Go... Play the game of Life (and Death)

Go... Play the game of Life (and Death)

On Saturday, March-12th 2016, history was made when AlphaGo/DeepMind won the series against Lee Sedol 3-0 in a best-of-five series. After losing the 3 straight game, Lee Sedol apologized with characteristic humility for not doing better and meeting the expectations of his fans. After-all, Go is a serious business, especially in China, Japan and Korea where players dedicate themselves from childhood to mastering the game.

Go Game in Progress

The goal of this post is to two-fold:

  1. Intrigue You with facts about Go (and maybe you will start playing and enjoying it)
  2. Draw parallels between the game and real-life - I find this fascinating.

Go is a two player, turn-based game, played on a grid of 19x19 points. One of the players plays black while the other white. This is where the similarities with Chess ends.

It is amazing how few (relatively speaking) know about the game of Go. Variously referred to as Baduk, Weiqi and Go, it is probably one of the oldest strategic games. When I listed “Go” as one of my hobbies in an introduction questionnaire in my company, the proof reader assumed I had forgotten to complete some sentence! This game deserves better.

Interesting facts about Go

  • Simplicity: There is only one ‘type’ of game piece and less than a dozen core rules.
  • Complexity: Ironic that I am listing this after “simplicity”. It has been repeatedly mentioned how the number of possible positions in Go are 10^171 whereas the number of atoms in the known Universe is just 10^80. Even the best/fastest computers cannot fully analyze and comprehend what the game will evolve into.
  • Popularity: Though not apparent, there are supposedly close to 60 Million players world-wide, though mostly in China, Korea and Japan. The game makes an appearance regularly in movies and other forums. For e.g. in the movie “A Beautiful Mind”

Parallels (in my view) with real-life

  • Very few rules to learn
  • Success or Failure is not instantaneous. No King to capture/kill.
  • Intuition and Gut feeling: There are many things happening at the same time. Your moves are most likely driven by intuition rather than hard-logic.
  • You win some battles and you lose some. But, you can still hope to win the War (overall game)
  • Patience and perseverance - Games can go on for hours and in earlier days even days - though today’s professional games are time limited.

Japanese Painting depicting two Go players

Some resources to get you started

Watch the tournaments (recordings and the rest of it): DeepMind channel

Websites: Sensei’s Library, Wikipedia

iOS app: SmartGo Player

Generic Game engine: GnuGO - Available on many platforms There are many UI apps that use this engine on different platforms

Online gaming: Kiseido Game Server PandaNet

I hope you Enjoy this as much as I do!

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