Manny's Reviews > Mathematical Go: Chilling Gets the Last Point

Mathematical Go by Elwyn R. Berlekamp
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Mar 05, 09

bookshelves: games, science, japanese
Read in January, 2006

Berlekamp is a genius, and this book is a work of genius. I wish I understood it better. A little background first: Go is the most challenging game of skill that's ever been devised, and computers are notoriously bad at it. They have recently become quite a lot better, advancing from hopeless beginner to decent amateur, though that's another story. Even so, they are still light-years from being able to beat world champion level players, as they can in Chess.

In this book, however, Berlekamp and Wolfe show how computers can play certain kinds of endings (yose) better than the strongest humans. They do it using combinatorial game theory; the idea, roughly, is to think of a game as a weird kind of number. Then, when the position consists of several pieces which don't interact in any way, as always happens in the ending, you can work out the number for each piece, and add them together to find out what's going on. If we were talking about ordinary numbers, there would of course be nothing to it. Here, the concepts of "number" and "add" don't have their usual meanings. The book is basically about explaining how to find the correct generalizations of these concepts. It requires a fair degree of mathematical sophistication.

Japanese Go experts are politely dismissive of Westerners who play their game. Evidently, we can't really be expected to get it, not having their centuries-old tradition of treating it a central part of the culture. They do make an exception for Berklekamp and Wolfe, however; someone told me that it's the only English-language book on Go that's ever been translated into Japanese. I was impressed.

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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Nicholas Hel would love this...

Manny Donald wrote: "Nicholas Hel would love this..."

Glad to hear that! But who is he?

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

The protaganist in Shibumi!

Manny Ah, of course. Doh. I always think of him as Nikko... had forgotten his real name!!

message 5: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy Manny, I applaud your correct usage of the Homeric ejaculation. You are clearly a fast learner.

Also -- is the implication here that Go is a more complex game than even Chess? I won't try to argue it, because I essentially never play Go, but that would be an interesting claim I have never heard before.

Manny I am a long-time Simpsons fan... the misplaced Doh in my review of Strata was more carelessness than anything else!

Go is MUCH harder than Chess. I know enough about both games to be quite sure of this.

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