I took up go rather late in life (I was nearing 30) and since discovering it, I more or less dropped chess for a time to probe the deep mysteries of go. If you are a chessplayer who is feeling stuck or wants to try something new and rich, I would recommend it very highly. Chess is certainly a great game, but I have presented here some problems I felt in chess that are no issue in go:

White advantage

In chess games, one player always has the advantage right from the getgo. This can be especially troublesome with unequally matched players, where for instance a stronger Black player might have to play inferior moves to fight for a win, and run afoul of the truth of the position. Tournament pairings that randomize colors definitely introduce an element of luck into the results. A go game is won by the player with more points, and while the first player starts with the initiative, the second player is traditionally awarded a compensation, called “komi,” in the 5 to 8 point range, so that neither player is clearly more likely to win the game than the other. Komi doesn’t yield exactly a 50% winning probability but close enough so that Go players rarely have a strong preference for color.


High level chess is full of “GM draws” without serious fighting; it is a common and constant complaint that well-played chess games with accurate play just lead to equal positions. In modern go there are no draws, because komi includes a half-point to make this impossible. There is the remote possibility of a kind of “threefold repetition of position,” a triple ko, but this is not even a one in a million chance. In high level games, a player who feels even slightly behind will take chances to create more complications, and it can take great skill to refute such risky play. This naturally leads to exciting battles.

Too many Openings

In chess there is a massive amount of opening theory; keeping up in detail with the developments in your favorite special opening can be a huge practical advantage. In go, while there are some standard corner sequences, some of them exceedingly complex, the local choice of pattern relates to the whole board strategy. Thus, one can”t specialize in just a few to the exclusion of all others without incurring a global disadvantage. In general, when playing go it is fairly easy to avoid a pet variation or prepared analysis without making concessions.

Too powerful computers

I found it disheartening that the truth of most chess positions can be found by giving the position to a competent analysis engine and letting it run for a few minutes. The excitement of the search for the truth of the position, of using one’s own analytical power, is now basically lost. Go is rarely analyzable like this because of the sheer size of the search space. Computers are indeed getting somewhat stronger, especially in local combat, and they may someday outperform humans in this field as well, but the challenges of artificial intelligence are very significant, and the mystery of the game, part of its appeal, should remain intact for the foreseeable future.

Not enough scale and variety

I found after years of tournament play and study that many chess games fall into certain standard types of positions; I found as I wandered around a tournament hall that many games that I observed looked pretty similar to games I had seen before. I can’t think of one full-board go game I’ve played whose course resembled any other, because go is as if in a higher dimension, like many smaller chess games going on at once, and the way they relate to one other adds a significant layer of extra complexity and apparent unpredictability.

Boring passive opponents

Contrary to what one often reads, a reasonably strong chess player with no ambitions and avoids creating weaknesses is very difficult if not impossible to beat, particularly with the Black pieces. This can be frustrating in a must-win situation in a tournament. In go, this isn’t an issue at all; the person who yields to every challenge will make one concession after another, and can only hope to win a high handicap game. It’s the players who fight with you at every turn who give trouble, but this is a much more exciting and inspiring scenario to confront.

Poor pairing systems

The way the USCF runs open Swiss system tournaments may be OK in some respects for determining a winner but it’s no way to produce interesting or valuable games of chess. I played in many chess tournaments next to people my own strength; I saw them all the time but was rarely ever paired against them. I was paired frequently against the same weaker opponents. Go tournaments use a “Swiss-McMahon” system that begins every tournament with you playing an equally matched opponent. You move up or down from there based on your results.

Unequal opponents

In chess it isn’t much fun playing against a much weaker opponent, feeling that anything other than a win would be a disaster, while the win will prove nothing and teach you little about the game. It’s also not much fun playing a much stronger opponent getting beat up badly, as in a mismatched boxing match. In go, there’s an effective handicap system that makes these kinds of mismatches fun and interesting, giving both sides reasonable chances to win. Chess has a history of odds games too, and they are probably underestimated these days, but the game itself seems not to lend itself comfortably to unequal matches. In go, handicap games are commonplace and fun, and low handicap games are quite fair and also widespread in many tournaments.

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