BGJ 155 Spring 2011
MyGoFriend is a strong program for Windows with some interesting features for studying, at least in 9x9. As fits the gold medallist from the 2010 Computer Olympiad it is powerful, but limited in some ways and lacking some features which may be considered basic in other programs. It has 7 pre-programmed levels of strength, beginner to sensei, which search through a certain number of game trees. This means the strength should be the same across different computers, although more powerful hardware will move more quickly.
The first 3 levels are very weak, regularly missing ladders. I found the 4th and 5th levels (club player and expert) gave a good game (I am 1 kyu, but much more used to 19x19 than 9x9), while 6th level was tough if it had komi and took about 20 seconds for the first few moves, then speeding up. The sensei level thought for so long I got bored. Fortunately there is a force move button, a gear icon which also rotates while the computer is thinking. Alternatively, you can limit the time the computer takes to make each move, which will also change its playing strength. Finally there is also a “permanent brain” option, which allows the program to process on your turn and should make it stronger.
What is most striking about the higher levels of play by this program is that it doesn’t seem to play “computer moves”, the occasionally bizarre moves which go programs in my experience seem to love. If there was a go equivalent of the Turing test, I suspect MyGoFriend would do very well, the one exception being that if it thinks it is losing – in common with other go programs – it will start playing pointless self ataris and other desperate moves.
The most irritating feature lacking in this program is a handicap setting (the MyGoFriend team have told me it will be in the next update). It is possible to set this up yourself however, by setting the computer colour to “none” and placing your handicap while passing for white. I only tried this a few times, but it still seemed to play sensibly. It is also restricted to 9x9 although they promise this will be expanded. Lastly, the move history is displayed as a text block of coordinates, rather than visually, which you can click on to jump around the game positions, so with several variations on one board the list of moves quickly becomes difficult to follow.
Something I have not seen elsewhere is that the program constantly gives you its evaluation of the game, showing a percentage that represents the proportion of game branches in which each colour wins. This analysis can also be done on saved games, or .sgfs from other sources using the analysis button or ctrl-space. It is fascinating to see this number change as you work through a game.
In short, while not perfect, if you want an automated sparring partner across a 9x9 board you couldn’t go far wrong with MyGoFriend. My computer is 2.25 Ghz, but most relatively recent computers should be fine. It is available for 19 EUR from www.mygofriend.com/en.
Since this review version 1.1 has been released. As of Feb 2015 the link no longer exists.