Psychological warfare in Go?

Go, also known as the encircling game, is a war game. Go is also a psychological game. Psychological warfare is - simply defined - the united actions of one party intended to reduce the opponent’s morale.

Before I come to the inevitable question, let me present a fascinating example of historical psychological warfare:

On March the 15th, 1783, none the less than George Washington pulled off a brilliant coup of psychological warfare. The event is known in history books as the Newburgh address. The Newburgh conspiracy was a mob of officers in the Continental Army, whose aims were to start a military rebellion against the then-new United States Congress. In a meeting held to appease the rebels and attempt to forestall the movement, Washington was not scheduled to speak, but showed up. The astonished intended speaker relinquished the podium to Washington, and he took the stage in front of the armed and unruly mob of rebels.
What matters here is not so much the text of the address itself, but Washington’s clever trick before the address. Fumbling in his pocket for his spectacles, he said, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” This caused the men to understand that the legend before them had suffered and sacrificed far greater than they had. The realization stung and disheartened the rebels, many of whom threw down their weapons and left in tears of shame on the spot.

Taken from Michael T. Stevens’ The Art of Psychological Warfare. How to Skillfully Influence People Undetected and How to Mentally Subdue Your Enemies in Stealth Mode (2016).

Okay, here it is. Bet you saw this one coming :grin:

Does psychological warfare play a role in go? And if so, what role?

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That’s a nice story about Washington.

The question about psychological warfare in go is a lot more specific than the subject line. “Psychology of Go” covers a lot more than just psychological warfare, like one’s feelings and attitudes about experiencing the game, training, studying, teaching, the feelings of winning and losing, etc., etc.

So to answer the question, I think there’s just a little bit of psychological warfare in go, that is, playing to demoralize.

An even larger aspect of psychology of go during a game is anticipation of the opponent’s moves. I think we naturally model the other’s plans and intentions, and that’s part of the hidden, internal aspect of why playing stronger players helps you get stronger. It makes you think like a stronger player.


Correct, changed the topic line into Psychological warfare in go?
I planned to write about the P of G however, but sometimes a story takes you by the hand and leads you to a place you didn’t plan to go :grin:
C’est la vie.

The psychological aspects of Go are also related to the concept of trick plays, which makes this discussion related to the another thread also recently started by the original poster: Are trick moves wrong?

Here is another relevant thread that combines the discussion about trick plays and psychological factors:

In particular, see my reply here in that thread here: Defending against trick plays - #15 by yebellz


The only book I read on chess was “psychology in chess” and hope some day one of our famous 9p write one for go.
If it doesn’t exist yet, my idea is that we are more focused to play the best move and respect our opponent as taking care of these psychological sides of the game.


I have a somewhat annoying idea that I want to try, but I am not a good enough player to pull it off.

Let’s say you play White. Every stone Black plays for the first 25 moves, attack or shoulder-hit it immediately. I think that would be fun to watch their reaction in a real board game :innocent:

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Yes, of course. I taunt my opponents regularly.


A couple years ago I actually saw a player who did that. I looked at his other games, and it was his regular strategy. It worked with weaker players, as I recall, but not with stronger players, who were not bothered by it at all.


I did have some questions, for example, do we have to care on the opponent, can we show our emotions, look on the board where we want to or hide it? Ok that’s more for IRL games.

Psychological warfare certainly plays a role, but your opponent is yourself.

I cannot count how many games I lost due to my own psychological traps (laziness, despair, disgust, disdain). Sometimes, you can almost see your opponent collapse, even though you did nothing in particular.