Go is a better game than chess because its rules are simpler and more aesthetic, and lead to an emergent complexity and strategy that is at worst equal to the emergent complexity and strategy of chess.

I am no chess hater (I own a $500 chess board), but I've long thought that go is the better game.

The rules of go are more simple than the rules of chess. If you don't believe me, compare the rules of each game.

Rules of Chess

Rules of Go

I understand simplicity is not a well defined concept, but for most naïve heuristics I could think of, go scored better: number of characters of the rules (in English), number of distinct concepts in the rules, amount of time to explain the rules to a new player, amount of time for beginner to only play legal moves, etc.

The emergent complexity and strategy of go is at worst equal to the emergent complexity and strategy of chess. It is no accident that an AI, Deep Blue, beat the Chess World Champion Gary Kasparov in 1996, but an Al, AlphaGo, only beat the Go World Champion Lee Sedol in 2016. 

The number of distinct positions and possible moves in go far outnumber those of chess. Back of the envelope calculations put the number of distinct positions in chess at 10^120, and in go at 10^360. While both numbers are incomprehensible to our monkey minds, it is clear that go is in its own complexity category.

But maybe you're not convinced that go having simpler rules (axioms) and being more complex makes it a better (more fun) game. 

Games are supposed to be fun to play. And I've found that the most fun games are ones that can be played with other people, and continue to stay fun even as you get better at them.

There are many reason both go and chess are wonderful games,

  1. Practically infinite emergent complexity and strategy.
  2. Beautiful strategy.
  3. Large population of players

Reasons why chess is a more fun game than go,

  1. More people in the Western world already know the rules of chess.
  2. Chess involves pieces that can move, and pieces with distinct movements.

Reasons why go is a more fun game than chess,

  1. Go has simpler and more aesthetic rules than chess. If I have to explain en passant to one more chess beginner, I'm going to cry.
  2. Go is more complex than chess. And go strategy is more beautiful to me than chess strategy. 
  3. Go's varying board sizes and adjustable scoring make it a better game to play with a worse player than chess.

I love both games, but I wanted to explain why I think go is a better game than chess.

Are there games better than go?


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Go has simpler and more aesthetic rules than chess. If I have to explain en passant to one more chess beginner, I'm going to cry.

Try explaining the difference between how Chinese rules and Japanese rules treat bent four in the corner to a beginner :)

Another thing I like about go is that the rules feel less path dependant. Like, if you take one of the rules away, you'll recognize the need for it and there's a good chance you'll reintroduce it either exactly the same, or functionally almost equivalent. You can ask "why is the rule this way" and get an answer based in game design.

This seems clearly not true in chess. Any of the pieces could have a different moveset, or you could rearrange the starting position, and you'd get a viable game but one where strategy might be very different. "Why is the rule this way" might have a partial answer based in game design: I think pawns moving two spaces was to speed up the early game, and I've heard the reason for checkmate instead of capturing the king is to do with balance. But it'll also very often just be "because that's what chess players collectively decided over time".

(IIRC the difference between checkmate and capture is: with checkmate, you need to capture the king, but you need to do so without putting the opponent in a position where if they don't move you can't immediately capture, but any move they make leaves you able to capture. That would be stalemate.)

It's not perfectly true in go, but my sense is it's a lot more true. (True enough that different countries use different rules but can still play each other.) "Why do we count territory?" If not you'd just spend a long time filling in space that you already control, that would be boring. "Why do we have a ko rule?" To avoid infinite loops.

You can have variants on ko, but my sense is people tend to play pretty much the same for all reasonable choices here. You can choose area scoring or territory scoring (do I remember those terms right?) but I think those work out the same to +/- one point in most cases.

Exceptions here are that most rulesets seem to forbid suicide, which seems pointless to me; 19x19 as the standard board size seems pretty clearly path dependant; and the Japanese rules seem bizarrely complicated.

This seems clearly not true in chess. Any of the pieces could have a different moveset, or you could rearrange the starting position, and you'd get a viable game but one where strategy might be very different.

The AlphaZero work on evaluating chess variants seems to establish that a lot of chess variants would be fine. But DM only looks at chess, and I don't know of a list of equally-attractive looking Go variations that one could test this way.

I think the "why"s of chess are also about game design - just about decisions that could have gone various other ways. Go is certainly more elegant; chess has more character: these are essentially opposites, since each arbitrary-but-reasonable rule added is a loss for elegance and a win (potentially) for character.
(a rule that introduces more symmetry than it breaks goes in the other direction - but such rules don't feel arbitrary)

Also, chess usually ends in a draw, which is lame. Go rarely if ever ends in a draw.

Agreed. It'd be nice if the chess folk took some low-hanging-fruit rule changes seriously.

Treating stalemate as a loss is the most obvious. I'd be interested to know how much this would change things at the highest level. Ah - I see DM tried this (gwern's link), with disappointingly little impact.

A more 'drastic' (but IMO interesting) endgame change would be to change the goal of chess from "capture the king" to "get the king to the opponent's throne" (i.e. white wins by getting the king to e8, black wins by getting the king to e1; checkmate/stalemate wins immediately).

You get some moderately interesting endgames with this rule - e.g. king+bishop can win against king from most positions, as can king+knight.
This means that many liquidate-material-to-drawn-endgame tactics no longer work.

For more general endgame positions, the e8 and e1 squares become an extra weakness. So positions where it was hard/impossible to convert an advantage (difficult with only one weakness to exploit), become winnable (two weaknesses often being enough).

I don't know how it'd work out in practice.
It'd be fun to see how [this + chess960] worked out at high level.

Additional factors:

  • handicaps and komi - the way these are built into the culture mean that it's a lot easier to have a balanced game with pretty much anyone, without worrying about the weaker player complaining about it not being fair
  • go can be a lot less aggressive, in that the aim is more to neutralise than kill the enemy - I find that to be nicer in some sense
  • gobans are prettier than chess boards - fight me :D

Short note: I calculated a more accurate estimate of the number of positions in chess and it's at 8.7E+45, not 1E+120: https://github.com/lechmazur/ChessCounter .

I prefer chess, here are some of my reasons: 

Chess is much more symbolic. Each piece has its own character and its own role/history in each game. Like, if you like "Magic the Gathering" but also prefer Go to chess, you have some explaining to do. Sure, you could remove the pictures and all the fantasy baggage from MtG and condense the rules into something simple and abstract, but would it then be as much fun?

Maybe it's because my Go skills are not that hot, but I don't get the same sense of aggressive dynamism from Go. Because the goal in Go is so much more holistic it seems to me it is lacking the sac-sac-mate breathlessness that comes from being more single-mindedly focused on mating the enemy king. 

For someone growing up in the western world, it is clearly a better choice than Go. The tournament, league, club density is just much higher, as well as the number of books or online content.

The rules of chess are not as simple, but they make sense, in that the movements of the pieces are pretty complete geometrically and they are very well balanced for all their complexity. 

Chess is better than go because I've yet to see a chess player feeling the need to explain why the game is better on a random forum.

Hahaha, so actually I love the game of Chess much more than I love the game of Go. I think I just wish I had been born in a country/culture where Go would have been more accessible.

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