A Remedy for Aging Brains?

Japanese neurosurgeon Kaneko Mitsuo has studied the effect that playing Go has on older adults. Using brain scans, he believes a section of the brain that may atrophy in dementia patients may also be the same part that is used most when playing games such as Go. As a result, he believes that playing Go may be able to reverse common senile dementia [source: Bradley]. Mitsuo is not alone. Randomized trials by the U.S. National Institutes of Health have shown that playing certain types of games -- though not a mental health cure -- can keep the brain healthy [source: Tomaselli]. Further research is needed before any advances can be conclusive.

It's perhaps no coincidence that the most mind-bending of all strategy games is also the oldest. The game of Go dates back to at least 3,000 years ago. Its rules are simple, yet mastering it requires many years of experience [source: British Go Association].

The object of Go is to capture territory. Each player places stones on a 19 by 19 grid alternately. Players place black or white stones on the intersections of the lines on the board. Areas that are enclosed by one player's pieces count for that person in the final tally. Pieces that are surrounded by opposite colored stones are captured and removed. The game ends when both players pass in succession -- neither feels he can take more territory or capture more stones. The territory each player controls is calculated, reduced by the number of his pieces that have been captured. The player with the highest score wins.

It may sound simple, but the strategic possibilities of the game are endless. No two games are alike. The truly challenging thing about Go is that there is no set strategy that works. The only way to win is to achieve a balance of attack and defense. The situation changes with every move, so each player must be flexible and try to read his opponent's strategy. Though the game requires careful analysis, it also demands intuition to recognize patterns and spot opportunities.

Go games range from introductory kits for $30 to elaborate sets with glass stones and wooden bowls to hold them, and veneer boards costing $190 and more. You can also play the game online.

Learn more about playing and winning these mind-bending strategy games and others by visiting the links on the next page.