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 Post subject: Honte - a primer
Post #1 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 5:45 am 
Gosei

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A recent thread elsewhere here talked about the difficulties of deciding what a honte is. Here are my two cowrie shells.

Honte, like every other word, has a nexus. The network of associations and nuances built up by a native speaker will always differ, often enormously, from any feeling for the word a non-native acquires.

While this makes good translation hard and often impossible, it is nevertheless possible sometimes for a foreigner to get a better handle on a word by recreating part of the way a native sees it. Let’s try that for honte 本手.

We can safely assume a Japanese would meet the word elsewhere first, and come to the go sense later.

The basic meanings he would meet are’ innate skill’ (持前の技量) and, by extension from this, the sense of ‘expert’ (玄人). There is also a well-known usage in stringed instruments such as the shamisen or koto where it means a pure note as opposed to a broken (slurred) note (破手).

There is also a sense of being ‘the proper/regular way of doing something’, usually with a sense of strong approval (because it’s the way an expert would do it). Clearly this sense is most relevant to go (and to shogi and other such games). In these games it is accepted as a technical word. If you were to explain this technical word to a fellow native, your definition would vary according to whether you were speaking to a go/shogi player or an Unenlightened One.

To define the word for a benighted person (as standard dictionaries do), you would say that honte has the meaning of honsuji no te 本筋の手 (a move which is a honsuji). That definition would also be a good starting point for an Enlightened One, but with lots of extra neurons firing because honsuji is also used as a technical word in go and so has extra nuances missing from the ordinary language.

Before getting into that, let us stay focused on the basics – literally. The hon 本 in honte normally only has the meaning of ‘book’ as a stand-alone word but its older meaning of ‘basics’ or ‘root source’ will be familiar from things like the name of their country Nihon 日本 or school texts that teach the Analects of Confucius, e.g. 君子務本;本立而道生。(The superior man concerns himself with the basics; the basics being established, the way forward emerges.) There are other uses of hon as a suffix and prefix that would add to the mix but which we will ignore here.

The other part of honsuji is 筋 which refers to tendons, sinews or veins, and by extension to anything that has a long natural grain or flow. This is especially useful to note in the word tesuji 手筋, but to stick with honsuji for the moment, we can see that a Japanese go player first comes to the word honte via honsuji with a set of filters in place that tell him to expect it to have something to do with basics, natural flow, expertness, orthodoxy and properness.

When our budding player gets to grips with the meaning of honsuji specific to go or shogi he will meet definitions such as honmono no suji, where honmono has the basic sense of ‘the genuine article’ but also a sense of ‘expert performance’ (exactly as in English when we say things like ‘as a folk singer he’s the real deal’). But this sort of almost circular definition perhaps makes you feel as if you are like a dog always chasing its tail. Somewhat better might be ‘a way of playing that complies with go/shogi theory’, although that begs the question of what ‘theory’ means.

That would then lead our neophyte towards definitions of honte such as: “Correct move [正着].- the move which is most correct [正しい] in a situation where at first sight it seems slack (nurui)” or “The correct way to play in accord with go/shogi theory”.

I think it would be safe to say that by this time little Hikaru would be desperate for some examples. He will of course meet lots as he reads or listen to commentaries on games, and each time his subconscious brain will tweak its filters so that the definition becomes more and more refined.

During his long apprenticeship in go he will meet several other uses of hon 本 which will put his filters on red alert. For the most part these uses won’t directly affect his understanding of honte. We are talking about words such as honme 本眼 (true eye, as opposed to false eye), hon’iki 本活 (complete life), honkou 本劫 (direct ko, as opposed to an approach ko, etc), hongo 本碁 (go proper, as opposed to games such as five-in-row played on a go board), honshougi 本将棋 (real shogi as opposed to hasami shogi, mawari shogi etc). Although these words do not impinge directly on honte, they are likely to build up an idea that hon- implies ‘good, proper, perfect, complete’. This would be reinforced once he learns that the opposite of honte is usote 嘘手. Usote is not used in the ordinary language but he would only have to hear the word, or look at the characters, to know it has a strong negative sense (uso = lie, falsehood). If he did look for a definition, however, he would find things like “a move that seems like a proper response but which actually leaves a weakness for the opponent to exploit or which leads to a loss if the opponent answers correctly.”

In the same way that definitions of honte tend to include the phrase “at first sight”, that definition of usote itself deserves a second look. As you will see, an usote is a ‘response’ (or defence) which is intended to patch up a weakness, but doesn’t do it properly – it just papers over the cracks – which implies that a honte is likewise a response or defence, only this time proper Polyfilla is applied.

This long, long road towards understanding the terms will also teach our student, subliminally at least, that it is a work in progress, and so he may try to refine his understanding even further. He may go beyond occasional references and examples in commentaries and hunt out dedicated books or articles. The most apposite would be Segoe Kensaku’s minor classic: Honte and Usote.

This is also a long, long way from the simple question “what is a honte?” and no doubt some readers have a look of stupefaction and are wishing they never asked. But talking through the process in some detail does help understand the same process and difficulties with other terms. Above all, it underlines why it’s so hard to get a handle on these terms if you are not a Japanese.

Note ‘not a Japanese’. The term 本手 is not native to Chinese or Korean, despite the shared characters. In Chinese the term is used but is marked as a technical term borrowed from Japanese. Korean players don’t use the term at all normally, preferring the simple 正着 (correct move). However, even here there is a similar sense of what ‘correct’ means. One Korean dictionary, for example, defines it as “the move which most accords with go theory in a given position”.

I will be going on to give some specific examples of honte which will show some of the nuances and also some of the difficulties even pros have in deciding what a honte is, but it may be useful before that to try to clear away any confusion that may exist between honte and tesuji. After all, in a general sense they are both ‘good moves’, and as you have seen they share, via the definition of honte as honsuji no te, the idea of suji.

Tesuji is another word that belongs to the ordinary language first. It refers to the lines on the palm of the hand, and by extension ‘aptitude’ for things done flowingly well with the hand. In games, the basic idea is ‘apt move’ (because te- is a move played with the hand) but with a strong nuance of ‘combination’, as in the chess sense, because of the idea of natural flow inherent in -suji. However, more generally it refers to any of a box of standard tricks you can use in recognisable local situations – a kind of joseki for tactics, if you will. A good part of being good at tesuji can be sensed in the English phrase ‘knowing the ropes’.

So, whereas a tesuji tends to be a combination (or if it is regarded as a single main move it relies on helper moves) that affects but does not necessarily resolve a known local situation, a honte is a single move which resolves a previously unknown situation, usually with whole-board implications.

Actually that is not necessarily deducible from what was said above, but definitions on paper never see to keep up with how people operate in practice, do they? Let’s practise! In each case I have given a position where the honte follows next, so that you can guess it. The Hide portion then shows the move with some comments.

1. Black to play





This is one of the commonest examples of a honte given in the literature. I’m not sure it’s the best. It’s too glaring. Hontes mentioned in commentaries tend to be picked out because they have an element of surprise or subtlety. Here, rather than thinking “honte” wouldn't we be more likely to think along the lines of “why spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar?”. Still, if the move is omitted we do see the typical elements of bad aji that cannot be exploited immediately but which will be devastating if White can make the right manoeuvres elsewhere before cutting.

Conversely, once Black plays at 1 his position becomes as strong and as full or potential as a tightly wound spring. This aspect of future gains from strength is a common element in a honte – it is not a mere defensive move. However, the future gain is not necessarily a chance to attack. It is (?more) often just a release from “carkan care”.


2. Black to play






I think there is an impression abroad that a honte is a tight, solid move. This example shows a counter-example, where the weakness being defended against is an invasion around A.
This example is from a Chinese source and for that reason you may not be entirely convinced by it. As pointed out above, the concept of honte is just as foreign to the Chinese as it is to us. But before you dismiss it on that ground, consider the next example.

Still, while Black is stronger now, you may feel that he is not so strong as to be confident of future gains from his strength, nor is he entirely free of future care. Moreover, although in actual games Black has usually played A in this shape, both B and tenuki have been tried. Personally, I’d be inclined to label this a mere defensive move, and as we will see in the next example even pros can be split on whether a move is a honte.


3. Black to play






Black 1 was played as a honte by Takagawa Kaku against Go Seigen (see Final Summit, page 36). However, some regarded it as a slack move, and merely thick. A was suggested instead. Takagawa initially rejected that criticism, though later edged towards agreeing with it.

Another aspect of this example is that this is a honte very early in the game. Not only is the common impression among amateurs that a honte is a middle-game tactic wrong, I’d say that one of the easiest ways to spot amateur play from pro play is that pros play hontes early.


4. Black to play. Here White (Go Seigen) played A and Black responded with a honte at B. When White continued with C, Black (Fujisawa Kuranosuke) chose another honte.






Black’s first move A in the starting diagram was easy enough to accept as a honte but this one seems hard to fit into the paradigm. What weakness is it covering? As you would see from the game (9-dan Showdown, page 55) it is actually the weakish group on the lower side. Black is reaching out a helping hand while setting himself up for easily dealing with erasure of the left side. But more significant than the left side is that the stronger the lower side group is the weaker White’s centre group is, and that White weakness decided the game.


5. Another example from a game between Go and Fujisawa. Black (Go ) to play. This is regarded as a classic example of a honte.






A is an obvious candidate but then White plays at 1 and stunts Black’s shape. That leaves a weak and heavy Black group on the upper side, and any fighting on the upper side will be entirely one-sided, because White had played a much praised honte of his own at the triangled point (a capture). See 9-dan Showdown p. 245). Again note how early both hontes were.


6. Black to play. Black is Shuei against Shuho.






The honte was at 1 but interestingly Shuei chose to play at A instead. As The Life, Games & Commentaries of Honinbo Shuei shows, Shuei thus allowed White to attack this group and played another slight overplay which allowed White yet another free forcing move against it. But the end result and his immediately subsequent play demonstrated clearly that Shuei’s intent had been solidity all round. He just messed up the local play a little (and suffered later because of it, though he came out with a lucky win). So precision in a honte is important – the next example will show that too.


7. Now a similar example from the imminent Unfinished Symphony. This was Go Seigen as Black to play against Karigane in the game between them that is most famous for its many wonderful moves, the majority unplayed. Obliquely, as an indication of the subtle nuances in this game, Go agonised earlier over whether the triangled stone should have been played at A.






Go played 1, which is not the honte and got a nasty shock when Karigane played 2 – one of several examples of superb and surprising contact plays, normally considered characteristic of Go, by Karigane in this match. The honte, which Go regretted not playing was A. But by not playing it he left to us a wonderful game because it was in this area of the board that many of the wonderful played and unplayed moves occurred.


8. White to play. Ishida Yoshio said this move taught him what a honte really is, and I have found some amateurs so surprised by it that they refuse to believe it. This is again from Life of Shuei and you might recognise this game as the one with the famous tesuji at White A by Shuei. His opponent was the future Honinbo Shusai.






White 1 surprised Ishida (as a child) and amateurs because White A looks so much more efficient. The problem with that is that it leaves White with bad aji once Back gets in the hane at B. Trying to understand things like that is what sometimes makes you want to give up go, doesn’t it? But Ishida persevered and look where he got!


FWIW on the basis of all the above (and much more) I have come to favour an admittedly imperfect translation of honte as ‘the safe and sound move’, although I have also tried ‘safe and simple’ and other similar variations.

A couple of points to note about that. First, ‘the’ as opposed to ‘a’ is deliberate. It is THE move to make, at least of its ‘safe’ type. ‘Safe’ indicates that weakness are covered. ‘Sound’ is a little tautological but has a nuance of ‘good’, which I like because words like ‘proper’ and ‘correct’ feel a little too strong for me. While a honte will always be good, there will often be scope to debate whether it is the best move. Finally, ‘safe and sound move’ is slightly unusual English, but I feel that helps to show it is being used in a technical sense.

It also shows that the definitive work on honte has yet to written.


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 Post subject: Re: Honte - a primer
Post #2 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 6:45 am 
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This is one of the best posts on the site. Reading it makes me rethink some of the moves I've made in games recently in this new light and think more about honte in games going forward.

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Post #3 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 6:58 am 
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I think 本手 is interesting. I have been memorizing common Chinese characters, and I recognize both as 本 as Ben or basis and 手 as shou or hand. Though as my wife continues to remind me, individual characters are usually not words in themselves. Google translate says the the two characters mean the hand in Chinese.

My understanding(as in my opinion) of honte is that it is often associated with a strategy based on thickness, such that honte moves are techniques to settle shapes early, generally in sente, though they can sometimes also be gote, if the follow up isn't severe enough that the local tesuji can be tenukied, or aji keshi if they serve the purpose of making your opponent also thick. Generally the way I see/hear honte used is as sort of a strategy marker as in, "Ah a honte player."

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Post #4 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 7:18 am 
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I am not sure I have anything to add, though I like the associations of "the safe and sound move".

I have linked to (but not copied!) this post from the Sensei's Library page on Honte.

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Post #5 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 8:40 am 
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John,

When I started reading the above, I pulled down my copy of Hayashi Yutaka's encyclopedia (1983 edition) to see how he phrased it. He does not include a definition of honte, although he uses the word in defining usote. Any thoughts on why Hayashi would not list it as a technical term?

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Post #6 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 8:41 am 
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Thanks for this very nice post about Honte. The attachment of Karigane intrigued me a lot, if anyone else is interested in that game, here is a commented kifu viewable/downloadable from gokifu.com:
http://gokifu.com/s/1d3n-gokifu-1941100 ... 8d%29.html

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Post #7 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 8:50 am 
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Ez4u: I think you'll find he did but it's not in "alphabetical" order.

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Post #8 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 9:10 am 
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John Fairbairn wrote:
Ez4u: I think you'll find he did but it's not in "alphabetical" order.

Thanks, I never noticed that before! :blackeye:

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Post #9 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 9:19 am 
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How should we perceive 'honte' in light of the nugget "When your position has no weakness, it means you are playing inefficiently" from Wang Yang as quoted by Benjamin Teuber in SL?

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Post #10 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 1:09 pm 
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tchan001 wrote:
How should we perceive 'honte' in light of the nugget "When your position has no weakness, it means you are playing inefficiently" from Wang Yang as quoted by Benjamin Teuber in SL?

Maybe playing the honte is partly also a question of style?

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Post #11 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 1:49 pm 
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tchan001 wrote:
How should we perceive 'honte' in light of the nugget "When your position has no weakness, it means you are playing inefficiently" from Wang Yang as quoted by Benjamin Teuber in SL?


That the latter isn't to be taken literally as always true and more that if normally your positions don't have weaknesses you're playing too slowly? I don't know.

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Post #12 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 2:13 pm 
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My definition has been: "A _proper move_ postpones the necessity for yet another local move until much later by eliminating aji and creating thick shape." [10]

This is more specific than "safe and sound".

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Post #13 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 2:45 pm 
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Good post.

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Post #14 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 2:56 pm 
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SpongeBob wrote:
tchan001 wrote:
How should we perceive 'honte' in light of the nugget "When your position has no weakness, it means you are playing inefficiently" from Wang Yang as quoted by Benjamin Teuber in SL?

Maybe playing the honte is partly also a question of style?


I think for some players it is a matter of style, they sort of default to honte or don't play honte moves, I think other players do it based on positional judgement. Some may disagree, but I would suspect that Lee Sidol and Lee Changho lie at opposite ends of this spectrum. There is also a sort of pedagogical connotation IE ben, basis, basic. Some popular learning and teaching styles are attracted to honte moves, since it should be possible to prove that a local position has a weakness or does not.

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Post #15 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 3:02 pm 
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tchan001 wrote:
How should we perceive 'honte' in light of the nugget "When your position has no weakness, it means you are playing inefficiently" from Wang Yang as quoted by Benjamin Teuber in SL?


If played effectively, honte is efficient, isn't it? The way I see it, honte plays invest in the future. They may seem slow, but they allow for future possibility - kind of like thickness does, maybe.

Also, from what I understand, a honte move is not necessarily the move that has greatest chance of increasing your probability of winning. However, if it's true that it allows for future possibility, it may be more powerful than amateurs would assess at a given point in the game.

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Post #16 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 3:04 pm 
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Quote:
My definition has been: "A _proper move_ postpones the necessity for yet another local move until much later by eliminating aji and creating thick shape."


I have seen your definition before, Robert, and while it is a good attempt it fails on several counts.

One, a rather subjective point admittedly, is that 'proper' has just too many rather different meanings and nuances, none of sit well with go. Its use stems from Kenkyusha, which has several other peculiar terms for go.

The bigger problem is that your definition would fit too many other types of play, e.g. boundary plays. Worst of all, it would fit slack moves. Since the crux of a honte is that it seems slack but is not, that is surely a bit of a killer.

I repeat, the definitive work on honte has not yet been written.

For some others: I don't recall ever seeing a phrase in Japanese that conveys anything like having a honte style. This sounds like something developed in the west and doesn't make much sense to me. A honte is a relatively rare event in a game, which is why it is given a comment whenever it occurs. It would be just as daft to say "I have a tesuji style".


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Post #17 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 4:41 pm 
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John Fairbairn wrote:
'proper' has just too many rather different meanings and nuances, none of sit well with go.


In English go terminology, the phrase "proper move" is used in the same function as "honte" used in English go terminology. Therefore, there are not too many rather different meanings and nuances. Too many rather different meanings and nuances can occur when "proper" is used as a non-go-term word (in go texts); this is not what I suggest. I suggest to continue using the full phrase "proper move" (or its grammatical derivates, such as "the move is proper") or "honte" by those preferring more Japanese words in English go terminology.

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Its use stems from Kenkyusha,


I do not care, because, for English go terms use, I care for what has been English go terms use.

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The bigger problem is that your definition would fit too many other types of play,


My definition is not broken down to axioms yet, so you are right that there are still other types of plays, and maybe too many of them. OTOH, since your description is significantly more ambiguous, this kind of problem is bigger for yours.

My definition relies on definitions of aji and "thick shape":

"_Aji_ lies in the latent, bad possibilities in a player's imperfect shape that the opponent might exploit to his advantage at a suitable moment." [10]
"A move creates _thick shape_ if it leaves behind little or no aji. The opponent cannot capture, cut or play painful forcing moves against it." [8] (A couple of the more fundamental terms are also defined.)

Quote:
e.g. boundary plays.


My definition of proper move applies only to such boundary plays that "postpone the necessity for yet another local move until much later by eliminating aji and creating thick shape.". For this kind of boundary plays, it is right that my definition applies. It is also right that my definition does not apply to other kinds of boundary plays. So what is the problem?!

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Worst of all, it would fit slack moves.


My definition of proper move would apply only to such slack moves that "postpone the necessity for yet another local move until much later by eliminating aji and creating thick shape.". IOW, you want to call moves 'slack' that a) postpone the necessity for yet another local move until much later, b) eliminate aji and c) create thick shape. Let us study your suggestion. (a) is not a slack aspect of a move at all; therefore, you are wrong calling moves given by my definition 'slack'. (b) can be slack if aji is eliminated prematurely; however, (b) is not applied alone, but (b) is applied together with (a) and (c). (c) speaks of CREATING thick shape, which is not a slack aspect of a move at all; therefore again, you are wrong calling moves given by my definition 'slack'.

In summary, my definition does not fit slack moves.

You need to read my definition more carefully, if you want to find part of the remaining gaps towards an axiomatic definition.

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Post #18 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 10:47 pm 
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There's some cavalier use of the word "slack" here as though it's a widely understood word. I would venture that it might be as badly understood or defined as "honte". John, Robert (or anyone else), can you define this word? Preferably in a way that does not refer to "honte" at all :)

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Post #19 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 11:00 pm 
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"Slack" is not worth defining as a go term, but here is at least a rough description: for every slack move, there is a tactically better alternative.

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Post #20 Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 11:11 pm 
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RobertJasiek wrote:
"Slack" is not worth defining as a go term

Why not?
I would say there might be at least some value in defining a move which is 'not slack'. This, by definition, might get us pretty close to what 'slack' move is. Or not.

Quote:
but here is at least a rough description: for every slack move, there is a tactically better alternative.

I surprised by that description and find it suspect.
I think some slack moves have nothing to do with tactical solutions but are purely strategic in nature.

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