Most Americans can relate with classic board games, like Life, Monopoly and chess. Yet, those games are nowhere near in comparison to the level of difficulty and fascination as the board game called Go in Japan.
The game is hugely popular in Japan, where professional and amateur players on their own level compete in large tournaments, says Honolulu Go Club president Sid Kobashigawa. The most experienced players are considered major celebrities.
Seasoned player Yoshihiro Ogawa, 81, of Kahala knows. Originally from Tokyo, Ogawa has played for more than 65 years.
The endless number of strategies makes Go the oldest and most fascinating game in the world, he said. Simply put, the rules are simple, but the game is extremely challenging.
Go originated in China more than 4,000 years ago, said Kobashigawa, a 62-year-old retired electrical engineer. Called weiqi in Chinese and baduk in Korean, the game entered Japan in the 6th century through trade and other means.
Then the first Japanese immigrants brought the game to Hawaii, where it flourished in the early 1900s. But during World War II, Japanese Americans stopped playing the game and participating in anything related to Japanese culture to prove that they were American.
Kobashigawa said issei and nisei, Japanese Americans of the 1st and 2nd generation, failed to teach future generations. The game’s popularity declined ever since, and he hopes Go will make a comeback.
The game requires 2 players who start on an empty board of gridlines. The standard size of a board has 19 horizontal and 19 vertical lines on a plain grid. Smaller grids have fewer lines, 13 x 13 and 9 x 9, good for beginners.
One player has black stones. The other player has white. The player with the black stones goes first, followed by the player with the white stones. Each stone is placed on an intersection or point on the board. Then, both players alternate making their moves.
The object of Go is about strategy and how to gain more territories than the opponent. The corners of the board are the easiest areas to gain territory, whether the area is empty or occupied by other stones. Once a stone is placed on the board, it cannot be removed, unless surrounded and captured by the opponent. That is when a territory has been seized.
The game continues until both players have passed consecutively. The player with the most territories wins.
Go board sets of different sizes are available at Iida’s, with prices ranging from $45.95 to $188.00.
If anything, Kobashigawa said, Go has taught him how to be more patient. It also helps develop good character traits, like logic, memory, intuition and confidence, he said.
Mark Stinedurf, 47, of the Maui Go Club admits the point of the game is not always about winning.
“You lose a lot,” said Stinedurf, whose career is in the field of information and technology. “You have to be willing to lose.” In fact, he can’t remember winning more than a dozen games in the last 2 years of playing. “I’m still definitely a beginner,” he said.
Stinedurf hopes children particularly between the ages of 5 and 10 to at least give the game a try, whether it’s taught in schools or introduced by friends, he said. “If kids aren’t exposed to it, they’re never going to know that it’s interesting.”
“Being challenged is part of the fun,” he said. With perseverance, “you get a little better and a little better. You have to stick with it.”
Stinedurf is definitely hooked. “I plan to play forever,” he said.
The Honolulu Go Club meets 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays in the Hawaii Ki-in at Palolo Hongwanji Mission. Kobashigawa can be reached at email@example.com.
The Hilo Go Club is from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. Thursdays at Taishoji Soto Mission. For more information, contact Russ Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Admission is free.