A new leaf

I’ve finally gotten around to setting up the weblog editor in Newsnetwire on OS X, which probably means nothing to most people but means that I can post entries here a little easier than before. Hopefully that small reduction in time will be enough to break my iron-clad procrastination.

In the past few days I’ve developed a fledgling obsession in Go, the boardgame. Earlier this year I played a few games here in Oxford which were interesting enough but nothing special. On the train back to Oxford from Liverpool, however, I found myself totally bored and in no mental condition to read another chapter of Godel, Escher and Bach – so instead I fired by the iBook and ran the wonderful Go client, Goban.

It goes without saying that I was soundly beaten by the computer in every single game, but the sense of interplay and strategy and tactics I had was absolutely fascinating. When I got back I rapidly worked my way through two tutorials (one of them interactive) and armed with this knowledge, took the fight back to the computer. Predictably, I lost quite dismally but I think I was able to survive for a few turns more.

I then turned to Sensei’s Library, a wiki about Go. There’s a truly vast amount of very well written information and discussion about Go there, as well as a very nifty engine that automatically creates images of Go boards from text (which helps things no end). I spend a while this afternoon reading through some of the basic pages there and now I can reliably win or draw against the computer on a 9×9 board… the larger board sizes can wait until later.

I do have a feeling that I need to play against humans to really learn, and that I should get a mentor to show me where I’m going wrong. There’s a Go university society here in Oxford that I think I’m going to look into next term, and I might venture onto the online Go servers for some human play (if any of you readers want to have a game online, drop me an email and we can set one up).

I used to play a bit of chess when I was at primary school but I never particularly took to it. The board always seemed too cramped and I never felt like I had a sense of an overall strategy; all the pieces were in the way of each other and it was a battle for me to look more than a few moves ahead. For me, Go feels much more natural; the rules are incredibly simple and I can appraise the situation of my forces in a glance. If chess can be likened to a battle, then Go is like a war – you have isolated skirmishes, grabs for territory, implicit compromises and agreements with the enemy and a global view that’s influenced by every stone.

Even better, I find myself relating the principles of Go, like cross-cutting, hane and moyo, to real life. I know it’s quite easy to do this with chess as well, but it feels more intuitive to me with Go. Some very useful things in there…

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