An introduction to the ancient game of Go

Preface

Go is my favorite game. It is also the oldest game humans still play today. In ancient China, it was considered one of the four "essential arts" of scholarship. From just a few simple rules, a game of truly limitless profundity emerges that has enraptured mankind for millennia.

Edward Lasker once wrote something to the effect of:

With its baroque queens and bishops, only humans could have invented
Chess. But if other intelligent life is out there, they are almost certainly
playing Go.

If you were messing around with a grid, and two color stones, the rules are so simple you might just accidentally discover Go yourself. It's reasonable to think other intelligent beings might also.

I have heard the question, "Go is more complex than Chess right?"

It is a question that comes innocently but misidentifies Go's character. Go doesn't just support more complex gameplay; it is so simply beyond direct articulation that its pedagogy comprises an amalgam of geometric insights, history, metaphor, proverb, strategic principles and a rich zoology of shapes with funny names like Monkey Jump, Elephant Eye and Tiger's Mouth. Each with their own unique tactical properties.

None of these things are built into the rules. They just emerge out of them.

In Go, the spectrum of skill between beginners and masters is so markedly immense, that is unlikely that any two random players will be equally matched outside of ranked play. This may seem intimidating but here is a helpful perspective. When facing a stronger player, one will inevitably encounter new previously unseen Go. When playing a weaker player, maybe one can show them something new. Everyone is on their own path.

Personally, in some sense, Go transcends competitive pretext and verges on philosophy. Players engage in a dialectic exploration through board-space, trying to bring their own reason to bear upon the mutual context. In Go, it is common culture for players to quite literally spend as much time after the game discussing and reasoning about the game as they do playing it.

In the foward to Learn To Play Go vol 1, Janice Kim wrote:

If God had a house, it would have the perfect number of perfectly
proportioned rooms, with the perfect furniture arranged in the perfect feng
shui. If you took off your coat in the foyer, and hung it up in the closet,
you might see on the top-shelf, tucked away, the game of Go.

When looking at examples of Go, at first it can seem like totally meaningless noise or a foreign language. This can also be intimidating. But in fact, each new proverb or principle you learn is a "aha" moment which imbues the same board you were just looking at with new rich meaning. It is an assuredly rewarding experience. And in Go, you have a guarantee of a genuninely bottomless source of such revelations.

With this guide, I hope to help convey those concepts as painlessly and evidently as possible so that we may share this beautiful and wonderous game together.

The Fundamentals

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