Comparing and contrasting to chess - rules complexities


You’re quite probably right, I just wanted to support my idea that there are usually some special cases to discuss even though the rules seem clear from the first glance (not that there is no solution) :slight_smile:

This one was also fun :smiley: (although I am pretty sure they overruled eventually)

And a fun fact I don’t think is that known:
In official World Chess Federation Rules capturing an opponet’s king is an illegal move :smiley: so what you maybe thought was the goal of the game is not true :smiley:


I’m not a chess player but from my point of view

  1. Chess rules are hierarchical, i.e. you can derive the solution to a dispute rather easily (cf. comment section of AdamR’s linked article)
  2. Go rules are more like loops, i.e. for some disputes, you cannot derive solutions.

Chess is decidable, Go is undecidable. D:

In other words: chess rules aren’t complex, there’s just a lot of them (pieces more differently, etc). As for Go, there aren’t many rules (especially few related to game mechanics), but they generate more ambiguous situations.

As Adam’s last post indicates, it’s not just easier for someone to make an illegal move in chess without someone noticing (than would be the case in a Go game), but it’s also easier to prove that they did.


I think any discussion about the simplicity or elegance of the rules of go vs chess (and its variants) is ultimately subjective to some degree.

One way to consider it is to think of chess, shogi, xiangqi, and other variants as belonging to a family of related games. Each variant has to define several different pieces, their initial position, how they each move and capture, any special restrictions on movement (e.g., the palace and river in xiangqi), any special movements/captures (e.g., castling and en passant in chess), any other special moves (e.g., putting captures back on the board in shogi), etc. Thus, it seems that the family of chess of games is quite complex in having to define and decide upon many things.

The rules of go are another beast to consider, especially since there is no consensus on the definitive rules of go, but rather several closely related (but distinct) rulesets that result in very similar strategy. Some rulesets, such as New Zealand and Tromp-Taylor, are quite simple and elegant (in my opinion), while others, like Japanese and Ing, are very complicated.


Well, chess, shogi, xiangqi etc. are related games. It’s thought that they all have a common ancestor originating somewhere in or around the Middle East which was then dispersed on the Silk Road and other trade routes. I think you’re right in that there are a lot of variables in the premise of a chess game, but to me it seems that some of those choices have defaults. For instance the default choice in terms of board accessibility, in my eyes, is to have the whole board open to all pieces. So does adopting the default state for a variable mean taking on a more complicated premise? I don’t think so.

I was thinking earlier as well that you can think of the king, queen, rook, and bishop as all logical variations on the idea of moving along orthogonally and diagonally. The bishop can move as far as it wants but only on the diagonal. The rook can move as far it wants but only on the files / rows. The queen is the superset of both since it can move as far as needed both orthogonally and diagonally. And the king is the weakest possible variation of the queen type, since it can only move one space orthogonally or diagonally. So I don’t think the movement capabilities of these four pieces are arbitrary; they bond naturally together as a set.

I think in your last paragraph you touch upon an interesting point: that Go has a significant number of different competing rulesets that all try to achieve roughly the same game. They’re like different engineering methods trying to realise a common architectural ambition. There have been different rules for chess, like whether or not to implement en passant capture, but those have been intended to influence gameplay.


I think that it is worthwhile to distinguish between different types of disputes/debates about rules.

One can have a dispute about the how rules should be applied, and if there is ambiguity that prevents resolution, then perhaps there is a flaw with the rules (or at least a lack of clarity in how they have been written).

Another kind of debate is to analyze the implications of the rules and debate whether or not the rules are aesthetically pleasing and in accordance with the spirit of the game. I think this second type of debate is fundamentally subjective, and the position that you shared seems to fall in that category.


Yes, I’m aware that they are related and evolved from a common origin. I think historians generally believe that the game originated in India, and that Chaturanga is the earliest known form of chess. Also, it seems that the game spread into the west via Persia and eventually via the Moorish conquest of Spain (


I’m familiar with that sort of argument by game theory to support the torazu sanmoku and I respect it as being a valid basis for making a judgement on whether it’s a helpful feature of the rules or not. However, you can’t deny that it’s an example of a ruling made bespoke for a single local position rather than extrapolated directly from the underlying rules. Personally I think that we’re better without it: it complicates the game, making it less minimal and more difficult to understand for players and tournament directors. I’m interested to hear what you think of the torazu gomoku (which in the '49 rules granted Black five points without capturing,) since I’ve read people on Sensei’s Library saying that it doesn’t have the same combinatorial support as its little brother.


And if you support the torazu gomoku ruling then what about “points without capturing” of larger sizes? A torazu of ten or twenty stones?


I think this depends on the ruleset. Under most* area scoring rules, disputes are straightforward to resolve by simply playing it out.

I qualify that statement with “most”, since I think Ing rules can still be quite tricky to resolve, due to the very complicated ko rules, which could easily produce a dispute during play out about how to apply them.

I think it is a bit strong to say to suggest that go is undecidable, but maybe you mean something else. Could you please clarify?

Also, what are some example disputes where solutions cannot be derived? I think there are some historical examples, but I’m not aware of any under the modern rulesets.


There’s no shortage of board positions that present problems for different rulesets.


Do any of those examples demonstrate positions that are impossible to resolve under one of the modern rulesets?

It seems that those examples mainly aim to show how different rules will handle these very differently and how it is very challenging to work though them.


Japanese and Ing rules are complex and have loopholes.

Chinese rules are a lot simpler and I haven’t seen any example of dispute around them (except for cheating or accidental move of stones). Same for other Chinese inspired rules like AGA, EGF, or New Zealand. I believe these are the rules we go players are really referring to when we talk about simplicity.


I’d describe Chess as having more explicit rules, and Go as having more implicit rules. In Chess, if you know all of the rules, you know all of how to play. Everything else is strategy and computation. Nothing complicated can arise as a result of the basic rules. (Most contentious arbiter rulings are rulings related more to etiquette than to actual game play.) In Go, there’s a lot of complexity that can potentially arise from the relatively simple rule set, such as bent four in the corner, for an easy example, or even just dead vs. living shapes. Chinese or Tromp-Taylor eliminate some of those implicit rules, but they’re present in most human games, where people don’t want to manually capture everything at the end of the game.

The implicit nature of Go also creates a lot more ambiguity in certain rule sets, such as whole board repetition when there’s no superko rule. Modern rule sets fix some of that ambiguity, but do so by creating more explicit rules, which are often more difficult to interpret, at least for beginners, than chess rules, since understanding the rules requires some understanding of the game.


Very true. Tromp-Taylor rules are even simpler: having read those a few times I’m astounded we don’t all use them :slight_smile:

So my comment that you quoted, and the subsequent observation by ckersch88 about bent 4 etc, is a red-herring: it’s really based on experience with a poor attempt to capture the rules of Go that somehow took hold, and the fallout from that!


The rules of chess are unambiguous. When it is your move:

  • You cannot move into check. Doing so would not be a legal move.
  • If you are in check and there are no legal moves available, you are in checkmate and have lost the game.
  • If you are not in check and there are no legal moves available, that is stalemate and you have drawn the game.

The position posted on is therefore an example of a misapprehension. Many people think checkmate involves being able to capture the king or some such, just that the game stops immediately before hand. The metaphor may be useful for teaching purposes but it’s just not the case.

Talking of which, the next example was about capturing the king! Well, the Go rules @GreenAsJade posted above covers that quite succinctly:

It should be noted that (especially for tournaments) there would need to be a further layer of rules and proprieties concerning things like clocks and time, physical disturbances, ambiguous placements, getting unfair advice, and so on. (What Barry Phease succinctly dubbed “not rules of the game, but rules about playing the game”.)

I agree, the Chinese rules are logically simplest. Funny how I play Japanese rules OTB all the time, maybe because it usually doesn’t matter and I feel like it involves less counting?


Totally agree.


Funny thing, everyone debate on the rules but not a word about the goal of each game. For me the rules are intrinsically binded with the goal.
I would say the two games are opposed in this as More complex rules in chess as in go lead to a much simpler goal in chess as in go.


I thought about torazu gomoku and experimented a bit. In the end, we can read it out by the same logic as torazu sanmoku: play out the situation without ko threats, do not let white refuse to place the last stone for balance, and you get 5 points for black.

I confused myself a little because the discussion page on Sensei’s Library gives two different positions for comparison. Only the one that you show is actually torazu gomoku though, so all is fine :slight_smile:

By the same principle, we can have even more “points without capturing”, as you point out. I would agree with that as well.

Could you please quote the exact phrasing where someone questions the “combinatorial support” of it? It is probably a misunderstanding.


Got to admit I can’t find any. I guess I just remembered the phrase “…the rules makers did not understand Honinbo Shuwa’s thinking behind his ruling on torazu sanmoku.” But you’re right that Bill didn’t make any comment on combinatorial theory specifically (and if fact it’s pretty hard to see what he is trying to say now that I read it again.)


Go has simpler rules than Chess if you play Chinese rules. The only reason to agree on life / death at the end is to save time. If you don’t agree, keep playing until there every move is either suicide or would expose you to capture (seki). Simple. The Japanese attempt to dictate how to determine life / death is what makes Go complex. I’d favor Japanese rules if they dumped that part and said resolve disputes by playing it out.


Actually they don’t dictate any specific life / death situation in the Japanese rules. Just like in Chinese disputes about life / death is resolved by confirmation through playing out the position on the disputed life / death situation. The main point is that during confirmation they disallow playing ko-threats. As a consequence this means that, for example, bent four is dead if both players pass. The only way it is not dead, is if you could play ko-threats, which is not allowed during a life / death dispute.

Something like bent four is therefore not part of the rules, but a consequence of the rules. See here: the dead shapes are examples of how applying the rules result in certain shapes dying, but not part of the rules itself.

In Chinese rules it doesn’t matter if you play a position out hypothetically or not, since playing in your own territory doesn’t lose you points, but in Japanese it does. Therefore confirmation is merely hypothetical, and the board is returned to the end position after the life / death is confirmed.