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Subject: A Eurogamers take on Go rss

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Filip W.
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No marines, tanks, roles or monsters; cubes in only two colors and created before Reiner Knizia was even born – can Go really be fun?
Well…

To tell the truth, your first ten games of go will probably be like playing Arkham Horror in the dark without having read the rules. You plop down your tokens, watch monsters eat them and if you're very, very bright you'll realize that a move is bad right after your opponent has made his countermove.

Not that Go is complicated. In fact there are only three rules: play stones on the grid intersections, stones that are orthogonally adjacent (that is stuck together along the lines, not across) count as one and any stones or groups with no empty intersections orthogonally adjacent to them get eaten by a Grue.

Oh, there are also four variations: You kill before you're killed, you can't make a move that leaves the board looking exactly like it was before your opponents last turn, you can't play a suicide move (unless you kill an opponent's group first in which case it isn't suicide) and in the rare case that there are groups that can't be killed due to mutual suicide neither player gets the points.

Scoring is even simpler: one point for each empty intersection you've encircled and one point for each stone you've killed.

Easy peasy. What's all the fuss about?

Check it: you've heard that in Puerto Rico, if no one makes any mistakes, then the first player always wins but that the proof for this is so complex that only a rare Master Player with a beard stretching below his long-johns has successfully proven it? That's nothing compared to Go.

Big Blue kicked Kasparov's butt at chess. In Go no computer has ever ranked higher than 4 kyu (or 3 dan depending on your source, some Go players do work as software salesmen). That's about the level a none too bright human can achieve after a year of playing Go.

When I was as kid Othello sold under the trademark term "a minute to learn, a lifetime to master". They could have been talking about Go. They probably were, considering that Othello is a Japanese take on the English game of Reversi.

Three-year-olds in Korea play Go
– a lot of them well enough to kick my butt at it and I'm pushing the age where friends and family discretely wonder why I don't have a three year old Go player of my own.

Not too surprising; if you listen to hearsay Go was designed by the Chinese emperor Yao in order for his none-too-bright son to have a pastime that would teach him the three virtues of discipline, concentration and balance. However you learn balance from playing board games. It something I must suggest to Gym Teachers Association and save millions of geeks form their jock tormentors.

BTW, did I say that that Yao's son was none-too-bright? He was probably the worst successor imaginable but suggesting that to emperor Yao would make you lose at Go to his son inasmuch as a head has trouble playing games without being attached to a body. Sufficient to say that there have been Go boards found from some 200 years BC and that Chinese generals might have used similar grid lined boards to plan out their battles.

No wonder that things get eaten by a Grue in Go.

So what the heck is Go anyway?
According to the Wikipedia, that wonderful fount of information that anyone can edit (BTW, according to the Wikipedia I'm a Go champion and richer than Donald Trump) Go is: "a zero-sum, perfect information, partisan, deterministic strategy game"

Basically there are no dice in Go. So more Puerto Rico than Axis & Allies, no matter what the war theme might suggest. Oh, and Go has a terribly pasted on theme. All that talk about Chinese generals? Forget it. They'd had to be real drunk to think that this was war – troops parachuting in, suffocating their neighbors by sheer weight of numbers. Maybe not.

But if you do get into character you can see how Go is about war, or at least killing and territory. And it helps you to win if you think of it in terms of territory control. After all, it's war the old way, no asymmetric invisible terrorist warfare, just good, clean poke them with a pointed stick until they die warfare.

Go is WYSIWYG. What you see is what you get. No randomness, no hidden information. Winning a game of Go gives you serious bragging rights as your opponent can't hide behind bad card draws or accuse you of withholding information. If you win at Go it means that you're smart and he's dumb, dumb, dumb. Or a noob and genius at pattern recognition, in which case you're screwed the next game. Anyhow it's impolite to brag in Go. After a completed game you put forth your own mistakes, humbly suggest how a single stone placed otherwise could have swung the game and finish with "and that's why I won by 50 points, nyah, nyah, nyah".

So who's Go for anyway?
Elderly Japanese gentlemen about to get their heads chopped off for suggesting that the emperor's son is deficient? Nah. Go is for everyone. Analphabet peasants play Go. CEO's of major corporations play Go right before going "this reminds me of a ko capture I made in my youth, let's bankrupt Microsoft". Even devil possessed teenagers play Go between bouts of head spinning and pea soup puking.

The only people who don't play Go are people who don't like to reason ahead. You know, the oh-my-God-Risk-is-soo-hard type of people who inhabit (or is that inhibit) your Yuletide sessions of family gaming fun. Like Aunt Martha who only bakes cookies and just happens to place them in exact, 19 times 19 gridlines. Don't play Go with her. Play with Uncle Robert who brags what a great strategist he is and drinks too much. Try to play for money with him – but not too much in case he does turn out to be a brilliant strategist…

Awright! So how do I become the Yoda of Go?

Easy, young Padawan, haste a fool does make, hmmm? Actually all you need to learn Go is a board and a book. I got my first set (The Go Pack by Matthew Macfadyen) with both book and board for $5 on eBay. Sure it wasn't worthy of an emperor and smelled like old cigars to boot, but it was enough to start learning.

So, with board and book you'll start by pawing your way around a 9 x 9 grid board for twenty some games, then advance to stumble and fumble on a 13 x 13 board before graduating to stand bewildered on a full 19 x 19 board. That's about a month of gaming right here, more if you don't play at least every other day.

It's not as hard as it sounds like. 9 x 9 games are over in five minutes and 13 x 13 games can finish in half an hour even between noobs (or especially between noobs). But there's a huge difference in playing on a 13 x 13 and a 19 x 19 board…

Ok, you've played a couple of games on a full board and trounced your even-more-noob friends solidly (you will, in the beginning having played 5 more games of Go than your opponent is a big lead). Charged up with confidence like a drug addict on PCP you rumble down to the local Go club tell them, in your most humble fashion, that you're looking for some real challenge and get to play one of the regulars.

Who gives you a 9 stone handicap (conservatively valued at some 100 points advantage) and trounces you completely. Back to the book, Jedi wannabe.

Learning Go is all a matter of training your deduction and pattern recognition abilities. It will, over time, help you in other areas as well, in pretty much anything that requires concentration and the ability to think quickly. Which may be one explanation why the greatest Starcraft players come from Korea. Strangely they're not jocks and have no superhuman balance. So much for convincing the Gym Teachers Association.

Is Go for you then?
As always, that's up to what you like. You won't become superman by playing Go and you probably won't become world champion either. But then again, you don't need to win constantly in order to enjoy Puerto Rico either (I always lose and I still play it – actually that's pretty much what I do with Go, too). And if all else fails, get a Made in Taiwan faux-ancient Go board to impress your friends and say that you're too considerate of antiques to damage it by playing…
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Adam Daulton
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Great review! I've never had any interest whatsoever in playing Go...until now.
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marc lecours
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The saying I heard about Go was that it took a few minutes to learn the rules but TWO lifetimes to master the game.
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Russ Williams
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filwi wrote:
Othello is a Japanese take on the English game of Reversi.


Othello and Reversi are just two Western names for the same game (which has no relation to Go), so I'm not sure if you're making a joke, a mistake, or a typo.
 
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Filip W.
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russ wrote:
filwi wrote:
Othello is a Japanese take on the English game of Reversi.


Othello and Reversi are just two Western names for the same game (which has no relation to Go), so I'm not sure if you're making a joke, a mistake, or a typo.


It's a joke - the Othello version of the Reversi rules originated in Japan in the 1970's and was imported to the US as an "original Japanese" game. Voila - Go Lite
 
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Russ Williams
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filwi wrote:
the Othello version of the Reversi rules originated in Japan in the 1970's and was imported to the US as an "original Japanese" game.


Aha! I had no idea the name "Othello" for the game came from Japanese marketing. Thanks for the info!
 
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Richard Hutnik
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ooogene wrote:
Great review! I've never had any interest whatsoever in playing Go...until now.


I KNEW IT! The issue with abstracts is their MARKETING, not their play mechanics. Put the right story behind any of these games, and people will start to get interested in them.
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Paul Franklin-Bihary
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filwi wrote:
That's about the level a none too bright human can achieve after a year of playing Go.


Uh, I've been playing for upwards of 8 years, relatively infrequently, and I'm nowhere NEAR this ranking yet. Where did you hear this???? I feel horribly pathetic now. Thanks a lot.
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Tim Seitz
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Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. 2 Sam 14:14
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paulus22 wrote:
filwi wrote:
That's about the level a none too bright human can achieve after a year of playing Go.


Uh, I've been playing for upwards of 8 years, relatively infrequently, and I'm nowhere NEAR this ranking yet. Where did you hear this???? I feel horribly pathetic now. Thanks a lot.


That's only for people who attend Go school.
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paulus22 wrote:
filwi wrote:
That's about the level a none too bright human can achieve after a year of playing Go.


Uh, I've been playing for upwards of 8 years, relatively infrequently, and I'm nowhere NEAR this ranking yet. Where did you hear this???? I feel horribly pathetic now. Thanks a lot.

filwi isn't talking about a year of "relatively infrequently" playing Go. He's talking about a year of playing Go.
This seems about right, given that a popular Go proverb (there are many) states
Ancient lore wrote:
It takes a thousand games to reach shodan (= 1 dan).
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micheal kris
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well i am a 3 kyu player (stronger than many 3k)
and i have been playing for 2 years
i have a frind that reached 4 dan after one year

you need to gain insight into the game in order to get past the 10 kyu

i can help
email me or talk to me on kgs
i have an ol 5k user thats coldnight

mkris@zahav.net.il
 
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Complete & Sufficient Statistician
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"BTW, according to the Wikipedia I'm a Go champion and richer than Donald Trump"



I guess I should quit complaining how I'm not allowed to cite Wikipedia in research papers...
 
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Orin Bishop
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Quote:
"BTW, according to the Wikipedia I'm a Go champion and richer than Donald Trump"



I guess I should quit complaining how I'm not allowed to cite Wikipedia in research papers...

To be fair, you are supposed to cite a source when you add information to Wikipedia. Of course you could just cite your own paper, but we won't talk about that...
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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filwi wrote:

Big Blue kicked Kasparov's butt at chess.


"Big Blue" is IBM's nickname. The computer program's nickname was "Deep Blue" - it won 2 games, lost 1 game, and got a draw in 3 games, hardly a butt-kicking, but whatever. Computers will defeat humans at any task - you can scale the GO board beyond 19x19 but you won't escape that - making the game more complex will trick humans even more than it will trick computer algorithms, given the faster development rate of the latter. Remember: us humans were around for thousands of years; computers have been around for less than a century and are already challenging us at tasks we thought were only achievable by us. We are not as smart as we think we are.

filwi wrote:

In Go no computer has ever ranked higher than 4 kyu (or 3 dan depending on your source, some Go players do work as software salesmen).


Since you wrote your review, GO programs have defeated higher ranking players than 3 dan:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_Go#Recent_results

Last entry:
Quote:

On June 5, 2013, computer program Zen defeated Takuto Ooomote with a 3 stone handicap. Takuto Ooomote is a 9 dan on the Tygem server. The 19×19 game used Japanese rules with a time setting of 60 minutes plus 30 seconds byoyomi. They played at the 27th Annual Conference of The Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence.


GO is a very nice game. Its complexity is more than enough for human brains. Whether computers can kick our butt or not should be irrelevant for our enjoyment of any game.
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Dave Maynor
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Note... the software won with a handicap. They have yet to beat a high ranked professional on a 19x19 with no handicap, only komi. What I find interesting is the time used. The human took 15 minutes total, and the PC took 55.
 
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Josh Anonymous
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2017 update - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AlphaGo_versus_Lee_Sedol
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Jason Hall
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I just read through the AlphaGo wiki page and the details of the first match against Lee Sedol with some commentary. So fascinating. I may have just jumped into a rabbit hole.....

 
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