Modelling Uncertainty in the Game of Go

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 17 (NIPS 2004)

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David Stern, Thore Graepel, David MacKay


Go is an ancient oriental game whose complexity has defeated at- tempts to automate it. We suggest using probability in a Bayesian sense to model the uncertainty arising from the vast complexity of the game tree. We present a simple conditional Markov ran- dom field model for predicting the pointwise territory outcome of a game. The topology of the model reflects the spatial structure of the Go board. We describe a version of the Swendsen-Wang pro- cess for sampling from the model during learning and apply loopy belief propagation for rapid inference and prediction. The model is trained on several hundred records of professional games. Our experimental results indicate that the model successfully learns to predict territory despite its simplicity.

1 Introduction

The game of Go originated in China over 4000 years ago. Its rules are simple (See for an introduction). Two players, Black and White, take turns to place stones on the intersections of an N N grid (usually N = 19 but smaller boards are in use as well). All the stones of each player are identical. Players place their stones in order to create territory by occupying or surrounding areas of the board. The player with the most territory at the end of the game is the winner. A stone is captured if it has been completely surrounded (in the horizontal and vertical directions) by stones of the opponent's colour. Stones in a contiguous `chain' have the common fate property: they are captured all together or not at all [1].

The game that emerges from these simple rules has a complexity that defeats at- tempts to apply minimax search. The best Go programs play only at the level of weak amateur Go players and Go is therefore considered to be a serious AI challenge not unlike Chess in the 1960s. There are two main reasons for this state of affairs: firstly, the high branching factor of Go (typically 200 to 300 potential moves per position) prevents the expansion of a game tree to any useful depth. Secondly, it is difficult to produce an evaluation function for Go positions. A Go stone has no intrinsic value; its value is determined by its relationships with other stones. Go players evaluate positions using visual pattern recognition and qualitative intuitions which are difficult to formalise.

Most Go programs rely on a large amount of hand-tailored rules and expert knowl-

edge [2]. Some machine learning techniques have been applied to Go with limited success. Schraudolph, Dayan and Sejnowski [3] trained a multi-layer perceptron to evaluate board positions by temporal difference learning. Enzenberger [4] improved on this by structuring the topologies of his neural networks according to the rela- tionships between stones on the board. Graepel et al. [1] made use of the common fate property of chains to construct an efficient graph-based representation of the board. They trained a Support Vector Machine to use this representation to solve Go problems.

Our starting point is the uncertainty about the future course of the game that arises from the vast complexity of the game tree. We propose to explicitly model this uncertainty using probability in a Bayesian sense. The Japanese have a word, aji, much used by Go players. Taken literally it means `taste'. Taste lingers, and likewise the influence of a Go stone lingers (even if it appears weak or dead) because of the uncertainty of the effect it may have in the future. We use a probabilistic model that takes the current board position and predicts for every intersection of the board if it will be Black or White territory. Given such a model the score of the game can be predicted and hence an evaluation function produced. The model is a conditional Markov random field [5] which incorporates the spatial structure of the Go board.

2 Models for Predicting Territory

Consider the Go board as an undirected Graph G = (N , E) with N = Nx Ny nodes n N representing vertices on the board and edges e E connecting vertically and horizontally neighbouring points. We can denote a position as the vector c {Black, White, Empty}N for cn = c(n) and similarly the final territory outcome of the game as s {+1, -1}N for sn = s(n). For convenience we score from the point of view of Black so elements of s representing Black territory are valued +1 and elements representing white territory are valued -1. Go players will note that we are adopting the Chinese method of scoring empty as well as occupied intersections. The distribution we wish to model is P (s|c), that is, the distribution over final territory outcomes given the current position. Such a model would be useful for several reasons.

   Most importantly, the detailed outcomes provide us with a simple evalua-         tion function for Go positions by the expected score, u(c) :=           s                                                                            i         i P (s|c).         An alternative (and probably better) evaluation function is given by the         probability of winning which takes the form P (Black wins) = P (                    s                                                                                        i         i >         komi), where komi refers to the winning threshold for Black.        Connectivity of stones is vital because stones can draw strength from other         stones. Connectivity could be measured by the correlation between nodes         under the distribution P (s|c). This would allow us to segment the board         into `groups' of stones to reduce complexity.        It would also be useful to observe cases where we have an anti-correlation         between nodes in the territory prediction. Japanese refer to such cases as         miai in which only one of two desired results can be achieved at the expense         of the other - a consequence of moving in turns.        The fate of a group of Go stones could be estimated from the distribution         P (s|c) by marginalising out the nodes not involved.

The way stones exert long range influence can be considered recursive. A stone influences its neighbours, who influence their neighbours and so on. A simple model

which exploits this idea is to consider the Go board itself as an undirected graphical model in the form of a Conditional Random Field (CRF) [5]. We factorize the distribution as 1 1 P (s|c) = exp log( Z( f (sf , cf , f ) = f (sf , cf , f )) c, ) Z(c, ) . f F f F (1) The simplest form of this model has one factor for each pair of neighbouring nodes i, j so f (sf , cf , f ) = f (si, sj, ci, cj, f ).

Boltzmann5 For our first model we decompose the factors into coupling' terms andexternal field' terms as follows: 1 P (s|c) = exp {w(c Z( i, cj )sisj + h(ci)si + h(cj )sj } c, ) (2) (i,j)F

This gives a Boltzmann machine whose connections have the grid topology of the board. The couplings between territory-outcome nodes depend on the current board position local to those nodes and the external field at each node is determined by the state of the board at that location. We assume that Go positions with their associated territory positions are symmetric with respect to colour reversal so f (si, sj, ci, cj, f ) = f (-si, -sj, -ci, -cj, f ). Pairwise connections are also in- variant to direction reversal so f (si, sj, ci, cj, f ) = f (sj, si, cj, ci, f ). It follows that the model described in 2 can be specified by just five parameters:

    wchains = w(Black, Black) = w(White, White),         winter-chain = w(Black, White) = w(White, Black),         wchain-empty = w(Empty, White) = w(Empty, Black),         wempty = w(Empty, Empty),         hstones = h(Black) = -h(White),

and h(empty) is set to zero by symmetry. We will refer to this model as Boltzmann5. This simple model is interesting because all these parameters are readily interpreted. For example we would expect wchains to take on a large positive value since chains have common fate.

BoltzmannLiberties A feature that has particular utility for evaluating Go po- sitions is the number of liberties associated with a chain of stones. A liberty of a chain is an empty vertex adjacent to it. The number of liberties indicates a chain's safety because the opponent would have to occupy all the liberties to capture the chain. Our second model takes this information into account: 1 P (s|c) = exp w(c Z( i, cj , si, sj , li, lj ) c, ) , (3) (i,j)F

where li is element i of a vector l {+1, +2, +3, 4 or more}N the liberty count of each vertex on the Go board. A group with four or more liberties is considered relatively safe. Again we can apply symmetry arguments and end up with 78 parameters. We will refer to this model as BoltzmannLiberties.

We trained the two models using board positions from a database of 22,000 games between expert Go players1. The territory outcomes of a subset of these games

1The GoGoD database, April 2003. URL:

 (a) Gibbs Sampling                       (b) Swendsen Wang

Figure 1: Comparing ordinary Gibbs with Swendsen Wang sampling for Boltz- mann5. Shown are the differences between the running averages and the exact marginals for each of the 361 nodes plotted as a function of the number of whole- board samples.

were determined using the Go program GnuGo2 to analyse their final positions. Each training example comprised a board position c, with its associated territory outcome s. Training was performed by maximising the likelihood ln P (s |c) using gradient descent. In order to calculate the likelihood it is necessary to perform inference to obtain the marginal expectations of the potentials.

3 Inference Methods

It is possible to perform exact inference on the model by variable elimination [6]. Eliminating nodes one diagonal at a time gave an efficient computation. The cost of exact inference was still too high for general use but it was used to compare other inference methods.

Sampling The standard method for sampling from a Boltzmann machine is to use Gibbs sampling where each node is updated one at a time, conditional on the others. However, Gibbs sampling mixes slowly for spin systems with strong correlations. A generalisation of the Swendsen-Wang process [7] alleviates this problem. The original Swendsen-Wang algorithm samples from a ferromagnetic Ising model with no external field by adding an additional set of bond' nodes d, one attached to each factor (edge) in the original graph. Each of these nodes can either be in the statebond' or no bond'. The new factor potentials f (sf , cf , df , f ) are chosen such that if a bond exists between a pair of spins then they are forced to be in the same state. Conditional on the bonds, each cluster has an equal probability of having all its spins in theup' state or all in the down' state. The algorithm samples from P (s|d, c, ) and P (d|s, c, ) in turn (flipping clusters and forming bonds respectively). It can be generalised to models with arbitrary couplings and biases [7, 8]. The new factor potentials f (sf , cf , df , f ) have the following effect: if the coupling is positive then when the d node is in thebond' state it forces the two spins to be in the same state; if the coupling is negative the `bond' state forces the two spins to be opposite. The probability of each cluster being in each state depends on the sum of the biases involved. Figure 1 shows that the mixing rate of the sampling process is improved by using Swendsen-Wang allowing us to find accurate marginals for a single position in a couple of seconds.


Loopy Belief Propagation In order to perform very rapid (approximate) infer- ence we used the loopy belief propagation (BP) algorithm [9] and the results are examined in Section 4. This algorithm is similar to an influence function [10], as often used by Go programmers to segment the board into Black and White territory and for this reason is laid out below.

For each board vertex j N , create a data structure called a node containing:

   1. A(j), the set of nodes corresponding to the neighbours of vertex j,        2. a set of new messages mnew(s                                                        ij     j )  Mnew , one for each i  A(j),

   3. a set of old messages mold(s                                                       ij     j )  Mold, one for each i  A(j),

   4. a belief bj(sj).

repeat for all j N do for all i A(j) do for all sj {Black, White} do let variable SUM := 0, for all si {Black, White} do SUM := SUM + (i,j)(si, sj) mold(s qi i), qA(i)\j end for mnew(s ij j ) := SUM, end for end for end for for all messages, mnew(s xy y ) Mnew do mnew(s (s (s xy y ) := mold xy y ) + (1 - )mnew xy y ), end for until completed I iterations (typically I=50)

Belief Update: for all j N do for all sj {Black, White} do bj(sj) := mnew(s qj j ) qA(j) end for end for

Here, (typically 0.5), damps any oscillations. (i,j)(si, sj) is the factor poten- tial (see (1)) and in the case of Boltzmann5 takes on the form (i,j)(si, sj) = exp (w(ci, cj)sisj + h(ci)si + h(cj)sj). Now the probability of each vertex being Black or White territory is found by normalising the beliefs at each node. For example P (sj = Black) = bj(Black)/Z where Z = bj(Black) + bj(White). The accuracy of the loopy BP approximation appears to be improved by using it during the parameter learning stage in cases where it is to be used in evaluation.

4 Results for Territory Prediction

Some Learnt Parameters Here are some parameters learnt for the Boltzmann5 model (2). This model was trained on 290 positions from expert Go games at move 80. Training was performed by maximum likelihood as described in Section 2.

(a) Boltzmann5 (Exact) (b) Boltzmann5 (Loopy BP)

Figure 2: Comparing territory predictions for a Go position from a professional game at move 90. The circles represent stones. The small black and white squares at each vertex represent the average territory prediction at that vertex, from -1 (maximum white square) to +1 (maximum black square).

   h                                 The values of these parameters can be in-              stones = 0.265               terpreted. For example w        w                                                             chains corresponds              empty = 0.427                to the correlation between the likely territory        wchain-empty = 0.442              outcome of two adjacent vertices in a chain of        w                                 connected stones. The high value of this pa-              chains = 2.74                rameter derives from the `common fate' prop-        winter-chain = 0.521              erty of chains as described in Section 1.

Interestingly, the value of the parameter wempty (corresponding to the coupling between territory predictions of neighbouring vertices in empty space) is 0.427 which is close to the critical coupling for an Ising model, 0.441.

Territory Predictions Figure 2 gives examples of territory predictions generated by Boltzmann5. In comparison, Figure 3 shows the prediction of BoltzmannLiberties and a territory prediction from The Many Faces of Go [2]. Go players confirm that the territory predictions produced by the models are reasonable, even around loose groups of Black and White stones. Compare Figures 2 (a) and 3 (a); when liberty counts are included as features, the model can more confidently identify which of the two small chains competing in the bottom right of the board is dead. Comparing Figure 2 (a) and (b) Loopy BP appears to give over-confident predictions in the top right of the board where few stones are present. However, it is a good approximation where many stones are present (bottom left).

Comparing Models and Inference Methods Figure 4 shows cross-entropies between model territory predictions and true final territory outcomes for a dataset of expert games. As we progress through a game, predictions become more accurate (not surprising) but the spread of the accuracy increases, possibly due to incorrect assessment of the life-and-death status of groups. Swendsen-Wang performs better than Loopy BP, which may suffer from its over-confidence. BoltzmannLiberties performs better than Boltzmann5 (when using Swendsen-Wang) the difference in

(a) BoltzmannLiberties (Exact) (b) Many Faces of Go

Figure 3: Diagram (a) is produced by exact inference (training was also by Loopy BP). Diagram (b) shows the territory predicted by The Many Faces of Go (MFG) [2]. MFG uses of a rule-based expert system and its prediction for each vertex has three possible values: White',Black' or `unknown/neutral'.

performance increasing later in the game when liberty counts become more useful.

5 Modelling Move Selection

In order to produce a Go playing program we are interested in modelling the selec- tion of moves. A measure of performance of such a model is the likelihood it assigns to professional moves as measured by

                                      log P (move|model).                    (4)                            games moves

We can obtain a probability over moves by choosing a Gibbs distribution with the negative energy replaced by the evaluation function,

                                                 eu(c ,w)                            P (move|model, w) =                                   (5)                                                       Z(w)

where u(c , w) is an evaluation function evaluated at the board position c resulting from a given move. The inverse temperature parameter determines the degree to which the move made depends on its evaluation. The territory predictions from the models Boltzmann5 and BoltzmannLiberties can be combined with the evaluation function of Section 2 to produce position evaluators.