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Go - An Ancient and Venerable Game

Go Table

Many people think of chess as the ultimate strategy game. I have to disagree.

I believe that Go is the ultimate strategy game. It has simpler rules, more elegant strategy, and is more than a thousand years older than chess. It is also played by more people worldwide than Western chess.

The rules are simple. Go is played on a 19×19 board. Two players, black and white, take turns placing stones. Black always plays first. Stones are placed on the points where lines intersect. Stones don’t move after being placed, although they are removed if completely surrounded. The goal of the game is to surround as much territory as possible. These are the rules of Go. (For an interactive demonstration of the rules, try The Interactive Way to Go.)

From these simple rules emerge elegant and complex strategies that require intuition as much as logic. This is what makes Go such a difficult and rewarding game to master.

Computationally, Go is far more complex than chess. While Grandmaster Gary Kasparov was beaten by Deep Blue in 1997, most modern Go programs can hardly play better than a talented amateur. Each turn has hundreds of possible moves. A brute force approach fails, simply because it would take too much time to analyze each possible move.

Because Go programs have their limits, many Go players look for their challenges online. There are many online Go servers, but my personal favorite is the Kiseido Go Server (KGS). The atmosphere is friendly, and there is usually someone willing to teach you. KGS also has a subscription service if you desire professional lessons.

We also have a couple of Go clubs in South Africa. The Joburg Go club meets every Tuesday evening at the Mugg & Bean in Rosebank mall. You can get more details at the JoburgGo Yahoo! Group or the SA Go Clubs website.

I hope this was enough to make you curious. For those interested, I have a collection of Go links. (Let me know if you find a link that I don’t already have.)

The sketch for this article was kindly provided by Radka Hanečková (alias Chidori). She is the author of the Empty Triangle, a hilarious webcomic about Go.

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