This comes up a lot with me lately so I'll post a separate thread.
I play Go.(My first game against a human, physically, with a tournament-grade set)
The de-facto English text is Janice Kim's Learn to Play Go
series, which contains 5 books of about $15 each. Read, play, read, play.... Also the Internet Go Server
is the place to go to play Go; brush up against the computer for 3 or 4 games maybe, but it is stupid and erratic and nothing like a human. You're better losing your first 50 games against 17 kyu players than winning against the computer; you learn more. As O-Sensei said, failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.
For reasons that are difficult to explain, Go relates to just about everything in life. Primarily, Go teaches balance and judgment; although I find that it also brings some recognition skills with it, for example the same mental process used to examine a Go position are used to correctly interpret an analog clock (something else I taught myself recently). Go teaches you how to run armies; how to manage a team or a business; how to have a relationship. The playing of Go is a form of meditation: eventually you realize your opponent and his likely mistakes don't exist, and you are simply playing the game rather than playing against a person; you stop considering plays that serve no purpose except to grasp on the hope that your opponent will be mislead to a mistake.
In more concrete terms, Go is a simple game. Black plays first. Each player alternates placing a stone on one of the intersections on the board. Each open space directly connected to the stones (in 4 directions) is a liberty; friendly stones on each others' liberties become groups. By placing a stone on every liberty of an opponent's group, you reduce the group to zero liberties (of course); at this point, you capture that group. The goal of Go is to surround territory, i.e. unoccupied points on the board that cannot be taken.
The simple implications of this are that capturing destroys territory, and invading destroys territory. A group of stones that can be made impossible to capture, even supplying just two points of territory, may represent ten or fifteen or thirty points in your opponent's territory that no longer belong to him.
Further, captured stones each count as one territory point; and stones that cannot avoid capture in ANY sequence of play are counted as dead, and captured when the game ends automatically. As a result, any struggling (playing on dead stones that cannot evade capture) supplies as many extra points as territory reduced if each play gets a response; if the stones are ignored because they CANNOT form life, they become easier to capture and hand over free points. Likewise, playing out a capture sequence needlessly when the other player is not struggling actually reduces territory, lowering your score. Thus dead stones are best ignored.
It's noticeable that, within these rules, it is possible to win without capturing anything at all. The function of capturing serves to erase the points lost by territory invasion; just as the creation of life often reduces your opponent's territory more than it raises your own, since it takes at a minimum 10 stones to make 2 points of territory in the center (total reducing opponent territory by at least 12, and often more), or 6 in the corner to reduce by 8. Of course, as your opponent loses 12 points and you gain 2, this is effectively worth a 14 point gain.
Built on the simplest rules is one of the most complex games possible. The playing of Go is affected by microstrategy and macrostrategy; an indefensible position on the board can often be abandoned to play elsewhere, resulting in a situation where your small loss as the opponent destroys that claim results in your greater claim of a larger part of the board by growing influence. Thus when you abandon a difficult or effectively lost area early, you force your opponent to follow; when you return to this area later, your influence may have increased such that you can now leverage other stones that happen to be nearby to claim part or all of the previously lost area. All of these considerations have to be made at all times; as such, play early on can affect the outcome hundreds of moves later.
The strangest part of Go, to me, is that the standard and typical way to improve is to read books on strategy; to study life and death problems; to have a teacher; and to play games. This helps me, of course; but I find that my greatest single advances come from the meditation on what Go means
. Consider several examples in following.
Understanding that successful invasion gains little but costs your opponent much has applications far reaching in life... and in Go. In Go, a successful invasion might gain me 2 points. Perhaps my opponent will irritate me so much in the struggle for life that I create a huge, filled-in blob where I might have created 10 or 15 points of territory. No matter: he has lost 30 points, and I have gained 2. If he had lost 15 points and I gained 10, this would be less beneficial to me. In life, anything you do may provide you no tangible benefit; but it may put you in a greater, secure position for benefit later, or simply prevent antagonization effects (such as your opponent having such a damn high score) that would keep you from prosperity.
Understanding that an area of territory conceded to your opponent will be reduced by the cost of a failed invasion means the same in life as in Go: to try and fail is no worse than to not try. In Go, your opponent loses 10 points playing to trap and kill your invasion; but he gains 10 points by capture, totaling no harm or gain for you to make the attempt. More importantly is the impact on your opponent's influence, a secondary effect: if your borders aren't secured around the site of hostilities, you may give your opponent a strong base to attack from. Knowing when to take risks and how to mitigate them is important in life and Go. Mitigated risks are worth taking; foolish and uncontrolled struggles simply bring more and more constriction around you, boxing you in as your opponent's territory expands (or as your life problems grow).
And also it is good to be mindful of the impact of future events. As I said, local play may prove difficult or impossible; at the very least it can prove wasteful and ungainful. Perhaps you can prevent your opponent from gaining territory, but you will gain no territory either. Perhaps a play elsewhere will eventually bring a position by which your influence can solidify your control over an area, now making territory or at least life where none could be made before. In life, there are many situations where your struggles bear no fruit and your goals are unattainable; abandoning them now does not mean you cannot come back to them later, and indeed later events may unfold to make those struggles fruitful and to wholly accomplish your goals.
I suppose my uncontrolled ravings are beyond ken, difficult to grasp and seemingly disconnected. After all, I'm talking about putting stones on a piece of wood. This is a children's game, invented to occupy an unruly and stupid 8 year old; and yet I discuss the deeper implications of life through the game, as if a 4200 year old board game means something other than the confirmation that people were really f##king bored before TV was invented. But that is how the universe works, isn't it? Why would it ever be obvious? We can't even figure out exactly why stuff falls down....