March 3, 2015

Do You Play "Go" - A Game That Resembles Life?

English: weiqi-qi (go-qi) 中文: 圍棋的氣(以黑子為例說明,圖中 ...
English: weiqi-qi (go-qi) 中文: 圍棋的氣(以黑子為例說明,圖中 X 為黑子的氣。) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I first learned playing board game Go (Chinese 围棋, pronounce as Wei Qi) during my college years. I played a lot in my 20s, during which I had lots of free time. I was absolutely obsessed with this game. After I came to America, life as an immigrant became a survival struggle, I had no time for such luxury. Starting from recent months, as my general life condition gets better, I again indulge myself in this game.

The rule of the game is very simple: two opponents face an empty board with 19x19 grid (alternatives are 13x13, or 9x9, etc.), one side holds black stones, another white, place stones on board alternatively, each time one stone. The objective of the game is to occupy more space than your opponent when game finishes. Of course, there is certain rules of life and death, which means the stones on board have to stay alive, otherwise the space of dead stones would belong to opponent.

Go is a game combines both calculation and intuition. Like chess, you have to foresee as many as steps as you can whenever you place a stone. You must have strategy for every single move you make. Slightly different from chess, the shapes you created with stones are highly visual, which put your intuition, or your visual "imagination" into use. If your stones separate with each others farther, you may seize more "lands", however, if too much farther away from each other, chances are they would get killed. On the other hand, if you put your stones too close with each other, you may make solid living space but you also could end up having smaller "kingdom" than your opponent, which means losing the game.

Go is a game all about "big picture". No doubt that calculation, or wrestle on each small battle are all important, but the time you lose the "big picture", is certainly the fatal moment that leads to your final "death". All the times during fighting small battles you have to evaluate what your fights are worth the effort or not, because if there is larger empty area to explore, you really don't have to spend energy on fighting for small pieces of space.

Go is a game resembles life. You can't win if you are too greedy, nor too timid. You have to be humble yet at the same time try as hard as you can to take initiative, gain control of game. The fact that stones have to stay together in order to stay alive resemble human life - we are social animals and can't survive as single individual. Also, if your stones just staying together, without adventures of exploring new space, you would lose chances of developing your living condition, end up losing competition at the end. Also, the board is a limited space, the more space you gain, the less your opponent would get. This also reminds me our human living condition - a limited space, namely earth, with limited resource, caused thousands years of cruel competition. Maybe, the reason that this game was invented in China, was because that Chinese people lived in such an enclosed geographic area, isolated from other cultures, so that they had the most acute sense of this evolutionary fact, that is: limited living space with limited resource would cause human beings' becoming the direct threat of their own kind. Well, as cruel as it sounds, Go also teaches us to live peacefully with opponents, that is, in order to stay alive, you also have to let your opponent to live as well. The best go games played were those which both sides finished with complete satisfaction, regardless their win or loss. Those who try to kill all opponents' stones, usually always end up losing games.

Go is a game to communicate. If you really love the game, you would forget about win or loss and enjoy communication with another live human beings. Through the game playing, you would quickly sense the personality of your opponents, patient, humble, aggressive, irritating, all would show in the course of playing. Of course, on the other hand, you know yourself well by playing this game. If you study each game you play, knowing why you lose or win, your personality will certainly improve. As someone put, "Go makes you a better person".

Go was invented in China long time ago, has thousands years history, spread in Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries, now, it starts to gain popularity in Western world. I personally consider this game the best board game human invented, simply because it blends both calculation and intuition. So far, it is the only board game that cannot handled well by computer, due to its distinct human traits (intuition). I have no doubt this game truly is the best "representative" of human intelligence. As I suggested in another post, that one day if we discover other intelligent lives out space, and are required to present a game that embodies human intelligence, I have no doubt that Go is the best choice.

If you love chess or checkers, give it a try, you may fall in love with Go. :-)


  1. Thanks for writing this. It's nice to see that someone else sees analogies between Go and life. Managing my greed is something I've found vital to doing well in Go. It's one process that has slipped into my daily life. Because of Go, I often ask myself in my daily life, "Am I making a greedy decision?" and "How much do I really need to acquire to get the job done?"

    As in Go, there's a peace of mind that comes from identifying how much one really needs to be successful, acquiring that amount, and not acquiring anything more.

    1. Nicely put, Matthew! I totally agree!

  2. Great post Yun Yi! I was shown Go when I went to university but never actually played it more than once (which was my loss). Then when our kids were growing up we used to play this game called 'Othello' a lot and it strikes me that it is very like Go. You're right it teaches you to organise your thinking around 'the team', not just the individual piece in order to win. I even see parallels with what 'the tribe' meant to hunter/gatherer man. To succeed, you had to share with others and the worst form of punishment was to be banished.

    1. Thanks Neil! I never heard "Othello". Must check it out sometime.