Go is a board game for two players in which the aim is to surround more territory than your opponent. The game was invented and first recorded in China more than 2,500 years ago and is believed to be the oldest board game continuously played until the present day. A survey by the International Go Federation’s seventy five member nations found that there are over 46 million people worldwide who know how to play Go and over 20 million currently active players, the majority of whom live in East Asia.
Go is played on a board consisting of a grid of lines. There are three sizes of board in common use: 9×9 lines for quick games and teaching beginners, 13×13 for longer games and deepening new players’ understanding of the game and the 19×19 grid that is used by most Go players and for all professional and tournament play.
The playing pieces are called ‘stones’ and can be made of almost any material, although the most common in the West are of glass. One player uses the white stones and the other, black. The players take turns placing the stones on the vacant intersections (“points”) of the board.
Once placed on the board, stones cannot be moved, but stones can be removed from the board if the stone (or group of stones) is surrounded by opposing stones on all orthogonality-adjacent points, in which case the stone is “captured”.
This provides us with the one rule of Go. This states that in order to exist on the board, a stone must be able to ‘breathe’ i.e. the stone or group of stones must have least least one empty adjacent intersection. If this condition is not met, then the stones must be immediately removed from the board and put to one side as ‘prisoners’. There is also one other special situation ‘rule’ known at the ‘Ko rule’, that is simply designed to prevent the board endlessly repeating in some special circumstances.
The game proceeds, turn by turn, until both players feel that they can no longer make any further profitable moves and so ends through mutual consent. When the game concludes, the winner is determined by counting each player’s surrounded territory along with captured stones and ‘komi’ (points added to the score of the player with the white stones as compensation for playing second). Games may also be terminated by resignation.
If the above, appears unconvincingly simple, what actually flows out across the board and through the game is a beautiful and subtle emergent complexity that can sometimes bewilder new players looking for a simple ‘how do I win?’ answer. Go’s profundity reveals itself slowly. As the players’ level of understanding deepens, the game gets deeper. As their tactical thinking gets wider, the game widens.
This is why Go has entertained, fascinated and sometimes frustrated players for over two-thousand of years. Just as you think you might be ‘getting it’ another peak looms out of the mist in the far distance!
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