comments 7

The Battle Continues

I’ve been playing the game of Go for quite a long time now, since sometime in the mid-80’s. Early on, I was playing chess with my friend Vox and we started adding Go to the mix, playing some chess followed by a game of Go. Eventually, the chess faded away in the face of the delicious, mind-bending complexity and poetry of Go. We’ve since played thousands of games against one another. I’ve had other opponents, and for a while played at a Go club too, but the ongoing Go battle Vox and I have enjoyed has been epic.

There have been various times when one or the other of us has taken strides forward in the game and started winning consistently. At one point, Vox pushed ahead and forced me to accept handicap stones – up to 4 of them. What an indignity! Handicap stones provide extra stones on the board to start the game, but at specific points, known as star points. They can be very powerful, I’ve learned, once you figure out how to use them to your advantage. It took me a dreadfully long time to figure this out, but once I did, the handicap dropped away, and it became clear that Vox could not give me stones and expect to win more than occasional games.

Over the summer, we reached a point where neither of us could afford even a little mistake. We’ve been remarkably evenly matched. Last night, we played four games. I won three of them, but one of those was by the barest of margins – half a point after komi. Last night’s games were lively, scrappy matches. We’re both struggling to get ahead, and that often leads to making over-plays, unreasonable, pushy moves that will win the game if you’re allowed to get away with it. We punished one another severely last night with this kind of play. In one game, I trapped a significant group of Vox’s stones, and was feeling very proud of myself, when Vox demonstrated to me that I had another, larger group that was weak and struggling for air. I could not save them, and to win, I had to de-stabilize and kill another group on the board. There was some potential, or aji, as we call it in more than one area, but careful play by Vox silenced my attacks and I lost the game as my large group perished.

In another of the games last night, Vox tried to limit my potential territory by playing stones near my strength. His idea was to try to play lightly and create living shape in an area I wanted as territory. We call this making sabaki. He played too near my strength though and I punished him by splitting his groups, isolating them and attacking in multiple areas. It seemed inevitable that his defences would give out somewhere and they did, as I made some good kills for an easy win.

I may have had a successful night last night, but Vox will be concocting his revenge for next time out.


  1. Salvelina Fontinalis

    ok ok. Having already poked a wee bit of fun at go I will offer up a sort of neat mini-go. The real go game is played on a 19 x 19 matrix. The link here will let you download a java based go game that you play vs a computer on a 9 x 9 matrix. You dont get to experience the strategic element of the bigger game but you do get to mess with some of the tactics. If you dont take it too seriously a game will take a couple of minutes or you can put some serious thought into your moves you can spend quite a bit longer. It is free and takes just a couple of minutes to download and unzip the file and you are in business. The folks who provide the game hope you will be so impressed with it that you will come back and buy the version that plays on the 19 x 19 matrix. I have downloaded and installed it and played it for about an hour and it appears to be safe and as advertised. Sort of fun except the computer kicks my butt 😦

    • Even on 9X9, there can be a lot of complexities, and working on fundamentals is never a bad idea. From time to time I’ll work on problems, and I really prefer that to messing with 9X9, but maybe that is just personal preference.

      The trouble with the game is that to learn it, and learn to play decently well, it requires a commitment of time and effort and a willingness to lose and lose more until you get better. If nothing else the game teaches humility.

  2. Salvelinas Fontinalis

    Go is like a cross between Reversi and checkers but without all the action. The good news is that you need to learn to speak Mandarin in order to read the rules that come with the game. I wonder who the Gary Kasparov of go is and if he has Kasparov style charisma. Peculiar that the world championship of chess and of monopoly make it to the newspapers but I have never seen a word about a go championship. Time to check this out on google.

    • Salvelinas Fontinalis

      Woah. I punched in go championship and got 26,900,000 hits. I suspect this might be 27 guys each with a million websites. Recent amateur world champions are:
      2009 Yu Qing Hu
      2008 Ha Sung Bong
      2007 Shan Ziteng

      I searched the whole list looking for household names like Guy Ding and Moo Goo Guy Pan but I didnt recognize anyone. Geez I even found a site for the spanish womens championship and the alberta championship. There is even a womens professional go championship although it is unclear how one makes a living playing go. Who knew?

    • Although I know you just want to get my goat, so to speak, but I have to reject your trite assessment of the game. There is plenty of action. In some games, there are numerous complex battles raging, battles over life and death, battles to seize initiative and dictate direction, battles to control vast tracts of real estate. There are a number of players who are widely known throughout Asia. Among the most famous of them is Cho Chikun, who authored the book pictured in my post. In parts of Asia, Go is a big money tournament game. It’s serious business, just not here. One of the curious things about Go is that the more you understand about the game, the more aspects of it open up to you.

Have your say...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s