Link - article by Avi Abrams

Ancient Chinese and Japanese "Go" game: territorial conquest, subtle strategy, deep reflection and exquisite style

This game is truly fascinating: not only did it appear in the mists of time (more than 2,500 years ago), the rules of it are deceptively simple (to surround the larger area and capture more "stones" than your opponent), and the terminology of the game is epic and profound in scope (Life vs. Death - your stone group can be either "alive", "dead" or "unsettled") - but also it is a game without a set ending - it will continue for as long as your opponent is willing to fight and not throws down the towel.

Interestingly, this is a "no-chance" game, i.e. there is no dice or any other provision for intervention of chance. Everything is premeditated, everyone begins with an empty board and with no limitations, all moves are visible to all players, and (similar to chess) you can only blame yourself for your faulty strategy and subsequent loss.

(images via)

"While the Baroque rules of chess could only have been created by humans, the rules of go are so elegant, organic, and rigorously logical that if intelligent life forms exist elsewhere in the universe, they almost certainly play go." -- Edward Lasker, chess grandmaster

The "go" boards traditionally used in this game are no less fascinating. Today we are going to see the most profound examples, full of ancient wisdom and delicate craftmanship - the full range of styles, from the most ancient ones, to fancy electronic boards from the 1980s.

(left: modern "goban" Go-board; right: no, this is NOT how you play this game)

(a Shinto priest and an actor dressed as a government official; image credit: Okinawa Soba, via)

This is the essence of "Go": a long, passionate duel... with less victory in end than in other strategic-domination games

The origins of the game are obscure and hidden deep in the past: even today, there are certain tribes in Mongolia (for example, around Hargyaz-Nuur lake) which engage in a sacred activity of placing little stones on a larger stone plate. These holy structures are called "obwo" and in many ways they are similar to "go" boards, though no one knows what are the origins of this sacred tradition...

(image via)

Here is one of the oldest discovered boards (AD 595 years; left image below), found in Zhang Sheng tomb, in Anyang County, Henan Province, China:

(left image credit: Henan Museum, via)

Other ancient boards display a variety of styles; shown here are Japanese boards made from ancient wood, and some of the earliest pots with sets of stones:

(images via 1, 2)

The following go-board (or, "goban"), which comes together with the "Mr. Kuroki's Go-Cart" to lift it off the floor, displays perhaps the most interesting way of playing - smacking your stone pieces (with a satisfying click) on a very thick slab of wood... And not just any wood, but the beautiful ancient Kaya wood, some slices being 500 years old. These slabs are patiently dried for more than 15 years and display perfectly the wood grain and tightly-packed tree-rings of considerable age.

(image via)

It is hardly surprising that in traditional way of playing this game even the direction of the wood grain and tree-rings matters:

Playing on these ancient wooden boards is like placing your bets on a solid foundation of unyielding, impersonal time! Truly a perfect arrangement.

"The board must be square, for it signifies the Earth, and its right angles signify uprightness. The pieces of the two sides are yellow and black; this difference signifies the yin and the yang... scattered in groups all over the board, they represent the heavenly bodies." -- Pan Ku, 1st century historian

Here is another awesome old board featuring intricate mother-of-pearl inlay - seen on a Chinese site:

The "go" stones lore is just as sublime: the ancient Weiqi stones (shown on the left) are dating from Ming or Song dynasty (from the collection of the Russian Go and Strategy School)... some stones are easily carved from seashells (see right image)... also, historically, "go" stones do not necessarily have to be black or white, but may come in various colors:

(images via)

Here we see how the go stones are made; as well as some luxurious sets of quality stones produced by Yun-Zi company:


The following "go" artifact (displayed at Chiddingstone Castle, Kent) comes from the collections of Denys Bower - a beautiful lacquer Beckford Casket, 1635-1640. "The arched panel on the front contains a relief of a samurai, with a stave (noginata) and two swords, standing on a decorated goban (go-board)":

(image credit: Trustees of the British Museum, via)

Also very cute is this 19th Century Japanese Go ban (and matching bowls) set, sporting gold on black floral decorations:

(image credit: Trustees of the British Museum, via)

Cool Electronic Go Boards from the 1980's

Panasonic came up with the electronic goban setup back in 1982:

(left image via)

On the right you can see some electronic print flexible e-paper goban concepts.

This magnificent electronic goban was distributed by the Nihon Ki-in back in 1981:

For the connected age, there is a NetGoban company which can connect your board to a laptop for a hybrid classic/modern experience.

"Go" game is extremely popular today all over Asia; there is of course, an obligatory manga tie-in (see below) and many championships (some are performed with live players instead of stones):

"In chess you start with everything you have on the board. In go you start from nothing and build." -- Tim Klinger

"The Room of Deep Contemplation"

Coming back to the traditional way of playing "go", the atmosphere and ambience is all-important; the strongest Go masters are playing their games in a specially designed rooms (sporting top-notch minimalist Japanese interiors, rock gardens and ikebana arrangements).

(image via)

"Just one game," they said, and started to play... that was yesterday." -- Chinese proverb

Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.



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