As you may have heard, there is a new mobile phone game taking the world by storm called Pokemon Go. You can’t go on the internet without seeing somebody talking about it, and you can’t go outside without seeing a group of people wandering like zombies staring at their phones trying to catch these virtual vermin. This post has very little to do with that game.
As a joke, a user on reddit posted a picture of a Go game board with Pikachu painted on it. Normally I’d roll my eyes or chuckle, hit the appropriate upvote/downvote button and move on. This time however, I was reminded of how I had “Learn to play Go” on my list of things to get around to some day. I decided it was time.
For the uninitiated (ie the majority whose faces go blank once I point out it has nothing to do with Pokemon), Go is a board game of Chinese origin, over 2000 years old. The game’s objective is to surround more area of the board than your opponent.
Go only has two basic rules:
- Every stone on the board must have one “liberty”, or be connected to a group of stones that has at least one such liberty. A liberty is an open adjacent space (up, down, left right).
- Players are not allowed to make a move that returns the game to the previous position. This rule, called “ko” prevents an infinite loop of moves.
Don’t let these two simple rules fool you. At a quick glance, Go looks very much like Othello or Reversi, but is actually one of the most complex games in existence, with more possibilities than there are atoms in the known visible universe.
A decent-quality Go board seems to be fairly expensive, and I don’t have anybody local to play against. Fortunately the web is has vast resources available. There are multiple sites where you can play Go online against other people (I personally like OGS myself), and thousands of sites detailing strategies and providing puzzles to work through to better yourself. I found the Go/Weiqi/Baduk subreddit to be populated with a number of great people who have helped me immensely since I’ve started playing.
Go seems to be a game of proverbs. One that I’ve heard a dozen times is “Lose your first 50 games as quickly as possible.” Beginners lose a lot, and a good amount of time is spent putting stones down with no real idea of what you’re doing, and seeing what happens. Many of my first games ended with me having 0 points, which I saw as frustrating and discouraging until I had it pointed out to me that it simply doesn’t matter. What matters is that I learned from my many mistakes, and can apply what I’ve learned to my future matches.
After a particularly bad game where my opponent called me a child and told me to grow up because the game timed out (I’m a relatively slow player and not entirely too familiar with the OGS interface yet), I posted a rant on /r/baduk wondering if I should just give up. I got a great amount of support, some tips, and several offers to play with me and help me review the games afterwards to see what I can do better. As a result, I’ve decided to stick with the game, and plan on trying to play at least a couple matches a day.
Going forward, my intention is to post to this blog to kinda chronicle my learning the game. I’m interested in being able to look back and see if and where I’ve progressed, and just maybe somebody will read it and gain an interest in the game themselves. I could always use a couple more people to play against.
If you do play Go and are interested in a match, I play on OGS as Ayukawa.