My history with Baduk
I’ve started playing Baduk more during the pandemic, and I thought I should write about this fascinating game.1
When I was a child growing up in Korea, I remember seeing newspapers with pictures of Baduk positions with professional commentary. Unfortunately, no one in my immediate family had any interest in the game, so my initial curiosity of the game came and went.2
Later in the United States, I picked up chess during high school. Chess had the advantage that there were many more people who already know how to play the game. And also, carrying around a lightweight board with some pieces wasn’t difficult at all. I recall whipping out my chess board for a quick game during lunch, recess, and any other time I could find an opponent.
I took a step back from chess during college and later years. I started to lose interest after I kept playing the same openings.
Around 2016 I re-learned how to play Baduk. One reason I picked it up again was that at this time, Baduk was still played best by humans (a computer AI had not yet defeated a master human player on an even game). This was just before the great “AlphaGo” match with Lee Sedol, and at the time most people believed that AI supremacy in this game was still another decade away.
I started playing and losing a ton of games against the AI on 9x9 at online-go.com, especially around 2019 when sometimes I played marathon 9x9 games, over and over against the computer. The most memorable game from this period is this one where I won by 0.5 points against a 7-stone handicap. That victory was a pleasant surprise, but it also left me with a sense of obligation to study the game with a little more seriousness.
After a brief pause, I returned to the game in the fall of 2020. During this time I watched some videos from this YouTube channel, which I was able to roughly understand thanks to my knowledge of Korean. I began to realize large gaps in my style of play, and it was only after this realization that I started improving my results.
Baduk vs. Chess
Having a working knowledge of both chess and Baduk, I would have to say that the biggest difference between them for me is that there is far, far more room for strategy in Baduk. This is because you can ignore threats and play for bigger moves on the more much more often than in chess, especially in the opening and middlegame. There is more wiggle room for creativity!
Speaking of openings, because the Baduk board has 4 symmetrical corners, there are actually 4 areas of openings in each game. You can have 4 different “openings” in each game. In chess there is only 1 “center” of the board where the vast majority of opening theory takes place.
The handicap system is far more elegant in Baduk as well. In chess, the handicap is usually to remove a pawn (or two), but this drastically alters the nature of the game. Not so for Baduk! The weaker player gets up to 9 extra stones on the board before the start of the game. This way you can play with opponents at different levels without getting completely crushed from the very beginning.
Perhaps the best part of the game is that each game is decided by a score (where the score is the amount of “territory” you control). A win is technically a win, sure, but the “wins” can be judged against each other by their score.
Finally, the game is more forgiving in terms of errors. In chess if you lose your queen (without adequate compensation), the game is pretty much over. In baduk, even if you lose a sizable group, you can still come back. Actually, the bigger your group of stones, the harder it is to get them captured outright, and so there is a natural, automatic tendency for your strongest “pieces”, if you will, to resist capture.3 Brilliant!
I use the Korean word “Baduk” (바둑) because the usual Japanese loanword “Go” overlaps with the name “Go” of the Go programming language.↩︎
Years later I learned that my uncle is an amateur 5-dan.↩︎
In Baduk as long as a group gets 2 “eyes”, it becomes uncapturable — and the bigger the group, the easier it is to make such eyes.↩︎
The author of this book is Cho Chikun, one of the top players of the 20th century.↩︎