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This article had been written in 1996 for a monthly issue of “Go Game in Russia” almanac, now out of print since 2008
To begin with, I’ll describe briefly how I got to know this game. The first time I saw it at a Go-Boat event – a tournament called “The Volga-…”. I can’t tell exactly when, but it seems to be in 1991. At that time I didn’t take any interest in it, but I witnessed German players shuffling some game cards and putting certain stone shapes on a Go board. I was perplexed then – why those fellows were fooling around and could not find other ways to have fun. Later on the time had come to “the Volga-1993”; I don’t know who was the first to start, but then a real epidemic of Go-poker (later referred as Dango) spreaded around, and I enjoyed playing it all the time during the event (I played it even more frequently than Go) and did not consider it to be a foolish thing any more.
Altogether, this game is quite original and requires some skill, though of course it largely depends on fortuity or you may call it “luck” (that makes Dango even more attractive as players of absolutely different Go strength can play it on equal terms). It appeared by chance that several people had brought Dango cards and that might be the reason why it sparked immediate interest of major players. After that I returned to Kazan together with Vasily Uldanov (note: Vasily Uldanov is now out of Go but at that time had a solid 4d level), none of us had Dango cards and we had to seek for another way out. It occurred that we could play with two common sets (36 cards) of playing cards. We just had to decide and write down beforehand each card’s meaning.
Now let’s go on to the game rules. The rules are quite easy for those who can play Go, but they have some nuances that can lead to arguments, that’s why we adopted our rules during the game process to avoid any disputes in future.
Dango cards can be divided into two types. The first are the cards which imply some Go shape (totally 24 cards) to be put on the board. Here there are two rules. At first – for the shapes that have different reflected positions (for example keima) You have to put the shape as its exact image on the card. (note: later we decided to decline this rule and allowed all reflected variations of the shape, that make the whole game simpler). The second rule is that all the stones of this shape are restricted by Go rules, that is – you place your stones on vacant points and can’t make a suicidal move. The rest of set can be called action cards – they bear action meaning. There is much controversy about these cards so I’ll settle on them more thoroughly.
The first subgroup of action cards is quite simple, that is “Place your 3 stones”, “Place your 2 stones”, “Remove your 3 stones”, “Remove opponent’s 3 stones”, “Place opponent’s 3 stones”. (note: In our card set we also added a new card “Play any move”, that is – making a common Go move. In Roman Gataulin’s variation there are 35 cards and one card is set aside as and is not used).
All of your or opponent’s stones can be placed at any point on the board except for suicidal moves. But, basing upon the logic of this game, when you get, for example, “Place your 3 stones” card and each single stone is a suicidal move – the three stones together are considered as a one move – so you can kill a three-eyed(!) group. Three moves are an integral unity that can exist as a single action. (on Dia.1 – with the card “Place your 3 stones” You can put black stones at A, B and C and kill the white group.)
Now let’s pass on to the second group of action cards.
“Pass a move” is obvious – you have to pass and wait for your next move. “Free card” is also a pass, but it doesn’t go to discard at once – it gives You a possibility to make two consecutive moves at any time in the continued game. You can show this card, make two moves in a row and then “Free card” finally goes to discards
Here we have two disputable issues. Primarily, You must use “Free card” before the first of your two consecutive moves (that means you have to warn your opponent about these two moves). The next is if your opponent also has a “Free card” he can’t impede your two moves by his card – that is he can make two moves in a row just after you, but can’t prevent your two consecutive moves.
“Free block” permits to decline previous opponent’s move – You can reverse any move you don’t like. Using this card also must be followed by a pass. If opponent used “Free card” You can call off only one move of the two.
The third group of cards consists of “Double” and “Alternative”.
- “Double next card” (yours) – when You get this card You take the next straight away (without a pass) and use it twice. For example – if You get a “Bamboo joint” card next, You place two bamboo joints on the board; if You get “Place your 3 stones” you put 6 stones (that gives almost infinite amount of possibilities!). This card can’t be used with the following:
“Pass a move”;
In these cases “Double” is just disbanded.
- “Alternative” (of previous opponent’s move). If your opponent placed stones (his or yours) with his previous move, the stones are altered – i.e. if he puts black keima for example, a white keima is put on its place instead and his stones go back to him. If he placed your colour stones, they are reversed by his colour. Like a “Double” card, “Alternative” can’t be used and vanishes with the following cards:
“Pass a move”.
Here we also elaborated a rule: if opponent captured any stones by his previous move, you then change his stones by yours, but the captures don’t go back to the board.
Finally, the last card is “Replace”. It means that any two opponent’s stones on the board are replaced by yours. It is the most dreadful card for your rival. It may seem that “Place your 3 stones” looks more advantageous, but take a look at Dia 2. If two marked white stones are replaced by black – the five absolutely dead stones capture five white stones that were safely connected. “Replace” also can be used for cutting opponent’s groups, connecting your groups, destroying thickness or moyo’s defence e.t.c. So the main benefit of “Replace” is not in putting and removing stones but in doing these two actions simultaneously anywhere on the board. I should add that “Replace” becomes most powerful only when there is already a developed stable position on the board – there are some groups in combat. If a player gets a “Replace” after “Double” the game is most likely over (though everything is unpredictable in Dango!).
The standard card set is designated for 13×13 board; to make it more exciting we use a 19×19 board and “roll” the cards twice (surely before the second use the cards are shuffled). It must be considered that newcomers’ game on 19×19 board may last for more than 1,5 hours.
There are some nuances in switching from the first card shift to the second. If the last card was “Double” – it elapses. First of all it has to be shuffled and if it comes first in second shift “Double” might become a quadruple. Imagine your partner placing 3х4=12 his stones. Well, that’s going too far! Or, for example, if he places four shapes like on Dia.3. He would fence off all the territory at once! And so on… “Free block” and “Free card” can be left for the second round without pulling them out in the first. The disadvantage here is that cards would be shuffled without them and they won’t come in the next round. But there are some important gains. First, it is always great to have a “Free block” in stock on case of something terrible happened. Without “Free block” is can be tough! Or, if you have to save a group and are in a badly need of two consecutive moves – nobody knows when a “Free card” can come. After the card set is over the players begin to play normal Go, in other words – yose. Fairly often one can save or kill a group by a single move but none of “Shape” cards can be placed at this local part of the board. The moment when players stop using cards and proceed to normal Go is crucial. Here comes the advantage of holding back a “Free block” or “Free card” for the second round. You will have 33 (not 35!) cards, so you’ll pass to regular Go in advance of two moves. Nevertheless quite often opponent urges to use these cards both in the first and second rounds. They also can be left to the last – “classic Go” stage but it happens quite rarely – when they come at the very end of the round and lack for usage. Reasoning from notion that black begins to play yose first and gets more profit of it I recommend to assign 10.5 points komi (with the standard nigiri procedure). It equalizes players’ chances to win.
Let me say some words about the game strategy. The basic commandment of Dango is “A good stone is a dead stone”. On the above mentioned diagrams You could see how drastically any situation on the board can change after every single move. You can’t be sure of all groups or territory status till the very end. That’s why the capture of more than 2 stones is usually the barest necessity (as soon as possible). The next piece of advice is to play solidly; in classic Go the players try to spread their stones with the maximum coverage of territory, here it is better to create an “outpost” that could be the core of further playing strategy. It is more profitable to get as many shapes as possible in the very beginning because action cards are more effective when there are many stones on the board. You should try, at least desirably, to remember what cards your partner may have in stock – it is usually the primary basis of your strategy and moves. Besides, human nature always gets frightened by the possibility of opponent’s two “Replaces”, three “Alternatives” etc. if You don’t remember discards. That can lead directly to nervous breakdown.
Also if You remember your or partner’s unused shapes you can try to settle your groups correctly or to kill opponent’s group with the due regard to remaining shapes.
I advise You to keep away from frequent Dango games as they can afflict your Go results – You’ll act less precisely in Go Games in hope to pull out your “Replace” card. This game goes fine along with normal Go games when you want to relax, to have fun or You’re just tired of classic Go. So if You got interested in this game – rush for cards! Good luck!