How to learn Go

games, go, how to, weiqi, Old Blog Import

I’ve always enjoyed playing games, but since graduate school I haven’t had much time for them. I discovered recently, however, that taking a break to play a game of some sort really helped my writing. The more engaged I am in the game, the more of a real” break I have, and the better able I am to focus again on writing when I am done. Taking a walk, washing dishes, or the like never really refreshed me because my mind was still obsessed with the paper I was working on while doing those tasks. A game is much more engaging, and hence more refreshing as well.

But what game to play? Action games are somehow no good for me. I always feel like I am fighting the user interface more than the opponent. (Maybe I should try a Wii?) Nor am I good at word games. My brain seems to freeze up when I try to do crosswords or play Scrabble (unlike Shashwati who loves word games). So I needed a strategy game. At first I became obsessed with KDice, a Risk-like online game. That was fun for a while. I learned that despite the high level of chance, one could get better at the game by avoiding certain common mistakes. As I got better, however, I felt more frustrated by the limited nature of the game. It was then that I discovered SmartGo for the iPhone. This single-handedly revived my interest in Go (Weiqi 圍棋), a game I tried to learn in college but never got very far with.

Go rankings start at 30kyu (級 30k) and go up to 1k, after which you become a dan (段) player and can go up to 7dan (7d). A beginner is someone between 30 and 20k (up to 15k in some rankings). This summer I made it up to 11k, which puts me solidly within the ranks of what Wikipedia refers to as a casual gamer.” That means I’m no longer just a beginner and am able to properly understand and appreciate the game. It used to be that when I played against a stronger opponent I would just feel frustrated and confused. Now even when I loose I can still have a fun game. More importantly, I understand the basics well enough to learn from my mistakes.

This post is about how to learn Go well enough to become a casual gamer,” as well as where you can play Go online so you can find other players your level and enjoy the game.

So how to move from being a beginner to a casual gamer?

  1. Getting started
  1. Practice problem solving
  1. Play with real people
  1. Online resources
  1. What to study
  1. Review, review, review

What’s next? How to move from being a casual gamer to a single-digit kyu player, an intermediate amateur? That’s my next goal. In addition to continuing to do what I’ve listed above, I plan to spend more time observing and studying games between more advanced players. But it will also be important to study opening joseki. Joseki are standard opening combinations, but they can’t just be memorized (although that helps). You have to understand what to do if your opponent doesn’t follow the script (this often mans they’ve made a mistake but it is no good if you can’t identify the mistake), or if the surrounding stones significantly alter the situation. There are even some middle game joseki, patterns one often sees in the middle game — but here the chance of surrounding stones altering the outcome is even stronger. There are also standard openings which combine joseki with an overall strategy of play, like the Chinese Opening. But all that can wait. For now I’m reading the book Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go, about … the importance of sticking to the fundamentals.

I hope this tutorial is useful. If you get on IGS or KGS you can find me under the handle gogramsci.”