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In a number of commentaries on professional games I have read that one of the players was “looking for a place to resign”. My impression was that this meant that they considered the game lost, and just wanted to finish the game according to certain essentially stylistic conventions. Are there such conventions, in Japan in particular? What is considered a good place to resign? Are there different conventions in clubs, amateur tournaments and professional play or in different cultures?

If my impression is right, this is not a matter of whether the game is lost or how hopeless the position should be, but of style, of a certain sort of move and response after which resignation is thought appropriate.

I imagine one might try a few desperate looking things that (unless they work) make the situation more unambiguously lost, and then resign, but that one would want to avoid moves that appear to insult one’s opponent’s intelligence. Am I on the right track?

N.B. I have wondered about this for some time, and was reminded of it by the question Do go players play to minimize score difference after realizing they cannot win?.

Some examples

I have found the following examples of players’ attitudes to resignation (my emphasis):

  • Invincible, the Games of Shusaku, game 33 (1851–1852): ‘Black 49 is presumably just setting the scene for resignation, as Black cannot ignore White 48.’
  • Invincible, the Games of Shusaku, game 63 (1854): ‘Black 19 is of course too late, but actually Black is looking for a quick exit from an embarassing situation. White 30 gives Black his cue.’
  • 1971 Honinbo Tournament, Sakata–Ishida: ‘The game was already decided, but Sakata does not like to resign, so he played it to the bitter end. Ishida had won by 9½ points.’
  • 1971 Honinbo Sen, Third game: ‘… was the largest point, but Ishida realised that even if he played there he would lose the game … Ishida played 86, giving Rin a chance to end the game by playing 93. Rin coyly played 89 instead, waiting to see what … Ishida would try … Ishida tried … Ishida now resigned.’
  • Go World Number 46, p. 30 (41st Honinbo, game 4, 1986): ‘The game ends when Black lives up to 53, but White could have prevented this; he was just looking for a way to resign’
  • Go World Number 46, p. 36 (41st Honinbo, game 5, 1986): ‘[With 155, Black decides to go out fighting. He cannot hope to win the ko: White has too many ko threats.] Black resigns after White 202.
  • Go World Number 50, p. 74 (Sakata – Kitani Minoru, 1958): ‘White 86 is a do-or-die move, but Black cuts it off with the brilliant sequence to 105. White resigns after Black 119.
  • An Younggil commenting on Ke Jie vs Lee Sedol (2016-01-05) at gogameguru.com says ‘White couldn't keep going, because White requires so many ko threats for this battle. White connected at 172 to finish the game, which means Park just gave up. Black 173 was the most simple way to finish the game, and White resigned here.’

Even if I had the time and skill to analyse the given positions this would not tell me the general conventions.

  • The delightful The Treasure Chest Enigma by Noriyuki Nakayama (© 1984, privately printed) has an 11-page essay on The Art of Resigning, but while he praises some players for the perfect timing of their resignations, castigates those (amateurs) whose refusal to resign means ‘he’s saying “You’re such an imbecile that I can easily catch up 100 points”’ and says how hard it is to strike the balance, he indicates neither the right moment nor the appropriate style of play for resigning.
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Sensei’s Library explains under Looking for a place to resign that the expression ‘looking for a place to resign’ means choosing a move which obviously does not work and resigning when your opponent responds correctly.

Sensei’s Library also has an article on How to resign which sketches when to resign and enumerates ways of formally indicating that you do so. It also links to more extensive discussions of the etiquette, indicating in particular that it is a bad habit not to resign when you clearly cannot win.

I apologise for not having found this earlier; my mistake was searching without quoting the entire expression ‘looking for a place to resign’ — without quotes there is an enormous amount of noise, but with quotes Duck Duck Go gave four matches: this question, Tom Au’s answer and the above articles in Sensei’s Library.

  • Great Q&A! Aesthetics are definitely important in Go. Lee Sedol talked about this aspect in interviews surrounding the AlphaGo competition, and it's a fairly common topic in general discussion of Go in particular. – DukeZhou Nov 22 '17 at 2:24
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    Makes me want to create an "aesthetics" tag, since that factor is important in games in general, and abstract games in particular. (Cameron Browne wrote a very interesting paper "Elegance in Game Design" and devised an algorithmic approach to gauging "shibui" in relation to abstract, combinatorial games. – DukeZhou Nov 22 '17 at 2:27
  • @DukeZhou: Interesting links there, which I must find time to follow up, and I like your suggested [aesthetics]-tag. – PJTraill Nov 22 '17 at 10:58
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    @DukeZhou: I found myself able to create the tag; I wonder if you have any questions to which you could apply it. – PJTraill Nov 22 '17 at 12:05
  • Definitely! It's one of my primary pre-occupations in relation to games, and a factor I think makes game design one of the most difficult creative endeavors. (i.e games are primarily mathematical and mechanical, but the also have to be appealing.) – DukeZhou Nov 22 '17 at 21:14
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A "place to resign" in Go is one in which you are clearly behind, and in which most of the major action has been resolved, so that there is no possibility of a "swing" large enough to bring you from loser to winner.

Most players will play on if there is a reasonable chance for a "swing" in a particular position, such as a life and death fight for a group, or a big ko.

In the cases where the weaker play ignores an opposing move or a ko threat, they are playing a move that allows the stronger player to administer the coup de grace, and they resign when the stronger player does.

  • But why would you look for a place in which you have no chance to turn it round? The commentaries made it sound as if the losing player already knew he had hardly any chance left and was looking to go out in a certain style, as expected in (Japanese) go culture. – PJTraill Jun 26 '17 at 17:20
  • @PJTraill: I wrote "no reasonable chance," That's like "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," not "guilty beyond all doubt." – Tom Au Jun 26 '17 at 17:23
  • I have amplified my question to clarify that I am asking about style and culture and to give examples of the sort of comments I mean. – PJTraill Jun 26 '17 at 22:26
  • @PJTraill: See my new latest paragraph. – Tom Au Nov 23 '17 at 18:22
  • That seems closer to the meaning given by Sensei, resigning in “good style”. – PJTraill Nov 23 '17 at 20:18

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