What Is Good Shape?

British Go Journal No. 63. November 1984. Page 29.

Francis Roads

REVISION: My five criteria for helping to find "good shape" moves were:

  1. Maximise liberties
  2. Maximise eye-making potential
  3. Keep options open
  4. Influence as much of the board as possible
  5. Deny the opponent good shape.

This article is concerned largely with the last three criteria.

Dia 1

Dia 1 is a well known opening. the extension between white 1 and 3 and white 5 cannot usefully be invaded without supporting black stones. Any wider extension by White can be invaded, so this extension can be regarded as optimum shape for White. As the black corner can still be invaded at 'A' the opening as shown slightly favours White.

Dia 2

But, when Black already has a stone at or near where White wants to play 5 - for example the marked stone in Dia 2 - then this is an excellent line for Black.

In handicap games White often continues at 'B', 'C' or 'D', but in even games 5 as shown is normal. Clearly, for Black to have spoilt White's shape by forcing him to extend only one line instead of three represents a great gain. If you can so direct the play that your handicap stones turn out to be occupying the very points that White needs to make good shape, you will find your handicaps diminishing rapidly.

Dia 3

Moving on, I expect you know the joseki (opening) in Dia 3. As in the last example, White wants to extend to 'A' or 'B' to make optimum shape (remember the proverb "extend three lines from two stones"). If White omits an extension, the best shape for Black is to attack on one of these points himself, or perhaps a line closer at 'C'.

Dia 4

So what about Dia 4, where the marked stone is already in place? (This situation crops up regularly in the so-called 'Chinese Fuseki'). White already seems to have bad shape, and the fault lies with 5. This move is normally played to prepare an extension along the edge. But when the extension is already denied, 5 becomes a bad shape move. White now has a clumpy 'heavy' group to defend which lacks adequate eye-making space.

Dia 5

Dia 6

Much better for White is to play at 'D' or 'E' in Dia 5. These moves are 'light'. White dances out towards the centre, developing rapidly (criterion 4). He also preserves the option of abandoning one or even both stones in contact with the black forces (criterion 3). It may be hard to see how eyes or liberties are increased by these moves, but the mere fact of having stretched out towards the open centre of the board helps in these respects. But what if Black obstinately cuts at 1 in Dia 6? Do you panic? No, you immediately decide to sacrifice a stone to make good shape for the others - an option not available in Dia 4. The correct sequence is shown in Dia 7.

Dia 7

Now you have two cutting points, 'F' and 'G'. What do you do now? Connect one of them solidly and hope your stubborn opponent won't trouble you to find a reply if he cuts at the other? Or ...

Dia 8

... By now I hope you were looking for a good shape move like 8 in Dia 8. This type of loose connection , like 'D' and 'E' in Dia 5, is called the "knight's move connection". It usually depends on the ability to make a profitable sacrifice, as in Dia 6 and 7, or to catch any cutting stones in a ladder, as here.

And if Black cuts at ' I '? I hope you know what to do by now.

The result of Dia 8 is that White ends with a flexible position with lots of influence, eye-making potential, and liberties. The Black stone that looked so menacing in Dia 4 now looks like coming under attack itself. Black is thus well-advised to bide his time before playing 1 in Dia 6.

But perhaps you are still not entirely convinced. What about the large, secure Black territory in Dia 8, I hear you say. Well remember that Black had two stones in this area before White arrived. Clearly he must get some benefit from that fact. But by playing lightly and flexibly, by making good shape, White has avoided any great damage, indeed is getting more than he deserved in this area thanks to Black's hasty cut.

Dia 9

Can you now apply the principles of the last two positions to Dia 9? Black decides to 'peep' at 'A'. The proverb says "even a fool knows to connect against the opponent's peep". In a game you would surely connect at 'B' without a thought.

Dia 10

But think a second. When you have three stones standing up from the third line as in Dia 10 the extension to 'C' is the best shape. But if there is already a stone in place, like the marked stone in Dia 11, then it is better not to saddle yourself with such a three-stone group in the first place.

Dia 11

Dia 12

The correct approach therefore is to look for an alternative. You should always be on the alert for moves like 2 in Dia 12 in such positions - the simple connection is something of a last resort. 2 represents better shape in almost every respect, though not the only move playable.

Dia 13

What? Still worried about Black cutting through? Well Dia 13 shows one sequence which might result. Black ends up with a solid looking corner, but White's group is almost impregnable, and the marked Black stone has ended up a joke.

Dia 14

Black, if he has any sense, won't follow Dia 13. He might try 'D' in Dia 14, which White can answer at 'E'. There are also various other options open - perhaps you can see some of them yourself. But whatever he tries, White is helped by having two stones already on the fifth line, ready to lead his group out towards the centre, where liberties are plentiful. Also, by not being committed to defend a lump of three solidly connected stones, White can adopt sacrifice tactics if desired.

In conclusion, the two main lessons of this article are:

  1. Try to arrange for your stones to be occupying the very point your opponent needs to make good shape.
  2. Don't commit yourself to defending more stones than you need to.


This article is from the British Go Journal Issue 63
which is one of a series of back issues now available on the web.

Last updated Thu May 04 2017. If you have any comments, please email the webmaster on web-master AT britgo DOT org.