March 2nd, 2001

self portrait

The nature of go

A long while back, I learned about playing go over the Internet. With my recent move at work, I had occasion to pack up my go board and stones and when I had to dig past them to get a reference out of my still-packed box, it reminded me of the Internet games out there.

Go is a fascinating game. With simple black and white stones and a 19x19 grid, endless variations both beautiful and profound play themselves out during a game. It is fascinating to watch patterns unfold, flow and change through the game. Each placement of a stone changes the pattern and ripples its effects across the board.

Go is traditionally taught much as chess is. Basic moves are learned and then a serious student begins to study openings. I was fortunate to learn in a way that didn't emphasize those rote openings (known as joseki), but concentrated on the overall effect of each stone, including the opening ones. The strongest players know hundreds, if not thousands, of variations upon the joseki but tend to diverge from them due to the positions of other stones on the board. The subtlety of the true masters is a wonder to watch and study of famous games is a common learning tool.

I dusted off my chops this afternoon and logged into the Internet go server during lunch. I could tell I was rusty but within a few games, was back in the swing of things. The flow of the game reminded me of martial arts. As my opponent approached, I swung to one side, setting myself a strong base. His insistent thrust was countered and the energy of the blow actually served to strengthen my position. As he floundered, I expanded my reach to encompass greater territory. Another approach and I countered back. Quick in-fighting broke out, each cutting an probing to find weakness. I prevailed and moved outward to grander vistas. My opponent, already defeated, struggled for a while longer then withdrew.

Every time I sit down at a go board and let a few stones run through my fingers, I am reminded anew of the beauty of this game. Even an electronic representation brings some of the same thrill and adequately expresses the game's subtle strengths. A pastime for a lifetime.