American Go E-Journal

The Empty Board: Philosophical Reflections on Go #12

Wednesday November 28, 2018

By Bill Cobb2018.11.26_empty-go-board-with-bowls-and-stones-bw-inverted

As in life, there is a color issue in go that has an impact on most players’ experience. The fact that Black plays first has an obvious effect. Most players, at least in the early years of playing, find it more comfortable to be Black in a game. It provides a certain comfort to feel like you are in control of the game for at least the first few moves. This preference is particularly evident in handicap games, especially high handicap games where the player with the black stones starts with an enormous advantage but feels like the white stones are invincible. No matter how isolated or surrounded by black stones, a white stone just seems inherently strong and dangerous. “The white stones never die” is a saying familiar to weaker players. I’m not sure that this ever goes away completely, though players who are especially successful with Black may feel differently. The fact that AlphaGo won slightly more often with White than with Black when playing itself makes many feel that part of the problem is that the komi has gotten to be too large. At any rate, this is not a real problem in enjoying the game, but it would be nice if we could at least sometimes in life try a policy of Black goes first.

photo by Phil Straus; photo art by Chris Garlock