Pocket Tactics Presents: A Guide to Go

By Dick Page 12 Apr 2017 0

Called Igo in Japan, Weiqi in China and Taiwan, and Baduk in Korea, the game known as Go in English is probably the oldest game in the world still played in its original form, dating back several thousand years to China. In the header image, legendary warrior Guan Yu of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms receives surgery for poison in his bone while distracting himself with a game of Go.

The rules of Go are incredibly, elegantly simple, even more so than chess. So elementary are the rules that someone (possibly chess world champ Emanuel Lasker) once said, “If there are sentient beings on other planets, then they play Go.” The goal is to surround over half the board’s territory with stones, playing one stone at a time and capturing any opposing stones you can surround completely. Stones are placed on the intersections of a grid, sized 9x9 or 13x13 for practice and 19x19 for proper play.



Though the rules are simple, the strategy is far from. In countries that field grand masters their education in the game starts in elementary school. Go is unusual in that it is very difficult for an AI to play at high levels. There are simply too many decisions to be made at any one time, each with consequences reaching to the end of the game. The potential number of legal positions of the game has been calculated to be far greater than the number of atoms in the observable universe. Only recently has a computer program been written that can defeat a professional player. Thus, the ideal way to play Go is with another person.

Learning to play well requires a great deal of practice. If you are trying to do as they say and quickly lose one hundred games so you can really start to master Go, mobile apps can be very helpful. Below are a few that I recommend: apps for each of the major online Go servers and practice apps to help you study.


KGS Client

KGS Client

iGoban (iPad): If you have someone to play with, but you're not ready to shell out five grand for a 15-inch kaya floor board, this free app is for you. It offers no online or computer play, but is a beautiful substitute for a wooden board if you have an iPad. There is also a free version.

KGS Client (Android): One of the most popular internet Go servers is the Kiseido Go Server (KGS), which features a large and well-established community. KGS is the only place where I have received a post-game debriefing from a total stranger. Most games take less than an hour to play thanks to the prevalence of timers on KGS. If you're on Android, you can play mobile, but iOS users are out of luck since the server runs on Java only.

Pandanet (Android and iOS): Pandanet lets you play on IGS, another popular online Go server with a real-time play focus. Its dedicated app is nicer than KGS, but there are fewer English speakers in the community.

OGS (Browser): Not a standalone app, but a web implementation of Go. OGS is great for correspondence games, but get ready to wait for a while between turns unless you happen to catch your opponent online.

Dragon Go Client (iOS): DGS is the last major Go server with a large English-speaking population. However, like OGS it is focused on turn-based games that can take a long time to play.


smartgo kifu

SmartGo Kifu

SmartGo Player (iOS): Playing against a real opponent is the best way to get stronger at Go, but if you want to play an AI, the SmartGo Player is a great practice app. The AI strength and handicap will automatically adjust as you win and lose games. You get a great sense of progression as you move up from 9x9 to 13x13 to 19x19 games.

SmartGo Books (iOS): Planning to get serious about studying Go? This library of Go books is essential. The app is free and includes a free chapter of all the available books, but then you will pay e-book prices for them ($4-15). All the books are real dead-tree texts that have been digitized and enhanced with interactive problem diagrams and boards, and span from utter beginner's guides to an analysis of the single most infamously difficult Go problem written. Your best value is going to be the Graded Go Problems for Beginners series which features several hundred problems in each volume for $6.99 each.

SmartGo Kifu (iOS): Advanced players should invest in this premium app. In addition to including the SmartGo Player, it includes several tools for reviewing and analyzing games, including a branching tree view for trying different approaches, a library of tens of thousands of professional games, several thousand problems, and annotated games.



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