Opening Theory Made Easy is divided into three parts: Fuseki Principles, Good Shape and Strategies. Otake Hideo acknowledges that they’re somewhat superficial subdivisions, but they make convenient milestones for review, for my purposes! Here are some of the things I got out of this reading. This is my paraphrasing and my interpretation. I am only 8 kyu (BGA), so it is very possible I am completely wrong about any/all of this! All of the substance of this book comes from the author’s diagrams and discussions, which I whole-heartedly recommend.
Corner enclosures and side extensions
Make solid bases, then try to make large side extensions that can be developed into boxlike moyos. It is important to help a 3-4 stone establish a base in the corner (or to prevent the opponent’s 3-4 stone from establishing a base in the corner), and it is very urgent to make a side extension when you and your opponent have facing corner enclosures that want to extend to the same area. Extensions are less urgent when there is less chance to develop it. (Otake’s Diagram 12 illustrated this very clearly! Diagram 2 in Principle 6 also helpfully illustrated this concept, I thought.) Is it possible to say that a side extension loses value if there is no possibility for an expansion along the side (by, say, a 2 point jump along the side)?
Otake uses this section to explore the 4-4 point, showing that it can be effective both in securing early territory or in building influence, depending on how it is deployed. His main point is that one must remain flexible, and make the decision about how to use the start point based on what else is going on in the opening. I found this very useful at 19-17 kyu when I was playing lots of handicap games. I find it very useful now as I’m much less afraid of making a 3-4/5-4 corner enclosure, but I believe I often fall into the trap of playing a move that is better suited to securing influence (or at least towards flexibility), but then trying to secure territory the moment an enemy stone appears anywhere even vaguely. “The important thing is not to be greedy for immediate territory,” says Otake. Okay, I’ll try.
A pincer along the side prevents an opponent from making the ideal 2-point jump along the side, thus putting pressure on the enemy stone. Try to make pincers that also serve as extensions to your own corner enclosures. ‘Strong’ or close pincers often lead to immediate, fierce fighting. When you have a lot of thickness/influence in an area to back you up, strong (i.e. close) pincers can be useful, as you have the advantage in the big resulting punch-up. (I am a reasonably ‘peaceful’ player, though I am trying to fix that! I found the diagrams throughout this section very useful as I’ve shied away from pincers in my openings. I wonder if there is a book that goes into this subject in greater detail – perhaps with problems and discussion. I’ve dipped into Get Strong at Invading occasionally, but I think I’d like something with a bit more analysis first.)
Okay, so the corner has been secured and the side extension has been made, but there are enemy stones mucking about nearby. I’ve been making 2-space extensions on the 3rd line ever since I read this book the first time. I frequently make 3-space extensions from a stone that has a bit of back-up. However, I often neglect to consider the possibility of the three space high jump to the fourth line, as detailed in Diagram 6. I rarely make the kind of wider extension as shown in Diagram 15. I suppose this all boils down to looking ahead – wider extensions are possible if, say, the opponent must respond to the move that makes the wide extension, thus giving you another move to patch up one or both of the stones, making an invasion more difficult. Sometimes that 2-space extension that looks oh-so-solid gives black too much room, and it’s not always as safe as it feels. (Note to self: somewhere, there was a really good discussion of the weaknesses of two-space 3rd-line extensions surrounded by enemy stones. Where was that?)
This section details the use of the 5-4 stone in building outside influence. He examines a board position which has a black 5-4 approach to a lone 3-4 and demonstrates various ways that black can build influence or even secure territory. He then does the same with a 5-3 approach. As a 19-17 kyu player, I remember this as one of the more difficult-to-grasp sections in the first chapter. I still feel a bit hazy about how to apply this. The examples reference various joseki patterns and I’ve not yet started tackling the study of joseki. I’d rather gain a better understanding of opening moves and close fighting as it will be hopeless (and, I expect, pointless) trying to memorise patterns that I can justify to myself. This section is about planning ahead, I suppose; choosing the 5-4/5-3 approach and follow-up in such a way that will work with the rest of one’s stones. Think about moves that continue to build influence; don’t make moves to which the opponent will respond in such a way as to erase the influence that you’ve built up by the approach. Think about playing moves elsewhere on the board which will build up influence which can then be utilised by the approach stone. I would be curious to return to this section once I’ve studied the opening more rigorously.
3rd and 4th lines
Otake subtitles this section, “The 4th line is the line of development, the 3rd line is the line of completion”. This section wrestles with a problem that I’m still trying to get my head around: when a side extension has ‘potential’. I think what is happening with the first example is that Otake is making the point: that when you have a friendly stone in a corner and you add a stone to it, you should have a think about the available side extensions. If there is a danger of the corner being put under pressure such that you’re really going to want to play that side extension, then the question becomes, does that ‘ideal’ side extension from your corner enclosure have ‘potential’? If it butts up against a settled enemy structure, say, then the side extension might not be that useful, and perhaps it would have been better to enclose the corner in a different way in the first place. A strong player has often told me that when I get myself into a spot of bother, it’s often the moves before I feel things are all going wrong that is the culprit. I suppose this example illustrates a similar concept: once you know how to extend from corner groups, try to make corner groups that allow you to make good extensions and that don’t push you into less good extensions. Otake gives several examples of situations where a move on the third line completes a shape whilst a move on the fourth line aspires to something more, but requires another move.
As a side note, there is a short discussion about the 3-4/5-4 and the 3-4/5-3 corner enclosures. I remember finding these diagrams invaluable when reading this around 19-17 kyu.
We return to the situation where the corner has been secured, the side extension has been made. Now what? Expand into the centre, says Otake! Otake demonstrates that sometimes a ‘flat’ move along the side can solidify territory, but be too slow or passive (my words/interpretation) where a move that jumps into the centre can have the same effect of (eventually) securing territory, whilst also developing the potential to build bigger moyos (thus threatening to eventually secure even more territory) and possibly even putting some pressure on enemy stones to boot. A quote that particularly struck home was this:
Black 1 may be solid, but it is too flat: it has little future. Black is limiting his territory by his own hands. In effect he’s saying: ‘I don’t want any more territory than this.’
As for my game, I think the take-home message is to think on a grander scale and not to be afraid of getting into fights. It can be okay to have territory that isn’t 100% locked down or an enemy stone that isn’t 100% captured if great advantage can be gained from an ensuing fight. Building moyos can provide a framework of stones that work together to make it a real headache for the opponent to invade.