50 Grades of 手

shǒu literally means “hand”, and while we never speak of hands in Go discussions (except when we are referring to actual hands), for some reason it’s a thing in Chinese.

(I’ve been meaning to write about this for ages,  but got to Legend rank in Duel Links instead.)

The following is a list of qualitative move denominators, i.e. all the Chinese terms I know that refer to the quality of moves ranging from good to bad. They are illustrated with snippets from my life. (This list is put together by me, a random citizen of Earth who happens to play Go, without scientific research. It is entirely up to my own observation and interpretation of Go language use.)

There are three words (or morphemes) that can be commonly found in Go move denoinators and, when preceded by a descriptor, can all be translated to “[adjective] move”:

  • -手 shǒu
  • -着 zhāo

According to my understanding, the former two make up composite words, so the combination of a descriptor and either 手 shǒu or 着 zhāo becomes its own word.

On the other hand, when 棋 is preceded by an adjective, the two still feel like separate entities. This is supported by the facts that, firstly, 棋 can stand alone, and secondly, you can put about any adjective in front of 棋 and it still means something, whereas this does not work with the other two. Therefore, move denominators ending in 棋 are neglected in my list.

Furthermore, 棋 does not only refer to moves. Depending on the classifier, it can also mean:

  • 一盤棋/一盘棋 yì pán qí a game (as in “Hey, let’s play a game of Go”)
  • 一塊棋/一块棋 yí kuài qí a group (of stones)
  • (一顆棋/一颗棋 yì kē qí a stone, but more commonly 一顆子/一颗子 yì kē zǐ)
  • 一手棋 yì shǒu qí/一着棋 yì zhāo qí/一步棋 yí bù qí a move (yes, those are the same characters as above)

To make things less confusing, the classifiers from the last bullet point are employed interchangably (I think) and also work for everything in this list. And if you’ve seen moves being referred to as “hand” or “step” in badly translated texts, those are the literal meanings of 手 shǒu and 步 when used as nouns.

Finally, I think I can start my list~

Part 1: Good Moves

-) 妙手 miào shǒu “excellent move”, an ingenious magic move “unexpected by most when it’s delivered” (senseis article). A 妙手 blows you away when you see (and understand) it. I think it can be one-upped to 絕妙手/绝妙手 jué miào shǒu “absolutely excellent move”.


The legendary double ladder breaker from a random tygem game. It prevents White A and the ladder B-C-D. (B-C-E does not work on this board.)

-) 鬼手 guǐ shǒu “ghost move”. Like 妙手 an unexpected move, but not as mind-blowing; kind of hidden, usually inside someone’s seemingly complete territory or shape (often first-line moves).

As these moves’ qualities are built on unexpectedness, what looks like a 妙手/鬼手 for one player is not necessarily one for another. For example, I am rarely surprised by my own moves while others might be. (Also, for AlphaGo everything it plays is just normal moves. These are entirely human concepts.) Here is a move I did not actually play, but shown to me by others:


From Grand Slam 2014: If White A, B-C-D can make W add some more moves inside his territory in this extremely close game. If White D, Black A will not die unconditionally.

-) 巧手 qiǎo shǒu “skilled move” that does not severely impact the game, but provides an improvement to the ordinary sequence. An example from the same game:


The peep 1 before moving out with 3 and 5 creates a follow-up at A or B. If done later, W will likely resist at C.

-) 好手 hǎo shǒu “good move”. This one sounds boring, but if it were just an ordinary good move, it would be 好棋 hǎo . A 好手 must be a highlight of some sort that stands out, which I think my example does:


-) 只此一手 zhǐ cǐ yì shǒu “only this one move”. Kono itte in Japanese, when “there is no room for style or personal preference. Only one move keeps the game going.” I guess it’s good if you find the only move.


A random tournament game. Enclosing the centre area with 1 and 3 is urgent. Like, what else can W do here?

-) 勝着/胜着 shèng zhāo “winning move” (I’ve also seen 着 written as 著, but it’s confusing). Not a move quality per se, but included nonetheless. A move or starting move of a sequence that causes victory. In a 50/50 game, the winning move leads to a discrepany in the losing player’s expected development. But you probably know what it does.


From EGF Academy: Black totally did not see this coming. White slips away and shakes off the burden.

I think there are more of those, I’ll add them when I remember them. And I’m too lazy for the rest right now. These are my notes:

Part 2: bad moves 恶手 昏着 勺子 随手 缓手 败着

Part 3: not necessarily good or bad 冷手 强手 最强手 本手 俗手 试应手 勝負手

others 应收手筋 先手 后手 手拔 手段 手割 手法 手势 手训 棋手 棘手

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