Welcome Horse Badorties!
(side note: great username! I love that book!)
I greatly empathize with that feeling you have where you’re just trying to grasp the flow of the game, and feel that you can’t because there is just too much going on. Where you’re playing mechanical moves and maybe even succeeding, but not knowing why.
Go is - for lack of a better way of saying it - a very large game. There is so much to know, so many different ways that things can go, that it will take you a long time just to be able to grasp the basic fundamentals. And I’m not talking about mechanical things like capture, or territory, or joseki - I’m talking about that feeling of “I know what I’m doing and why I am doing it.” So, my first advice is be patient with yourself, because there really is a lot to learn.
I myself am a very visual learner, and learn by doing better than just reading/understanding things. As such having a more experienced player walk you through things is invaluable. If you can find someone to do it in person, all the better.
Lacking that, I would HIGHLY recommend Dwyrin’s Back to Basics series on YouTube, especially the very first episode:
Even though Dwyrin rambles a bit in this one, he does a very good job of breaking down his inner thought process, and focusing on a very simple decision-tree of priorities.
In go, your task is to create risk for your opponent and minimize risk for yourself as efficiently as possible. As such, being able to determine the correct level of risk at every moment is crucial, because it determines the right time to apply strategy A versus strategy B. Dwyrin does a great job of explaining what those different levels of risk are, and what actions are appropriate at each stage.
Let me give you a metaphor which will hopefully provide you with a framework you can use to make sense of the game as you go forward.
Imagine you are a multi-dimensional swordfighter, who can explore the multiple quantum possiblities of any event. You are having a swordfight against an opponent with equal powers.
So, you step forward and thrust your sword, and the opponent blocks. That’s a simple interaction that creates only one timeline.
But, now let’s say your multi-dimensional opponent both blocks AND parries. Now there are two timelines to keep track of. And let’s say in one of the other timelines, you counter to that parry, which creates more multiple timelines.
Each of these swordfights at all these various branches keep going, creating their own further complications. Though you can see all of them, you can only participate in one of them at one time, betting that the actions in this timeline have a better chance of hurting your opponent than these other ones, where they might be faring better than you. At the end of the match, you use up all the possible timelines available to you, the quantum probabilities all collapse, and the swordfighter with the most wounds ends up dying.
This is often what a game of go feels like to me.
There are many situations where you can make a simple response which will create one battle with two opposing walls, or cut your opponent to separate their stones, and that creates two battle fronts with four opposing walls. And this continues happening, all over the board throughout the game.
The more advanced the players, the more of these battlefronts they will create, and they actually have the attention to keep track of all of these battles, how well or poorly they are doing, and whether their time and attention spent in this battle will increase their chance of survival more than this other battle.
Go is also a game that has an overwhelming number of possible, successful strategies. A player who is good at Strategy A might get beaten by one that is good at Strategy B. Alternately, a player who is good in 3 different strategies will get beat by a player who is good at 6 different strategies.
Because the number of risky situations and possible strategic responses keeps growing throughout the game, the player who can be aware of all the INFORMATION will do much better than the player who has tunnel-vision, and is only keeping track of 1 or 2 things. This - in my humble opinion - is one of the biggest differences between beginning and advanced players. And it takes a LONG time to just get to the point where you’re tracking all of the possible risks and situations in a game - 3 months just to get started, 6-12 months to really develop a feel for it beyond the obvious (again, this is my opinion, your mileage may vary).
I know many people have warned you against learning from computers and AI bots, and I echo much of what they’re saying. Playing against humans exposes you to a much broader variety of strategies and possiblities - learning from computers will hem you in and make you think that only this narrower range is good.
However, IMHO, a beginning player who has a good grasp of the fundamentals of play, but no human player to guide them through the next steps, can learn a lot from AI bots, as long as you have that grain of salt firmly placed between your teeth, and make sure to go out and apply the things you learn in the messier world of playing against humans.
Something that has helped me a lot is watching two different AI of different strengths play each other.
There are many AI out there that are freely available:
- Leela: https://sjeng.org/leela.html
- AQ: https://github.com/ymgaq/AQ
- GnuGo: https://www.gnu.org/software/gnugo/
(these can be loaded into a go board like Sabaki: https://sabaki.yichuanshen.de/)
- if you don’t want to download any software, you can play around with this DCNN in a browser https://chrisc36.github.io/deep-go/
The Leela engine has this very useful features where you can turn on a heatmap of possible moves, and see the most likely probabilities created from hundreds of thousands of human games. (note: you have to use this in the standalone Leela.exe - I couldn’t make it work loading the Leela engine into Sabaki. However, you can always just have 2 different software programs going and load their moves into the board by hand yourself, etc)
This helped me a lot in terms of seeing which of the myriad possibilities were the most promising in that moment, but it was up to me to then create a story about the various fights on the board at that time, and recognize why one was more important than another.