American Go E-Journal

The Empty Board: Philosophical Reflections on Go #16

Saturday July 25, 2020

By William Cobb

Sitting around with way too much time on my hands and trying to think of something to do, I started thinking about go games in the old days. You may be familiar with this traditional Chinese poem:

Just one game they said,
And started to play.
That was yesterday.

For some reason it had never occurred to me that this doesn’t necessarily mean they were playing lots of games; it could still be the same game. The Japanese have some major title games where the players each have eight hours basic time so the games last two days. And there have been games in the old days much longer than that, such as the one in Kawabata’s The Master of Go. That one went on for months, though some of the time was supposedly a result of the sickness of one of the players.

But what would us normal players do with a lot more time? A good indication is the games we play on sites like DragonGo, where most games last at least a few weeks. Of course, that’s because the players are otherwise occupied. What if I started taking, say, fifteen minutes to make a move in a DragonGo game instead of the usual minute or two? I know what to think about: where are the weak stones, where are the open areas, where are the sente moves, where are the largest moves, what is the score, etc. I definitely do not sit and think about such things carefully. In fact, I’m sure a lot of my opponents never count the score; otherwise more of them would resign before the end of the game. I myself would be very embarrassed to lose by more than thirty points and not have resigned. Toward the end of such games, the one losing has no good moves. At any rate, I have decided to use the present situation as a golden opportunity to try really thinking about what is happening in my games. Maybe my winning percentage will go up, and almost certainly my enjoyment of the games will increase.

photo by Phil Straus; photo art by Chris Garlock