Go Players Who Also Play Chess

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Chess and Go have a lot in common, as evidenced by Compare Go To Chess and similar discussions which tend to pop up from time to time among (at least western) Go players. [1]

This page is not meant to be a replay of that discussion. What i would like this page to be is a place for those who actually enjoy both chess and Go (I almost always see Go capitalized, whether or not it begins a sentence, is this the correct way?) to be able to discuss the two games and how they tend to relate.

I know for myself, I learned to play chess at a young age, and for the most part never really took much of an interest in it. This, I think, was mostly due to the fact that I felt I was horrible at the game and never really got enough of an insight into it to either improve or see the beauty of it. I would play from time to time, but never went out of my way for a game.

It wasn't until many years later that I discovered Go, and for some reason it clicked for me immediately. I loved it - despite the fact that I was, of course, horrible at the game.

After some time playing and learning Go, I had the opportunity to play a game of chess. To my surprise, chess had become a much more interesting game to me. Not only was I better at it since taking up Go, but I actually was able to appreciate more of the beauty of the game. Since that time I have become a much more enthusiastic player of chess, and I definitely feel that my Go playing helps my chess game. I don't think I can say the reverse at this point, but that is probably because Go is the game that I play and study more.

So, tell me I'm not alone in this - are you a chess player who has taken up Go, or a Go player trying out chess? What's your story with the two games?


Cello70? :Well as this is a website about Go I think there's going to be a predictable bias towards Go! ;) Having played/ studied chess for nearly 20 years, in the past few years I have branched out into other games- Backgammon, Xiangi, Shogi, and Go. Was I so taken with Go that I swore I'd give up on chess and devote all my playing time to Go? No. Do I think Go is a fantastic game? Yes! I played it for a about a month straight, but at the end of that time though I realized that I was starting to miss chess. There is a lot of subtle interplay between the pieces that I find missing in Go. And Chess has a visceral element that I find missing in Go as well. Tamsin: I was a chess player till I found go. I still enjoy playing casual games and fast games on FICS, but I don't think I could ever take chess seriously again. There's too much book-learning of openings to be done, and I find it hard enough maintaining a suitable repertoire of basic joseki. Also, the go scene is more female-friendly, though it is good to see women at chess tournaments more often these days, too.

IanDavis I still am a chess player who much prefers Go. Trouble is no Go club around here! I find Go a much more peaceful game, with more capacity to teach and interact with weaker players. Initially some GO players made derogatory remarks about chess which put me off learning.

Duncan: I very much agree with the above comments. It is a LOT easier to find chess opponents than Go players, even taking into account the fact that they have to be close to your level in order to make the game interesting. That's the real problem with Go - nobody plays it. However, although I've been playing chess for years, and only started Go a couple of months ago, I do think I'm starting to prefer Go.

I think the two games have much in common. Both are tactical and strategic games that suit a logical mind very well. I think players of the one are thus naturally more likely to be good at the other, and to enjoy both.

The real difference is that Go is more strategic, and chess more tactical. As such, I think chess is a game that really suits logically minded people with the abilitly to calculate many moves in advance. Of course, this is also an important skill in Go, but as important is pattern recognition and a whole board view, so it is a game more suited to a flexible or 'soft' style of play.

The two do compliment each other very well, though, and both are very enjoyable, just in different ways.

Bill: Shusai Honinbo was a strong amateur at shogi (Japanese chess). 5-dan, I think. Apparently it is not uncommon for a Japanese go pro to be a strong amateur at shogi, and vice versa.

Tom: I thought it was Kitani. I can't swear to it until I check my book, but the temptation to correct Bill was too strong for me -- I might never get another chance.

ilanpi: I started playing chess seriously 30 years ago and am now enjoying comparing my progress in go with that of chess with all those years of development and deterioration separating the two. So far, the progress has been about the same, and the stronger I get at go, the more I find the two games similar.

There are some things in chess that I miss in go:

  • No good go computer programs. I enjoyed playing computers a lot, because it forced me to be honest, that is, to forget about weak moves that would trap a human player, and also to prevent sloppiness. Also, on chess servers, they were often the only players to accept my challenge. The closest thing in go is automated Life and Death problems (which likewise helped my game a lot).
  • No blitz games for money (not in my experience anyway). Many years of doing this in chess made my game a lot tougher (as well as earning some money). The go equivalent is described in the novel First Kyu with a similar conclusion.
  • Non handicap go tournaments are essentially "class tournaments", that is, you will only play people very close to your rating. In chess, I always avoided this, and enjoyed playing games with players of different strengths. Moreover, the Swiss system allowed you to ease into a tournament by giving you weaker opponents in the first rounds (once you were high enough rated). Conversely, as a weaker player, you get to play very strong players in the first rounds.

LukeNine45: I was a pretty big chess person before I started playing go. Go (on a full-sized board) seems a lot broader in scope than chess. Surprisingly (at least to me) now when I play chess, I find that I put to work a lot of the whole-board thinking that Go taught me, and I think it helped my game noticably.

In chess, though, often the whole game is decided by one tactic. If I get a pawn up, I feel like the rest of the game should be easy... In go, you can loose two groups and still cream the other guy strategically (at least if you're both inconsistent kyu players like me).

It's a lot easier to find chess players, but it's very difficult to have anything close to an even game if they're not around your level.

yoyoma: I don't think that chess and Go differ dramatically on the joseki vs openings front. You can become a very strong player in both without studying them much, instead relying on a very few joseki or openings. Or you can expand your arsenal to include more variations. gobase has a [ext] repertoire of 25 joseki for beginners.

BTW has anyone done a statistical analysis to match Go and chess ratings? Like take the bell curves of Go player and chess player strengths and see where things match. I've always used 1d = 2000 as my rough guess.

ilanpi: I know of very few players much above 2200 who didn't know lots of opening theory. I would be interested in your specific examples of "very strong" chess players who haven't studied openings much.

yoyoma: And I know very few players above 3d who haven't studied openings much. But its possible, and there are some, although very few like you say.

ilanpi: Here is an example of what type of opening preparation is required in chess: When I was 2277 US (in fact stronger) I played a 2065 rated player and thought it would be easy (I had lost a good game against a grandmaster in the previous round) and the opening went like this (I was White):

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 c5 5. cxd Qb6

OK, I had never seen that move before, and I figured out a variation where I won a pawn, but I didn't see that he ended up winning it back leading to a dead drawn endgame. In the analysis, he started quoting games played against him by various grandmasters in which he played this move, and the subsequent results. So, a relatively weak player who only knew this one gambit which he used against unsuspecting opponents during the US Open. I discussed this with an International Master friend of mine who just said: "Yup, you gotta to know that. You can't play d4 without knowing every single one of those stupid variations." Obviously, the same goes for e4 openings. So, what's left, really...

Of course, there have been strong players who didn't know a lot of opening theory, but rather invented when they played. For example, Capablanca who refuted the Marshall counter gambit (one variation anyway) over the board, the first time it was every played, even though it was a prepared opening. The same is true of Emanuel Lasker who defeated the Reti opening the first time it was played (or was it the second). I suppose that something similar might hold true in go.

yoyoma: (There is a typo in your game there, I guess 3 or 4 is Nc6?) But I would say that the people I'm talking about that don't learn opening theory in chess don't play 2.c4! Instead they will play some stonewall or grand prix attack formation, like d4, e3, Nf3, Bd3, Nbd2... stuff along these lines. Its the same in Go, such as WaysToAvoidTheTaisha. People who don't want to learn the complex lines can take simpler ones.

ilanpi: Thanks for pointing out the mistake. I don't recall anyone over 2000 ever playing the stonewall. I guess "prodigies" like Seirewan and Fischer played the King's Indian Reversed until they got to 2200, but broadened their repertoire after that.

It is true that you can avoid the complicated openings in chess, which in fact is how I always played, but the point is that you need to know hundreds of such simplifying variations, e.g., the Black d3 move in the Smith-Morra, etc., etc. I suppose that what you are saying is that the same thing holds in go, but I know for a fact that in chess you need to know these things at a much earlier stage. People were playing the Smith-Morra gambit against me a few months after I started playing seriously, so when I less than 1400, and I needed to know what to do. In fact, being a youthful nerd at the time, I would count the number of openings I had memorized and got to a hundred fairly soon, like a month after I started studying chess. I don't think this old nerd knows much more than 20 joseki a year after starting to study go.

Charles I'd say that opening theory (being able to play any type of fuseki acceptably) comes into go training seriously at about the 3d/4d level; i.e. when you are already a good amateur player. Before that, you need a joseki repertoire, but not a very deep one; and just need some sensible ways to play in the opening to get a comfortable position.

Bill: One thing about joseki, by comparison with chess openings, is that, because joseki are local, it is often good to deviate from joseki. Memorizing joseki does not have such a big payoff in go.

Malweth: It's interesting... my grandfather and father both taught me chess, but I never really got very good at it (perhaps because I was always playing players that were too good for me -- my father won a number of small tournaments in school). My brother has actually gotten fairly good at chess (though I'm sure we're all somewhere between 500-1500). Lately, however, I tried playing some chess (littlegolem and chessmaster) and found that I'm actually quite a bit better at it now than I was before playing go! I don't study chess (openings, etc) so I still suck, but I can actually read some moves into the game. I haven't been successful getting my father and brother to learn go, but perhaps I can get them started on littlegolem (starting with chess, of course).

what: Some chess players come to understand that the confines of a chess board constitute one "castle". Two chess players battle to gain control of that castle. In go, it is more like two players drop stones on a field, build many castles out of them, and struggle against the opponent in all of them at the same time.

C.S. Graves: I've played chess for years now, go for only a few. I enjoy both games for different reasons. As someone noted on Compare Go To Chess, they each have strengths and weaknesses. Chess is subtractive, go additive. Chess is based on movement, go on shape. The aesthetic considerations are important to me as well. Generally I prefer the conceptual simplicity of go/baduk, with its uniform stones and uncheckered grid. I won't deny the more elaborate beauty of a nice wooden Staunton chess set though, each piece a little sculpture of its own. As per the rigidity in chess opening, this is a major consideration if you're out to win... but the reason I play either game is simply to have fun. Also, the formalized opening systems aren't so much an issue if one were to play Fischer's Randomized Chess. Chess variants on larger boards also exist for a more involved and deeper game, just as 13x13 and 9x9 baduk allow one a quick fix. Some prefer apples, some oranges, I prefer to have both.

norml: I have played chess for many many years, first learning it from my father when I was about 7 years old. It was through a friend at a chess club that I was persuaded to give Go more than a cursory attempt, and I'm thankful for that (you know who you are). I've only played Go for a short time but already find it far more satisfying than a game of chess. I still enjoy a game every now and then, mostly with my father, but given the choice I'll almost always log on to KGS or IGS rather than FICS.

I also think I progressed through the initial DDK ranks rather quickly, compared to many, and attribute that to my years of playing chess. Unfortunately, I've been stuck around the 9k level for almost 4 months now - perhaps I should attribute that to years of playing chess too...

zinger: I agree that having played chess helps when learning Go. Chess players have already trained their mind to the process of move selection: (1) check for immediate tactical threats (2) consider overall strategy (3) select candidates based on 1 and 2 (4) read a few moves from each candidate (5) evaluate result after each sequence (6) choose move. I also feel that in both games, step 5 is the biggest difference between decent players and strong players.

iopq: I was a club chess player probably around 1500 FIDE. After a month of playing Go, I'm totally crushing people who played a similar amount. I'm about 20 kyu on KGS and I am improving quickly. This is due to having played chess. I notice mistakes people do that I wouldn't do in chess - wasting a move on something that's already guaranteed to happen. For example, if you see a pawn hangs even if it's the opponent's turn, you can just do something else with that turn and get a bigger advantage. In Go, this translates as not having to move to kill a dead group. Also, knowing when to give up - if you don't give up fast enough you're wasting your time you could use to play more games.

greenviper: I quote ilanpi "I don't recall anyone over 2000 ever playing the stonewall" I played at above 2300 level for a year until last summer, (when i gave up chess for uni but then discovered go at uni ...) where i regularly played the stonewall. Despite only knowing the four moves, and simply thinking at the board, i drew the only grandmaster i played with it, and he had prepared for it. Also, to answer an earlier ilanpi comment, i am a 2200+ player with little interest/knowledge in openings. I suspect i now know more Joseki moves than chess (being 5k). For people who don't play chess, someone earlier suggested that 2000 = 1D, so i reached 4Dish with 4 moves opening theory in most lines. I don't see this being worse for chess than go at all. My main difference i find with chess and go, is that at chess, winning a game is harder because being a bit better than your opponent will usually only draw. The other is that i feel specific patterns return time after time at go (eg all the killing shapes, certain natural shapes do too, maybe more so at a better level than mine). At chess, fianchetto is the only thing i can think of that is similar. Most games of chess come down to a tactic/dangerous attack eventually (at least mine do) and the coordination of the pieces is always something you have to work out at the board as it is never repetitive

togo: Once I played chess, now I play Go. I would still play chess, but at one point there were no game partners and for advancing in the play I would have had to deeply study the openings. I did this a bit, but it seemed rather boring to me, because it meant just memorizing a lot of moves.

Go is different, because you do not have to memorize all the joseki or fuseki, you can just play strategically with basic principles and a tesuji here and there. Also Go is more flexible and more forgiving (If you make an error in Go it may be neutralized by an error of the same "intellectual size" of the opponent. In chess each error is multiplied rapidly by the ensuing game.).

The biggest plus (for me) is, that Go has far more strategy. I now classify chess as a tactical game in comparison to the strategic game Go.

I, too, think that chess gave me a boost in starting Go. But it was not only chess: I am fan of any strategic game and am generally one of the analytical kind.

ZenGarden As a "refugee" from chess as most of the above contributors, I would add the following comments. GO is probably a better game than chess because of two basic factors. (a) Blunders are disastrous in chess. You can play the opening, middle game and endgame admirably, but lose the entire game (including several hours of effort) through one single lapse of concentration. In Go, a fairer game, a won position is highly unlikely to be lost because of the loss of a group or similar blunder. (b) More important (and more enjoyable) are the effects of the handicap system. In Go you can be a 10 kyu facing a 5 kyu and have a roughly even game with a handicap. Chess entirely lacks a sensible handicap system, which means you sit opposite a strong player doomed from the start. For both these reasons, GO mirrors life more accurately than chess and is the superior game.

Vivek Well blunders are disastrous in any game ! Depends on whether your opponent is strong enough to do anything about it. Here are a few of my thoughts on this interesting thread...
I used to be a 2246 FIDE player and I reached my rating with an average knowledge of the opening. Since then I studied a lot of theory and although I could feel my understanding of the game improving by quite a bit, it didnt contribute to my playing strength in terms of rating. The reason is more because I have possibly reached my peak playing strength as an amatuer and cant see any obvious ways of improving- atleast not with a family and a fairly demanding job in the software field. To make further progress in chess, I would need to sacrifice a lot of things - most definitely my stable source of income !
This is very Go began to come in. I learnt it many years back and got to about 10 kyu fairly fast. Then I stopped playing regularly for a long time, but over the last 6 months began to spend a lot more time studying the game. I have got to around 5 kyu level (KGS that is), and can see many many areas requiring improvement. There is very little support in India in terms of playing infrastructure, so most of the learning has come by reading books and playing on the net.
To me these are both wonderful games that offers many challenges. It is unfortunate that most threads I see have demeaning comments on chess coming from go players who seem to think they understand chess well enough.
Here is my take on some of the similarities between the games:
1.There are many levels in both games - else we would not have a ladder of world champs,GM,IM,dan/kyu etc
2.Many strong players in chess at GM level will tell you that the difference between them and someone a level lower is usually calculation and imagination. It is only amongst top pros of similar strength that deep opening knowledge begins to count.
Similarly in go, I remember reading an interview by LeeChangHo who said that reading ability is the important differentiator amongst players.
3.In both games, becoming a successful top pro involves sacrificing almost everything to reach the goal - although there are some exceptions. Many chess and go pros dont have even a high school education.
And some differences between the games from my perspective...
1.There is a third result in chess - the draw - and players who dont respect this, can often end up losing to weaker opponents. This is possibly rarer in go where the stronger player usually wins an equal game
2.Amongst top level chess pros, a lot of time goes in researching the opening - and this has become more pronounced with the coming of the computer. I am not sure how top go players spend their time - but I suspect that if computers get strong enough to cause an information explosion in go, the same would happen to top go pros.
3.I am yet to find the equivalent of fun blitz chess in go. Most go games - even hayago - take a lot of time.

The rating and handicap systems comparisons are fairly curious. My take is that 5 kyu = 1600,1 dan = 2000, 6 dan = 2300, 1 dan pro = IM, 5 dan pro = GM based on the description I have read of these levels.
Also, 9 stone handicap = rook odds and 6 stones = knight odds, 3 stone = pawn and move. Possibly the larger number of moves in go gives more opportunity for the stronger player to catch up in handicap games

tomrose I learned chess before Go and became a decent, but not great, chess player, with a peak British rating equivalent to 2100+ FIDE. I had learned Go, but never had much chance to play. I switched from chess to Go when I was working in London and could not find a friendly chess club. I ended up playing Go on 3 nights a week at three different clubs. With the benefits of chess I was immediately around 17-18 kyu, and within a year, through frequent practice with Dan level players, I reached about 5 kyu. That was in the early 1990s and I played just one more tournament between then and April 2018. The tournament was a disaster (-5, +1 if I remember correctly)

I now play both chess and Go regularly. Having just started to play Go again at the time of writing, I find that I have regressed to 12-14kyu. That is a big drop in strength. A similar gap in playing chess resulted in a much smaller drop ... into the 1900s, and when I decided to put in some study, alongside playing for the local club, it was soon back over 2000 (In the Netherlands).

I think there is a certain amount of skill that is common to the two games, which gives a chess player a good start in Go, or a Go player a good start in chess. There is also the psychology of competition and knowing how to be in good physical and mental shape and up for a fight.

But above that level of common skill the strategic concepts, positional features, typical patterns of play are unique to each game, and knowing a lot about one does not (or so it seems to me) help with the other.

I don't find the handicap system of Go to be a big advantage over chess. To me the game is just as distorted as a chess game played at material odds.

Some Go players argue that chess is more artificial. As if putting black and white stones on a 19x19 grid was any less so!! The argument is based on the variety of moves against the one possible type of move in Go, the "artificiality" of castling, pawn promotion, the pawns double first move, and the en-passant rule. But Go has its own artificialities, like the rule of Ko, different interpretations of seki and bent 4 in the corner. In fact there are at least five different rule sets and at least three different methods methods of counting! In chess the rules are everywhere the same.

For the record I think Chinese rules are by far the most sensible and straightforward and Japanese rules are bonkers, but what do I know? I am just 13 kyu +/- 1

There are some more differences that do matter:

1) In chess one is rarely in doubt about the outcome of the game. In Go you have to be quite strong to know who is ahead at the end. This makes it a lot easier for beginners to take to the game.

2) At more advanced levels that the margin of draw is greater in chess, so the stronger player can often be held to a draw, whereas in Go they would win.

2) One small slip in chess very often turns a completely crushing position into a loss. In Go an error of similar size only reduces the margin of victory.

Whether they are advantages for Go or advantages for chess I would not like to say.

hnishy: Top chess GM Morozevich on [ext] Go and other things.

Go Players Who Also Play Chess last edited by hnishy on May 5, 2018 - 07:07
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