Frederick Bao studies the yellow board that sits on the table between him and Sarah Crites. Clasping a white “stone” between the pad of his middle finger and the nail of his index finger, he makes his move, tapping the stone onto the board. Then he quickly slaps the palm of his hand on one end of a clock that also sits on the table.
Now it’s Sarah’s turn. Holding a black stone between two fingers, she places it on the board, then smacks her side of the clock.
Frederick, age 7, and Sarah, 10, are playing go.
Go is one of the oldest games in the world. It originated in China thousands of years ago, but now it’s played all over the world, including here in the United States.
Frederick, a second-grader who lives in Rockville, Maryland, and Sarah, a sixth-grader from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, are at a go tournament in Arlington, Virginia. Frederick is a stronger, more experienced player than Sarah, even though she’s a bit older. But one of the many cool things about go is that any two players, whether they’re beginners or professionals, can play each other — and each has about an equal chance of winning. This is because the less-experienced player is given extra stones or points.
Go has only a few rules, and they can be learned in minutes. But not even the best players feel they have mastered the game.
In go, two players take turns placing their stones (the black ones traditionally are made of slate, and the white ones traditionally are made of clamshell) on the intersections of lines on the board. There are 19 lines from one side of the board to the other, and 19 lines from the top to the bottom. The idea is to fence off more space than your opponent, outlining your “territory” with your stones. When stones are surrounded by stones of the opposite color, they are “dead” and can be “captured.” At the end of the game, the players figure out the amount of space they’ve claimed, and the one who has the most wins. (The clock is used only in competitions where time limits are set for games.)
Sounds simple, right? But go requires a lot of concentration and thinking ahead.
Still, Frederick and Sarah smile a lot when they play. Why? “It’s fun,” Frederick says. “I like using my mind.” Plus, he says, go players are nice, and he has made a lot of friends.
Sarah agrees. She likes go because, unlike other games, “it’s all strategy and no luck. Strategy is good.”
Sarah ended up losing her game with Frederick, who eventually won his section of the tournament. But Sarah kept smiling. “Frederick likes to win,” she said. “But who doesn’t?”
The American Go Association’s Web site, at www.usgo.org, provides information about how to play the game, lists special events for young players and offers a forum for kids to chat and play go with one another. It also lists go clubs that people of all ages can join. (Always ask a parent before going online.)