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Improve your game of Go (or just keep playing) with this collection of apps

Kirk McElhearn | Feb. 3, 2015
This tactical strategy game takes serious skill to master. Let these apps be your guide.

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I've been playing Go, a grid-based strategy game that dates back thousands of years, for more than three decades, and it's a game I enjoy a great deal. Unlike chess, which is often an all-or-nothing game of attack and defense, Go is about slowly-evolving strategies to surround the largest territory on the board. Each player, black and white, alternates placing stones on a board with a 19-by-19 grid. Building up territory, where the opposing player cannot get a foothold, each player attempts to enlarge his or her territory, and thwart advances and invasions by the opponent.

It's easy to learn the rules of Go; it's hard to become really good at the game. This is a game that computers can't yet defeat: the best programs can only defeat professional players with a handicap (Go has a handicap system where the weaker player gets to place from two to nine stones on the board at the start of the game).

If you want to play Go, or want to improve your game, there are a number of excellent iOS apps that can help you learn how to play and try to master the game. Here are the best ones. 

Getting started
You can start learning to play by playing games, or you can start by doing problems--situations set up to teach you certain moves, shapes, or ways of playing. To start learning the rules and the basics of the game, grab Igowin Tutor (free). This app contains a tutorial to teach you the rules, and lets you play nine-by-nine games to start. 

Once you know how to play, SmartGo Player ($3) is the best app to build your skills. You start out by playing on a nine-by-nine board. (While Go is generally played on a 19-by-19 board, it is also traditionally played on nine-by-nine, 11-by-11 and 13-by-13 boards with beginners.) SmartGo Player starts you out at its lowest level, and gets stronger as you do. As you increase in strength, you unlock the 11-by-11 and 13-by-13 boards.

You can use an auto-handicap system, or turn it off and take your chances. You can also change the amount of time the app thinks, from an average of 2.5 to 12 seconds per move. Even very strong players play Go on nine-by-nine boards to have quick games, and SmartGo Player will offer a challenge to players at the dan level. (Beginning player ranks are counted in kyu, from 30 to one; after that, ranks go from one dan to nine dan.)

Igowin Pro ($5) works in the same way, but offers nine-by-nine, 13-by-13 and 19-by-19 boards right off the bat. It changes strength as you increase in skill, offering handicaps when necessary, though you can choose your own strength and handicap settings. Each of these apps has its own playing style, and its own quirks. Igowin Pro only lets you undo one move; SmartGo Player lets you undo as many as you want. A good way to learn is to try a sequence and see if it works or not. Being able to undo, say, a half-dozen moves helps you learn from your mistakes. Igowin Pro can give you hints, however, which can also help you find the best moves.


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