The Chinese name for Go is Wei Qi, which means 'surrounding game'. Legend has it that the game originated in China 4000 years ago, where it was used as a means of teaching military strategy. If the term 'military strategy' is a bit of a turnoff, hang on... This game is so much fun! You use black and white pebbles to play on a grid and the idea is to surround your opponent and claim the most territory. With just a few simple rules to learn, you can start playing it pretty quickly. But mastering it is another matter... My partner and I have been learning it together by playing online at Online Go School. This is helpful, as although the rules are simple, working out who has won is more complex. The computer does it for you. It also alerts you if you make a move that's not allowed, so you are unlikely to develop bad habits as you learn. The picture below shows my recent defeat – I was white.
Though the game originated in China, it was quickly taken up in Japan where it had a significant cultural impact. It continues to thrive there, with 10 million Go players, 500 of which are professionals. In typical Japanese style, the game has been elevated to the status of a martial art, with players progressing up through various levels of expertise, or 'Dans'. There are professional tournaments, offering large amounts of prize money. It is thought that to be in with a chance of being a top player, you need to attend 'Go School' from the age of 6. And many children do.
In 2016 a team of computer programmers from the UK challenged legendary Japanese Go player Lee Sedol (a 9th Dan) to a 'best of five' game tournament with their Artificial Intelligence 'AlphaGo'. I won't tell you who won – you can find out in a fascinating documentary on Netflix, Alpha Go.
If you want to learn how to play, check out the British Go Association website for the rules of play. But the only way to really understand it is to actually play it. Have fun!
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