There are more possible variations in the first 32 moves of a Go game than there are known atoms in the universe . Go was invented in China over 2500 years ago. I only learned how to play this week.
The rules are simple. Players alternately place black and white stones on an empty, gridded board. The goal is to surround territory, while avoiding capture by the enemy.
The game, however, is deceptively complex. In chess, once both sides have taken their first moves, there are 400 possible board positions. In Go, after both players have made their first moves, there are 129,960 possible board positions.
Yet, as you start to play, each player creates structures that provide constraints. Territory is marked, thee universe takes shape. The game encourages certain moves and reduces your option paralysis. Despite this, winning seems almost impossible at first.
Writing a book, another activity I began this week, is similar.
The rules are simple. Write 60,000+ useful words, broken into chapters.
But, just like Go, the possibilities within these constraints are virtually endless. When and where will I set this book? Which events and people should I include? From which perspectives must I tell this story?
Thankfully, just like Go, writing becomes clearer as you continue. Once you make decisions and commit words to paper, structures reveal themselves and a narrative unfolds.
The essay you are reading is the 24th I have written since I started this project. In some of these essays, I have surrounded the territory and been victorious. In other essays, the enemy has caught me.
There is a saying among Go players, kyu and dan, students and masters alike, that when starting out, a player should lose their first one hundred games quickly. Losing is inevitable. Learning is essential. You just have to keep playing.
As I continue to write and continue to play, I better understand the structures. I map the universe, make it known. Atoms become easier to count. The real reward, I discovered this week, is not winning the game, but learning how to play.