Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Philosophy of Go: Good and Bad Behaviors

One of the things I've gained an appreciation for is how Go relates to real life.  I'm going to start a new series where I talk about Go strategy and how I personally apply it to my everyday life.  I already spoke a bit about how playing Go is like meditation, I wanted to talk more about how I use the tactics of the game to help me navigate life.

Humans have difficulty predicting the future with accuracy.  You go through life making dozens of decisions.  It's hard to tell just how impactful a decision is until you see its fruition, and by then, it may be too late to do anything about it.  We take the information we have and try to do our best with it.  In the game of Go, there are sometimes dozens of possibilities.  The difference between one move and another can be the difference between a peaceful game where both players haggle over a handful of points, to an all-out life or death struggle.

Good Go players have a variety of tools at their disposal to handle this problem.  The first is past experience.  Strong Go players just avoid certain moves because in the past they did not yield a good result.  They may not know what the BEST result in a given situation is, but they definitely do not spend their time going down rabbit holes.  People do this in real life.  You want to have money to buy things.  Shelter and food are always nice.  You go to work.  You earn money, but you have a habit of being late.  You don't put forth enough effort at work.  You call off when you would rather stay home and play video games.  Eventually, you get fired.  You have money problems.  The next job you get, you are there on time and you learn how to perform your job better.  By making mistakes and observing outcomes, you prune away behaviors and ideas that do not serve your purpose.

Punctuality, self discipline, and industriousness are qualities that serve you well for getting a job and keeping it.  Keeping your stones connected, making good shape, and keeping your options open are qualities that serve you well for playing a good game of Go.  Good Go players have learned to forget certain moves because the outcome is always bad.  They also learn to make certain shapes or play certain moves because they know there will be a payoff.

Take the shape above, for example.  It's classic.  Black slides at 1 and then comes back to make a framework at the bottom with 3.  Black has already damaged himself by making thin shape.  We tend to think that when our opponent makes a mistake, there must be some magic move we can play to automatically destroy him. That is not always so.  In this case, Black has left a gaping hole.  White simply needs to continue playing the game, always keeping an eye on Black's weakness at A.

To appreciate Black's plight, imagine this: Black has a hole in his roof.  The hole in his roof is at A.  When it's sunny outside, he can putter around the house and not notice.  When it storms, he has a problem!  That's the way it works in Go.  If you make weak, brittle shapes, you might be forced to pay a price later.

Let's say the game progresses.  Black thinks all is well.  Now, White invades with the circle marked stone.  It's raining and Black's house is about to be flooded.  His two square marked stones are in trouble!  Black will be able to save them, but the cost will be that White gets to destroy a lot of Black's potential territory.

Throughout my life I try to inspect my own habits and behaviors.  I try to draw a direct causal line between behaviors that help me and behaviors that inhibit me.  Going to the gym results in a bit of pain the next day, but helps my energy and focus levels immensely.  Taking the extra time at work to make sure a project is done correctly helps me build a better rapport with my co-workers, who may be more inclined to help me when I need it down the line.  Good trees bear good fruit! Take stock of your own behaviors, and see which ones bear you good fruit.