When I learned Deep Mind (Google’s Artificial Intelligence Group) name it’s A.I. AlpaGo Zero, I thought it’s time to learn a little more about this ancient Chinese game. Then, I had an “a-ha” moment.
I spend 4-8 weeks in Florida around Christmas. This year, instead of eating and drinking as if gaining 10 extra lbs equals $10 million dollars, I decided to set mini-goals that challenge me in some way (play Go) and cross of some light-weight bucket list things like visit Big Cat Rescue (my version of a yin/yang balance). The mini-goals are completely free flowing with no definable expectation except to experience/do 1 mini from each of my sections (do, read, see, hear, go). I digress (as usual). 🙂
Back to the game..
About the game…
Go is an ancient board game which takes simple elements: line and circle, black and white, stone and wood, combines them with simple rules and generates subtleties which have enthralled players for millennia. Go’s appeal does not rest solely on its Asian, metaphysical elegance, but on practical and stimulating features in the design of the game.
Go’s few rules can be demonstrated quickly and grasped easily. The game is enjoyable played over a wide spectrum of skills. Each level of play has it charms, rewards and discoveries. A unique and reliable system of handicapping bring many more players “into range” for an equal contest. Draws are rare, and a typical game retains a fluidity and dynamism far longer than comparable games. An early mistake can be made up, used to advantage, or reversed as the game progresses. There is no simple procedure to turn a clear lead into a victory — only continued good play. The game rewards patience and balance over aggression and greed; the balance of influence and territory may shift many times in the course of a game, and a strong player must be prepared to be flexible but resolute. Go thinking seems more lateral than linear, less dependent on logical deduction, and more reliant on a “feel” for the stones, a “sense” of shape, a gestalt perception of the game.
Beyond being merely a game, Go can take on other meanings to its devotees: an analogy for life, an intense meditation, a mirror of one’s personality, and exercise in abstract reasoning, a mental “workout” or, when played well, a beautiful art in which black and white dance in delicate balance across the board. But most important for all who play, Go, as a game, is challenging and fun.
Go combines beauty and intellectual challenge. In Asia, it is often played on a traditional, carved wooden board, with black and white stones made from slate and clamshell, but good affordable equipment is also available. In either case, the patterns formed by the black and white stones are visually striking and can exercise an almost hypnotic attraction as one “sees” more and more in the constantly evolving positions.
The game appeals to many kinds of minds — to musicians and artists, to mathematicians and computer programmers, to entrepreneurs and options traders. Children learn the game readily and can reach high levels of mastery.
Because go lends itself to a uniquely reliable system of handicaps, players of widely disparate strengths can enjoy relatively even contests. The game can be a casual pastime for the idle hour — or a way of life. Michael Redmond, the only Western player to have won status as a top-grade professional player in Asia, when asked why he had devoted his life to go, replied, “Because I love the game.”
Go is an abstract strategy board game for two players, in which the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent. The game was invented in China more than 2,500 years ago and is believed to be the oldest board game continuously played to the present day. As of mid-2008, there were well over 40 million Go players worldwide, the majority of them living in East Asia. As of December 2015, the International Go Federation has a total of 75 member countries and four Association Membership organizations in multiple countries.
Despite its relatively simple rules, Go is very complex. Compared to chess, Go has both a larger board with more scope for play and longer games, and, on average, many more alternatives to consider per move. The lower bound on the number of legal board positions in Go has been estimated to be 2 x 10. In a simple and anecdotal way of explaining of the rules of Go, a teacher simply says to a student “you may place your stone (playing piece) on any point on the board, but if I surround that stone, I may remove it.”
Go was considered one of the four essential arts of the cultured aristocratic Chinese scholars in antiquity. The earliest written reference to the game is generally recognized as the historical annal Zuo Zhuan (c. 4th century BC).
The playing pieces are called “stones”. One player uses the white stones and the other, black. The players take turns placing the stones on the vacant intersections (“points”) of a board with a 19×19 grid of lines. Beginners often play on smaller 9×9 and 13×13 boards, and archaeological evidence shows that the game was played in earlier centuries on a board with a 17×17 grid. However, boards with a 19×19 grid had become standard by the time the game had reached Korea in the 5th century CE and later Japan in the 7th century CE.
Once placed on the board, stones may not be moved, but stones are removed from the board when “captured”. Capture happens when a stone or group of stones is surrounded by opposing stones on all orthogonally-adjacent points. The game proceeds until neither player wishes to make another move; the game has no set ending conditions beyond this. When a game concludes, the territory is counted along with captured stones and komi (points added to the score of the player with the white stones as compensation for playing second, which is normally either 6.5 or 7.5 depending on the rule-set being used) to determine the winner. Games may also be terminated by resignation.