Winning by evading

Back when I worked in Tampere University of Technology I shared a room with a skilled programmer called Warp. We worked in different projects and didn’t ever collaborate in development, but we played go together in the evenings. We were both about 5 kyu at the time.

Our approach to go was very different. I remember especially well one game which ended in my win by about ten points. Warp said after the game: “I don’t understand how I lost this game. In every single fight I gained and Antti lost territory.” And he was correct. I played slack moves and let him have what he wanted. But in go there is a balance between territory and influence. If you choose to grab territory, your opponent will gain influence, barring major mistakes. While Warp valiantly wrestled small territories from my control, he ignored all the influence I gained in response, until my influence itself became territory, much larger than his. I won the game without ever winning a fight.

We played a lot and he won as many games as I, but I recall this one because of his comment. It tells a lot about our characters. He always focused on local moves and willingly ignored the big picture. I was soft in tactics and evaded confrontation to the fault. There was a lot for us to learn from each other and I hope we did.

One of my regrets regarding those times is that I never programmed with Warp. Very rarely in my career have I had a chance to work with someone much experienced than me, and back then I didn’t appreciate the opportunity. I suspect that just like our approaches to go, our approaches to programming would have turned out different enough to be worth a story or two.

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