American Go E-Journal

The Empty Board: Philosophical Reflections on Go #17

Wednesday February 17, 2021

By William Cobb

Have you ever tried to do something really fast? I can think of several things I would want to do as fast as possible: spit out something that tastes really bad, get out of a house that is on fire, run in a race, get out of the shower when the hot water suddenly gives out. Of course, there are things you wouldn’t want to do as fast as possible: finish the last bite of chocolate cake, listen to your favorite songs or sing them or play them. There are some activities that you naturally savor and linger over, not wanting them to end so quickly you can’t enjoy them. Where does playing go fit here? EJ reader Joe Mihara made a comment recently that Chris Garlock passed on to me: “What fun is Go if you have no time to think? I thought that the ’thinking’ was what was fun about the game?” This seems obvious to me.

I know that some people like to play “blitz” go, slapping down the stones as fast as they can. It can be wildly exciting, but only if you are not concerned about understanding what is happening during the game. Many go players are a little unhappy about having only forty-five minutes to play their moves in a game in most tournaments as there is so much to consider—and it is interesting, even enjoyable, to consider as many of the possibilities for every move as you can. It seems odd to suggest playing a game of go under circumstances that make it impossible to know what is happening in the game. In fact, I think that taking time to think about most things you do as you do them is a good idea. Trying to get through a fascinating process as fast as you can just makes no sense. Even if the only thing you care about is winning, how can you enjoy winning if you have virtually no awareness of how it happened? The issue is whether the process or the result is what you care about. To me, one of the most attractive things about go is that the rules make you lose half the time and win half the time. All there is to enjoy is the process.

photo by Phil Straus; photo art by Chris Garlock