In my experience Go was fun early on from the curiosity aspect, but likewise I spent a lot of time wandering around cluelessly not sure whether my move was good or not, or which move of my opponent was my undoing, and that feeling of aimlessness is just … well, not fun really.
I’ve worked a moderately reasonable distance through the learning process on the game, and I can say with some degree of confidence that in both chess and go, the more you understand about what’s going on in a game, the more enjoyable it is. You appreciate moves, even if you wouldn’t have played them yourself, because you understand what they’re doing. You recognise mistakes because you just know that the area over there was more urgent/important than the area over here etc. You feel more “involved” in what’s going on when you can see the advantage swinging in different directions and you can see moves that would change the balance of the game.
Of course, getting to the stage where you’re strength is going steadily upwards to achieve all this is not so easy, but that wasn’t the question I guess. For me, Go was intellectually interesting at the beginning, but as I was really creating a Go server rather than trying to get strong, I got to dodge the fact that the game itself was crazy hard to understand or do well at. It wasn’t “fun” to play to anywhere near the degree it is now. The game has become more fun for me almost linearly as my understanding has grown.
I wouldn’t be hard on him/her at all and it wasn’t a “lose” for me (in fact I did it 3 more times and none were as good the first one). Looking back, that game is the only reason I’m still playing Go and it was the most fun I’ve had playing Go to date. I’m grateful to them for going along with it. There was something very refreshing and liberating about always trying to hunt for the worst move I could find. Right now, trying to find the good move I’m 25 kyu (at best). Trying to find the worst move though… I’m 50 dan.
What you said in your OP really connected with me. I’ve also felt that same feeling many times along the line and have picked the game up and put it down for long periods because of it. The main problem is - I’m isolated - I have no human go players to connect with that can hold my hand, and all of the online and AI-bot resources available to me were too advanced for me to learn from at the beginning. It took me a long time just to figure out HOW to learn, get a tiny foot in the door, and start leveling up.
I’m a writer in my spare time, so I’m good with story and metaphor. When I face something I don’t know, I try to wrap my mind around it using something I’m familiar with, and - even if I get it wrong in parts - at least it gives me some way to understand it. There are SO MANY things to learn in go, it’s easy to feel like you don’t know what’s going on, and are making panicked, knee-jerk responses without understanding the big picture. If you can at least start to tell yourself a story of why you’re doing this particular thing at this particular time, that can help you latch on and feel like you’re doing something useful - whether it works out in the game or not. So, let me try to share some of those things, and hopefully they will help you.
At the very beginning, when you’re still 30-25kyu, think of go as a combination of Risk and tic-tac-toe. If you’ve ever watched GAME OF THRONES, you know how every king has a fancy map on a table, and various wooden army pieces that they move around to strategize battles? Well, aparently, thousands of years ago, Chinese warlords would do similar things with black and white stones, and that equipment eventually ended up getting used as game pieces.
So, think of yourself as one of two warlords, taking over a large island surrounded by water. Your stones are little garrison towns, and you are placing them on a map - building a wall one town at a time. Your stones can connect to other towns (via liberties), keep the opposing warlord’s armies out, and can surround empty territory. You need that empty territory to grow food for your people, and if you have less than 2 (2 eyes make life) then you can be surrounded and your towns will die. This is useful when you think of go in terms of playing for territory, and it’s a good skill to learn as a beginner.
At every point in the game, try to tell yourself a little story about what you’re doing with each move - “I’m trying to grab this corner” or “I’m extending my edge territory” etc. The more you can make a story out of the moves, the better you will get at understanding the current situation, and being able to see the best strategy to profit from it.
Once you’ve leveled up a bit, it really helps to learn the vocabulary of the game. Learn the difference between a push, a peep, and a shoulder hit. Start to understand the difference between a two point extension, a knight’s move, and a large knight’s move. Once you get to this level, go becomes something like sword-fighting or martial arts. Each of these moves has a purpose, and knowing when to use them and why will help you feel like you’re not just flailing about, flying by the seat of your pants.
This is also the right time to learn about shape. The purpose of good shape is to loosely sketch out a framework that you can always connect together into secure walls only 1 or 2 moves down the road. There are lots of good YouTube lectures on shape by Nick Sibicky, Dwyrin, and the In Sente dude. Check them out. Once you start making all of your moves in such a way that they can make shape, you’ll start feeling like all of your moves have a purpose, and you can tie them together into larger strategies.
Personally, it helped me to play slow correspondence games rather than live or blitz games. I also did a TON of reading in analyze mode (i.e. trying all the different variations for what the next 4-5 moves might be based on all the possible moves and counter-moves). Now, reading as a beginner can be tricky, because it’s so hard to predict what your opponent will do. As a beginner, I would often read things wrong and get surprised by the actual response. “Why didn’t I see that?!?” I would ask myself.
But eventually, the more you read, the more you get used to thinking 2 or 3 moves ahead, seeing obvious traps, and acurately predicting what your opponent might do. The better you get the LESS reading you will have to do, so doing this at the beginning is definitely time well spent.
Once you’ve got all those skills under your belt, it’s time to plug them all together and begin to understand the various strategies of go - and go has a LOT of strategies, because they are emergent, situational, and dependent on what you can pull off thanks to your skill level. As beginners, people mostly focus on either making a big moyo or capturing as many stones as possible. But then folks figure out that - if you can press your opponent to the top and bottom corners and grab the side in between with a few middle stones, you can make a huge side moyo.
Then there’s the pincer and counter pincer. Then there’s chasing a group that’s low on eyes and/or liberties and - even if you don’t eventually capture them, you can still make huge frameworks on both sides while your opponent barely makes any eyespace. Then you start figuring out how to capture cutting stones in the middle and making center territory. And it goes on, and on - seemingly forever.
If you make it this far, you’re probably hooked and you don’t have to worry about being bored with go. For me, it turned into something between reading Machiaveli’s THE PRINCE or watching GAME OF THRONES. I would replay 9p dan level championship games and be amazed by the audacity of the moves, or watch RoyalZeroSlow games and be flabbergasted that a daring attack actually worked. The more I understood about the purpose of the stones and the strategies they were performing, the better I could tell myself a story about the game. As I got better at that, I got better at applying those tactics and strategies in my own - much lower skill level games - and was actually able to make them work.
So, hopefully, that gives you something to follow. If you have access to human teachers who can hold your hand and show you the ropes, that would be best. Otherwise, try to find the right level of YouTube videos that you can understand - I’d start with Dwyrin’s back to basics series, then do some In Sente, and work up to Nick Sibicky.
Lastly, something that’s helped me a lot is watching two high-level AI bots duke it out. So, if you go here and download the desktop version of Leela
You can go into the Tools menu and turn on “Show Network Probabilities”. Since this version of Leela was trained on hundreds of thousands of human games, it’s like getting a bird’s eye view of how a high level player sees the game. Sometimes there will only be 1 or 2 obvious moves (usually because of forcing moves or closing up a cut point), but if the stones are “settled” - you’ll see 7 or 8 potential moves, and each one points to a different strategy, a different way of making more profit on that particular part of the board. The more you can tell yourself a story about why each move works, and why one is better than another, the more you can apply those lessons in your own games down the road.
What I do is I start a game using Leela, but then open up this other AI that runs in a browser over here to play as Leela’s opponent: https://chrisc36.github.io/deep-go/
If you click on the “Show analysis” button, it will also give you a heatmap of moves. Leela plays as a 4 dan and the browser DCNN plays as at about 1-2 dan. The fascinating thing is - neither one of these AI ever make a mistake. They don’t play wrong moves, they always make shape, they both have fairly high level strategies. And yet Leela will beat the browser nearly every time. Why is that? What’s the difference?
The short answer is - the lower level player focuses on local battles while the higher level player is able to profit from whole-board play. But to actually figure out how it happens move by move takes a long time of watching, learning, and telling yourself a story of what each move is doing and why it’s doing it. It takes even longer to be able to predict those moves and start telling yourself that same story when you’re playing against a human opponent, and there’s no heat- map holding your hand and showing you where those moves are.
I hope that helps.
This is bad advice for a beginner.
Even pros sometimes don’t know why bots play the move that they play.
For a beginner, there are a series of basic and moving to intermediate strategies that humans have worked out over hundreds of years which can be readily taught, and make it make sense to humans in the way that you describe: you can reason about why a move was played, and why another might be better.
At least through DDK heading for SDK. After that I don’t know, because I’m not there yet
Your point is well-made and well-reasoned. I have gotten similar feedback from suggesting that kind of thing before.
My response is - if one was a high level SDK trying to level up to a dan level, then you would be correct. One could also make the case that the high-level play of these AI would be so far ahead of a 25k player that they wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of it, and not be able to apply that learning to their own games. All these are good points.
However, when I remember my own confusion as a 30-25k, it would have helped me a lot to even know that I can play for territory and not just attach everywhere until my stones are too heavy and get captured. Or to pay attention to playing a balanced opening. Or to figure out when the opening is done and it’s time to move out to the middle.
Static YouTube lectures are very good for this, but being able to see something dynamic, to play with it, and see how maleable it is - these are also useful things - as long as one keeps a BIG grain of salt firmly between teeth and gum, and remembers that playing with humans offers a lot more variety than what you will see in bot vs bot games.
My 2 cents, anyhow.
Not to be argumentative, just in the spirit of discussion: I think that these are indeed the important things, but they are not the things that the AI demonstrates well. It plays all over the place in unpredicable ways quite often, not following balanced opening or solid beginner strategy like corner sides centre, or even “take solid territory”.
I do appreciate that having something dynamic to play with is great - that’s a really good point that you raise.
You can ask questions (by playing the move and seeing the % change) about “is this better than that”. But even then, the answers are more often than not hard to work with.
For example, in many many cases, the AI will tell you that the next best move is to invade an impossible-looking space. Either early 3-3 or tough looking gap in the opponent’s side. You can’t easily say to it “yeah, I know you want to do that, but what should I do if I can’t play that?”
This is exacerbated by the fact that the AI doesn’t know that your opponent can’t do this either. So when it says that your proposed move worsens your win percentage, this is probably because it thinks that you will be worse off because now your opponent can invade one of those small spaces. But the fact is that as a beginner, your real opponent cannot invade those spaces, so your move is solid and good - for your level of play.
This is a fascinating concept in itself: the fact that there is no one “best move”. The best move depends on your ability to deal with the situation that your move creates, and on your opponent’s ability to respond.
I can’t remember which chess master said it (sorry I don’t know the words of more Go legends) but his point was essentially that the best move is proven by its result. In other words, as long as you win, who cares if a move is theoretically “best”?
As for the AI training, I found it useful in chess to use a stockfish engine app that could run multiple threads simultaneously, and produce a slew of candidate moves in order from strongest to weakest. This allows me to see some other candidate moves that may also confer an advantage (though marginally lesser). If I don’t understand why any given move is best, I take the best one I can understand.
I think that the frustration that the original poster is experiencing (and what many beginners might similarly experience) stems from how they might be approaching this game as a hobby.
As an analogy, consider how one might take up running as a hobby. One could approach it with a very competitive mindset, deriving satisfaction from performing better than others in races. However, how meaningful is that really? One will always be able to find people that run much faster and those that run much slower. Instead, I think it’s much more rewarding to approach it with the goal of self-improvement and enjoying the intrinsic benefits of exercise.
So, my advice is to approach go with self-improvement (learning and understanding the game) as the primary objective. Whether you win or lose should be almost irrelevant (except that you should still try your best for the sake of learning). Instead, measure your success by whether you learned something from the game. If you fully embrace that mindset, some of your most rewarding games might actually be the losses (especially against stronger players).
You mentioned that you keep coming back to go since you find it fascinating, although playing is frustrating. Maybe, also try to find ways to nurture that fascination (like reading books, watching videos, reviewing pro games, solving go problems) rather than only playing games? However, as with any hobby, if you can’t find a way to enjoy it, continuing might not be worthwhile.
The analogy with running is spot-on. I was very active as a road runner some 45 years ago. In those days the weekly races usually consisted of only about 40 competitors (in a metro area of 2 million), so everyone more or less knew everyone. Outperforming someone wasn’t typically a cut-throat affair, it was more about winning respect within one’s cohort. Road runners then were extraordinarily friendly and encouraging, much like the general atmosphere here at OGS.
In addition to slow and steady improvement, a powerful source of satisfaction and motivation is when one surprisingly exceeds one’s own expectations. One of my most satisfying days of running didn’t even occur in a serious race. A friend and I did a 10-mile workout on the road, alternating fast and slow miles, the odd miles at 5-minute pace and the even miles at 7-minute pace. We arrived back at the college campus in a pleasing 59:42 and found an all-comers meet nearing the end. Some friends, who were officiating, begged us to run the 2-mile race (on an outdoor 11-lap board track, no less!), because only 3 competitors had signed up, which looked bad. It was crazy, but we agreed to do so. I hung on to the leader for about 14 laps (God, one gets dizzy on those tracks) and finished second in 10:40. Under the circumstances (with only about 5 minutes rest after our training run), I was ecstatic about this outcome. That was a really fun evening!
Fun? What does that mean anyway?
- Most people enjoy winning. Are you supposed to win in the beginning? No. You will probably lose a lot of games.
- Most people enjoy feeling competent at something. Are you supposed to feel competent in the beginning? No. You will most likely feel lost and bewildered.
- Most people enjoy exceeding their limitations. Are you supposed to feel like you’re exceeding your limitations in the beginning? Well, hopefully, but your approach to the learning process is the deciding factor there.
Is it supposed to be fun? No. It’s just a game, a vehicle, a shared experience - learning is fun, winning is fun, exceeding your limitations is fun. With a good attitude, discovering your limitations, i.e. losing games, can be fun too. What sort of vehicles do you normally use to experience such things? Is Go the right choice for you?
Well I kinda like the comparison. Piano is quite hard for me, tho I viseted music school for years to learn it I kinda didnt learn much and only played classic stuff, tho my passion of playing the istrument manifests in blues and jazz, and I always discover new left hand riffs, licks, chord progressions, styling of the note (staccato/ legato and this swtuff) and so on and so on, … like a neverending ppol of stuff to learn. And this is the exact same way I feel about go.
See my first post in this thread. Although I didn’t define “fun” there, I did give an example of the distinction between “fun” and “enjoyment,” from my own personal perspective. I guess I would add that “fun” has an element of lightheartedness or whimsy, while “enjoyment” doesn’t necessarily have those qualities. As you will see from my first post, I do think that go is too hard to be “fun,” though I do enjoy it.
Exactly, classical for years, but still so much to discover. After I played with a rock band I learned how to play chords, write music and improvise, now I’m progressively getting more interested in playing jazz (although I have been listening since forever). It’s a whole new world to discover.
You are hooked. You’ll be back.
Said the Go dan
We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you want
But you can never leave