Think like a Go player!
“If the way of Go is ‘100,’ I only know about seven,” Japanese Go master Hideyuki Fujisawa once remarked. Humility aside, the recent defeat of world champions Lee Sedol and Ke Jie by AlphaGo has arguably proven Fujisawa’s point. “I only know about two percent…mankind’s knowledge of Go is far too limited,” Ke admitted at a press conference in May.
Ancient Chinese viewed Go with awe. Faced with its infinite possibilities and abstract thinking, pushing the limits of the human mind, they coped by mystifying the game. A description of Go’s invention in the Comprehensive Mirror of Immortals in History, a 18th-century collection of legends, states, “The chess board is square and still, while the Go pieces are round and mobile. They represent the Earth and Heaven. Since the invention of the game, there’s none who can figure out a universal solution.” According to the book, the legendary emperor Yao was seeking to teach his dim but aggressive son a lesson. He met two immortals by a river, who suggested using Go, 围棋 (wéiqí, lit. “encircling chess” ).
棋 (qí, chess) alone can refer to any type of chess—象棋 (xiàngqí, Chinese chess), or 国际象棋 (guójì xiàngqí, lit. “international chess,” the kind with bishops and queens). Go’s English name came from the Japanese pronunciation of the character , a variant of 棋 (qí) in Chinese. The former makes more sense referring to Go, given the stone radical, 石 (shí), at the bottom of the character, since Go pieces were often made of stone.
On the Character: 棋 is a story from our issue, “Beyond Go.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.