American Go E-Journal

The Empty Board: What Is Blitz Go? (#18)

Monday March 15, 2021

By William Cobb

I was thinking about taoism the other day (such things are a consequence of studying and teaching Eastern philosophy for many years) and realized that it offers a hint of what I might say to readers who are unhappy about the dismissive way I tend to talk about speed/blitz go. The hint is the notion of “non-action”, which is neither acting nor not acting. So I could say that with regard to go, there is “playing” and “not playing”. Blitz go, it seems to me, is neither of these; it is “non-playing”.

Taoism says that there is a difference between acting with a focus on what you think will be in your own best interest, that is, for clearly selfish reasons, and acting in a way that is simply a response to what you sense should be done. In the latter case, your motivation is not focused on some sort of egotism. Your motivation is based on an understanding of what is appropriate in the situation given the common values that are involved. That is, the values that are based on a recognition of the fact that you are not a self-sufficient ego that can benefit from harming or ignoring the needs of others. We exist as parts of a functioning whole, not as separate entities, so the appropriate way to act is in accordance with that understanding of the situation.

In go, this has to do with understanding both the game and the role of one’s opponent. It is obviously not consistent with the nature of go to play with an inappropriate handicap so that you can enjoy humiliating your opponent. Similarly, it is not playing go to just plop stones down on the board in a heedless way. The essence of blitz go is playing to the limit of your sense of what is going on in the game; it’s a way to discover just what those limits of awareness are. In “normal” play, you take time to analyze situations and possibilities much more deeply. Of course, there are always more layers to explore and time is not unlimited; in blitz go, you push to go as far and fast as you can. It would probably be a total disaster for beginners to try to play that way, given their limited knowledge base. But for experienced players, I suppose, it can be an amusing way to discover the limits of your understanding of various situations.

And, of course, blitz go can be wildly exciting if you enjoy activities in which you have little grasp of what is really happening. (You didn’t really think I would end up being in favor of it did you?)

photo by Phil Straus; photo art by Chris Garlock