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1.3. A brief history of Go

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This article is from the Go FAQ, by Morten PAHLE gofaq@pahle.org.uk with numerous contributions by others.

1.3. A brief history of Go

History has it that Go was invented in China over 4000 years ago,
possibly making it the oldest surviving board game still played today.
This claim is supported by various archaeological findings of Go
equipment, figurative art representing Go equipment and mention of Go
in literature.

Legend tells of an emperor who was dissatisfied with his son's
non-serious behaviour, and had one of his generals invent a game which
was meant to teach his son tactics, strategy and concentration. The
general then invented Go. Apparently the emperor's son thought little
of it and discarded it saying that whoever played first would always
win. This behaviour upset his father, who beheaded his son and
appointed the general his heir.

A more plausible explanation for the invention of Go could be that
ancient types of gobans were used for divination (fortune telling),
with white and black stones.

Reference to Go in Chinese literature can be traced back to the 5th
century BC. And already in ancient times, high standards of play were

A Japanese ambassador to the Chinese court is believed to have
imported the game to Japan around 740 AD. Although Go was already
known in Japan, it was the introduction to the Japanese court which
spurred off great interest in the game in all the upper classes at the
time. Around 1600 AD, the Japanese Shogun created a salaried
'Go-minister', responsible for all Go activities and the Shogun's
teacher. In 1612, the Shogun also decreed salaries for the top players
of the day, and four Go 'houses' were set up: 'Honinbo', 'Inoue',
'Yasui' and 'Hayashi'. It was the continuous competition between these
schools which propelled the development of Go through to 1868, when
the new emperor removed the government funding. The houses collapsed
and Go lost popularity, but gradually regained it and in 1924 a single
national association was formed, the Nihon Kiin, which still exists

In China, Go did not receive the support it did in Japan, and although
it was a popular game, the standard of play was below the Japanese. It
is said that at the beginning of the 20th century, Chinese top players
took 3 stones handicap from their Japanese counterparts. However,
China did produce a player who is claimed to have been the best go
player of this century, known mostly by the Japanese pronunciation of
his name, Go Seigen. After the revolution, Go as a sport received
sponsorship and support from the Chinese government and its popularity
and the level of play increased.

Today in international matches, players from Japan, China and Korea
are evenly matched, with many strong young players emerging in all
three countries.

Although it is said that Marco Polo brought back with him a Go-set
from his travels, Go was more or less unknown in the 'west'. It was
the inclusion of Go in a book by Edward LASKER, a famous chess player,
at the beginning of this century, which spurred off its 'western'
growth. Although Go has spread since, it is far less known than Chess,
and the 'west' has yet to produce world-class players (although there
are several 'western' professional players. The highest ranked is
Michael REDMOND (9p) from the U.S.A.).

For those who are interested in more details, there are several places
on the web which have details about the history of Go:

Andrew GRANT

John FAIRBAIRN maintains the Go section of the MSO site, which
features, amongst others, a series of articles about and around the
game, its history, famous moments etc. Take a look at


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