Basildon Echo - November 13th 2002 - Reproduced with permission of the Echo

Martial art in an ancient game

With Christmas creeping ever closer the annual ritual of dusting down the collection of board games for an afternoon of family fun isn’t that far away.
A trawl through the cupboard will probably reveal a Scrabble set, Cluedo, maybe Careers or even Mastermind. However, you are less likely to have a copy of Go among your collection.
Go is more than just a square on the Monopoly board - it is one of the world’s oldest board games, if not the oldest.
If the most strategic game you’ve ever played before is noughts and crosses then prepare to have your mind blown.
The ancient board game is such a challenge, it’s even too much for computers to deal with. There are so many possible moves available within the game that computer programmers have yet to come up with a version capable of being played beyond the basic level.
Probably not one to unwrap on Christmas morning, and expect to be an expert in time for the Queen’s speech, then.
However, enthusiasts will assure you that the rules are simple to learn.
One such enthusiast is Guy Footring of the Billericay Go Club.
“It is one of those games that it’s easy to learn the basics of,” he explains.
“It’s much easier to learn than Chess, because there are fewer rules and special cases. But like chess you can learn it to whatever level you like.”
Go has been described as being like four games of chess being played together on the same board.
A full-size board measures 19 lines by 19 lines, and each player has a set of pieces, called stones.
The object of the game is to use your stones to form territories, surrounding vacant areas of the board. You can also capture your opponent’s stones by completely surrounding them.
At the end of the game the players count one point for each vacant point inside their own territory and one for each stone they have captured. The player with the most points wins.
Guy says part of the appeal is that it is a game that will continue to challenge its players, no matter their level of experience.
“There are just so many possibilities and different styles people can play in,” he says.
It’s less mechanistic than chess and there is a lot of scope for trying things out.
“People are still experimenting at a professional level.”
Like the martial arts, Go players are graded. The beginner starts at a level of 30 to 35 kyu, as they progress their kyu level lessens, then after reaching the level of one kyu they start to be graded by dans, the highest possible level being nine dan.
“The strongest amateur in Britain is six dan,” explains Guy.
The Billericay club’s strongest player, who is known as Weed, has reached a level of one dan. Guy himself is modest about his own achievements. Despite playing the game on and off for the past 20 years, he rates himself as four to five kyu, and says he still has a lot to learn.
“I wouldn’t regard myself as a strong player particularly,” he admits.
“Of all the people who turn up regularly I rate myself as joint weakest.”
Unlike other games, in which you know you’re going to be thrashed hands down by someone with years more experience, Go at least tries to level this off with its handicap system “The system works out the difference in strength and you get that many stones head start,” explains Guy. “It works well and makes it still a very natural and interesting game.”
The history of Go dates back 3,000 years, and is thought to have originated in China or the Himalayas.
It is said that the first Emperor of China invented the game in order to improve the mind of his slow-witted son.
Mythology has it that the future of Tibet was once decided over a Go board. The story goes that the Buddhist ruler refused to go into battle. To avoid any bloodshed he challenged the aggressor to a game of Go instead.
It is still a huge pastime in the Far East, with around 50 million people thought to play the game.
Japan, China and Korea all have their own professional Go players, who are regarded with the same adulation as or premiership football players.
it is thought that Go has been played in the UK since the 1930’s, but it wasn’t until 1964 and the formation of the British Go Association (BGA) that it was played at an organised level.
There are now 50 clubs in the UK, but the Billericay club is the only BGA affiliated one in the county.
Guy set up the club six years ago, after unsuccessfully searching for an existing group.
He says it has built up a loyal membership base, but is keen for more people to attend the weekly club meetings.
“It would appeal to people who are interested in strategy board games,” says Guy. “Perhaps a few chess converts.”
Although if Guy is any thing to go by, you don’t have to be highly skilled at other games either.
“I’m fairly useless at Chess,” laughs Guy. “The difference is where as I’m happy to be useless at chess I feel that I’d like to be better at Go.”
For more information on Billericay Go Club visit Guy’s website. The British Go Association also has a web-site.