned an article that was shared with me on how to improve at go by Lynx. According to conventional wisdom, the one piece of advice that everyone seem to agree upon is that studying life and death is critical to getting stronger. And to be honest, it’s something I never really questioned. However, after reading Lynx’s article, I was confronted with an eye-opening question: Is studying tesuji more useful than tsumego? 
After a lot of thought,  I would have to concur  with Lynx’s perspective. In fact, it is one of the key components to breaking the glass ceiling when trying to gain that next stone. However, because the masses constantly spout how important life and death is, it is often forgotten in all the noise.
Now now, before you grab your pitchforks and torches, hear me out won’t you?

To start, I will go ahead and address probably the strongest argument against Lynx’s theory: What is the use of tesuji if you die everywhere?
True. If your life and skills are so abysmal that you are slaughtered around the board, I agree with you in that tesuji will not do you much good. However, the reality of the situation is that most games don’t consist of groups dying all over the board (unless the rank is horribly imbalanced). And though this can partially be attributed to people studying life and death, my personal experience has shown me that the bottom line is that it is really hard to kill groups in go.
Though people might not realize it, I think that players will inevitably learn about life and death as they play. Why do I say this? Because whenever your group dies, it is usually pretty traumatic. Who can remember that time when they thought their corner was alive and then died in a magnificent burst of flames? I know I can recount it on multiple occasions. And what happens when you die? Well usually you might go back to figure out how you could’ve avoided it. After all, who likes dying?
On top of that, let’s not forget the fact that players constantly miss tesuji in their games. It is usually very obvious to players who are much stronger, but unless someone is having their game reviewed by such a player, how many people are going to spend time going over their game to figure out the numerous tesuji they missed? Highly unlikely. They are way more likely to just move on and play another game.
In addition, no matter how peaceful a player you are, you are eventually going to get into fights on the board. I’m sure there are kifu that exists where no one challenged each other at all, but I’m pretty sure they only exist at the beginner level since they aren’t aware they are capable of invading and living. And when it comes to fighting, there is no better weapon than being better at tesuji than your opponent.
Who remembers this scene?

wgw37tesuji01
Ring any bells? [Credit: Hikaru No Go Anime]
wgw37tesuji02
How about this one? [Credit: Hikaru no Go Anime]
wgw37tesuji03
Still no? [Credit: Hikaru no Go Anime]
Many of you probably figured it out after the second screenshot, but the answer for those who couldn’t remember is: Episode 56, “After a Millennium Comes an Answer.”
Anyhow, was this a move that dealt with life and death? Did Sai’s incredible move kill the Meijin’s group? No. It was a brilliant tesuji that made all spectators watch in amazement. And in fact, if you think about it, most of the moves that are met with astonishment and awe in the show are usually tesuji. They are all about how brilliant that connection was, or how this peep is an excellent forcing move that allows XYZ tesuji to work.
Finally, I want to remind you that Lynx’s point is not to burn all your tsumego books and never life and death. Instead, she’s simply trying to remind us of how important tesuji are when it comes to gaining that next stone. So the next time you are thinking about what to study, I hope that you’ll consider making some time to study tesuji in your busy schedule. It’ll definitely be worth your while in the long run.

About the author

BenGoZen

<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="5039 http://bengozen.com//?p=5039">12 comments</span>

  • Good stuff, tesuji and aji are by far my favorite facets of the game, seeing something that your opponent simply cannot and then taking it is thrilling!

    • Thanks! I completely agree with your sentiments and have to say it’s even more exciting when your opponent plods along into your death trap. It’s like, “Oh man… my opponent can’t see it…. Wait for it….”

      • Personally, I get excited when I can read something correctly, even if it doesn’t successfully catch the opponent. I’m usually terrible at reading. I once felt really good about a game I lost just because at one point I had seen a snapback a few moves ahead and it took my opponent a couple more moves to see it and adjust his play accordingly.

        • Amen to that! And reading simply comes with practice. I know for me personally, it usually ends up with me getting obsessed with one tesuji like snapback. And then for a while all I’m looking for is to see if there’s a snapback somewhere. Eventually it becomes a lot easier to spot and I don’t have to intentionally search it out anymore.
          And to your point, I would agree that I would rather know that I convincingly out read my opponent than winning a game. Because in the end, in my experience, being able to read more consistently than your opponent will prove itself more valuable in the long run than simply “winning a game.”

  • There’s a use for life and death besides what you pointed out – it also lets you see when you can tenuki from an enclosed group. This is less flashy than killing a group, but every tenuki you don’t play costs you a stone in strength.

    • Good point! Being able to tenuki when a group is already dead/alive can definitely make a huge difference. Thanks for pointing that out!

  • Thanks a lot Ben! I just didn’t understand the point about Sai’s move too well. Can you clarify? Thanks 🙂

    • No problem! To explain Sai’s move, the whole idea is that prior to Sai’s move, Black had a bit of territory in the center. However, Sai found the one move that could destroy Black’s territory while avoiding capture. Hence it is a tesuji. Does that make sense?

  • Very good point, but in my case, i think if i start to study mainly tesuji now i’m “building a house on sand” because i’m not yet happy enough with my L&D skills … if i have a solid ground in that , i will focus more in tesuji.

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