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fighting spirit

Fighting spirit

Go is a subtle game, but it is also a fighting game. "Fighting spirit" (kiai in Japanese) is key. This doesn't simply mean naked aggression, which usually leads to downfall. It is about mental toughness, the will to win, and refusing to play passively or to capitulate to a stronger player.

I was thinking about fighting spirit during a game the other day. I was 20-30 points ahead and there was no realistic way for my opponent to close the gap. I expected him to resign, but instead he continued to play: invading, threatening, forcing everywhere he could.

Even though none of the invasions really worked with best play, I was forced to read very carefully. The smallest mistake could have cost me many points, or even the game. He was playing fast, with no need to think too much or read deeply - he had nothing to lose. I had everything to lose and at each move had to take my time and make sure that I was making the correct reply to his threats.

Thankfully, I made no serious mistakes, and he ended up losing the game by almost a hundred points instead of 10 or 20. But what a fighter! If I was distracted or in time trouble, his tactics could definitely have paid off. There is a saying in chess that the hardest game to win is a won game. Once you feel well ahead, there is a strong tendency to relax and stop trying so hard. This can be fatal in Go as well as chess. A position that seems very solid can have small but important flaws, and pressure on these flaws combined with mistakes in reading can swing the game.

It made me realise that my own fighting spirit could be a lot better. Usually, if I'm behind in a game with little chance of catching up, I either play straightforward moves until the game is over, or resign out of politeness. This is not good fighting spirit. It does not matter how many points you lose by. A close loss is just as much of a loss as a deficit of 100 points.

I wouldn't quite say "never resign" - it is irritating to a much stronger opponent if they have to play out an obviously won game - but anyone who enjoys Go enjoys fighting, and if you play hard and aggressively, searching out the smallest weaknesses in the position and exploiting them, using the clock to your advantage, you may still lose, but you should impress your opponent with your fighting spirit!

"Fall down seven times, get up eight."

-- Japanese proverb

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