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The Game of Go

The Game of Go

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The Game of Go

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  1. 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. special thanks to Kiseido Publications

  2. 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.

  3. THE MOST POPULAR GAME • IN THE WORLD TODAY • Millions of fans in Japan, China, Korea • Top players earn millions • International tournaments pay up to $400K

  4. THREE CLASSIC GAMES • BACKGAMMON: Man vs. fate • Element of chance • Risk/gambling (doubling cube) • CHESS: Man vs. man • War paradigm • “Perfect information” • Attack -- Total victory • GO: Man vs. self • Open paradigm • Share -- victory by one point • “Personal best”

  5. THE ULTIMATE MERITOCRACY “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

  6. The traditional go board has a 19-line grid. Beginners play on small 9 or 13-line boards.

  7. Go boards are made 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.

  8. Players take turns putting stones on the 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.

  9. Go players hold the stones between their first and middle fingers, like chopsticks. They snap them down on the board with a sharp click.

  10. The goal is to surround more points of territory than your opponent. Players may surround and capture their opponent’s stones.

  11. To be safe from capture, a group of stones must have two eyes, meaning two or more, separate empty intersections inside its walls.

  12. Players stake out the territory they want, and then they fight and build walls to keep it.

  13. 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.

  14. GO AND CHESS • A Comparison • Larger board, more plays per game (200-300 vs. 50-60) • Strategic vs. tactical • Simpler rules; all pieces are equal • Becomes more complex as pieces fill the board • Blends competition with other elements • Win by one point, not total destruction • Universal ranks -- any two can play • No stalemates or draws -- a winner every time


  16. DEPTH OF COMPLEXITY Árpád Élo 43 levels

  17. COMPUTERS CAN’T PLAY! Go is so complex that the best programs routinely lose to talented children. Computer programmers call it “the last refuge of human intelligence.”

  18. HANDICAP: THE GREAT EQUALIZER 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..

  19. COMMERCIAL PROGRAMS • Strongest ones are 6-8 kyu • Best ones make studying fun -- problems, games • Record and study your own games

  20. UNIVERSAL RANKING SYSTEM • Similar to martial arts, golf • Rank yourself by playing ranked opponents • All serious players know their rank • Honest players will lose half of their games • Ultimately players compete with themselves

  21. GO ETIQUETTE • Play to the opponent’s right hand • “Thank you for teaching me” • Prisoners in the lid • Count the opponent's territory • Return your stones to the bowl

  22. GO ON THE INTERNET • FREE! • At least 1000 online any time of day or night • Anonymous play • Ratings are 3-5 stones lower

  23. FREE SOFTWARE • Igowin -- • Handtalk -- • GnuGo (open source) -- • Game collections --

  24. TIME CONTROL • Regular time plus overtime (byo-yomi) • Asian style: x periods of y seconds each • Canadian style: x stones in y minutes

  25. INTERNET GO SERVER • The original -- since 1991 • 500+ participants online at all times • Many strong players • Simulcast important tournaments • Everyone sees everyone

  26. KISEIDO GO SERVER • 400-1000 players of all levels at any time • Room-based environment • Java-based -- runs on everything

  27. OTHER SERVERS • YAHOO! GAMES: 250-500 players at a time, including lots of beginners and others who like to play on a 9x9 board. • ASIAN SERVERS: Some sites in China, Korea and Japan are enabled -- to varying degrees -- in English • TURN-BASED SERVERS: Leave a message with your next move instead of playing in “real time” • Find them all at

  28. ADVICE FOR BEGINNERS • Play quickly -- “lose 100 games” • Play stronger opponents • Ask for comments • Avoid repetitive thinking -- just try something • Keep your stones connected -- separate White • Think before ignoring a stronger player’s move

  29. 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.

  30. “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.

  31. attributed to Kano Shoei (1519 - 1592) 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.

  32. THE “MINISTER OF 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.

  33. This fan from ca. 1800 shows two Chinese men playing go while a young man looks on.

  34. Go became a common theme in 19th century ukiyo-e prints. Here, Tadanobu, a famous samurai, fights off his enemies with a go board.

  35. In this scene from The Tale of Genji, two women reminisce about the brief relationships with the Prince while playing go, and find peace.

  36. 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,

  37. Repelling demons while playing go. (1861)

  38. Playing go with a demon (ca. 1835)

  39. WITH GO MAKE FRIENDS 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.

  40. CHAIRMAN MAO ON GO “[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

  41. HENRY KISSINGER ON GO “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

  42. CITICORP CEO JOHN REED ON GO “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

  43. THE WAY OF GO • Troy Andersen • Global Local • Owe Save • Slack Taut • Reverse Forward • Us Them • Lead Follow • Expand Focus

  44. 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.

  45. A BEAUTIFUL GAME 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. In Pi, a cult classic, a demented mathematician tries to find a formula for the universe, using a go board.

  49. HIKARU NO GO 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?

  50. GO IN AMERICA Chinese immigrants probably played the first games in North America among themselves here in the 1800’s.