Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chess and Go: two of the best games in the world

Photo from wikipedia

Below is a reader's interesting response from section, Question of the Month where readers of that site are encourage to ask questions that is related to chess. May question of the month run like this:

Is chess the world’s best game?

Many would agree that chess is the best game in the world even for the non-playing one. Basketball, football, boxing etc usually associates themselves with chess. But those who are familiar with the traditional East Asian board game of Go may usually find that our beloved chess is not really that far ahead. This chess blogger too know the basics of go but not good (or credible) enough to present which is best of the two. But not being bias, I would still give chess the advantage over Go in the philosophical aspects of man vs man, faith and self...but not that much. This guy would help for the explaining:

Bart Spencer (Japan) writes: NO. QED.

But Go is a different game, and so in a way cannot compete. It is through this lack of competition that I cannot choose between them. For Go is like water, a flowing attempt to surround the surrounder, and a battle wherein all exchanges will lead to one thing for one, and another for the other. Who has the most? Who is the surrounder, and who is surrounded? The rules of Go are simple: Capture territory by placing stones on the board one at a time. But the stones themselves are alive, and can be killed if they are surrounded. From this simplicity comes a game that can be learned faster than chess, and the first game played in minutes. Yet within this simplicity comes such complexity that it is said the perfect game of Go has never been played, and no game of Go has ever been repeated.

There also exist several mundane reasons for my choice. Chess is not “played out,” and there is always more for us mortals to learn; only Garry Kasparov need cry. But there are computers that can defeat all but the best in chess, and it seems that soon we humans will be unable to compete. This is sad, and adds a slight note of sterility to the game. It is also amazing, and brings its own unique flavor. All in all, however, I much prefer the old contests, with Botvinnik disappearing for months at a time, only to reappear with a new choice of opening system, deeply studied, again to crush his competition. The fact that this study is now “aided” makes it that much more sharp, yet seeing a game wherein the first novelty occurs at move twenty-five is for my part rather depressing.

Go is a game with so many positions, it cannot be played well by computers, and in fact an above-average player can beat the most sophisticated machine. In this, Go has life, and does not threaten to be “solved” in any complete way soon. Chess may be solved in the next decades. In addition, the handicap system in Go allows me (a definite amateur) to play an equal game against anyone up to master level, simply by adding stones to the starting position. The more the player towers over me in strength, the more stones I get. And it does create an equal game. To remove a knight in chess is to change the nature of the starting position, and really changes the contest. To add even nine stones will change the game far less in Go, allowing players of all levels to easily connect on the board. In conclusion, chess has by no means left my heart, and will remain there. It captured me as a child, and will continue to fascinate me into my old age. But there is a new sheriff in town, and in this town, there are no deputies. In a contest between incomparables, there can be no second. There are two best games in this world, and chess happens to be one of them.

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