There are many sizes of boards in go. Although the standard is a square of nineteen rows by nineteen rows, you can use even smaller boards; for example, I started learning go on a nine by nine board. Naturally, as you increase the size of the board, the difficulty of playing on it increases: while a nine by nine board has only eighty-one possible places to put a stone, a standard board has a total of 361. Moreover, although the number of places only increases four times, the number of possible plays increases exponentially. A game of go on a standard board has so many potential plays that even the strongest super computers cannot model every possibility.
The sheer number of possibilities is why go is so difficult. It’s said that the best way to learn go is to lose your first fifty games, then keep playing anyway. For me–after taking weekly classes for seven weeks–I was only able to move on from the simple nine by nine board in the last two weeks, after a total of roughly fifteen hours of classes.
Still, going from losing every game on a nine by nine board, to barely winning a match on a thirteen by thirteen board, represents significant progress. More importantly, my Japanese classmates have been a constant source of help. Because I am undoubtedly the most inexperienced member of the class, all of the people I practice against have been invaluable sources of help and experience. Of course, mistakes abound on my part: poorly positioned pieces, missed opportunities, and badly constructed strategies. But my classmates always step in to reassure and assist me–they show me what I could have done better, what to keep in mind for next time, what they themselves had done. For a novice such as myself, such advice in a welcoming environment make my experience that much easier and memorable.
And the complement to their aid when I lose, is their praise when I win (even if rarely). I am by no means skilled at go. But the friendliness and warmth of my classmates means every class I go to is memorable and enjoyable, even on days when I do nothing but lose.