The Origins of Go

The exact 2500-4000 year old origin of go are uncertain; claims about go’s initial use range from being an predecessor to the abacus to being a fortune telling tool (American Go Association). But the most interesting origin story is set in about 2300 BC,in ancient China. According to this legend, the Chinese Emperor Yao created the game in order to teach his uncontrollable son, Dan Zhu, focus and discipline. Yet after learning the game, all that Dan Zhu could focus on was go, and eventually was exiled for his inability to do anything but play go (Yutopian).

Regardless of its origins though, go has had a tremendous effect on the culture of East Asian countries, specifically China, Korea, and Japan. In 1600s Japan, Tokugawa created a position in the cabinet called “go-doroko” or Minister of Go (American Go Association). During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, go players met in secret to keep the game alive. And today 5% to 10% of the population of Korea plays go regularly (American Go Association).

But go isn’t restricted to East Asia. There are go associations in Britain and the US, and 58 other countries around the world. About 60 million total people play go around the world. (British Go Association).

“Go Stories.” Yutopian. 2000. Web. 3 March, 2015.

“A Breif History of Go.” American Go Association. Web. 3 March, 2015.

“Frequently Asked Questions about Go.” British Go Association. Web. 3 March, 2015.

How to Play

The rules of go are quite simple. The player with the black stones places a stone on the intersection of a line on a lined board. Then the other player places their white stone on the board, and the game continues like so. Players continue to add stones to the board until both agree that the game is over.

Stones never move after being placed, and are only taken off in one specific situation: if the pieces are captured. Stones are captured if they are completely surrounded by opposing stones, meaning every playable space around the stones are occupied by the opponent. Take for example the line of white stones shown to the right. If black then places a stone as shown below that picture, white’s pieces are taken off the board as is shown in the final picture.

The winner of a go game is the person who has surrounded the most unoccupied spaces with their stones; this collection of unoccupied spaces is called territory. Stones that have been captured are counted against a player’s territory.

These are the essential rules of go (there are a few others subtle rules such as the ko rule and komi, but beginners shouldn’t worry about these rules until they have learned the basic rules of go).

The simplicity of go’s rules is a part of the game’s beauty. Vicious and elegant battles for supremacy on a board can arise from these simple rules of placement and capture, with each battle being unique and unprecedented.

Different Rules

Because go has developed independently in many different countries, there are variations of the rules of go depending on where it is played. It should be noted that the essential game of go is the same wherever it is played, with game play being almost entirely compatible across nations.

The following are only subtle in the gams' rules between Japanese/ Korean rules and Chinese rules.

  1. The largest differences here is in komi. Under Japanese/ Korean rules, komi is 6.5 while under Chinese rules, komi is 7.5.
  2. It does cost to make a move in one’s own territory under Japanese/Korean rules, unlike in Chinese rules.
  3. In Chinese games, the placement of handicapped stones is free, so players can place the stones wherever they like. In Japanese games, handicapped stones are fixed to specific places.

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