Go: A Little About the Game and My Experience Playing it

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The object of go is simple: use your stones to surround territory and to prevent your opponent from doing the same.  Stones connect orthogonally in order to share liberties, i.e. the open intersections orthogonally adjacent to them.  Stones may be captured if the opponent deprives them of their last liberty.  Stones can only be placed on intersections where it has at least one liberty or can make a liberty through capture.  A situation where captures may occur infinitely back and forth invokes the ko rule, where the other player must allow the person who just captured one turn to connect the stone back to a friendly group before he can capture in return.  Two secure and unconnected liberties within a group ensure the group’s safety.  If a situation occurs where neither side can move without losing their group, a truce is declared and neither side gains points from that area.  Players play stones alternately on the intersections, and the game ends when both players pass or one resigns.

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How can a game with so few rules take a lifetime to learn?

Yes, my dear readers, my first paragraph offers all the rules to this game.  The problem comes in perfecting one’s play.  How does one play lightly and efficiently rather than heavily and wastefully?  How does one retain the initiative?  What threats may be ignored for a greater good?  How should I invade here without playing too deeply or too shallowly?  Playing on what space would radiate the most influence on the board?  Should I strive now for territory or influence in the center?  How might I save my beleaguered group?  How might I kill my opponent’s group?  Should I go for the kill or just threaten and constrict that group?  Which joseki should I use in response to that attack on the corner?  Am I playing too aggressively?  Have I read all the possible variations of that fight correctly?  There are times when all of these questions must be answered before one can make a single move!  No other game I know can so frazzle the nerves.  Often, sweat would bead my brow, my mouth would dry out, and my hands would tremble from the sheer excitement of playing on the edge of a knife.

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It is a wonder that more people do not play this great game!  In my own case, I must confess to losing touch with my usual partners in playing this game and thus the game itself.  Now that I am trying to get back into playing, it is frustrating to lose to people online whose skills are less than those I once attained!  At one time, I could give an entertaining game for a professional Chinese 6-dan.  Note well that I say entertaining, not great!  However, my two favorite partners declared my first game with her the greatest they had ever witnessed!  Unfortunately, my fear of her killer instinct soon led to me playing so conservatively that the games stopped being as entertaining.

An artistic representation of how badly I lost to the 6-dan.

An artistic representation of how badly I lost to the 6-dan.

Oddly enough, I started learning the game because my father bought me a set for Christmas one year.  (A friend in Alabama now has this set.)  The proper way to play eluded my father, and he quickly lost interest in the game.  (Do not play on the edge of the board unless necessary to reducing your opponent’s territory or saving your own group.)  In sophomore year of college, I discovered that a good friend of mine loved the game, and we engaged in many stirring battles.  Like a Mongol, he preferred battles in the open center where precise calculation determined victory or defeat.  He often had the edge and it took me a while to develop a more defensive style and willingness to sacrifice in order to deal with his finesse.

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During the summer, I stumbled upon two of the greatest resources for the beginning go player: Game of Go: The National Game of Japan by Arthur Smith and Hikaru no Go.  The latter has a surprising amount of information pertinent to the beginner, while the former stands as perhaps the best introduction to the game.  These works combined with much playing on Fly or Die led to a lopsided victory over my friend on my return to college.  I had learned the importance of controlling the corners and the sides in order to gain advantage in the battle for the center.  The Mongol cavalry met solid squares of Swiss pike and, like the French cavalry at Waterloo, dashed itself against the fighting square.  He took the loss with good humor.  Though he seldom afterwards beat me at this game, he was still an opponent to be reckoned with for his skillful tactics in the center and ability to calculate with exactitude.

I should watch the anime again or read the manga.  Such a good story!

I should watch the anime again or read the manga. Such a good story!

These victories turned me into a fervent apostle of the game, and I preached its virtues to Jew and Gentile.  Devouring every work I could get my hands on, I established myself as the greatest authority of the game at college until the 6-dan arrived.  To my surprise and chagrin, my dominance on the board earned me the nickname of “the Go Rapist” among my friends.  But, those defects which cause the downfall of every champion began to gnaw at me: boredom in not finding an equal on the board (go is best played with equals, despite whatever advantage handicaps accrue to the weaker player) and the fear of losing.  The more I feared losing, the more conservative and uninteresting my play became.  At the same time, my roommate doggedly studied the game with the goal of beating me, and, during senior year shortly after one game where I only won by a single point, he became the dominant player!  Though at present we are both out of practice, I’d say that he still remains the superior player.

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Now, I am no longer the masterful player of five years ago, but I’d like to be.  There is a certain pleasure in starting again from the bottom.  The game does not bore me at all, and winning or losing is a lesser concern to playing well.  To my dear readers who love games of reason, skill, and intuition, be sure to give go a shot and to have a cup of tea next to you when you do!

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Progressing through New Manga

Here’s an article to remedy the dearth of manga reviews on this site.  As you know, manga happens to include some of my favorite light reading–or, if untranslated, not so light, but nevermind that!  And so, I wish to give you my opinion of one incredibly popular and four not so popular manga.

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1) Fairy Tail by Hiro Mashima

First, let me get the hit manga out of the way.  All of my dear readers must be familiar with this manga on some level.  Somehow, I have managed to read 375 chapters of the manga.  (Before anyone worries about me being sucked into a Fairy Tail oblivion, I have decided not to watch more of the anime.  Almost 400 chapters of manga does not need to be supplemented!)  Fairy Tail has taken a dark turn, which might be expected since the villains are honest-to-goodness demons.  One torture scene made me particularly uncomfortable.  When did Fairy Tail become Akame ga Kiru? Well, that’s an exaggeration but conveys the change of mood rather well.

This manga, even if very fanservicey, still stands as one of the greatest works coming out of Japan.  But, what should one expect when the author claims to have been influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien?

The jump shot is still one of my favorite moves.

The jump shot is still one of my favorite moves.

2) Break Shot by Takeshi Maekawa

I’m sure that I passed over this manga at one point.  Probably without good reason.  Anime based on table top games, such as Hikaru no Go and Shion no Ou, count among my favorites and billiards is not too far removed.  However, the more I read the more I discovered why this manga never gained much popularity: the situations become more contrived as the manga goes on.  We almost expect the hero to win in one shot every time.  Unlike in go or shogi (my two favorite games next to chess), there are not too many opportunities for reversals.  A go game might have as much as 320 moves, and the tide can turn as much as three or four times in a nail biting game.  Not so much professional billiards.

So much for a 1987 billiard manga.  The characters are rather likable, and I like how it offers tips on how to play pool; but, the games become atrociously dull.

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3) Breath of Fire – Ryuu no Senshi by Yakumo Hiroshi

Speaking of retro manga, here’s a fantasy series based on video games of the same name.  This is a delightful fantasy romp over the course of six chapters.  Breath of Fire features a standard strong, young hero who is assisted in his quest to defeat an evil goddess by a winged maiden, some therianthropic sidekicks, and a half snake sorceress.  The message is a very simple “one cannot overcome evil with hate,” but I find few things as enjoyable as a decent 90’s fantasy anime or manga.

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4) Hatenkou Yuugi, a.k.a. Dazzle by Minari Endou

This is a fun picaresque tale of a young lady–fourteen going on fifteen–whose father kicks her out of the house so that she might see the world.  She quickly befriends a Model 1911 toting albino named Alzeid, who is looking for his father’s killer.  Later, a clownish fighter named Baroqueheat joins the group.  His favorite hobby seems to be teasing Rahzel, but she takes it in stride and delivers beat downs as necessary.  Some of the stories can be pretty dark, and the characters’ banter is at least as humorous as that of Spice and Wolf.

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However, I find that I cannot recommend the manga as much as the anime.  The anime eschews the manga’s Plautine tendency to make the reader laugh every other panel.  That added seriousness better balances the dark elements found in the ten episode anime.  Is a second season of this too much to ask?

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5) Shindere Shoujo to Kodoku na Shinigami by Yuki Shinkiba

The title translates loosely to “The Death-Loving Girl and the Lonely Death God.”  Sounds like a match made in heaven.  Somehow, Shinto and Sherlock Holmes must also be a match made in heaven, because the manga is incredibly fun.  Our Sherlock Holmes character, Nishigami, moves to a small island.  He tries his best not to make friends because those he loves always seem to die.  However, this does not stop a popular girl named Akira from following this baneful course.  She does indeed die, but the island’s god resurrects her, saying that she can resurrect as many times as possible as long as she remains on the island but that she cannot leave it.  A good thing too: for Akira happens to be manga’s most shindere character.

This one is a great deal of fun.  The mysteries are complex and the characters rather charming.  Nishigami has a particularly brilliant head for deduction.  If only I could find chapter 21 somewhere!