Monday, August 9, 2010

App O' The Mornin': SmartGo

The greatest challenge in computer AI programming is not Chess, but Go. It is a game that presents a truly staggering level of complexity. Chess is structured, with a finite number of possible moves and only 64 squares. If a computer can crunch enough of those numbers quickly enough, then it can defeat a master.

Chess masters are routinely defeat by computers, but this never happens with Go masters. There are 361 intersections on a Go board. Play can easily stretch for a couple hundred moves. (The longest game in history had over 400 moves.) Every move affects every subsequent move. Unlike Chess, Go has only a few rules governing stone placement. This results in a staggering number of potential board states, with each new move presenting ever more complex situations.

Obviously, this makes Go a tough game to program, but that doesn’t keep people from trying. Go is heavily represented in the app store, mostly by inferior versions or simple mock-Go variants.

SmartGo, on the other hand, is an old and respected brand that has migrated through multiple platforms, and now arrives as an App in several different flavors. SmartGo 9x9 ($1) is exactly what it sounds like: Go on a 9x9 board for learners and kids. SmartGo ($3) offers a solid computer opponent and various boards ranging up to 19x19. It comes with a thorough tutorial and 100 problems, and will probably be the ideal point of entry for most gamers.

SmartGo Pro ($13) is the full package, complete with a library of 15,000 classic games accompanied by a powerful search tool, game recording and playback, 2,000 problems, multi-language support, and other features for serious users. A unique magnifying glass and crosshairs interface make it easy to place stones even on the full-size board. The entire package is very professional.

It’s remarkable that you can carry around this powerful a piece of software in your pocket. Avoid the other versions and spend a little extra money to get SmartGo. It’s worth it.

NOTE: SmartGo Kifu ($20) is a new version for the iPad. Although it is available, it is still considered a work in progress. Since I don't have an iPad, I haven't had a chance to check it out yet, but I hope to in the future.


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