Beginner's Corner

Beginner's Corner

Give Me Liberties or Give Me Death!

The title above is strictly rhetorical: in go one cannot live without liberties. In fact, the essence of the game depends upon at least two liberties (eyes) being accessible to one's groups. And one must take care that one avoids a shortage of liberties that will result in the death of one's stones. Beginners take a great step forward in understanding when they can recognize the implications of a shortage of liberties. If one can learn to avoid such situations while utilizing a shortage of liberties against one's opponents, one will notice one's strength developing measurably.

Black to play

The problem above is one created by the late Maeda Nobuaki 9 dan, who was known as the "god of tsume-go (life and death problems)" for the elegance and fecundity of his imagination. As in many of his problems, one must take advantage of the adversary's shortage of liberties while avoiding a shortage of one's own. Analyzing problems such as this one helps one to develop reading skills that are necessary to improvement. Please take a moment to examine this one before reading to the analysis following.

Interestingly, there are actually only four points to play in this corner: the moves a through d in Diagram 1. Despite this fact, beginners will often have difficulties in solving it. That is because of blind spots in beginners' reading ability. It is for just this reason that life and death problems are valuable learning tools.

Diagram 1

Beginners will often try the direct approach in Diagram 2, attempting to surround white's stones and capture them immediately. But this method fails to take into account black's shortage of liberties. White 2 puts black's four stones into atari and connecting with black 3 simply compounds the problem. Black still has a shortage of liberties, and white 4 captures all seven of black's stones.

Diagram 2

But connecting at black 1 in Diagram 3 doesn't get the job done either. Just avoiding the shortage of liberty problem will not gain black anything. White puts black into atari again with 2 and then makes two eyes with 4. Black will have to try a more subtle approach in order to capture white. Remember: it is not only important to avoid a shortage of one's own liberties. It is also necessary to exploit the opponent's shortage of liberties. The preceding analysis should give the reader enough hints to complete reading the situation out before turning to the solution here

Diagram 3