John Conway

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John Horton Conway (1937-12-26 — 2020-04-11) was a charismatic and flamboyant mathematician, whose interest in Go led him to discover surreal numbers by reflecting on the way the endgame can decompose into a sum of games, some of which behave as numbers. This was one of his many contributions to the foundation of combinatorial game theory. He died in 2020, a victim of the COVID–19 pandemic.

His early experiments with his [ext] Game of Life, when no computer programme had yet been created, were conducted using a goban to track the positions.

Table of contents

Books by Conway

See also

An extract on the topic of surreal numbers is
Perhaps the surprising fact is that Conway was not trying to develop number systems, but rather was analysing the game of Go. Conway studied the games of two players of Go at Cambridge who were of international standard. He noticed that near the end of a game it appeared like the sum of a lot of smaller games. Analysing the situation Conway discovered that certain games behaved like numbers and surreal numbers were born.
The two players were Jon Diamond and Tony Goddard.
  • Genius at Play, the Curious Mind of John Horton Conway (2015) — a biography by Siobhan Roberts with many mentions of Go, including a diagram of a [ext] game between Jon Diamond and Paul Prescott from the 1974 [ext] British Championship illustrating Conway’s observation that the endgame appears to be a sum of smaller games.


Kaiou: He invented the solitaire pastime (game) of “[ext] Life”, on a goban. Nothing to do with Go but it is interesting to try. “Life” is played on an infinite board, with every cell alive or dead, every step deciding the next status of each cell simultaneously.

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John Conway last edited by PJTraill on May 6, 2020 - 23:46
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