Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Back to playing Go

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9781400098033I started playing Go because of a novel1.
I read Trevanian’s Shibumi when I was in high school, and I liked it a lot. I knew the man that had translated the novel, and we both were chess players (he was quite good, I sucked pretty bad).
I played a lot of chess in high school – I used to carry a small magnetic chessboard in my bag, and we’d play games during break with some of my schoolmates. We played fast, and it was good training, but I still sucked.

After reading Shibumi (that is an excellent spy story novel) I started looking for a handbook for the game of Go, but in those pre-internet days the going was tough.
The friendly gaming store where I used to buy my roleplaying games had Go boards for sale, at a crazy price, and no handbooks.
Finally, in my first year in university, I found a big library in the center of Turin that carried a huge selection of gaming books: chess, checkers, bridge and, in a small corner of a shelf, a handful of Go handbooks.
smithgoLII bought one that was a wonder, a book originally published in 1908 and reprinted by Tuttle, a beautiful compact book that was a beauty – not only very clear, but also beautiful to behold.
Next, I got me the cheapest Go board on the market, and then I started looking for players. I soon learned that chess players can become really aggressive when faced with a Go board. Maybe it’s the fact that in chess you have a small, crowded board that grows empty as the game proceeds, while in Go you have a huge board that’s progressively filled with playing pieces.
Or something.
In university I found a few adversaries, and finally started having a weekly game. It lasted about six months – then everybody disappeared, and one of them kept my beautiful handbook.
I was royally pissed off, and still am2.

Go-Board-small

Then the internet arrived, and with the internet, the possibility of

A . Getting Go books from online bookstores
B . Playing online through a Go server

I started playing often, against humans and machines, and came very close to get a one-digit kyu level – basically the level of a club player. But really, I’m a just a good casual gamer on my best days.

Now I have a nice selection of books, and if my gaming days are long gone, sometimes I fantasize about opening a Go Club here in Astigianistan, and teach the natives to play.
Wishful thinking.
And yet t51cjO6YdlZL._SX403_BO1,204,203,200_wo days back, as payment for a quick-and-dirty commercial translation (don’t ask), I got a Go book as payment: the 1996 classic Learn to Play Go: A Master’s Guide to the Ultimate Game (Volume I) by Janice Kim and Soo-hyun Jeong. Great book, concise, elegant and very very clear.
One of the best introductions to the game I’ve seen so far., and a very pleasant read

And I found it interesting that this book describes the game of Go as a language, a language connection China, Korea and Japan…

By reading this book you will learn an ancient “language” spoken by more than one hundred million people throughout the world. Slightly different customs apply in each country, but the basic rules and structure of the game are as old as the pyramids.

And also, of course, the legendary origin of the game – developed by a courtier to teach the son of the King of Yo both restraint and strategy. And yes, there is a similar story about the origin of chess, in India, during the Gupta empire. One wonders what’s the real story there.
c41dd2af423da36481e8657a3707570711d45c47_hqThe Silk Road, that’s still one of my obsessions, helped spread chess through the world, while Go, known as Baduk in Korean and Weiqi in Chinese, did not reach Europe but much later. I sometimes wonder why.
Go, after all, has a simpler setup, and if proper Go sets can be objects of beauty just as chess sets can be, you can play the game with very rough materials.
And yet, Go is also played in Tibet, on a smaller board, and the black and white symbolism attributed to the stones in Tibetan games is influenced by Manichean principles that came all the way from Persia. You can’t escape the Silk Road, apparently.

There’s also been studies, in the last few years, about the game of Go and the aging process – and turns out the game is, like most games, good to keep the brain healthy, and lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

So, let’s play more!

As I said, I started when there was no internet, and Go boards were the most expensive board game in the shop.
Today things are easier.
Right now, anyone interested in the game can download The Way to Go the 60 pages introductory manual by Karl Baker of the US Go association, or learn with the interactive exercises of The Internet Way to Go. And of course there’s Sensei’s Library where you can find everything you need – articles, software, stuff. Great.
51168YFYY1L._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_There is a wealth of books available, for all prices and purposes, including a nice Teach Yourself Go by Hodder & Stauton, and the older version can probably be found for cheap as second-hand.
Amazon will get you a travel magnetic Go board (technically should be called Goban) for around ten bucks, and with twice that figure you can get a cheap starter wooden board including the stones.
You can play against a computer, using GnuGo as an engine, and adding a graphical interface of your choice if you run on Linux (I use Quarry). But check Sensei’s Library for more alternatives and software suitable for your system.unnamed (1)
There’s a lot of people playing online, and while I was reading my new book last night I went and did an account on Pandanet and downloaded their client. Who knows if I’ll ever play online again.

So, here’s a good proposition for 2018 – play more Go, and maybe re-read Trevanian’s Shibumi, and do a proper review here on Karavansara.


  1. which is interesting because I also learned cooking because of a novel. And my interests in zen and taoism, and my practice of tai chi also were inspired by novels. In the end, novels influenced a lot of my life. 
  2. And I know who you are! – and you were a lousy player and a bad loser anyway. 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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