Science, art and sports all in one? Let’s Go!

Mental sports/Other
Chandler Lee
Science, art and sports all in one? Let’s Go!
It takes approx. 4 minutes to read this article

The famous American chess player Edward Lasker stated that “if chess is the queen of games, go is certainly their emperor”. Is this ancient Chinese board game really only for the keenest of minds? It turns out that not necessarily!

The origins of Go date back to over two millennia BC. The initiator of this game is considered to be a certain emperor Yao (2357-2255 BC), who in this way intended to educate his son, Dan Zhu. At that time it still functioned under the name Yi, however, over the years so many myths and legends have grown up that Jan Lubos even decided to write a fairy tale “About the origins of Go” based on them. So why does wéiqí, as this board game is called in China, still fascinate people around the world?

The answer seems simple – it’s the sheer number of problematic situations to solve that makes so many people eager to play. For the players Go is a kind of journey into the unknown, which in addition does not have to end with a solution. The rules, however, are not overly complicated – on a square board full of intersections (usually 19 by 19, but there are also 13×13 and even 9×9) the players alternately place black and white stones on the intersections, and the winner is the one who surrounds with his stones a territory larger than the opponent’s. Once a stone has been placed on a goban, it is forbidden to move it (under certain conditions it can possibly be removed). During the course of each game there are also knockdowns. In order to remove a rival’s tile from the board, it is necessary to deprive it of all “breaths”, understood as empty adjacent intersections connected to the tile in a straight line. If it were not for the Superko Rule, which states that the same position on the board cannot be repeated, the cycles could go on indefinitely. However, even with the Superko Rule in place, there is no shortage of conundrums.

Clear rules make it possible for even a few years old children to try their hand at Go. Of course, in confrontation with sophisticated players with incomparable experience they would have no chance, but a way has been found – handicap. By placing a certain number of black stones, a weaker player gains an advantage allowing for a relatively equal competition.

The greatest champion in the history of this mental sport remains Shūsaku Hon’inbō, although no one living today remembers his impressive achievements since they took place in the 19th century. This brilliant Japanese reached the level of 7 dan, and in the prestigious skirmishes held in Edo palace in the presence of the Shogun he triumphed in all 19 games played, earning a proud nickname of “the invincible”. Today Hon’inbō’s successors are among others Chinese Ke Jie and Korean Lee Sedol, but they cannot boast the status of invincibles. What is interesting, they lost a few fights with… a computer program based on artificial intelligence mechanisms. In five battles against the AlphaGo system in 2016, Sedol capitulated as many as four times, while the representative of the Middle Kingdom did not win even once!

For the people of Asia, Go is a specific combination of science, art and sport, while in our country it is considered an entertainment mainly for the intelligent. There is a good reason for this, as Go is only one of five disciplines included in the Olympics of Mental Sports. Go enthusiasts have been associated since 1983 by the Polish Go Association, whose president is Maksym Walaszewski. There is also no shortage of websites in Polish, where not only the rules are precisely explained, but also the problems for different kyu levels. So if someone is bored with chess, the next step seems obvious.

Featured image: Wikipedia

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