“[It is] something unearthly . . . If there are sentient beings on other planets, then they play Go.”- Emanuel Lasker
When I took my latest job a number of my new co-workers played the ancient Asian game of Go. They even had an office set aside as the “Go-kay Corral” where a board was always available. I had known of Go since high school, i.e. for a while, but knew little of it beyond a few trivialities. For example, I knew it was a game of territory and there was no set end condition so games ended by mutual consent. That was the extent of my knowledge.
There is a mystique associated with the game. Go aficionados turn their nose up at chess, typically saying they left chess because it didn’t have the intellectual challenge of Go. I am bad at Go, but really bad at chess, so my sample of one doesn’t fully support their thesis. I would say they are both challenging, but in different ways. Go, with it’s emphasis on shapes and influence, seems to call on the more creative, less strictly logical part of the brain than chess.
Go snobs also tend to gleefully point out that that no computer Go program comes close to beating human professional masters while chess grandmasters have already fallen to silicon. There are simply too many possibilities in Go to use the brute force approaches that work so well in chess. However, the handwriting is on the wall. Current computer Go programs using Monte Carlo techniques are threatening to finally breach that particular wall of human distinction.
I joined the Go-kay Corral team for purely selfish reasons to build relationships within the office. Sadly, due to the vicissitudes of the business world I am the last of that team still wandering those halls. The Go-Kay Corral is abandoned, office versions of tumbleweeds piled about.
But the game goes on. The original team still plays tournaments, meeting at cafes or online as necessary. I was recently accorded the honor of being added to the tournament, which may be a dangerous harbinger for my career given the fortunes of the other players.
I still play, as well, mainly with my current mentor, one of the original Go-kay’ers. We play daily online (in the modern version of playing by mail, a move or two each day). We also meet in person every month or so where he demonstrates his philosophy that a sound drubbing is the best teacher.
The links below are part of the standard introductory package my mentor provides to anyone asking about the game. He is also a martial arts practitioner and likens the efficiency of movement in martial arts with a similar efficiency on the Go game board. I tend to stumble over my feet a lot, so I’ll have to take his word for it. I’ve augmented the items below with a few of my favorites for those of us who are less graceful.
First, study the game to get a feel for it.
A comprehensive Wikipedia article on Go:
An interactive tutorial on Go:
A collaborative web site about all things Go.
There are several sources of excellent Go lectures on YouTube. I recommend Nick Sibicky’s channel, especially useful for double kyu-ranked players like me. (That’s a level just high enough to be dangerous but not high enough to know better.)
Then practice on the computer.
Many Faces of Go has long been the gold standard for computer Go programs, a multiple World Champion. Get a free 9×9 version under “Free Downloads”. Don’t hesitate to pay for the full version; the author has a very generous license policy.
When you are ready, take on the world (online). Or you can simply sit on the sidelines and watch others play.
Here is a turn-based system called Dragon Go Server (I am “theyplaygo” on DGS).
Here is a real-time system called Kisedo Go Server (I am “theyplaygo” on KGS). Be aware that KGS is having security issues with Java on some systems. Google “kgs java blocked” for work-arounds.