Go is better than Chess.
May 9, 2001 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Go is better than Chess. (This discussion started in MetaTalk through topic drift, and it really belongs here.)
posted by Steven Den Beste (23 comments total)
Some friends of mine play Go frequently. I wanted to start, and they recommended a program called IGoWin for practice. You can play against the computer, which can get really tough. It really is quite fun, but I don't have the patience to get any good at it.
posted by antispork at 12:11 PM on May 9, 2001

One thing should be noted: Kasparov fell to Deep Blue, but no one has written software that can even approach beating a skilled professional Go player, let alone the best in the world.

Which proves nothing much -- it's just an interesting fact about a game that is, on the surface, simpler than chess.

And, as much as I love both games, I'd say that Go provides a more startling and coherent map of an individual's psyche -- it really does provide a beautiful abstract analogue to the thinking patterns of the player. Chess seems a bit more opaque in this arena.
posted by argybarg at 12:15 PM on May 9, 2001

I dunno about that -- Nabokov might beg to differ (being perhaps the deepest theorist of chess and psychology in all of literature, and the author of the book on which The Luzhin Defence is based.) I have always thought that chess and the Russian psyche went well together, while Go is clearly of a more Asian bent -- but other than facile interpretations of political history I wouldn't be any good at backing that up.

Simply, chess tends to be about penetration, while go is about surrounding. I think that's a profound difference.
posted by dhartung at 12:19 PM on May 9, 2001

I said it in metatalk, and I'll say it again - what's so hard about Go? ;-p
posted by starvingartist at 12:20 PM on May 9, 2001

Responding to cCranium from the MetaTalk thread:

Rob, it's even more fun when you can perform that kind of attack on someone else, but to do that you really have to get a lot more skilled at the game. And that's the point where you begin to play strategically instead of merely tactically.

I taught a guy to play once. Chris and I used to go to a tavern and play, and over a period of time we got him up to four stones, which was quite an improvement. But the problem was that he never developed a strategic understanding of the game; he simply concentrated on the tactical. I tried explaining to him what he was doing wrong but simply couldn't get it across. So once I invited him to come watch me play against another guy, Mike, who was approximately at my own level. We played without any handicap at all, and began the game with a series of strategic moves to lay out influence, something Chris had never done before. And afterwards Chris told me that it hadn't been anything whatever like he expected; it had opened his eyes.

He improved one whole level on our next game together.

One of the great shocks in the game is the first time you play against a handicap instead of with one. It's a much different experience.

One thing I discovered fairly fast was that when I was playing against someone less skilled than I was that I had to take chances and to build structures that I myself could easily destroy. If I built strong I'd be building too small, and wouldn't control enough territory, and would end up losing on points. But if I'm too aggressive my opponent might surprise me and break something. It's a balancing act, and requires me to gauge my opponent's skill level rather closely.

When you play with a handicap, it seems as if it's not much of an advantage. Playing with nine stones when you're new to the game doesn't seem to help much because you still get wiped. It's only when you play against nine stones that you begin to realize just how much of an advantage it really is -- where the hell is my empty space to develop? Everywhere I look there are damned black pieces!

The big way I beat a real neophyte is by controlling sente (SEN-tay), but the other way I win is that when I manage to get sente I can make a strategic move. My opponent, with no strategic sense, looks at it and says "Why the heck did he play there?" and then goes on to try to start another melee. Another player at my level would have responded to the strategic move and let me keep sente but the neophyte doesn't answer it -- which magnifies the value of the move, though that doesn't appear until later.

Even if there were no other reason for Go to be superior, the ability to handicap the game, permitting players of different skill levels to play evenly, would be enough.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:20 PM on May 9, 2001 [1 favorite]

The big difference between chess and go is that in chess victory is all or nothing: you get his king or he gets yours.

In Go, victory is points and you can make tradeoffs. You might decide to sacrifice one group because another is worth more. You can suffer tactical losses without losing strategically. And how you manage the strategic victory (most points) is entirely up to you. You're not frozen into the goal of destroying a king; you can decide to fight for corners, or to try to dominate three sides, or to see how much of the center you can take, and as the game proceeds you can change your strategy. That is much more deep.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:23 PM on May 9, 2001

Let's not forget, also, that the individual pieces in Go are identical and, once played, immovable. That is, they exert no individual personalities across the spacious playing field; their strength comes from their participation in structure. Whereas the pieces in chess are idiosyncratic and movable within a cramped territory. Hopefully we can draw some parallel distinctions between Asian and western mindsets without lapsing into stereotypes.
posted by argybarg at 12:34 PM on May 9, 2001

Simply, chess tends to be about penetration, while go is about surrounding. I think that's a profound difference.

Almost sounds like a male/female dichotomy, huh?
posted by dcehr at 12:38 PM on May 9, 2001

dhartung: Kawabata beats Nabakov. Go is not just about surrounding-- is also about capturing, breaking and leading.

I think it would be wrong to map genders to the differences, dcehr. Not just because the "dichotomy" is limiting, but that it is predicated on superficial differences.
posted by bison at 12:48 PM on May 9, 2001

hours to learn. a lifetime to master.

like web-design!

(only... not as profound...*sigh*)
posted by jcterminal at 12:51 PM on May 9, 2001

Rob, it's even more fun when you can perform that kind of attack on someone else,

Oh, I agree completely, and that's what keeps me coming back, but it was the first time someone did it to me that I realised how intricate the game is.

I'm by no means a skilled player myself, and in fact I'm probably overly focused on tactics myself (especially since I'm not quite sure what you mean by strategy vs. tactics :-), but Go's by far the most intruiging game I've ever played, and I could make a board in 2 minutes. That's brilliant.

Mostly random comment: It's actually really easy to see how it's an analogy to battlefields, too.
posted by cCranium at 1:32 PM on May 9, 2001

As the Indian saying (about chess!) goes, Go is a lake in which a gnat may drink and an elephant may drown.
posted by argybarg at 1:32 PM on May 9, 2001

I like backgammon, because the throw of the dice has the capacity to swipe at all your best attempts at strategy and foresight. And I find it intriguing that David Hume played it: my guess being that he enjoyed a game that was less an exercise in pure reason than chess. It's a kind of mock-theodicy: if I play well, how come I can get beaten by an outrageous roll?

I've never really spent enough time with Go (or had enough opponents) to appreciate its subtleties: as others have said, there are no real computer opponents. And for some reason, I've always shied away from online game servers, from FIBS to gnugo. You reveal an element of yourself in play that (for me, at least) requires a physical presence to avoid a sense of emotional exposure.
posted by holgate at 1:56 PM on May 9, 2001

Any Seattle-ites in this thread interested in some games of Go against a living (albeit feeble) opponent?
posted by argybarg at 2:09 PM on May 9, 2001

I think it would be wrong to map genders to the differences

Upon reflection, I tend to agree. It was one of those things that sounded good when I first thought of it... but later resounds with the thud of over-simplicity. Having only a passing familiarity with go, I'll take your word that the analogy is predicated on superficial differences (between chess and go, anyway).
posted by dcehr at 2:26 PM on May 9, 2001

Go is actually quite a bit like chess, in my opinion.

-everything is out on the table - no surprises (dice, hidden cards, etc.)
-play follows three stages: classic or experimental openings to develop; movement across the center and deployment of surprise attacks; closing the game has its own completely different issues (ko fights, pawn promotion, etc.)
-players are typically good at one of these three at the expense of the others. masters concentrate on openings, they can do the rest without thinking
-newcomers play openings as if they were midgames or endgames (queen out early, assuming your groups will survive when they might not, etc.)
-the game is built of calculation into the future: 1 turn for beginners, 3-4 turns for novices, 7-8 for medium level players and your good chess computer, beyond to the end for masters
-corners are "safe" (or are they?)

this leads me to believe hybrids could be designed with little loss of playability. Obviously improving chess is an ancient and dubious enterprise but:

the handicap factor was mentioned. why not follow go and handicap by starting the weaker player with extra material? say, 4 extra pawns?
go also is easier to teach because the board shrinks to 9x9 for quick bloodbaths. chess should be taught this way as well, with a handful of pieces on a 4x4 or 6x6... or perhaps chess has been playing small all along, why not 16x16
posted by mitchel at 5:56 PM on May 9, 2001

go also is easier to teach because the board shrinks to 9x9 for quick bloodbaths. chess should be taught this way as well, with a handful of pieces on a 4x4 or 6x6... or perhaps chess has been playing small all along, why not 16x16

Hey, I find chess cramped enough as it is.

The reason I like go is that while it's complex, it's far less micromanaged than chess. (I'm a very, very beginning player, however.) When playing Go, taking a step back from the board and squinting is equally as effective as looking at each piece's position -- you're operating with shapes rather than pieces.
posted by tweebiscuit at 6:46 PM on May 9, 2001

This charity match between former world champion Kasparov and Terence Chapman featured 2-pawn handicaps.

Apparantly these kinds of odds games were once common in chess, but went out of favor.
posted by crunchburger at 5:46 AM on May 10, 2001

hmm. I'm going to be a lone voice for chess here. Go may seem simpler or more elegant because it has fewer rules, but that does not make it a better game. Its complexity, as has been stated, comes from its size alone.

Chess is much smaller. It has more rules. But the important fact is that it is the diversity of pieces and the interaction of those pieces that adds the depth, not simply a bigger board. I might even go as far to say that the diversity of chess, while possibly making it seem inelegant, makes it a more complex, deeper game than Go. You just have more things to wrap your head around.

I assert that it is impossible to evaluate which is a better game. Just because there exists a computer that can beat a human at chess means only that there hasn't been as much time or money spent writing a Go program. It does not mean it is in any way impossible or even more difficult. The games are both far too complex to evaluate in their entirety. So we are left with only personal preferences, rather than objective comparisons.
posted by syn at 9:35 AM on May 11, 2001

Stephen: You're comparison based on the methods of victory is also flawed. Victory in Go is also all or nothing - you win by points or not. That's all.

Or, inversely, victory in chess is *not* all or nothing. You may sacrifice certain pieces or areas of the board to gain ground and succeed. You may attempt to take the center, and failing that, sacrifice a bishop, reform and attack on the left flank. Furthermore, since the board is smaller, each sacrifice is ever so much more important. You make tradeoffs in chess just as much as in Go, and those tradeoffs may even be more complex.

Victory in chess and victory in Go are not as different as you propose.

twee: I prefer chess exactly because of the precision of movement. Go is, admittedly, a beautiful game. I just find it more amorphous. (Also, I'm a horrible Go player.)

Stephen and cCranium: These moments of realization occur in chess as well. Your opponent shifts a piece to reveal a masterful setup that you had been blind to for too many moves - and that you're royally screwed.
posted by syn at 9:53 AM on May 11, 2001

syn: The reason that no one has developed a world-class Go program is that it's impossible using current techniques and computing power. There are just way too many possible permutations and results for each move. You can build a chess program to beat an amateur like me by looking only two or three moves ahead, but that's currently impossible with Go.

This discussion has inspired me to find a Go set and start paying again. I'm terrible, but that just means I only have one way to go :)
posted by sauril at 10:00 AM on May 11, 2001

Syn, with all due respect, if you're not a very advanced Go player then you're really not in a position to judge how different the two games are.

I'm not "master" caliber in either, but I'm quite decent in both, and I can tell you truly that Go really does have much different ways to look at the result.

It's true that barring a tie (quite rare) that one player or the other wins, and in that reductionist sense it's "all or nothing". But that is a simplistic way of looking at things, and the extent to which one may make sacrifices one place for gains elsewhere is much greater. It's occasionally possible to do such things in chess but it's usually suicide. You don't commonly sacrifice a rook for positional advantage, but the equivalent in Go is quite common.

They really are different mind sets.

(Also, there is no "p" in my name.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:22 PM on May 11, 2001

I'm going to be a lone voice for chess here.

I don't think you are. Perhaps it's only in the original metatalk thread, but other people have expresses a preference for chess.

And no one's saying chess isn't a good game, or an engaging game, or a challenging game or a fun game. I'm reasonably certain that everyone who likes Go likes Chess.

Go is simply a game we prefer over chess, but we don't necessarily not respect and enjoy chess just because it isn't our favorite. I doubt I'm speaking for just myself (and I also doubt I'm speaking for everyone) when I say that quantifiable differences like move complexity, board size and all the rest are don't define one game as better for everyone, it's very much in this case simply a matter of preference.

Which, as it turns out, is pretty much exactly what you said and the end of your post, anyway. :-) Cheers.
posted by cCranium at 8:06 PM on May 11, 2001

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