The wonderful world of Go

No, not the World of Goo.

Go is a wonderful board game. The rules themselves are very simple, but the game itself is fascinating. It’s a bit like Conway’s Game of Life – with a few simple rules you can create something really interesting. However, the similarities pretty much stop there.

A game of Go

A game of Go

Introduction to the game

The equipment consist of black and white stones and a board with a grid (usually 19×19). Playing the game is easy:

  • Two players, Black and White, take turns to place a stone on an intersection on the board. First out is Black.
  • You can capture stones by “surrounding” them. There’s a nicer way to describe this involving the term liberties, but it’s too lengthy for this post.
  • In the end, the player with the largest territory + most captured stones wins.

There are some additional rules, but this is basically how you play.

White's stone is captured by Black

White's stone is captured by Black

“Piece of cake”, you might think, “but how do you actually play it?” That’s one of the things I found difficult in Go – what are the objectives, and how do you achieve them? As for the first question, a key word is territory. If you look at pros, you’ll see that it’s not about capturing most stones. As you play more, you’ll surely discover many answers.

The second question then? Ikuro Ishigure writes in Elementary Go Series, Volume 1: “When black puts his first stone onto the empty go board, he has three-hundred sixty-one points among which to choose. Even if symmetry is taken into account, there are fifty-five different possible opening moves”.

As if that isn’t scary enough, let’s look at some more statistics. According to Wikipedia, the number of possible Go games exceeds the number of atoms in the known universe. Needless to say, Go gives the player a lot of freedom.

Now don’t be discouraged. Go is a very interesting game, and there are many online guides to get you started. I think this one teaches Go in a fun way (requires Java):

The Interactive Way To Go

Here’s a video tutorial. I haven’t watched it myself, but videos are usually nice to get a basic understanding of something.

Some more useful links are listed on this page.

My experience

I’ve know the rules of Go for a very long time – similar to how most western people know the rules of Chess. And similarly, I didn’t know how to actually play it well.

I still don’t. But I’m confident that I’m a stronger player than I was one year ago. And I’m sure that there’s a lot of room for improvement.

The reason I became more interested in Go was an anime called Hikaru no Go (recommended if you like anime). I read some guides on the Internet, but soon other things demanded my attention and the Go board¹ started to collect dust again.

About one year ago, I stumbled upon KGS and decided to give it a try. Playing people online was much more fun than the Go programs I had tried. A yotta more fun. I’ve learned a lot from playing persons from all around the world. There’s a handicap system in Go, so playing stronger player is not futile; actually quite the contrary, since some kind people don’t mind to spend some time and review the game afterwards.

Now I’m become hooked again. I even bought some Go books, currently reading the Elementary Go Series when I find the time and play on KGS. I wish I had more people in Real Life to play against – maybe I should visit the local Go club, or make more friends discover the beauty of Go.

… [it is] something unearthly… If there are sentient beings on other planets, then they play Go.
– Emuanel Lasker

¹ To be honest, I didn’t even own a board at that time. If you’re a mathematician, you can call it an iGo board if it makes you feel more comfortable. /me hides


6 Responses to “The wonderful world of Go”

  1. utkuaydin Says:

    Go is one of my favorite games. Unfortunately, I met with Go a few weeks ago. By the way, is there a Go game in kdegames? 🙂

  2. Hans Says:

    There is one called Kigo, I think it’s still in playground. See for example (almost one year old, but it’s better than nothing :P).

  3. Antonx9 Says:

    Hans, you think that there is a game/program for Gnome/Ubuntu/Kubuntu/KDE that is not like “igo”? (So we can play on the Internet)

  4. Hans Says:

    I play on the KGS Go Server using a CGoban 3. It’s a Java client, so make sure you install Java using your package manager.

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