space and games

November 4, 2009

Go proverbs: “A rich man should not pick quarrels.”

Filed under: General, Go — Peter de Blanc @ 1:19 pm

Go players have hundreds of proverbs — pithy sentences that convey important heuristics. It is not enough to simply read proverbs; you must study them at length to unfold them into procedural knowledge.

Most proverbs are particular to Go (e.g. six die but eight live), but some generalize to other adversarial situations, and a few proverbs contain important lessons about rationality.

One of my favorite proverbs states that a rich man should not pick quarrels. Go, in its most common formulations, is a game of satisficing. The player with more points wins the game, and winning is enough; there is no extra reward for winning by a large margin. The proverb says that if you are currently winning (i.e. you are a rich man), then you should not do things (such as picking quarrels) that make the outcome more random. By decreasing the variance in the probability distribution for your final score, you increase the probability that you will hold onto enough points to win. Anything that makes the game simpler and more predictable is good for you.

We can see this in Chess (the winning player should seek to trade pieces) and in epee fencing (the winning player should seek double-touches).

If, on the other hand, you are a poor man, then you should pick quarrels. There’s a good example of this in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In one scene, Indy is in the middle of a rope bridge, and swordsmen are approaching from either side, so Indy cuts the bridge.

If you are winning, simplify. If you are losing, complexify.

Powered by WordPress