Way to Go
Updated: 2012-04-27 07:40
By Zhang Lei (China Daily)
More people in the West are warming to Go, a Chinese game that originated more than 2,000 years ago. [Provided to China Daily]
Ancient board game Captivates more and more minds in the West
It is a game whose fundamental concept is life and death, and whose strategies include offense, defense and deception. It may be that these raw characteristics make Go such an attractive pastime to its millions of adherents worldwide.
One of thoes adherents is Vesa Laatikainen, who has represented Finland at the World Amateur Go Championship nine times. The 49-year-old says he fell in love with the ancient board game in college when he met members of the school's Go club.
"The patterns, the board and the stone-cut pieces were so different from the chess that I knew," says Laatikainen, marketing manager of Teamware Group company in Helsinki.
The Finn is part of a growing number of Westerners who are becoming mesmerized by the Chinese game that few knew, let alone played well, just decades ago.
Laatikainen himself frequents a Go club in Helsinki twice a week, sparring with players with various skill levels. Usually, there are up to 20 players around, he says.
"I met my wife at the Go club and we both love the game. I am passing that love down to my 7-year-old daughter."
Laatikainen has also obtained top finishes at the Finnish championship league.
Latest estimates put the number of Finnish Go players alone at about 1,000, with more than 700 at active rankings as of August.
Go comprises of a grid of 19 by 19 lines, making up 361 intersections on the board. The pieces or "stones", in black and white, are placed on the intersections to gradually command more territory by surrounding and eliminating opponents.
Go, or weiqi, meaning the game of surrounding, originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. The game reached the West via Japan, which explain its Japanese name.
It has been held up as the ultimate game offering simple rules but infinite possibilities with strategies that have been applied on and off the battlefield in the East since ancient times.
Go is not just seen as a game of leisure to while away the time. The legendary Emperor Yao is said to have created the game to develop the intelligence and mold the temperament of his son, Dan Zhu.
Yao used white and black pieces to symbolize two armies and arranged different battles between the two to train Dan Zhu's ability to judge and command. By playing weiqi, Dan Zhu, who was a rude and reckless man, turned into a learned general who excelled in commanding armies. Yao used weiqi to teach his son to rule, and the merits of the game have been passed down to modern Chinese.
With the Qin Chinese zither, shu or calligraphy, hua (painting), and weiqi formed the four "prerequisites" of a Chinese gentleman in ancient times.
Considered to reflect some of the most profound thinking behind Chinese philosophy, weiqi players are said to be able to grasp the workings of society and business dealings better through the game.
Weiqi is not just held up as an aesthetic and intellectual experience, but also as a miniature of Chinese strategic and collective thinking. Many continue to enjoy it as an art that combines moral, educational and intellectual functions.
"Go is still a cultural symbol of the East to most Finns," Laatikainen says.
"There are a limited number of Go competitions a year available to me. I can only seriously improve my skills by reading books and through professional plays," says the Finn, who has collected at least 500 Go books, mostly from Japan, South Korea and China.
More people like Laatikainen in the West are warming to weiqi. The European Go Federation estimates that there are about 20,000 people who play the game in Europe, not including those who only play it online or at home.
Martin Stiassny, the federation's president, puts the figure much higher - probably more than 100,000.
In the United States 15,365 players are registered, of whom 8,933 are ranked, based on a data from the American Go Association Go Database.
"Go is perhaps the best game in the world", Stiassny said in a report by Xinhua News Agency. He has been constantly promoting the game and telling people that it is not as difficult as it seems.
In China there are no exact figures on the number of Go players because of its large base. Even with the rising popularity of modern video games among the younger generation, visitors can still catch Go players engrossed in their next moves in the backstreet alleys of big cities.
Liu Siming, director of Chinese Go Association, believes the game is evergreen.
Speaking at the 31st World Amateur Go Championship in Hangzhou in 2010, he said there is a need to promote the game's "charisma in itself, regarding it as an art".