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Subject: Black and White and Woodgrain all over rss

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Jim Cote
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Rules and Concepts

Today you will learn to play Go.

Isn't Go supposed to be really hard and stuff?

The rules of Go are exceedingly simple. The implications and applications of those rules are what makes the game so rich and deep. The concept of depth originally expressed by Nick Bentley (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi...) is very applicable here. I paraphrase:

"The depth of a game is the number of groups of players you can create such that the chances of a player in one group winning against a player in the group below it is 95%."

Using this definition, I would estimate that Go has a depth greater than 10. I know of no other game with a value this high. Go is one of those "lifestyle games", much like Bridge. If you want to reach a reasonable level of aptitude, you will need to play and study often. However, anyone should be able to learn and enjoy it at any level.

Ok, so how do you play?

A standard Go board is a grid of 18x18 squares, like a giant Chess board. Unlike Chess where you play on the squares, in Go you play on the intersections. Thus, there are 19x19 "locations" on the board. One player plays Black stones, the other White. Beginners often learn the concepts on a 9x9 and then a 13x13 board. This offers tactical practice, but suffers from any strategic depth.



Black begins by playing a stone on any location. Players alternate playing a stone of their color until both players pass, which ends the game.

That's it? Sounds too easy.

That's almost it. Once played, stones never move, but they can be killed, or more commonly, mortally wounded.

If you can't ever move stones, how can you kill them?

To answer that, I need to introduce a term: liberty. A liberty is an empty space orthogonally (not diagonally) adjacent to a stone or group of touching stones (again, orthogonal) of the same color. A stone in the middle of the board has 4 liberties, a stone on the edge of the board has 3 liberties, and a stone in the corner has 2. A stone or group of stones with only 1 liberty left is said to be in "atari" (the founder of Atari was a Go player). The triangles show the liberties of the 3 individual stones and the group of 3 stones:



O...k...

If at any point a stone or group of stones has no liberties, they are killed, removed from the board, and become the opponent's prisoners.

Aha! So I need to kill more stones than you to win the game?

Not really. The essense of Go is the threat of being killed. In most games, there are very few prisoners. A group of stones that is dead is simply left on the board and counted as killed at the end.

Wait a minute. Dead is not the same as killed? If you are not taking many prisoners, what are you trying to do?

Now we come to the crux of the matter! At the end of a game of Go, each player scores 1 point for each empty space on the board that they enclose with their stones, and 1 point for each prisoner. Any dead stones on the board count for 2 points (1 for the "empty" space, and 1 for the prisoner). A stone or group of stones is "dead" if no further plays can be made to make it "alive".

Alive?

There are 2 exceptions to being able to play a stone anywhere. The first one is: A player may not play a stone such that his own stones would be immediately killed. That is to say, you may not commit suicide.

What does this have to do with being alive?

Consider the following group of Black stones. How many liberties does it have?



2?

Correct. But what happens if White plays at one of these liberties?

Hmmm. Black can kill that stone by playing at the other.

Correct. But now how many liberties would the Black group then have?



1.

Correct. And what happens if White plays on that liberty?

Wait! You said you can't commit suicide!

You are correct, but I left off part of the rule. You are allowed to play such that your stone(s) have no liberties remaining if by doing so you kill stones.

So all those Black stones come off the board?

Yes.



So how can you ever stop from being killed?

Good question. Let's look at a similar situation, except this time the Black stones have 2 empty spaces inside them. How many liberties?



2.

Correct. How do you kill it?

Play in both empty spaces.

You can't do that, because either move would be suicide. Those separate empty spaces inside the group are called "eyes". If a group has 2 eyes, it is alive. It can't be killed. Any group that cannot form 2 eyes is dead. It does not have to be killed (and, in fact, should not be).

Ok. You said there were 2 exceptions to playing a stone. The first was the suicide rule. What is the other one.

Consider this situation. Black can capture a White stone by playing at A. White could now capture back. This could repeat itself forever, the game never ending. This is not allowed. If your opponent captures a single stone of yours, you are not allowed to capture that single stone back immediately. You must play at least 1 move elsewhere first. This is called "ko".



Hmmm.

If the single stone capture is important to that area of the board, players may want to fill the "hole" after the capture. But their opponent is not going to want to let them. They will make a play elsewhere that threatens something else important. If you fill the ko, they get compensated at the other location. If you reply to the "ko threat", then they can now take the ko, and it's your turn to find a threat. This is called a "ko fight".

This is getting complicated. Is there anything else?

Just remember the ko rule. The things that result from it (ko threats and ko fights) will come as you play. There's only 1 more Go rule: seki.

Great! Another strange word.

This one isn't nearly as common as ko, but it's important to know it. Consider the following situation. If Black plays at either inside location, he will have 1 liberty left, and White will capture him. The same is true for White. It would be bad for either player to play here, so they will not. Both the inside groups of stones are "alive" in the sense that they cannot be captured, but the empty spaces belong to neither player. In a sense, this area of the board is a draw.



Ok so that's it? Play stones, make 2 eyes, kill the opponent's stones...or at least make them dead?

As far as the rules are considered, that is everything. But in order to win, you need to have the most empty space...territory. Books on "life and death" in Go are perhaps equivalent to books on "mate in 3" problems in Chess. They are specific situations of tactical significance, but they do not discuss the big picture.

How do you go about making the most territory?

This is a much more abstract thing. At the beginning of the game, you are trying to stake out influence and create a "framework" upon which to ultimately build territory. I have likened the flow of a Go game to a water balloon. If you squeeze it, you do not make it smaller, you just push the water somewhere else. Every time you push somewhere, you give up something elsewhere.

For example, if you play lots of stones in a small area, your opponent can play lots of stones loosely everywhere else. You may get a handful of sure points, but your opponent gets a huge amount of potential points.

Here's a sample game after the first 20 moves. I made this up. It is not optimal play. Notice how loosely the stones are positioned. There is no specific territory gained at this point in the game, just areas of influence.



Go is a game full of "strange" words: joseki, dame, fusike, tesuji, sente, gote, hane, miai, shicho, etc. You don't have to know what any of them mean in order to play. They are terms associated with various moves and board positions. They are used so that Go players can discuss common situations using well-defined terminology. If you decide to try Go, you will learn many of them.

Go has a ranking system based on skill. The ranks go from 30 kyu up to 1 kyu, then from 1 dan to 9 dan. 30 kyu is an absolute beginner.

Go also has a very nice handicapping system. If you play someone from 2 to 9 ranks above you, you get that many handicap stones to start the game with. Then they (White) make the first move. Handicap stones are placed in a fixed pattern on the dots on the board. For example, a even game between a 12 kyu player and an 8 kyu player would start like this with White playing first:



Summary

Rules: Alternating black and white stones. Killed stones removed. Can't commit suicide. Ko rule. Seki rule. Count territory and prisoners. That's it.

Go is a 100% abstract game with so much depth you could spend your entire life exploring it. Its simplicity of play masks an underlying richness not acheieved by many other games.

Go Resources

KGS Go Server: http://www.gokgs.com/

Interactive Tutorial: http://playgo.to/interactive/index.html

Go Problems: http://www.goproblems.com/

Sensei's Library: http://senseis.xmp.net/

Hikaru no Go: http://senseis.xmp.net/?HikaruNoGo (This manga and anime series did for Go what Searching for Bobby Fischer did for Chess. Great story.)


- ekted

http://ekted.blogspot.com/



Edit: Updated image hosting links.


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Nick Bentley
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Actually, somebody has tried to calculate depth by the above definition for both the go and chess playing populations. If I remember correctly, chess has a depth of 12, and go has a depth of *40* (holy ----!). I can't find the reference.
 
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Jim Cote
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Well, Go has 40 levels of rank. I wouldn't necessarily say that a 10 kyu could beat an 11 kyu 95% of the time in an even game. But a 10 kyu could definitely beat a 14 kyu 95% of the time. That's why I said at least 10.
 
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Nick Bentley
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yeah, I agree. I don't actually know where the "40" came from. How are go rankings calculated?
 
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Jim Cote
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I don't know the exact underlying math, but it's pretty complicated. Each time 2 players play each other, the results of your game can cause an adjustment to your ranks. Obviously, if a 10 kyu player beats a 5 kyu player a couple of times, one or both of them is ranked incorrectly.
 
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Philip Thomas
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This is an excellent description of how to play GO.

But it doesn't actually say anything about your opinion of the game. I mean, I'm guessing you like it, but who knows?
 
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milomilo122 wrote:
How are go rankings calculated?

The simplest way to estimate rankings is by comparison to a player with a known rank. If player A can best player B three times in a row, A gives B a stone in handicap. Repeat until both players are winning and losing an equal amount, and the size of the handicap is the difference in rank. Or you can just spend a month or two on a go server and get a decent estimate that way.
 
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MK
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Great as an introduction to the rules of Go. This should be published.

 
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Brendan Tracey
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as sbzine sort of put it, the idea is that the number of ranks between players is the number of handicapped stones it takes to make the match an "even" game. That's confusing, but basically, as Ekted said, a 10k would beat a 14k 95% of the time. Because their rank is 4, the 14k is given 4 stones handicap to make it a fair game. That's the theory anyway. As for the actual calculation, it's complicated.
 
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Jonathan Kift
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Excellent summary! That might just be the most concise and clear explanation of the basics of Go I've seen. I really need to play this game more often.

Oh, and I thought the question-and-answer format worked great!
 
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Jay Richardson
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I just recently started watching the "Hikaru no Go" anime series, and it certainly is fascinating (an anime series about a boardgame – how cool is that!). But, knowing practically nothing about Go, I wanted to learn a bit more about it... and I found this review.

This is an excellent introduction to the game!
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Jay, also check out: http://playgo.to/interactive/index.html
 
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Robert G.
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Thanks! Very helpful guide!
 
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