Go and Philosophies for Life

Odd Go Position
A Go game at the end.
I was white, and think I lost this one quite badly. If I place 1 stone at the top-middle, get all of the black stones in that group, which is why I took this picture. This is a small board, at 13×13. The normal size is a 19×19 board.

Go is very interesting, since there are so few rules, and a large variety of possible moves. On the opening moves, the best places to go are often far away from other pieces.

The main strategy in Go is to make the biggest possible move. The problem is that “biggest” means the move that will result in the most territory captured at the end of the game. Since empty territory is what the score is based on, making small moves or redundant moves hurts quite badly, since you lose initiative and reduce your score.

One complexity is that a piece placed might have utility in the next move, or only have an influence 100 moves later. A piece might simply threaten an area, and make it so that the opponent never goes there, making judging the relative value of a move incredibly difficult.

Along with this is that when a group of stones can’t avoid being captured (taken off the board by being surrounded), you should generally play elsewhere once their capture is inevitable. This was a hard thing for me, since this means letting the enemy capture your pieces, but they are going to be captured anyways.

There are areas that I think of as “battles”, where you play in a area that has lots of stones touching, and you are working to make the area “alive”. or unable to be captured by the opponent. Once you have gained territory, and can guarantee that a group is alive, so that it can’t be captured even if you ignore it for at least one turn, then you can look elsewhere.

Thus, a game between good players will have pieces spread through out the board, with no areas that are dense. Which is nothing like the picture above, but that was taken 6 months ago, when I was just beginning. (I am better now, but only by a certain amount)

A lot of this I see might have parallels to life. Make the biggest move, don’t be afraid to cut losses, secure stuff and then move on.

For example, getting a higher paid job is definitely a “big move”, but after that continuing at that job is probably more useful than making a change. Moving to Japan might also be big, but if I just continued at the same job online, it might be a rather small move. My Japanese ability is something I am building, and if I put it to use it was worth it, but if I lose it through disuse, it becomes “captured”.

I have various hobbies that are quite scattered, like photography, biking, and firefighting. Maybe they will just stay there and not really grow, or maybe they will become useful later one. (Or be captured by the Japanese Government, in the case of firefighting, while I am here…)

Of course these all boil down to making decisions based on the risk/reward, where decisions should be made to maximize the value. But Go, with the occasionally long lag between making a move and it becoming useful, and the almost simultaneous but independent areas on the board resemble life to me. Maybe that is one reason why it has been popular for 2,500 years.