The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Teaching Go

Last night I played a 3-player game of Power Grid, then our 3rd left (feeling a bit under the weather). So I taught some Go. I use the phrase ‘taught’ loosely, as I’m not really qualified to teach the game. I’ve played one tournament, and got a provisional AGA 13 kyu rating. That was years ago, so I’m probably around 15-20k.

But my opponent had very limited experience, so I gave him 9 stones. And then I floundered trying to explain why moves were good or bad. I’ve been on the other side too … Go strikes me as one of the most counter-intuitive games devised. I tried to explain this, but I don’t really understand a lot of it myself.

However, today I realize that I didn’t give one of the best pieces of advice I do know — “Don’t automatically answer your opponent’s move.” If your opponent makes a move that appears threatening you are better off ignoring it if a bigger move exists on a different side of the board.

Realistically, a new player has no idea if a move is big or not, and sometimes the experienced player isn’t much better off. A new player will often misjudge; it comes with the territory. Still, the urge to respond to a threat grants the experienced player Sente (the initiative).

Usually I’m capable of distilling a few pearls of wisdom to give to novice players (when asked), but Go left me fumbling, as always.

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Written by taogaming

March 16, 2005 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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6 Responses

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  1. Have you read “Ez-Go: Oriental Strategy in a Nutshell” by Bruce Wilcox and Sue Wilcox? My ranking is close to 20 kyu, so I’m not necessarily the best for giving advice on individual moves, but following the explanations from Ez-Go generally allows me to explain various reasons a move might be good. Of course, there are only three basic reasons for a move: threats, defense, and territory generation. But Ez-Go can help explain why a move played just inside a sector line is an invasion whereas a move played just outside that line is only a reduction.

    I think that Go is very intuitive, but you need experience to have good intuition. I built my intuition by playing on 9×9 boards and then 11×11 and 13×13, as well as trying to solve Go problems. That approach might weaken my whole-board strategy, but it makes the local tactics more obvious. To work on whole-board strategy, I try to play a 19×19 game to only 30 moves and then evaluate the situation and start over.

    Teaching Go is hard. Lose your first 50 games quickly.
    When teaching beginners, I generally just try to explain connections and which shapes are good/bad.

    Ryan Beasley

    March 17, 2005 at 2:47 pm

  2. I think Go is almost perversely counterintuitive. I often hear defenders (ok, advocates; it requires no defense) talk about how simple and elegant Go is, but I think it’s considerably less so than other notable abstracts such as Chess. In Chess, for instance, you actually know when the game is over and why (usually an important point in most games).

    Which is not really a slight to Go, as it is a deep, rich, interesting game (that I don’t really enjoy, and haven’t played in many years). I just think it has this undeserved reputation as being the “purest” abstract, which in light of ko, komi, suicides/no suicides, and even the scoring methods (!), seems a bit overstated. I really do find Chess simpler, both to teach and to play.

    Jon Waddington

    March 18, 2005 at 10:33 am

  3. I don’t think comparing Go and Chess is very useful; their rulesets and gameplay are so very different. I do advocate the playing of Go, however, and so I enjoy discussing specific points.

    Go is not pure…komi, in particular, is an external effort to balance the game between the first player and the second player.
    Chess is not pure. Why is there a three-repetition rule? For the same reason Go has ko, to prevent the game from being loopy.
    Tic-Tac-Toe is a pure abstract. Alternate moves until one person wins or the board is full. It’s also solved and boring.

    The end of Go is very explicit. The game ends when both players pass in succession. Experienced players know when there are no more moves that will help them, and so they pass then. Inexperienced players may not know, and will continue playing. But as long as the inexperienced players do not make moves that directly reduce their own points (by filling in their own territory for no reason), then eventually they will come to a point at which there are no more moves for them to make. These extra moves will have had no effect on the score.

    I find it much easier to explain the rules of Go than to explain the rules of Chess, because Chess includes six different pieces with their own movement styles, en passant, promotion, castling, pinning, etc.

    Komi is a kludge, but it’s a simple one and it prevents ties. As I stated earlier, ko is structurally equivalent to the three-repetition rule in Chess. Allowing suicides has no important effect on the game to my knowledge. The popular scoring methods are effectively equivalent. These rules are all either unimportant or relatively simple to explain. That doesn’t mean I remember every board position at every move to prevent super-ko from occuring…but at my level that isn’t important.

    As an aside, the reason I enjoy Go is because I find it so very intuitive. I make moves that look good to me. Sometimes I look ahead and read the effects, but most of the time I’m just creating pleasing patterns and shapes. In contrast, I stopped playing Chess because I felt I’d hit a barrier in my skill and to improve beyond that level I would have to start learning specific openings and popular strategies in which the good and bad moves had already been determined by a collective group of people much better than me.

    Ryan Beasley

    March 18, 2005 at 12:37 pm

  4. Oh, I definitely think Chess is far fussier than Go, and you’re quite right to call me on overstating the fussiness of Go. It’s not the complexity, per se, but I don’t think concepts like life and death are simple. Unlike any of the examples you gave from Chess, which are all easy to explain and don’t really require much further thought. They’re *fussy* (well, relative to Go) and need to be memorized, sure, but they’re fundamentally easy to understand and figure out their effect on gameplay.

    But as an aside to your interesting aside (and back to Brian’s original post), I think it’s far easier to look at a board situation in Chess and prune down the relevant moves to a handful or so than it is in Go. I suspect this is because at any given moment there are a lot more “decent” moves available in Go, and significantly less contrast between the best and worst moves. This makes it much, much harder to explain in any reasonable way to a beginner. I can totally understand the appeal of this, but for me, I prefer a punchier, more decisive sort of game, where I’ve narrowed things down to A or B, and it’s really, really hard to choose. In Go, it’s more like “hmmm, options 1-12 seem the best, but 13-20 have some appeal, too…”. Which makes for a lot of hemming and hawing, not only for yourself, but trying to communicate all that to someone else…? Eeesh.

    Jon Waddington

    March 18, 2005 at 6:03 pm

  5. I think I’ve been misunderstood. I’ve lost my first fifty games, that’s easier than teaching someone with a game or two. Teaching shapes as good or bad requries knowing which shapes are good/bad. I can explain empty triangles or ponnuki, but if the question comes up “Which is better” (say, Knight’s move vs extended Knights Move), I’m at a lose.

    I don’t think it’s just me. I saw a lecture given by a two dan who got stumped when asked “Why is that move good?” (when reviewing a pro game). He had a vague idea, but couldn’t put it into words. [There happened to be a professional calibre player who couldn’t explain it either. To be fair, his English was poor. He could slap down a 20 move variation that showed it, but it was beyond me].

    I think I’ve read EZ-Go (I vaguely recall skimming it). I prefer “The 2nd Book of Go”, which doesn’t really spend time on the rules as much as basic ideas.

    Brian

    March 18, 2005 at 7:49 pm

  6. I think I’ve been misunderstood. I’ve lost my first fifty games, that’s easier than teaching someone with a game or two. Teaching shapes as good or bad requries knowing which shapes are good/bad. I can explain empty triangles or ponnuki, but if the question comes up “Which is better” (say, Knight’s move vs extended Knights Move), I’m at a lose.

    I don’t think it’s just me. I saw a lecture given by a two dan who got stumped when asked “Why is that move good?” (when reviewing a pro game). He had a vague idea, but couldn’t put it into words. [There happened to be a professional calibre player who couldn’t explain it either. To be fair, his English was poor. He could slap down a 20 move variation that showed it, but it was beyond me].

    I think I’ve read EZ-Go (I vaguely recall skimming it). I prefer “The 2nd Book of Go”, which doesn’t really spend time on the rules as much as basic ideas.

    Brian

    March 18, 2005 at 7:49 pm


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