You've been watching them for hours. They were deep in concentration when you first walked in and ordered a double turtle mocha and a muffin. Since then, random words of frustration and chuckles of realization have floated on the wind over towards your table. What in the world are they doing?
What you see is unextraordinary at first glance. There are two people, sitting opposite each other, with a wooden board between them. On the board is a grid of 19 lines by 19 lines, and the two players are taking turns placing white and black stones on the grid's points. Each is trying to enclose as much territory as possible, without letting his own stones get completely surrounded.
The players exercise care and patience with each move. The game is not one that can be hurried. Neither player acts aggressively or impulsively, because they know to do so would mean defeat. Instead, each calmly surveys the board, mapping out a strategy and quietly playing out different scenarios in his head. Mentally, each has prepared the next ten or twenty moves and those plans are constantly being rewritten. It is impossible to know all of the combinations of play (there are 10200 possible final outcomes in a game of Go), but each player is trying to logically determine his or her opponent's next move, and plan a response.
The game is an art and a science. It takes only minutes to learn the few rules, but it can take years to become a serious player. It is my favorite game and my most severe obsession.
It is a metaphor for life. The battle between black and white stones can represent the struggle for balance between good and evil, order and chaos, even men and women. The game can create an inner peace within you or it can drive you to the point of maddening frustration. Play it once and you will both fall in love with it and detest the day you first picked up a stone, at the same time.
This is the game of Go. Simple in appearance and complex in practice, this ancient Chinese game (known in China as Weiqi) is to chess as chess is to tic tac toe. The game is played throughout Asia and the United States. In some countries, professional Go players are revered in the same ways American sports figures and heroes are. Here in the U.S., the American Go Association sponsors tournaments in most major cities and players from all over the country show up to play and have themselves rated.
No one is sure when the game was created, but by 600 B.C., Go was a staple of Chinese society. All Chinese gentlemen had to learn the game as part of their education. Through war and trade, the game spread throughout Asia. Today, the strongest Go players come from Korea, Japan or China. Tournaments like the Fujitsu and others provide a showcase for the best players and create an international drama for fans to follow and be caught up in.
Go in the U.S. is promoted by the American Go Association. Created by Harper's Weekly editor Lee Hartman and his associates in 1937, today the AGA is the ultimate authority for Go in the country. Not only does the AGA sponsor conventions and tournaments here, but it also sends top-ranked American players to all of the major tournaments abroad. The AGA also provides support to players and those wishing to start their own Go clubs in their communities.
Until recently, St. Louis had only one Go club. Every Tuesday, you can find both beginners and some of the strongest players in the area at the Borders Bookstore and Café at 270 and Olive. There a person can play a teaching game with a high-ranked player, observe complicated games or engage in casual play. You can get more information on the Tuesday night meetings from Jason Taff (firstname.lastname@example.org), the founder of that group. This is a great place for beginners to play. I learn so much just sitting near all of these players, that the actual games blow my mind.
Now there is a new place for players to meet within the city limits. With meetings on Sunday afternoons from noon 'til 4 at The Commonspace in Grand Center, the City Go Club (we're still working on the name) offers an extra opportunity for casual play.
We started this new club because we believe that the city is a virtually untapped well of potential Go players. With two major private universities, a great state university and a number of other colleges and universities, we hope to be able to root out current Go players and win new converts to the game. It is our hope that the sound of stones on wood will soon be deafening in Grand Center.
So what are you doing Sunday? Why not put the lawnmower back in the garage (you can pay the neighbor's kid to do that anyway) and find your way over to The Commonspace? All you really need to bring is yourself. We have everything else. Once you start playing, you'll be hooked. Trust me.
You can find out more about Go in the city by visiting www.net-soup.com/go.html.
Chris Cyr fancies himself a writer and provider of tax-related advice. If you live in Tower Grove South, you should watch out, because he could be your neighbor.