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Let’s Play “Go”! – History of the Board Game Go

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/22 Traditional Culture , , ,

The game of ‘Go’ has its origin in China 4,000 years ago. It is more than 1,300 years since ‘Go’ was introduced to Japan. During these centuries, the ancient Chinese form of ‘Go’ has been modified and improved by the Japanese. ‘Go’ as it is played today is an indoor game which has no further room for improvement. It has taken roots deep in the life of the people of Japan. The total number of people who play ‘Go’ is estimated to be about seven million. There are many ‘Go’ players outside Japan. Now, what kind of game is ‘Go?’

What is ‘Go’?

‘Go’ is a game in which two players contest for territory. One of the two players uses black stones and the other white stones to mark out their respective territories. The player who has captured more territory at the end of the game is the winner. Since the players are to fight against each other over territory within a limited space, the game involves many varied forms of contest. This is what makes ‘Go’ so interesting.

Go Origins

The origins of go are shrouded in the mists of ancient Chinese history, but the game is thought to have originated at least 2500 – 4000 years ago. It is the oldest game still played in its original form.

Some say that the board, with ten points out from the center in all directions, may have originally served as a forerunner to the abacus. Others think it may have been a fortune-telling device, with black and white stones representing yin and yang. A prominent legend holds that the sage-king Yao created the game to teach his rebellious son discipline.

By 400-300 B.C., Chinese scholars such as Confucius were writing about wei-chi (a Chinese name for the game) to illustrate correct thinking about filial piety and human nature. By the 1600’s it had become one of the “Four Accomplishments” (along with calligraphy, painting, and playing the lute) that must be mastered by the Chinese gentleman. This kind of sanctified thinking about the game has inspired people to play Go.

Wei-chi, also written as wei-ch’i or weiqi, entered Korean and Japanese culture through trade and other contact between countries in the first millennium A.D. In ancient Chinese art, noblemen can occasionally be found playing go.

We know that go was present in Japan at least since 1000 A.D., since it figures peripherally in Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji, but it took a giant leap forward there in the 1600s. When the warlord Tokugawa unified Japan in 1602, he decreed that four schools of go would be established.

Each year representatives of the schools would play in a “Castle Game” series, and the winner would hold the Cabinet-level position of go-doroko (Minister of Go) for the following year. This system raised go to a new level of skill and popularity.

With the Meiji restoration in the late 1800s, go fell into a period of relative decline in Japan, but it was brought back to life in the 1920s with the formation of the Japan Go Association. Newspapers began to sponsor tournaments, a professional system was established, and today there are more than a dozen major titles, with columns and game analysis every day in the major newspapers. Top Japanese go players are major celebrities.

As recently as the 1970s, formal games between go masters from different countries were practically unheard of. The years since then have seen a historic proliferation of international championships, where the great players from Japan, China, Korea and elsewhere compete to be seen as the world’s best player. The World Ing Cup, a quadrennial event with $1 million in prizes, tops the list. Annual events include the Fujitsu Cup and the Samsung Cup.

Other world championships on the amateur level include the World Amateur Go Championship, sponsored by the International Go Federation; the World Youth Goe Championship, sponsored by the Taipei-based Ing Goe Educational Foundation; the IGF-sponsored World Women’s Championship; and the World Pairs Go Championship for male-female teams, sponsored by the La-La-La Go Club in Japan. The American Go Association selects U.S. representatives for these events.

In the next post we’ll talk more about how to play the game.


1. Go (game). Wikipedia

2. American Go Association

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