The magical history of Go: the essence of Chinese philosophy, spliced with tactical nouse – the oldest game in the world. Its values exist in the heart of Chinese philosophy and culture – many of its idea’s at the heart of The Art of War, sages, scholars and grandmasters.
Go is regarded as one of the four essential arts of antiquity its mastery is required by Chinese scholars. The game originated in the Zhou Dynasty, more than 2500 years ago, but is said to date farther back than written records.
Go, when written in Chinese translates directly back to “encircling game”, a game with simple rules but a complex strategy – a game that takes minute to learn and a lifetime to master. Due to its larger possible variation outcome it is widely considered more complicated than chess to master (10761 compared to the 10120 possibilities in chess). Don’t tell Kasparov, but the complexity of Go is such that even the elementary strategy fills many introductory books. In fact, numerical estimates indicate that the number of possible game outcomes in Go far exceeds the number of numerical atoms in the observable universe.
“It is something unearthly, if there are sentient being on other planets, then they play go”
– Emanuel Lasker, Chess World Champion
Go is a 0-chance, strategy board game, the objective is to surround your opponents stones, encasing them and removing their “liberties” – which expels the pieces from the board. There is definitely a sprinkling of Sun Tzu and Confucius (who ironically was the first to write about the game) in attendance here. Pieces are alive, dead or unsettled depending on their location on the board, and what color pieces surrounds them.
The game is finished when both players agree to pass consecutively or when a player forfeits, deciding that no further play will benefit his game. The player who has the greatest number of living stones left is the winner.
In China Go is important due to its philosophical associations. It is regarded as similar to a martial art like Aikido or Tai Chi, conditioning the mind for war, helping to acquire balance, respect and humility. Playing requires patience, not over-extending beyond reach and acquiring safety before rendering an attack. To be grandmaster is to be at peace with oneself, in one’s mind and to think with heavenly clarity. Go represents one of the 4 arts of scholared gentleman, which include calligraphy, painting and playing the gupin, an ancient Chinese guitar.
The history is not just limited to its birthplace in China. Go moved throughout Asia, to Korea, Japan and even became very popular in America. In recent years Go has been marked as something of a milestone in the world of computers – it seems to be one of the last games to differentiate between human and computer intelligence.
In 1996, an IBM computer named Deep Blue beat the world’s greatest human, Garry Kasparov at chess. Since then, computers have continued to outplay all of the greatest human minds in Chess, Scrabble, Bridge, Poker, Backgammon, Monopoly, Checkers and all other similar games due to their near flawless strategies and ability to calculate the most logical next move.
British mathematician I.J. Good suggested that ‘Go is inherently superior to all other games.’ And indeed when perceived in that respect, and given its vast history, it is. Some have even suggested that Go be one of the last obstacles standing before technological singularity. Computers have grown to outrank humans on almost all things.
A study of the effects of go showed greater activation in the right hemisphere among Go players than among chess players, they also found that mental deterioration was slowed among master Go players, than milder Go players, and milder go players to the average population. There is some evidence to suggest a correlation between playing board games and reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
This ancient game has come to amaze us in the modern world and is continuing to do so; from a simple game for relaxation to preparing the mind for war; to challenging the world’s most intelligent super-computers which have beat humans in almost all other forms of linear thinking. All, except for Go.