American Go E-Journal

The Empty Board: Philosophical Reflections on Go #8

Wednesday July 11, 2018

by William Cobb2018.07.11-empty-go-board-with-bowls-and-stones-night-vision

Go is like life, but it’s not like every part of life. Take war, for example, or a political election. You may have certain sorts of respect for your opponent in such cases, but you don’t really wish them well. Not only do you want to defeat them, you want to put them in a place where they won’t be a threat in the future. Go is not like this. Instead of wanting to permanently defeat them, you want your opponent to become stronger since that will make for more interesting games. Of course, you hope to become stronger at the same time. Both players are primarily interested in becoming better players. Winning games is part of the path to that end, but so is losing games. Just winning is not the goal we have in playing this game. It is very frustrating to find yourself having to play an opponent who cannot possibly win (being say, ten ranks weaker than yourself in an even game—like in one of my Dragon Go games at the moment). I don’t want to just win; I want to become a better player. Playing even games against much weaker players does not help me learn to play better. And it doesn’t help the much weaker player either, who just gets demolished and has little idea why. I’m happy to help much weaker players by playing handicap games. Those are a teaching process and something we all can benefit from. We should all try to do our share of playing on both sides of handicap games. My main point here is that while I don’t want my opponent to win this game, I do want to have a good challenge and to learn something, and that is more important than winning. Of course, I enjoy winning, but go is an odd game in this regard. I have no interest in leaving my opponent completely devastated. I want my opponent to become stronger so I can do so as well. Please, show me my weaknesses so I can correct them. That’s why the loser so often says, “Thank you for the game.”

photo by Phil Straus; night vision photo art by Chris Garlock