Selfless Go

    Keywords: Culture & History

This page seeks to apply the Zen theory of Nonself to the activity of Go.

This page is part of both The Zen Way to Go and the Mentality Path.

Selfish Go

In a game of selfish Go, the players try to win, because they want to win. This desire imposes the Self upon the game.

Selfless Go

In selfless Go, the players try to win, because they are playing Go. The game of Go requires us to make the best moves we can, and thus trying to win is inherent in the game. Thus, in Selfless Go, no Self (specifically, desire to win) is imposed upon the game.

How to play Selfless Go

  • Don't desire the win
  • Play the best move


Alex: This is actually an argument I have with people a lot, particularly people who don't play many games. They often ask me why I take games (not just Go) so seriously, why I seem so fixated on winning, and why I get annoyed or angry with people who make bad moves "for fun", or make their allegiances in multiplayer games based on real-life loyalties rather than on what they believe to give them the best chance of winning.

These people often mistake this attitude I have for egotism or hyper-competitiveness. I don't deny that I'm an egotist and occasionally a bit too competitive, but those personality features/flaws aren't to blame in this case. Rather, it's a principle of my philosophy that (most) games are designed with the idea in mind that players will try to win, not to validate themselves as people, but because that's the point of the game. If you aren't going to do whatever you can (within the limits of the rules of the game and your own ability) to win, why play?

It's immature to be unable to enjoy a game if you don't win. However, that shouldn't be confused with the much more sensible attitude that, to enjoy a game, you must be TRYING to win. Losing a hard-fought battle to a superior opponent is, for me anyway, way more enjoyable than winning sloppily against an inferior one.

Jared: I agree, Alex. We must try to win without wanting to win. When we want to win, the want, the desire seeps into our mental process, and we overplay.

Vincent: This is an idea I've come to understand recently. When I start worrying about how much I'm ahead or behind I play foolish moves but when I just focus on playing good moves I play quite well. Even when I lose I have the compensation of knowing I played well and there's no shame in losing to a superior opponent.

Remillard: Possibly the idea you are trying to get across that winning is not the point of Go. How can it be when even in a fair contest you should be losing half the time?! So, if someone plays a move that is interesting to them, so be it. If you think such a move is "silly" then you have a perfect venue to describe what you think of such a move in your following moves. It is only if you are pro that you have to worry about winning more than enjoying the game for itself.

Jared: Winning is the point of go, Remillard. My point is that desire corrupts the mental process

Remillard: Well perhaps winning is the "local" goal, but the "whole board" goal is not winning when you are looking at the enjoyment of the game over a long period of time.

Jared: That's a good analogy.

C.S. Graves: One also has to be aware of the desire to play the best move, and the desire to be rid of all desire, a common peril of the philosophy. Removing ourselves from the game in such a way is surely a challenge!

Jared: Good point! It's easy to trade one obvious desire for another desire less obvious.

Sam yah i think all of yo al right. its good to try to win without wanting to win. its like my brother he wants to win so bad he will do anything. he takes the fun out of it . i eventually just let him cheat and pretend like i didn't see anything.

Tei? I have a problem with go. Whenever I play against unfamiliar opponent, I can handle winning and losing both with dignity. But when I am playing against my loved one - who is currently much stronger than I am - I get frustrated, angry and therefore disappointed for myself. I have even considered giving up playing go because such a negative feelings are not very nice things to have against person that you love. Any comments or tips?

axd: The mind will, but does your heart accept your loved one to win? Do you feel the need to prove your loved one that you can play (well) go? Maybe you don't know this person well/long enough, and you tend to believe that this person might have a negative image of you because of the way you play.

LukeNine45: You have an ideal situation; don't play to win, play to learn/improve. Review your games. Do problems, lots of easy ones. It will help (a lot) if he/she plays to teach/learn and not to win. Go is unique in that only a few stones difference in strength makes a win/loss almost a sure thing, so play hard and don't care whether you win. And lastly (just an idea), sit next to each other instead of across from each other when you play since board orientation doesn't matter in go.

axd: ah! sitting next to each other - that's a good one :-) (However - it seems to me that Valentine is carrying away the Zen subject here :)

LukeNine45: I know, but I'm not a Zen expert, and the question seemed like a practical answer would be best. :)

axd: so you are Zen now!

LukeNine45: I didn't think so, but I suppose it's possible that I just haven't noticed... ;)

Phelan: Heheh, what I think that axd meant is that you can't achieve Zen theoretically, by thinking about it. Zen is achieved by practicality, by absence of thought. So, when you gave a practical answer, you were Zen.

LukeNine45: Ah, so to *really* be Zen you could convert to Christianity or something? Except I guess it wouldn't work if you converted for the purpose of being Zen? So it'd have to be a genuine conversion... my head hurts, hehe... Sorry, couldn't resist... ;)

Phelan: Tei, you must let go of the will to win, like has been said. Try to play the moves you find most interesting, and if possible discuss the game as it goes. You can also try playing Go Variants to vary the skills you both use, and it might help with the negative feelings ("why am I thinking this? this isn't a serious game..."). I get stuck in that mode sometimes too, and I have to force myself to have fun with the game. :p

Tas: I have the same problem with my girlfriend, she wants to win too badly when I am around. No matter if it I play her or just watch. And this desire to win often make her unable to. She plays several stones stronger when she don't care.

googleplex?: We hope that common sense will prevail eventually

Page Created by Jared in September of 2004

Selfless Go last edited by on January 25, 2015 - 21:48
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