|Things I Learned About Life From the Game of Go|
|I started playing go seriously back in 1997. I first learned the basics of the game when I was a child from my Grandfather Huyett. I am about 5 kyu (student). This rank is nothing special. It means I have 5 more steps to go before I reach one of the dan (expert) ranks. The ranking is similar to japanese martial arts, where you start with a student rank and progress to a dan rank (black belt rank). It took me 2 years to go from 25 kyu to 7 kyu, and another 3 years to go from 7 kyu to 5 kyu. At this rate I may never reach a dan rank. This does not concern me much, since improving my rank is a secondary consideration for me. Mostly I want to understand how a computer might play optimal go, theoretical questions about the game, and analogies I can draw between this game and life. Some of these life lessons are elaborated on below.|
|Look for Trade-offs
You can't have everything you want, but you can have (nearly) anything, if you are willing to make some sacrifices. Look for trade-offs. Look for ways that you can trade things that you think are not important for things that you think are. In go, you can trade territory for sente, or sacrifice stones in exchange for getting more territory elsewhere.
Suppose you have a baseball card that you don't want, but your friend does, you can trade it for something which has more value to you, but less to the person you are trading with.
In computer programming, if your computer has a lot memory, but a slow CPU, there are ways to program it so that it runs faster, but uses more memory (trade memory for speed). Perhaps the amount of memory you have is small, and you can't even run your problem with this computer if you use the other approach, then you can make program use less memory, at the expense of running much more slowly (trade time for a reduced memory requirement).
Just because you loose a big group, it doesn't mean you will lose the game. For example, if something bad happens to you, you can still recover and live a fulfilling life. Don't lose a ko without gaining something of nearly equal value elsewhere. If you make a sacrifice, make sure that you are winning somewhere else in your life
- Ghandhi's willing to not eat in order to gain something of great value to him.
- Quit school in order to take job you have a passion for.
- Quit job in order to return to school and study for a career which is more interesting to you.
- A general might sacrifice a regiment in a battle which distract his enemy from his real objective
|The order in which you do things is very important
Usually we don't give much thought to the order that we do our activies if the dependencies are not obvious, but the truth is that there are often subtle dependencies that will have a huge impact on the outcome. Here are a few examples.
- when playing concentration - pick up the card you are not sure of first. I tried to teach this to my niece Vivian the other day, but she still continues to pick up the card she does know, then tries to find a match.
- education or saving money - get/do it earlier, not later in life so that you can earn interest on your investment in learning or savings.
- One should study hardest at the beginning of a semester, since you can use that knowledge on every test, and will better understand the material that comes later.
- At work, I try not to do tasks at work that I could do at home. That way I can spend more time at home among my family..
- Go to the Dr. before symptoms become severe, not after.
- Play sente (forcing) moves first. That way you get to keep the initiative and be in control of the board.
- One of my mentors once told me, if you have a large tree to cut down, he will spend 90% of his time sharpening his saw. In other words, if you face a difficult task, allocate a significant portion to planning, design, and building infrastructure, so that you will be successful, and don't go off half-cocked
|Keep Your Options Open
Leave options open. Be flexible. Don't ruin aji (potential). Aji-keshi means ruining the potential of stones. Don't play, when you could save an undecided position to use as a threat in a ko fight, or when there is no secondary purpose to playing there. If you do play, it may be sente, but it may also force him to live, or make an efficient wall. Perhaps later that same move will serve 2 purposes. By the same token, in life, leave your options open. Don't burn bridges gratuitously. Have several interests, in case it is not always possible to pursue your primary one. Have a plan B that you would also be happy with
Play moves which have more than one useful follow-up move. This gives you more options/potential. You are not restricted to one way of playing. If your opponent prevents one follow-up, you still have the other.
Try to make moves that accomplish more than one objective. (i.e. kill two birds with one stone.)
For example, when I bike to work, I
1. get fresh air and exercise.
2. don't pollute the environment.
3. do not use gasoline or put miles on the car.
4. leave the car free for Shanna to use.
5. commute to work.
The go stones are like units of time in your life. Make sure you plan each one carefully. Use them wisely.
If you are losing, take risks. If you are winning, take no risks.
Don't do something just because you want some end result many years hence. Do it because you love doing it. I don't play go because I want to become a master, I play because I enjoy it. Enjoy the process as much as the result.
Delay gratification. Build influence, rather than getting quick territory. Don't get so excited about killing a few unimportant stones that you lose sight of the whole board (big picture). There was a study which showed that children who chose to wait for 2 marsh mellows, rather than get one now, became much more successful later in their lives than the other group.
Winning or losing is not important. Self-improvement is.
The best defense is a good offense. Always look for ways to keep your opponent off-balance. If he is busy protecting his own weak groups, he won't have a chance to attack yours. Meanwhile you will build powerful influence on the outside, and won't even have to play extra stones to make your groups live. Make territory while attacking.
Play away from strength; your own, and your opponents.
Have balance. If you are winning too often against an opponent, change the handicap. If you are unchallenged by your work or other activity, do something to make it harder, but not too hard.
Maintain a balance between work, family, and play. You should be enjoying all three.
Don't become over concentrated (heavy). Life: Don't do one thing so much that you sacrifice other areas that might be more important. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
Don't get split into little groups. (i.e. don't get spread too thin). Don't have to many pots boiling on the stove simultaneously, probably none of them will taste good. Or some will burn.
If you are strong in one area, use it to improve your position in others. In life, If you know one thing well, then you can use analogy to increase your understanding of other areas that you don't know so well. Musashi (a great japanese swordsman) referred to this as finding a "way". For him, his "way" was swordsmanship, for others it is medicine, or law, or farming, or brick-laying, or even playing a musical instrument. He wrote about this in his "Book of Five Rings". In the movie "City Slickers" (rated PG), the old cowboy relates the secret of life: "It's just one thing" he says. "Yes, but what thing?", Billy Crystal asks. Finally they realize at the end, that it doesn't matter what "one thing", as long as you put your whole heart into it and do it well.
|The Little Things Matter a Lot
Small things can matter a great deal. A small misplay can have a tremendous effect on the outcome of the game. If the game is in perfect balance the smallest mistake by one player can become a large point deficit as the other player leverages the seemingly insignificant mistake to take the advantage. Since go allows handicaps (unlike chess) almost every game is configured from the start to be very close. Even if the two players have very different skill levels, the handicap allows the chance of winning for either player to be about 50%.
Recall the well known "butterfly effect": A butterfly's wings moving in one continent can have large effects on the weather in another continent several weeks later. Suppose you went back in time 1000 years and did nothing but kill a butterfly. This small act may prevent your grand-parents from ever meeting, or shift the point of your conception by milli-seconds, letting a different sperm fertilize your mothers egg, meaning a completely different "you". If this is true, then every small action you make has a profound effect on the world's future.
In Mathematical Go, by Berlekamp, you can see some amazingly subtle go-endgames were it is nearly impossible to determine where to play to win by one point. Most go masters will get the problems wrong. Only a sophisticated mathematical theory and computer algorithm can figure them out reliably.
Every move you make will involve making judgment calls. This goes for life too. You must recognize what is important and make decisions with full understanding of the trade-offs involved. Every tiny action you make during a typical day involves a decision that profoundly affects your future. For the most part it is too complicated to determine if the outcome to a given action will be beneficial. You must weigh the risks and rewards and act accordingly. Sometimes a seeming bad outcome is actually for the better (See movie "Regarding Henry").
Every instant that we live, we are continuously make decisions, and each one has a profound impact on the rest of our lives, and the future lives of everone else in the world, and everyone who will ever live. You should not waste time worrying about it though, since there really is no way for you predict the outcome. All you can do is do your best given the information you have. Perhaps stopping on your way home to get a cat out of a tree seems like the right idea at the time, but what if it causes you to not get home in time to prevent a fire from burning your house down. In the Butterfly Effect, Ashton Kutcher keeps trying to make better decisions in his past to save the girl he loves, but they keep turning into worse futures. Each potential placement of a go stone will lead to dramatically different board positions 20 moves in the future.
|Don't Go Into Debt
Avoid having too many debts. On the go board, as in life all debts must eventually be paid. Before attacking, make sure your feet are firmly planted.
In go, playing what seems to be a purely defensive stone can be sente, because it sets you up to launch and invasion. If you launch the invasion before you defend, you risk going on the defensive because of weak groups. Such a move would be called an overplay. When such moves occur, they give your opponent the chance to sieze the initiative.
Protect your investment. But if your opponents investment is bigger than yours, invade it first before you protect yours. Since he has more to lose, he must respond or suffer the greater loss.
If you can't save a group efficiently, don't try. Don't throw good money after bad. If the group is critical to winning the game, you have to try and save it. If its going to be a burden to save, consider sacrificing it. Of course, this is a very difficult judgment to make.
If you have a problem, fix it now - don't wait. If you do wait, it will become an increasingly bigger burden. Another possibility is that it will cascade into bigger problems. If you have a weakness, you have to play to reinforce it, otherwise you opponent will get many sente moves in a row causing irreparable loss.
Once you get a slight edge over your opponent (or vice versa) then your lead will usually widen as you continue to play. In business, if you let your competitor get even slightly ahead of you in terms of technology or time to market, you may start to lose ground quickly after that. If you do lose ground you are forced to take risks in order to catch up. Even, though taking the risks increases the chance of you losing, If you don't take the risks you are certain to lose.
|Don't be Greedy or Impatient
Don't try to capture the whole board, just play such that your stones work together efficiently. You should not try to win by an overwhelming margin (don't be greedy), but rather win by only a few points. Winning by just one point is still winning.
Look for tesuji (non-obvious optimal moves, or trick moves). This involves reading (looking ahead) Plan your life carefully. Have a good idea what the consequences of your actions will be. Sometimes you will be tempted to make a move just because you want to, and it looks good at first glance. You must consider carefully what might be the results of an impulsive decision.
Paths that look easiest often turn out hardest. life is full of ups and downs. e.g. taking drugs is a quick way to bliss, but the long term effects can be devastating. Two ways to do most things: short but difficult, and longer but easier.
If you're using a clock and are under a time constraint, make a move which is sente or complicated, so that when your opponent is forced to respond you have another round to think.
Try to get a little more than your opponent on every move.
A war isn't won in a single day. A long journey begins with a single step. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
|Don't Let Yourself Get Pushed Around
Fight your own fight. Have the battle on your terms, not your opponent's. Don't allow yourself to be pushed around. This happens when your opponent has the initiative (sente). The best way to prevent this is to ignore your opponents last move and take the initiative yourself by making a move that he/she can't afford not to respond to. You can only do this, however, if your opponents last move was sub-optimal - so be careful.
If your in a situation where you cannot win, don't try - it will only lead to greater loss. Instead, play elsewhere (tenuki). Play your stones as efficiently as you can. If you feel like you are being forced to make an inefficient move, reconsider your move. Perhaps there is a better local move, or you can tenuki.
Don't ever feel that you are cornered or pidgeonholed. You always have a choice. There are almost always options that you have not considered. Discovering a creative solution to your predicament can be very rewarding. In "Who Moved My Cheese" Spencer Johnson portrays how different groups of mice/people react to their changing circumstances. Some just whine and complain, while others recognize the coming of change and react easily.
|There are lots of places to play go on the internet:
http://zone.msn.com/msn_home.asp - very good, but you don't know how good your opponent is.
http://www.cwi.nl/people/jansteen/go/go.html - lots of resources
http://www.instantgames.com/instantgo/- easy to start, but not very good.
http://login.yahoo.com/games/ - social atmosphere.
The best is to play on igs (internet go server), but a fair amount of setup is involved.
|Other life lessons (not having to do with Go)
- Without the downs there could not be any ups.
- Winner in high school loser in life (converse too). (this one I heard from Dr Drew on Loveline)
- Life is supposed to be difficult; too difficult is bad, not difficult enough is also bad.
- Freedom is when you have nothing left to lose.
- Choose a positive perspective. A reporter once interviewed 2 brick-layers about their occupation. The first brick-layer says: "I feel like a slave - working all day stacking one brick on another under a hot sun. It is tedious back-breaking work. I hate it!". The second brick-layer says: "I am the luckiest man in the world. I get to spend all day realizing the dreams of great architects. I am like an artist, positioning each brick with care, gradually creating this magnificent structure. Best of all I get to work outside in the bright sunshine".