Sunday, 7 December 2014

#27daysofgames Day 7 – Most Intellectual game I’ve ever played – Go


There’s a theory that games don’t need to have millions of rules to be complicated, and that the simplest games can often have the greatest amount of strategy to them.  In many games, this isn’t the case, and a lack of options on playing can result in a game that’s far easier to predict and as a result, far easier to win...

Not in the case of Go...

Go was invented some two and a half thousand years ago and features the simple premise of each player taking turns to place a stone at an intersecting point on the board with the idea of controlling more of the board and removing the opponents stones by placing their own.  A stone is removed by occupying all the linear points (called liberties) around it, if you find yourself able to surround a larger number of stones at every point, you can remove all of them at the same time by occupying the final liberty in the formation.

Sounds simple?

It really isn’t...

There are a variety of other rules that make up the playing of the game, such as not being able to make a move that returns the game to an earlier position (and in this manner, preventing tit for tat stone taking or at least slowing it down), but the basic concept of the game is to place a stone upon the board, one at a time, till both sides rest.

How is this intellectual?  It’s the simplest set of rules in the world...

And therein lies the Intellectual nature of it, The first move in Go can be any one of 19 rows and 19 columns, giving you 361 different options, by comparison, the first move of chess can only be one of Ten (six of the rear pieces locked in place by the pawns), the second move in go can be on any of remaining squares, giving you a total number of permutations of 129960 in the first two moves alone, in comparison to 100 for Chess.  By the third move, the number of possible moves that could have been made rises to 46655640.

You can see where this is going...

And the thing is that while you can teach a computer how to play Chess, so you can teach it to play Go, but when you’re teaching a computer to play Chess, there’s a very strict attack protocol to each piece, as there are in most games, there’s rules on what it can do and where it can go, and in return, what the opponent can do in retaliation, which gives the game a pattern than can be looked at and analysed.  Go has no such protocol, any piece, anywhere, at any time, and a move that was done a hundred stones ago will still have bearing on the strategy that is unfolding now, which is something that a computer does not account for.  It is the reason that computers have been unable to progress into the higher levels (Dan Grades) of professional Go players, whereas Chess programs have been challenging at very high levels for a long time.

I only have a few friends that play Go, and it’s always an excellent time when we actually get to play, although it’s frequent that the board has to be brought out from the last time that we were playing so that we can continue playing the game that we didn’t get to finish the previous time.

But that time is well spent, because you can pick up the game without refreshing your knowledge of what went on before and you can continue without pause, even though you haven’t played for months.

And any game that takes the most powerful computer in the world four hours to consider it’s next move, where a human will place within a quarter of that time, is surely testament to the power of the human mind, and that’s why I consider this to be the most intellectual game in the world today, because computational power and rules will never win over a truly intelligent strategy, and while AI’s remain very much in the A and very little in the I category, this is the proof that something that has a truly versatile mind will always triumph over something calculating the odds...

And with Skynet getting ever close, I take heart that a machine has yet to beat a human at at least one of our games...

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