What Is Go?

Go is a fascinating board game that originated in China more than 4,000 years ago. Also known as baduk, wei ch’i, weiqi, and igo, it is played today by millions of people, including thousands in the United States. In Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan, it is far more popular than chess is in the West, and professional players compete for large cash prizes. Its popularity in this country continues to grow, more than fifty years after the founding of the American Go Association.

It is said that the rules of Go can be learned in minutes, but that it can take a lifetime to master the game. Two players alternate placing black and white stones on a large (19×19 line) ruled board, with the aim of surrounding territory. Stones are never moved, and only removed if they are completely surrounded. The game rewards patience and balance over aggression and greed; the balance of influence and territory may shift many times in the course of a game, and a strong player must be prepared to be flexible but resolute. Like the Eastern martial arts, Go can teach concentration, balance, and discipline.

Go combines beauty and intellectual challenge. It is a game of pure skill; there is no chance involved. The patterns formed by the black and white stones are visually striking and can exercise an almost hypnotic attraction as one “sees” more and more in the constantly evolving positions.

The game appeals to many kinds of minds — to musicians, artists, mathematicians, computer programmers, entrepreneurs and options traders. Children learn the game readily and can reach high levels of mastery. Interestingly, computers are not yet capable of playing Go at any but the most rudimentary levels. Go seems to require innately human skills; visual pattern recognition, judgement of the relative value of positions, knowing when to sacrifice unimportant stones for important ones, and a “feel” for the right move.

Because Go lends itself to a uniquely reliable system of handicaps, players of widely disparate strengths can enjoy relatively even contests. The game can be a casual pastime for the idle hour — or a way of life.