RGG FAQ Part 1 Section 3
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History has it that Go was invented in China over 4000 years ago, possibly making it the oldest surviving board game still played today. This claim is supported by various archaeological findings of Go equipment, figurative art representing Go equipment and mention of Go in literature.
Legend tells of an emperor who was dissatisfied with his son's nonserious behaviour, and had one of his generals invent a game which was meant to teach his son tactics, strategy and concentration. The general then invented Go. Apparently the emperor's son thought little of it and discarded it saying that whoever played first would always win. This behaviour upset his father, who beheaded his son and appointed the general his heir.
A more plausible explanation for the invention of Go could be that ancient types of gobans were used for divination (fortune telling), with white and black stones.
Reference to Go in Chinese literature can be traced back to the 5th century . And already in ancient times, high standards of play were reached.
A Japanese ambassador to the Chinese court is believed to have imported the game to Japan around 740 AD. Although Go was already known in Japan, it was the introduction to the Japanese court, which spurred off great interest in the game in all the upper classes at the time. Around 1600 AD, the Japanese Shogun created a salaried 'Gominister', responsible for all Go activities and the Shogun's teacher. In 1612, the Shogun also decreed salaries for the top players of the day, and four Go 'houses' were set up: 'Honinbo', 'Inoue', 'Yasui' and 'Hayashi'. It was the continuous competition between these schools which propelled the development of Go through to 1868, when the new emperor removed the government funding. The houses collapsed and Go lost popularity, but gradually regained it and in 1924 a single national association was formed, the Nihon Kiin, which still exists today.
In China, Go did not receive the support it did in Japan, and although it was a popular game, the standard of play was below the Japanese. It is said that at the beginning of the 20th century, Chinese top players took 3 stones handicap from their Japanese counterparts. However, China did produce a player who is claimed to have been the best go player of this century, known mostly by the Japanese pronunciation of his name, Go Seigen. After the revolution, Go as a sport received sponsorship and support from the Chinese government and its popularity and the level of play increased.
Today in international matches, players from Japan, China and Korea are evenly matched, with many strong young players emerging in all three countries.
Although it is said that Marco Polo brought back with him a Goset from his travels, Go was more or less unknown in the 'west'. It was the inclusion of Go in a book by Edward LASKER, a famous chess player, at the beginning of this century, which spurred off its 'western' growth. Although Go has spread since, it is far less known than Chess, and the 'west' has yet to produce worldclass players (although there are several 'western' professional players. The highest ranked is Michael REDMOND (9p) from the U.S.A.).
For those who are interested in more details, there are several places on the web which have details about the history of Go:
- Jan VAN DER STEEN
- John FAIRBAIRN maintains the Go section of the MSO site, which features, amongst others, a series of articles about and around the game, its history, famous moments etc. (No longer updated)