What Is Go?



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Go, formally known as I-go, is the Japanese version of a game called Wei-qi that originated in ancient China. The word Wei-qi means "surrounding pieces," and the game involves capturing territory on a checkered game-board using black or white stones. The Go board contains 361 points and unlike chess, which is played on the squares of the board, the game is played on the intersections. Players place black or white stones on the points in such a way as to enclose and thereby capture territory. The player with the most territory wins. Because this game has changed little, if at all, over the centuries, it is thought to be the oldest board game in history. According to legend, the Chinese emperor Yao (2357–2256 B.C.) invented the game to improve his son's mental discipline. Wei-qi is mentioned in the Analects, writings by the philosopher Confucius (sixth century B.C.). Buddhists (followers of Buddhism, a religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama) also see the game as a voyage of self-discovery. During the second century, Wei-qi spread to Korea (where it is called Baduk or Badug). In Japan in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., Go became popular, particularly among nobles and Buddhist monks. Many Japanese warlords sponsored a Go master at court and the warlords held Go contests, with winning a sign of status. During the nineteenth century, state-sponsored Go contests discontinued in Japan, but within 100 years the game had become popular outside the Asian world, particularly in North America, Europe, and New Zealand.

Further Information: Parlett, David. The Oxford History of Board Games. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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