The Game of Go “Gentlemen should not waste their time on trivial games -- they should play go.” -- Confucius, The Analects ca. 500 B. C. E. Anton Ninno Roy Laird, Ph.D. email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org special thanks to Kiseido Publications
“Gentlemen should not waste their time on trivial games -- they should play go.”
ca. 500 B. C. E.
Anton Ninno Roy Laird, Ph.D.
special thanks to Kiseido Publications
JAPAN CHINA KOREA
Go has several names. The Chinese call it wei-chi, also spelled weiqi. In Korea it’s baduk. Westerners generally use the Japanese word term i-go, or just go, because Japanese pioneers like Kaoru Iwamoto supported American go in the early days.
“Go is the one game in which . . . everyone starts out equal, everyone begins with an empty board and with no limitations, and what happens thereafter is . . . only the quality of your own mind.”
-- William Pinckard, “Go and the Three Games “
in The Go Player’s Almanac
The traditional go board has a 19-line grid. Beginners play on small 9 or 13-line boards.
of wood. The pieces
are called stones.
The best stones are made
of clamshell and slate,
but glass stones are
less expensive. Good
stones are usually kept in
wooden bowls. The
lids are used to hold
any captured stones.
361 intersections made by the 19-line grid. Black goes first. Nine handicap points are used to balance players of unequal skill. Each intersection is a point of territory, and each captured stone is also worth one point.
Go players hold the stones between their first and middle fingers, like chopsticks. They snap them down on the board with a sharp click.
The goal is to surround more points of territory than your opponent. Players may surround and capture their opponent’s stones.
To be safe from capture, a group of stones must have two eyes, meaning two or more, separate empty intersections inside its walls.
and then they fight and build walls to keep it.
The game is over when neither player can find anything else to do. Beginners often find it difficult to know when a game is over. Each player rearranges the opponent’s territory to make counting easy.
(200-300 vs. 50-60)
Go is so complex that the best programs routinely lose to talented children. Computer programmers call it “the last refuge of human intelligence.”
Because the board is empty at the start of the game, the stronger player can give his opponent a “head start” to even things out. Nearly any two opponents can play a game that either of them could win..
Go is at least 2000 years old, probably much older. No one knows where it came from. Some people think the board and stones were originally used to foretell the future, or as a calculator.
“When you and I discuss philosophy, it is as if we play go. If you do not answer, I will swallow you up.”
-- Zen Master Hongzhi ca. 700 A.C.E.
Painting with 17x17 board
ca. 690 A.C.E.
THE FOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
During China’s “golden age” (the Tang and Song dynasties ca. 700-1400 A.D.) the cultured person mastered four skills: painting, calligraphy, lute-playing and go.
Tokugawa Ieyesu, the first shogun, established four “houses” to study go and compete in annual “Castle Games” of great national importance. Each year’s winner became the go-doroko (“Minister of go”), occupying a cabinet-level position in the government.
This fan from ca. 1800 shows two Chinese men playing go while a young man looks on.
Go became a common theme in 19th century ukiyo-e prints. Here, Tadanobu, a famous samurai, fights off his enemies with a go board.
In this scene from The Tale of Genji, two women reminisce about the brief relationships with the Prince while playing go, and find peace.
General Kuan Yu, the hero of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, plays go while a surgeon attends his battle wounds. This ukiyo-e is by Katsushika Oi, daughter of the great Japanese master Hokusai,
This scroll, commissioned by an American traveler in Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square, uses the traditional Chinese four-character proverb format to say that when friends play go, their playing strengths and their friendship both get stronger.
“[War is] like a game of weiqi . . . Strongholds built by the enemy and bases by us resemble moves to dominate spaces on the board.”
-- Selected Military Writings
“Chess has only two outcomes: draw and checkmate. The objective of the game . . . is total victory or defeat – and the battle is conducted head-on, in the center of the board. The aim of go is relative advantage; the game is played all over the board, and the objective is to increase one's options and reduce those of the adversary. The goal is less victory than persistent strategic progress.”
-- Newsweek, 11/8/04
“Competition . . . [is] about positioning yourself wisely over time, not wiping the other guy out on specific products. I approach competition like the Chinese board game go. You see where the other players have put their chips, and decide where to put your chips.”
-- John Reed, Chairman, Citicorp
Harvard Business Review December 1990
The Master of Go, Yasunari Kawabata’s poignant chronicle of this historic 1938 game between the last honinbo and a brilliant young upstart, won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Russell Crowe plays brilliant, unstable mathematician John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, Oscar-winner for Best Picture of 2001. In real life, Nash is a charter member of The American Go Association.
Trevanian’s 1979 best-seller chronicles the life of Nicholai Hel, orphaned during WW I and raised by a Japanese go master to become the world’s most accomplished assassin.
The Go Masters, an epic tale of an enduring friendship between two great players -- one Chinese, the other Japanese -- during World War II , brought Japanese and Chinese film teams together for the first time. It achieved wide popularity but is not currently available.
In Pi, a cult classic, a demented mathematician tries to find a formula for the universe, using a go board.
In this popular “coming-of-age” story, the ghost of a famous player guides our hero to the pinnacle of the go world -- or does he?
Chinese immigrants probably played the first games in North America among themselves here in the 1800’s.
Japanese professionals such as Kaoru Iwamoto 9-dan helped early US players, and The American Go Association was formed in 1937. Most major US cities have go clubs.
Mr. Iwamoto was in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. After seeing the results of first atomic bomb, he vowed to spread international peace and understanding through go. He established Go Centers in New York, Seattle, Amsterdam and Rio de Janeiro.
The number of possible go games has been estimated at 10761 (OMNI, June 1991), far more than the number of subatomic particles in the known universe.
American Go Association- www.usgo.org