Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ponnuki Go

In the last few days I've experimented with playing Ponnuki-Go AKA Atari-Go as a learning method with my children (and wife). See Sensei's Library here for more information. Basically this is a stripped down version of Go, which has only the capture rule: i.e. if a stone or group of stones is completely surrounded it is captured. The first player to capture N stones (I used N=1) is the winner. There is some controversy in the go community as to whether or not this is a good teaching method. On one hand it is simple to understand even for very young children, it leads to quick games with no need for counting, it has more understandable and concrete goals so strategy is simpler to grasp, etc. On the other hand it tends to produce players who are pre-occupied with capturing which may become an hindrance to proper development later when making the transition to "real" go.

I suppose I personally subscribe to the view that it is fine to learn Go in stages. It's more important for young children to enjoy playing and trying to explain "eyes", eye-space, false eyes, ko rule, snap-back, along with some strategic notions can become overwhelming. Ponnuki-go is a very natural game to be playing on a go board with stones so I can see little harm in trying it out.

After a few quick games where my kids missed defending against atari (threatening to capture in one move), they quickly got the hang of things. They were still apt to make judgement errors which left them with an easily captureable weak stone (most often by playing "underneath" my stones in an attempt to capture something). But on the whole I was pretty pleased with how this version of the game taught them to make some basic extensions and other defensive moves.

Contrary to the concerns addressed earlier, I found that they were beginning to understand the value of staying connected. This is a concept which I had difficulty explaining during my earlier attempts to teach them "regular" go where they were focused on trying to surround territory. In my experience, getting good at staying connected is probably more essential to early development than learning how to efficiently surround territory. I don't have any real justification for that, it's just my impression based on my current level (around 10k).

Here's a game I just played with Alyssa where she capitalized on a reading error on my part. Much to my surprise she actually said "I win, thanks" as soon as I made the losing move, which implied that she was reading two moves ahead. Just for clarity, I did allow her to take back several moves along the way and also suggested some moves early on (such as defending with a 1 point jump or knight's move and not allowing me to easily cut her stones.

Unfortunately I don't have a way to display a 13x13 game so this is on a 19x19 board display. The borders of the game would be the lines attaching the 4,4 handicap points in all four corners.

No comments:

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide