The history of the board game Go can be traced back several thousand years to Asia, particularly China where it’s thought to have originated. Go is played on a board of various sizes (standard size is 19×19 grids, but can also be played on 13×13 or 9×9). The board itself may look similar to Othello for example, but the Go pieces are not played inside the squares (that is to say, not placed in the squares like Ludo King or Monopoly) – rather, the stone game pieces are placed on the intersections of the squares, directly on the grids.
The objective of Go is basically to own the largest section of territory on the board, achieved by strategic piece placement, and effectively blockading your opponent. It is a highly strategic game that really flourished in feudal Japan, with several schools popping up during the Shogunate era, and stipends being awarded to the best Go players. However, despite its huge popularity in Japan, it is generally agreed upon that Go originated in China, and was considered one of the “Four Accomplishments” that should be mastered by Chinese gentlemen – the other three being the qin (a stringed musical instrument), shu (Chinese calligraphy), and hua (painting).
Thus we can trace the history of Go all over the Asian region, but it wasn’t imported to the Western world until around 1880, when a German chemist, Oskar Korschelt, wrote about the game after encountering it during his travels in Japan. Korschelt wrote several pieces on Go, including commentaries on expert strategies from Japan. Despite this, Go was slow to catch on in Europe, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that championship-level tournaments were being organized in Europe.
It’s not entirely difficult to hypothesize why Go enjoyed so much popularity in Asia, but not as much in Europe – the gameplay lended itself extremely well to Asian interests during those eras, with its strategy of capturing territories and blockading opponents. When considering the reverence that Japanese Shoguns and war-generals were afforded in Asia during these times, and the writings of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which contain many passages that can be directly applicable to Go strategy, it’s easy to perceive how Go was the war strategian’s game of choice. In fact, an old saying goes – “Chess is a battle, Go is a war”. Interestingly enough, chess also has its origins in Asia.
With the history lesson out of the way, we can now focus on the fact that Go is still enjoyed today, and the easiest place to hop into a game is online. There are several large and established online Go communities that hold tournaments for players all over the world, notably websites like USGo, KGS, and Pandanet.
New players looking to hop into Go are recommended to begin on the smaller 9×9 boards, for quicker games. There’s a wealth of interactive tutorials out there, such as this interactive Go tutorial on USGo – furthermore, many online Go servers have ranking systems that allow handicaps for beginners, when playing against experienced players. For example, a lower ranking player may be allowed to place several stones on the board to begin the game, rather than only one.
Though Go is not widely known in the western world even today, it is still a huge deal in Asian countries, with international tournaments regularly held. Top Go players in countries like China, Korea, and Japan can enjoy international celebrity status, the same way Gary Kasparov is synonymous with chess – through the pool of Go celebrities is rather deeper than that of chess, which is a testament to how celebrated this board game is in the Asia region.
In fact, most people remember Gary Kasparov for his chess matches against Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer. Korea has its own similar celebrity, Lee Sedol, who managed to win 1 out of 4 games against supercomputer AlphaGo in 2016 – AlphaGo was developed by Google subsidiary DeepMind. Prior to this legendary matchup, Lee Sedol was already earning millions of dollars in Go tournaments throughout his career, and he speaks of retiring to the United States to promote Go in the western world.
Regardless of whether or not Go ever completely catches on in the western world, it is a highly enjoyable game for strategic thinkers of all ages, and is simultaneously one of the most simple yet complex games to play. By joining the ranks of Go players, you’ll be taking part in a board game with quite possibly the most storied history of all board games. Good luck!
You can get it from the Columbia Games website!
You can also get it from Amazon!