June 2014

The Mysterious Game of Go

Go Championship Games in Seoul, South KoreaGo Championship Games in Seoul, South Korea

Go Championship Games in Seoul, South Korea
Nearly 300 children played the game of Go in the World Youth Baduk Championship in Seoul, South Korea. “Baduk” is the Korean name for Go.

Have you ever wondered if you’re smarter than a computer? Well, with some practice, you could probably outsmart a computer in a game of Go. Go is a two-player board game that was invented in China about 2,500 years ago. It’s almost impossible for computers to beat the experts at Go. Computers even have trouble winning against inexperienced players. This is an ongoing mystery for computer scientists. Computers have been able to beat the top players in many other popular games, such as chess and checkers, but not in Go.

A game of Go begins with an empty board, which is made up of 19 horizontal lines and 19 vertical lines. The two players take turns placing black and white game pieces, called “stones,” where the lines intersect. The object, or goal, of the game is for a player to use his or her stones to surround a larger area or “territory” on the board than his or her opponent. A player can also capture and remove his or her opponent’s stones by surrounding them. As in chess, it is important to develop a strategy, or plan of action, to win the game.

The rules of Go are simple, but the game is complex with many possible outcomes. One of the reasons it is so tricky for computers is because there are hundreds of possible moves with each turn. The human mind is better at deciding which moves are the best ones to make. However, a number of computer scientists are working hard to come up with a computer program that might one day outsmart even the game’s best players.

Every March, computer scientists with the top Go programs compete in the UEC Cup at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo, Japan. The computer programs actually play against one another. The two programs that win the most matches compete against a top human player, known as a “Go sage.” These computer-versus-human matches are called “Electric Sage Battles.”

There are also lots of all-human Go tournaments held each year. This year, many of the world’s best young players are competing in South Korea’s LG Cup, which held its first round of matches in early June.

Image credit: ©Truth Leem/Reuters

Related Link

  • What is Go?
    Learn more about Go and how the game is played from Go Game Guru.
Question 1
When was Go invented?

Question 2
What are Go's game pieces called?

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