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Learning go

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One of my father's favorite pastimes was playing go. I posted a while back about how he tried to teach me to play, but I'm sorry to say that, although he was very good at teaching me lots of other things, his approach to teaching me this game didn't work for me.

But recently I've been thinking about the game again. I was talking with my uncle Dobe a couple months ago, and it occurred to me that I might enjoy it more now than I did as a kid. And then the other day Kavya taught me a boardgame called Let's Catch the Lion, a simplified but fun version of shogi, and I know shogi isn't anything like go, but it started me thinking about Japanese boardgames again.

And then I happened across the abovelinked old post of mine about Peter teaching me go, and I saw that Dobe had posted a comment linking to a method for teaching go that looks really useful; I haven't tried it, but I suspect that approach would've worked much better to teach the game to me. (Dobe's link in the comment is to an old version of the page that no longer exists, but I found the current version.) And that site has some animated bits demonstrating various concepts, and it all made the game feel more approachable to me.

So then it occurred to me that there must be a Mac version of the game I could try out, and while I was looking for that I found a useful comparison table for iPad go apps, and I ended up buying the SmartGo Player app. And although its GUI leaves a lot to be desired, the tutorial is pretty good, and I've now played a few games against the computer on a 9x9 board and have been finding it really interesting. I especially like the ability to backtrack and try something different, forming a set of branching paths that you can jump between.

I think one of the things I struggled with most as a kid was the idea of eyes. It seemed to me that my father would point at a part of the board and tell me something was or wasn't a valid eye, and I couldn't tell the difference; it felt to me like some kind of mystical vague concept rather than a clearly definable game construct. And likewise for “living” and “dead” groups of stones. Playing through the SmartGo tutorial, and playing a few games, is giving me a much better understanding of all that, though it's still not obvious or intuitive to me. But I'm beginning to be able to look over a board and figure out which regions are and aren't eyes, and thus which groups are living and which are dead.

I doubt I'll ever become a terribly good player, and I doubt I'll ever find it as compelling as Peter did. But I'm enjoying learning more about the game.

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