Go and Ethics

    Keywords: Culture & History

This is a bit off-topic but I think it is an interesting subject, so here goes.

Go is often (See e.g. Ancient Chinese Rules And Philosophy) seen as more than an intellectual contest, but also as an expression of ethical standards or even religious ones.

Words like balance, respect, humility etc. are all used at regular intervals.

I (MortenPahle) once stated elsewhere (Discussion of the Value of Sente and Gote Plays) that I didn't think that it was 'in the spirit' of Go to play moves which counted on a bad response from your opponent, and that I didn't think that it was in the spirits of the Go Proverbs either.

Of course, I don't mean that for that reason we shouldn't play Go or resign after the first move :-)))

But what I have found is that, when I play a move which I know doesn't 'work' or is suboptimal, trying to get my opponent to respond badly, either, he answers correctly and probably thinks I'm insulting him, or he makes the wrong move and I am then greatly embarrased to take advantage, because it is a shame that what was a good game, becomes a silly game after such an error.

(This doesn't really apply to games against players of different levels - there overplays are often necessary to catch up the handicap.)

I always enjoy games more when I feel that I have played my best moves, expecting my opponent to do likewise.

Just my 2 eurocents :-)

Morten Pahle

Dieter Verhofstadt (1k): I have a Jekill-and-Hydish attitude in this matter:

  • Yes, I think one should always play what one thinks is the best move, and expect good play from the opponent.
  • In every game, there is a psychological aspect. Strategy can include thoughts like:
    • He is territory oriented, so I'll take territory myself, obliging him to play influence.
    • I know he is bad at life and death, so I'll play for influence and when his groups are closed in, the chances of him playing a superfluous move or otherwise die without cause, will increase.
    • A double hane scares her off, she always connects - never cuts first, so I play it and connect.
    • I know this ladder doesn't work, because there is a tricky bump at the end, but I know the guy, he never reads beyond the obvious loop, I am 100% certain he thinks it works so he'll submit to my move and won't play the ladder variant.

Depending on the player, the same thought can be insulting or righteous. Go has a fair amount of psychological battle.

(Tamsin: May I point out, though, that you only have yourself to blame if your opponent confounds you by choosing the correct response to your "psychological" move! Certainly, it's valid to attempt to exploit the opponent's weaknesses, but you do so at your own risk.)

(Sebastian:) You're not Mr Hyde if you're open about it. I think your tricks are completely ethical as long as you give your victim the chance to learn from them. (It's one of the beauties of KGS that it encourages this.) If he listens to your advice (and most people will gladly!), tell him that your ladder was overplay and leave it up to him to decide if it's worth his effort to learn how to read ladders, or if he'd rather enjoy the game without. I believe in empowering people. (This also addresses Bangneki's, Scartol's and Sc4rM4n's ethical and spiritual concerns below.)

And oh, there are some Bad Habits !

SifuEric: Also, as a side note, it (hoping your opponent plays poor moves) is also bad with respect to game theory, which is very valuable (to me, at least) when learning Go. It is always interesting to me to see that this issue has become part of the strategy and ethics of Go (probably long ago) while game theory is so new. But game theory also states that if you are behind (ie, you are white and black had handicap), you lose nothing to play a bit more risky because you have to catch up; if you play conservatively (assuming you both play best moves), you lose. (However, you are not technically playing a bad move, only one where you have weighed the risks/gains).

It is probably a better idea to put the opponent into a position where they must choose the best of 2 options out of which you gain the same amount. Or better yet, remove the opponent's best option.

Anyway, this is getting more and more off-topic. Check for more on the game theory page.

TakeNGive 11k: I have to respectfully disagree with some opinions here:

But what I have found is that, when I play a move which I know doesn't 'work' or is suboptimal, trying to get my opponent to respond badly, ...

(This doesn't really apply to games against players of different levels - there overplays are often necessary to catch up the handicap.)

Bangneki gambling strategy aside, I think Relying on Trick Plays is generally a subtle bad habit that players fall into when playing against weaker opponents frequently. (Actually, the more I think about this, the less sure I am. If players want to amuse themselves by making overplays they think their opponents won't notice, what's so wrong with that? But it's probably not the way to get stronger.)

Scartol: And it doesn't help your opponent get stronger. As a relative novice who has gotten somewhat decent at the game, I find myself in the tricky position of teaching others. If I use trick plays in my games, then my 'students' are responding to those tricks, and not becoming adjusted to the ways of reading the most likely plays from White.

Dieter: OK, folks, here is another one. Last weekend I played a game against CF. In the late middle game he starts making some awkward moves. I suddenly understand that he has forgotten about an atari which connects my group to another one. He is clearly making safety-first moves that assure victory but which in fact are very close to dame. There is still a lot to be gained in the endgame. I really don't know what to do. Should I point out the fact that my group is connected? It could be insulting (he's 2 Dan). Also, if he wins that way, he won't feel entirely satisfied. And yet, I'm not completely sure - there could be another sense to his moves. So I decide to slow down a bit, so that he has time to look around. He doesn't seem to realize. I continue playing with the group so as to force him to force me to take the stones. At the sight of me capturing two stones, he's taken aback. At the end, I win the game with 6 points. He's not angry at all. He's glad I didn't tell. Me too, but other people may think differently.

What would you have done in my place, and how would you react in his?

Arno Hollosi: I guess everyone of us was in this situation. I think that there is no general rule. At least for me. Depending on my opponent, my opponents mood, and my mood I decide what to do. Sometimes I point it out, sometimes I play a very defensive move that says "I can afford to play this, because you just played dame", sometimes (when I'm behind and I'm eager to win) I grab the next big point hoping my opponent makes another error.

TakeNGive (11k): Nice anecdote. I think you had the right approach, Dieter. When I've been in similar situations, I've been less graceful, saying something regrettable like "Dude, I'm connected because you're in atari" -- very much not in the proper spirit of the game. When I've lost in this way, I too have been glad when my opponent politely kept his mouth shut. This hasn't come up for me in tournament play, but there I'd be more likely to adopt Arno's approach of grabbing a big point and hoping my opponent doesn't notice the error.

Hu: Agreed, great anecdote, and I like your thought process, Dieter. In similar situations online, I count to ten to allow the opponent a chance to undo, since it could conceivably be a clicko. Even if it is a thinko, I would be happy to grant an undo in such a situation, since it would make for a more satisfying game. But after a decent interval, I go ahead and capture. Exceptions are when the opponent has been less than honorable previously, or if I succumb to greediness for a win.

Too much dithering is non-productive, since the opponent may have realized the error and be the kind who prefers not to ask for undos. I try to restrain myself from asking for undos, since part of the skill I seek is to not make silly errors (I'm still seeking). Playing offline over a real board is a different story where we can see the opponent's face and reactions.

Sc4rM4n: I'm very new to Go so my comments are worthless as regards the game itself. In spirit I feel it must be acceptable to play so as to take advantage of any weakness in an opponent (this is after all a contest) but it is not worthy to play a move which you know will only work because of a lack of knowledge in your opponent. I dont feel it's wrong to exploit a made error but I feel its rude to invite one.

I am also quite sure that anyone who does play with the intention of inviting and using weakness in others will harm themselves both spiritually and intellectually.

I am happy to say that all of the Go players I have so far met are of the honourable variety.

Scartol: I'm also very new, but insofar as I taught 8th grade last year (2001), I feel like I'm able to judge questions of propriety with some acumen. (Can you tell I taught English, heh?)

I think this -- like many things -- depends on context. In a game versus a much more powerful opponent, I think it behooves us to play in a way that gives our opponent the benefit of the doubt at all times. I think it's very dangerous to assume that we know something that a more experienced player does not. If it turns out she really doesn't know that her stones are in atari, then when we take them, an honorable response on her part is to tip her proverbial cap to our seizure of the stones.

If however, she is aware of the atari and is setting us up, it's quite a faux pas to call attention to the situation. Again, it presumes an oversight on her part. Few things aggravate me more than someone informing me of something I already know, especially when it is presented in a way that suggests I should have known it.

(Sebastian:) Well, different people have different sensitivities. Yes, it may be a faux pas, but I don't think it is an ethical problem. In the contrary! Many, if not most people play Go because they want to improve. On KGS, you can help them nicely in the review after the game. If you're concerned about hurting them, ask them. But even if you don't ask them, I think it's not a problem: You have the choice, and the worst cases speak a clear ethical language:

  • If you tell someone something with the best of intentions but it turns out not to be what they want to hear, then this may have all sorts of bad sides to it, but by any ethical standard it is certainly a good action.
  • If, on the other hand, you don't tell them because (don't fool yourself!) you think they might get silently angry at you, then this is, by ethical standards, a bad action.

Bignose: Go is not a conversation where the participants are sharing knowledge by talking during the game. It's a game of skill, judgement, concentration and tradeoffs. The only reasons a player can fail to respond to an atari (assuming a response is possible that saves the group), are:

  • They failed to notice. If it's a serious game, this is an error like any other they could have made during the game; if it's a learning game, they'll learn to pay better attention to liberties next time.
  • They noticed, but judged it more important to play another move. This is an important part of the game; if you check "did you mean to leave this in atari?", you are asking them to reveal their tactics to some degree. It's up to *you* to apply your skill and determine if you think their response is worth more than saving the group in atari.

In short: The best way to inform someone their group is in atari and you think it's worth saving, is to capture it on your turn. The information is communicated; they learn, if they didn't already know; and *you* learn, if it turns out your judgement was wrong.

It's great to be sociable, and play in a sense of fairness and mutual improvement; but the reason it's called "Hand Talk" is you're supposed to share knowledge *on the board*, and discuss it after the game is over :-)

(Sebastian:) I agree with you to 95%. There are certainly very good reasons for not telling someone during the game; and I, too, keep most of my reviewing for after the game. My reply was to Scartol's statement ("A informing B of something B already knows"), which I took tom mean that A should never tell B, not even after the game.

The few cases where I disagree with your statement are interesting for a discussion about ethics. When I play against a 30k beginner who passes at move 50 (see ResignRightBeforeTheDameAreFilled, bottom of page), of course I ask them right away, and I think you would, too. Offering help to someone who may be in °serious° trouble is an ethical behaviour. I contend that ethics by default override the rules of any game we're playing. (By "by default" I mean: excluding those games in which we explicitly agree to put ethical rules to the test, such as in ThreeColourOngoingGame, where I wrote "I want to see intrigue and treachery!")

Nodog: My rule of thumb is to try to make "honest moves." I define a "dishonest move" as a move that I wouldn't play against myself sitting on the other side of the board. In teaching games, I've found myself playing "dishonest moves" recently and I'm trying to stop.

TJ: On the contrary, I feel that teaching games are maybe the only good times where trick plays aren't a bad thing. I recently showed a fairly new player a trick play involving a set-up to a snap-back in a teaching game. I allowed an undo. I then proceeded to ladder into the same set-up to do the same snap-back again (no undo this time), and when he didn't see it, set yet another snap-back up just hoping he'd have joy in seeing it. Since he still wasn't seeing it, I did my best to explain the shape to be aware of for this kind of set-up to a snap-back, comparing shapes between the two areas where I'd done this trick on him. I stopped giving undos, it not seeming to be helping black learn; I learn best the hard way myself, and maybe winning this game by multiple trick plays wasn't nice, but maybe it helped show the value of spotting such things to black in that game. I hope that he'll start finding snap-backs in his own games now, since I spent much of my effort setting them up as tricks so that he won't fall for them played by an opponent relying on such plays for an unfair advantage. In short, isn't taking unfair advantage in a teaching game helpful to black, if it helps teach him not to be taken advantage of in this way again?

tartuffe: Personally, I would be apt to allow any single 'clicko' or 'thinko' undo. I find winning a 250+ move game because of a single blunder unappealing. I like winning as much as anyone else, but I want cleverness, not ineptitude to decide matches. Tournament games, of course, inspire a more cutthroat attitude. :)

When PlayingWhiteInHandicap it is tempting to use trick plays to overcome the weaker opponent, especially in large handicap games. However, I think this kind of play encourages bad habits (defeating the purpose of a teaching game)unless such overplays are discussed in the post mortem.

Example of Goran Siska moved to Order of play - temptation.

Go and Ethics last edited by MrTenuki on July 9, 2006 - 00:57
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