American Go E-Journal » The Empty Board

The Empty Board: Philosophical Reflections on Go #4

Tuesday May 1, 2018

by William Cobb2018.05.02_empty-board-kaleidoscope

Decisions about good and bad moves have a big role in go. It’s often not that easy to determine, but a move either promotes or hinders the achievement of the player’s ultimate goal, which is of course to win.  Whether playing the game is good or bad is a different issue. To decide that you have to appeal to some goal independent of the game. This is a way in which go is not so much like life. Not because life situations are more complicated, but because the ultimate goal or purpose of life is much more difficult to determine. So deciding what is good and bad in life is much more difficult. As a result there is a lot of muddling through and a lot of just following along. That’s why in most cases we just don’t think about this very much. But if you want to be able to feel more confident about making decisions about good and bad in life, you will have to make an effort to determine what the goal of life is. Nevertheless, playing go can be very relaxing and comforting. It’s nice not to have to worry about what we are really up to.

photo by Phil Straus; photo art by Chris Garlock


The Empty Board: Philosophical Reflections on Go #3

Thursday April 26, 2018

By William Cobb2018.04.26_empty-board-bas relief

In the classical age of go, players would spend several hours or more playing a game. Ever wonder why they did that? What could they have been thinking about? Here’s an experiment for you: Go onto one of the turn based internet go sites, such as DragonGo, and start a game with someone at your level. After the first four moves in the four corners, spend more than a few minutes after each move thinking about the board situation. Print it out and mull it over: where are the biggest plays, are there any weak groups, any ways to start a fight or disrupt the opponent’s plans, what is the balance of territory and potential, etc. Read out (even try out) possible sequences. Spend some time thinking about the game just to see what it’s like. As the game develops notice what it’s like to not be under time pressure trying to figure out what to do. You’ll also discover that there are a lot more possibilities than you had noticed before. You’ll find times when you’re not sure what to do or whether a situation is good or bad and maybe you’ll even see why it might be interesting to read some books and study previous games, especially those of stronger players. Of course, this will also make you more frustrated about playing with only 45 minutes basic time, but at least you’ll get a better idea of what makes go such an interesting game.

photo/art by Phil Straus


The Empty Board: Philosophical Reflections on Go #2

Tuesday April 17, 2018

by William Cobb2018.04.15_empty-board-glowing edges

Except for the 90 minutes basic time of games in the US Open at the Congress, almost all official games in US tournaments have a basic time of 45 minutes. Why? Well, it makes it possible to have four rounds in a day. But why not have three rounds or two? Four rounds make it possible to separate the group for ranking the players for prizes and such. Anyway, most players don’t use the entire 45 minutes, let alone the 90 at the Open. Why? Don’t they have anything to think about in those extra minutes? They’re probably worried about running out of time, but perhaps having a ranking for getting prizes and status seems more important. So the whole idea of modern tournaments is primarily a function of catering to a desire to win prizes rather than to play the best go you are capable of? Yes.

photo/art by Phil Straus


The Empty Board: Philosophical Reflections on Go

Tuesday April 3, 2018

by William Cobb2018.04.03_P1230835-tri-tone

“Go is like life.” It’s a common claim—and true. But go is also like death. Every game comes to an end and every player eventually plays their last game. Is that a bad thing? With individual games, even if you lost, you always made some good moves and there’s always next time. But what about that final game? Does the fact that it’s inevitable mean that playing is a waste of time? Of course not. Each game is an end in itself. You don’t have to play forever for them to be one of the best parts of life. The same goes for all of life’s games. The fact that they come to an end and there is no continuation does not undermine the enjoyment or the significance of life. A lot of people seem to be confused about that.

photo by Phil Straus