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How Go Works


Tips for the Game of Go
Though the game might tax the patience of some kids (and some adults), children as young as five can learn to play Go.
Though the game might tax the patience of some kids (and some adults), children as young as five can learn to play Go.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

In 1996, NASA astronaut Daniel Barry played the first extraterrestrial game of Go with a Japanese astronaut. However, you don't need extreme lengths to get in the game. You can play Go online, set up a game at home or participate in an amateur or professional tournament. Tournaments that are open to all players, regardless of skill, often include workshops and instruction opportunities, too [source: American Go Association].

Professional tournaments are serious business. A tournament can take eight days to run its course and award up to $500,000 to the overall winning player. A rule known as ko helps curtail the length of games by banning any move that would return the board to a previous state [source: Kiseido.com].

If you're just starting out, concentrate on the basics. Practice common stone patterns, as well as strategy that will improve your odds of winning. For example, during your opening moves, place stones at the corners of the board. Then place them on the sides and play toward the center. You can read books like "Go for Beginners" by Kaoru Iwamoto to gain an overall understanding of Go; more advanced players will benefit from the strategy tips offered in "The Direction of Play" by Takeo Kajiwara.

As for other skill-builders, bone up on patience. Although you can learn how to play Go in just a few minutes, it will take years (at least!) to play the game to its full potential. Take Wu Qingyuan -- also known as Go Seigen -- for instance. He studied the game for many years before his successful professional career from 1930 to 1961. He once took three months to finish a single game.

You might also want to brush up on math: In the late 1960s, mathematician John Horton Conway connected Go to surreal number theory, which provides a way to organize numbers that includes real, infinite and infinitesimal numbers. In the 1990s, researchers Elwyn Berlekamp and David Wolfe picked up on Conway's work, adding a new way to evaluate end-stage Go games.

American moviegoers may be familiar with Go from its cameo in the 2001 movie "A Beautiful Mind," in which mathematician John Forbes Nash plays Go at Princeton and claims the game is flawed because he orchestrated a perfect game, yet lost.

Younger audiences have a pop culture in, too: The game was central to the manga series "Hikaru no Go" that was published in Japan from 1998 to 2003 and adapted into an anime from 2001 to 2003 [source: Fanlore.org]. Both the manga and anime have also been released in English. Its popularity drew a new generation of Go players -- a popularity that seems only fitting for a game that's survived for thousands of years.