Go (igo) on Android

One of these two players is an idiot at playing Go. And it is not the tablet. -_-;

It has been a long time since last I wrote about the Oriental board game of Go. The game is deceptively simple. It takes two minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. Since more and more of those lifetimes are spent on the move, it makes sense to have the game available on your mobile phone or tablet. With the Android operating system becoming more and more widespread, several high-quality Go programs have become available for it.

There are basically three types of Go program for Android. One type lets two players use the same mobile phone or tablet to play the game against each other. Basically the device is used as a Go board (Goban in Japanese). Since I don’t know any local players, I have not downloaded this type of program.

The second type lets you play against your cell phone or tablet. These processors are less powerful than desktop or laptop computers, so they will not provide a challenge to the experienced player. I am not an experienced player, so I downloaded one of these. It is called Godroid. This is probably a pun, there’s nothing godlike about this program. Well, not by today’s standards. I suppose it is indistinguishable from magic. But that’s business as usual for today’s telecommunication devices. Using it is simple: You tap on the board where you want to play your stone, and a shadow of the stone appears. Tap once more to confirm. The device will play next. The first time I started, it directly opened a training game rather than taking me to the New game dialog where you can set board size, handicap, black or white, strength, komi and scoring. This made me think initially that these options did not exist, but when I started a new game, they did.

The computer is a computer, obviously, so it will surely become predictable once you have played long enough. But with ten different levels of strength, this should take some time.

Godroid is just one of several programs, but it is free and has built-in artificial intelligence rather than running a separate program in the background as your opponent.

The ultimate challenge (for the time being at least) is another human player. Luckily this is also possible on your phone or tablet! Panda Tetsuki is a fast, clean and simple program to connect to the “PandaNet” IGS (International Go Server), which is what you would expect, a place where you can play Go against people from around the world, day and night. It also has limited chat / comment capabilities. You can connect as a guest right away, but if you have an account (as I have from my home computer), you can use that to log in as yourself. You need an account to participate in games, but you can watch games even as a guest. If you want to play, I recommend you first go into the menu and set “confirm moves”, so you don’t accidentally place your stone in the wrong place and ruin the game for yourself and your opponent.

The functionality is simple: Players who are online are sorted by strength. Your name is highlighted in blue. Players available for play are listed in black, unavailable in gray, and a symbol of a tiny Goban shows those who are playing a game. By clicking one of these you can watch their game. Click on the small arrow to the right (not very obvious!) to get the game board up and watch them play in real time! You can also wind the game backward and forward to catch up to what has happened before, use the phone’s menu button to get the option to jump to the start. I’d expected that to be in the action line with the back and forward keys, but I guess that would be a bit crowded?

There are less options than in the official client for the PC, but you can watch games, chat and look at statistics. And once you have an account, you can play against other registered players. As far as I know, it is still free to register. The ranking system on the IGS is based on your games, at least unless you are a verified pro, in which case you are marked as such. By consistently winning against players of higher rank, you will eventually move into that rank. Correspondingly if you consistently lose against a lower rank, you will fall into that rank. This assures that other players can easily choose you as a suitable opponent. It is possible to challenge someone of a distant rank. A higher player may play a teaching game. There is however no provision for a strong player to play against several weak players simultaneously, as far as I can see.

I apologize for not having more detail and for not having tested more programs. But since I have complained in the past about the lack of such programs, at least I can now eat my words. They are tasty. ^_^ By that I mean that I am glad to see there are now several good programs available for Android. Perhaps one day I will watch one of your games on the IGS?

***

This entry is actually closely related to the last few ones. Back when I read (and wrote) about deliberate practice, one of the things that occurred to me was the Oriental ancient board game of Go.

I know I have written about this a couple of times over the years, but there is a 75 episodes anime called “Hikaru no Go” about a boy learning this game and his deliberate practice to become one of the best players in the country. It is a very inspiring series, especially for those interesting in that particular game, but also more generally inspiring towards deliberate practice. The essential message is that you can learn both from loss and victory, but this requires that you always challenge yourself, that you always try something that is beyond what you should be capable of.

In other words, you should always seek out challenges where you have a small but nonzero chance of winning, and then seriously try to win. You should try so hard that there is a chance you might start crying if you lose. But whether you win or lose, you’re going to learn something. In fact, you are going to learn a lot if you practice that way. This is the fastest path to progress.

But thinking about this in my current life phase, I realized that there is nothing on Earth that I feel so passionately about, except possibly life itself. If I were to look at my life with those eyes, as a challenge which I have a small chance of not losing – the loss of this lifetime, this incarnation as Easterners would say, the loss of my soul as the Bible would put it – that would be the one thing that I would be sure to cry over. Thus my recent reflections on Gnosis (which, incidentally, is not related to Gnosticism except linguistically.)

But I cannot maintain such a high perspective for long, because I suck at being serious (except if I am sick and rapid getting sicker, at which time I tend to be super serious, imagine that! But that is not the case now, and I appreciate that.) So instead I have been watching this anime and downloading Go programs for Android.

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