The Magic of Go

Go is one of the oldest and most popular strategic board games in the world. It has been played in the China for more than 2,000 years. In Japan alone, 10 million people play go and nearly 400 professionals make their living by teaching the game and competing in tournaments that offer tens of millions of yen in prize money.

Go is an easy game to learn. You can master the rules in a few minutes, but you can devote a lifetime to exploring its depths and subtleties.

Go starts with the simplest of materials and concepts — wood and stone, line and circle, black and white. Yet complex strategies can be devised that stagger the imagination. The game is so profound that Asian executives use it as a paradigm for making business decisions, generals have based their military campaigns on its strategy, and politicians have espoused go principles in their takeover of countries.

To some players, go is a model for living. Its strategic concepts serve them as paradigms for decision- making in their daily lives. Some of the more familiar maxims that are played out and illustrated in nearly every game are: «Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,’» «Don’t burn your bridges behind you,’» «Look before you leap,’» «Don’t bang your head against a stone wall,’» and «Don’t throw good money after bad.’»

Go is comparable to chess. Both require high-level strategic thinking and provide its players with many opportunities to exercise their tactical skills. Both are challenging, intellectually stimulating and inexhaustibly interesting.

But the similarities end there. Go starts with an empty board, chess with a full one. The object of a go game is to surround more territory than your opponent; the object of a chess game is to capture your opponent’s king. Go stones all have the same value; chessmen have different values. Most, if not all, of the moves of a go game remain on the board until the game ends, providing its players with continuously developing shapes and patterns of black and white stones; the beauty of a chess game’s moves is more ephemeral and kaleidoscopic as its patterns change with each move and capture. Finally, computer programs now exist that can defeat the strongest chess players in the world, but the strategies and tactics of go are so profound that the best go-playing computer programs are unable to defeat novice players.

In this column, I intend to show how go is played and to introduce its historical background, the role it has played and still plays in Asian culture, and what contributions it can make to Western modes of thought.

Richard Bozulich

By Richard Bozulich

By Rob van Zeijst