I’ve read a lot of threads that try to compare Chinese and Japanese rules. As one would expect, the focus is usually on the rule differences. But I’m curious if anybody else here notices a change in the way a game feels when playing the two different rulesets? Do you have a different mentality as you play with one ruleset over the other? I only have 600-ish games under my belt and have been playing since the end of October 2018. About 100 of my games were using Japanese rules. So I’m definitely a newbie here. But, so far, I’ve noticed a big difference in the way a game experience feels to me during play, depending on the ruleset being used.
In general, when I play Japanese games, I stress more each turn because I am tracking and weighing the consequences of more elements of gameplay. I remain on edge, worried about potential failures and what they might cost me. With Chinese, I am only ever considering where to place my stones for the greatest effect on the current turn. In Japanese games I find myself trying to prevent captures of my stones more often than in Chinese games. In a Chinese game, I am more likely to try to let one of my groups be captured, in order to gain a strategic advantage on the board. Under Japanese, giving up stones will cost me, so the advantage gained isn’t always worth the number of points my opponent earns, as a result of my maneuver.
Under Japanese I am also concerned about:
- Playing in a manner that ensures I can claim large open swaths of territory
- Trying to plan in order to prevent dead stones
- On the lookout for opportunities to capture prisoners
- Struggling to decide whether I should try something bold or new, on account that a failed attempt could lead to dead stones on the board
Under Japanese, each turn I look at the board, trying to figure out how things might progress. I worry that the stone I place now, despite it being a good move at this moment, might become a dead stone in the near future. The game could theoretically progress in one of many different ways. Since my opponent could surprise me with an unexpected move at any time, there is no way to be certain how the gameboard will evolve. And therefore, no way to protect myself against placing a potential dead stone. However, under Chinese rules, I don’t have to worry about dead stones. The only thing I ever have to consider when placing a stone, is if it will be effective this turn or not.
Under Chinese rules I do not hesitate to reinforce a wall or to close a gap. Under Japanese rules I constantly consider whether it will be necessary to play it safe by reinforcing/closing. Because if I don’t place a stone in my own territory, then I get an extra point for owning that territory during scoring. But if I don’t protect myself, it could leave me vulnerable to my opponent. Many of my Japanese games had me winning towards the end of the game. But as my opponent begins to test these different spots in my defenses, I am forced to reinforce/close within my own territory, and I end up losing the game by 0.5 to 2 points. Those losses are so frustrating. Under Chinese rules, I simply would have won, because I don’t lose a point for placing stones within my own territory.
I often see other people argue that Japanese rules are better because they force you to play in certain ways. Which in turn, teaches you good habits and makes you a stronger player. Despite whether that is true or not, the idea that I am being forced to behave in a particular fashion is an issue for me. Eventually I will learn good habits on my own, naturally, in an organic fashion. How and when that takes place should be my choice. I do feel that Japanese rules force me to change certain aspects of how I play and think about the game, in order to have the best chance of achieving victory.
One final thing worth pointing out is that Go is often described as beautiful, because the rules are so simple. Yet the situations they produce on the board, are so profoundly complex. I have noticed that Japanese rules contain a lot of extra rulings that the other rulesets do not have. In this way, they are the “kitchen sink” approach to rules when compared to most Go rulesets. While I agree that adding rules to any system can introduce additional layers of strategy, complexity, or expand possible tactics, I do not feel that Go needs it. Go, in its simplest form, is beautiful.
When I play with Chinese rules I feel noticeably more relaxed. As if any move that I make is acceptable. Obviously I can make a foolish move or a smart move, but I don’t stress out as much worrying about how the game will be scored at the end. In Japanese games, the way the game will be scored is constantly on my mind. Now I realize that a solid Go player is probably analyzing all of these possibilities and more. But for whatever reason, when I play Chinese, the gears in my head do not turn the same way. I feel more free and safe to explore any path that I desire, no matter how seemingly futile. And in doing so, I often learn new strategies and move possibilities that I would have otherwise missed out on.