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GO on the iPad – A New Approach to an Ancient Game

GO (known also as Wei Chi and  碁) has been a significant part of my life for many years.  I was introduced to the game by my good friend Doc Stodden in 2002.  Over the years, Doc and I have played many games – both online and off.
But because GO is an obscure game, finding co-players can be difficult.  Say what you will about copious consumption and the social implications of the iPad.  This post is about GO, not the politics of the technology industry.  And to that end GO on the iPad is a really amazing experience.

GO is one of the oldest games in the world, and has been a stable of political and social leaders for millennia.

Go players lay black and white stones on a 19 x 19 grid.  They players attempt to control territory by surrounding open points of intersecting lines.  Stones – or groups of stones – are removed from the board when they poses no remaining points of play, or ‘Liberties.’  The game progresses until one player concedes.  The remaining free points are counted, and the player with the most ‘eyes’ wins.
But.  ‘Winning’ in GO consists of far more than simply trouncing the opposition.  GO etiquette requires that the player who is more experienced play white stones, and the novice plays black.  The point is never to simply win by the numbers.  A wise GO player will teach his student how and why he lost.  An unwise and brash player will simply win and be done with the game.  But this behavior misses the point of the game.  GO is as much about teaching and losing and learning, as it is about dominance and competition.
The game has taught me applicable political and social strategy, to be sure.  But the far greater value of GO is it’s emphasis on learning, player self-awareness,a and the balance between global and local problems.
The below text is from a brief review I wrote in iTunes of the SmartGo Kifo iPad application [iTunes Link].  I rarely write reviews in places like Amazon and iTunes.  But GO has been such a significant addition to my life that I feel a sense of obligation to evangelize the game and it’s themes.
There’s a bit more about GO here, and you can watch my first iPad GO game in a Flickr photoset here.
GO has added unquantifiable value to my life.  The game is one of the oldest in the world, and has significant social, cultural, and political application.  Go is also intrinsically tied to more abstract global themes.
Where Chess (a derivative of GO) emphasizes tactics, GO emphasizes strategy – global and local.  But GO becomes deeply satisfying when themes of the balance and growth are discovered as the player matures.
The key appreciating GO is learning both the game and it’s themes over time.  The rewards to learning GO are tremendous.
The problem, of course, is that GO rewards patience and learning.  Our culture, at times, lacks the attention span to really appreciate these values.
I’m far from an expert but this app has helped me improve both my skills and my understanding of the game, and is essential for anyone interested in games, political strategy, communication methods, and academics.
The cliche about GO is true: the game takes two minutes to learn, and a lifetime to master.
In short, SmartGo Kifu is an essential application.