inside the man

Saturday, January 31, 2004

The game of go

Why is go so good? I am attracted to, or rather obsessed with, the game at a number of levels. One of which is the game's paradoxical combination of simplicity and complexity which, at least for me, confers a numinous quality upon the game.

On one hand, go is an extremely simple game requiring a bowl full of black stones, a bowl full white stones, a 19 by 19 grid - although other grid sizes are sometimes used - and a simple set of rules. Basically, one player plays black and the other white; they take turns placing their stones, one at a time on the intersections of the grid; once placed stones never move, unless they are captured (then they are removed); stones are captured whenever they are not adjacent to at least one unoccupied intersection - a point - or adjacent to a stone of the same color that can trace an unbroken chain of stones the color to at least one unoccupied point. There are a couple of other rules to handle situations where the same sequence of plays could be repeated endlessly - similar to the rule in chess - and other circumstances. The game ends when both players pass. The object of the game is to surround more empty points than your opponent.

On the other hand, this simple game is dumfoundingly difficult to play, or at least to play well. This game has baffled amateurs and professionals alike - yes there are professional go players in Japan, China, Korea and neighboring countries - for hundreds of years. More recently, go has confounded computer scientists who have successfully computerized, notably, checkers and chess in recent years to a professional level of play or better. Go automation is currently surprisingly weak - at a level where even a relatively mediocre amateur can defeat the best software available.

It will come as no surprise that this wonderful, engaging, frustrating, enraging game that will change your life if you let it, has generated a massive body of literature similar to chess. Unfortunately, only a fraction is available in English. Go is a game of paradoxes - it is simple and it is complex, it is supremely logical and deeply intuitive, success depends on close quarters tactics and success depends on full board strategy, you can learn the rules in thirty minutes and will take you a lifetime to master.

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Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Returned to working as a Management Consultant, specializing in risk, security, and regulatory compliance, with Fujitsu Canada after running the IT shop in the largest library in the South Pacific.

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