Go is one of the four arts-along with music, calligraphy and painting-that scholars in ancient China pursued as a means of self-cultivation. In the painting Game of Go and Multiple Screens the second seated figure on the right observing the match is the Southern Tang emperor Li Jing (reigned 916-961). The other three men are his younger brothers. (courtesy of Yi-Hsin Publishing Co. Ltd.)
Said to date from the rule of the leg-endary emperor Yao, the game of Go is a crystallization of the wisdom of the Chinese ancients. In Chinese it is known as weiqi, or "surround chess"-one achieves victory by surrounding territory on the board. Although its rules are simple, its nuances are many. It is easy to learn but hard to master. The supercomputer Deep Blue defeated the world's greatest human chess player. But even today's computers are helpless when faced with the complex calculations required for Go. Even novice players can beat them.
As long ago as 1979 a system for professional Go players was established in Taiwan, but the field has suffered from a lack of comprehensive planning and management. Whether in terms of financial compensation or the training environment, Go in Taiwan has lagged behind the game in neighboring countries such as China, Japan and Korea. Yet in recent years there have been signs that Taiwanese Go is on the upswing: The Taiwan Chi Yuan Culture Foundation has been established with corporate support; the homegrown Go master Chou Chun-hsun won the first LG Cup World Baduk Championship; and a younger generation of Taiwanese Go players who moved to Japan, including Chang Hsu and Hsieh Yi-min, have also won important titles there.
On December 11, 2007, Taipei was basking under a warm sun-a rare joy in winter. Yet a cold and tense atmosphere suffused the Go room of the Taiwan Chi Yuan Culture Foundation on Taipei's Roosevelt Road. The Wangzuo Tournament, one of Taiwan's three major Go events, was underway there. The final was between Chen Shih-yuan, a seventh-dan professional, and Chou Chun-hsun, a ninth-dan professional and the 2006 Wangzuo champion.
Chen was last year's top performer in domestic Go championships, winning both the "Tianyuan" and "Guoshou" titles. Chou Chun-hsun, on the other hand, is generally acknowledged as the greatest of Taiwan's Go players, having won the 2007 LG Cup World Baduk Championship, which is held in Korea. The best-of-five match between Chou and Chen was receiving an extraordinary amount of attention within the Go community.
One false move...
At 10 a.m. sharp, the match began. The two competitors, who had long been in the Go room, nodded slightly to each other as a courtesy. Then, by guessing whether an odd or even number of pieces were in each other's hands, the players determined that Chou would be black. In Go black goes first, but because that is greatly advantageous to capturing territory, those who draw black cede six and a half "eyes" to white (an eye is a unoccupied spot on the grid surrounded by one's stones). The players change colors every game.
After thinking for a few seconds, Chou Chun-hsun quickly placed his first piece in the upper left "star position." (A star position is where the fourth vertical and horizontal lines from any corner of the board intersect.) Chen Shih-yuan also played his first white piece in a star position. These have become the most popular opening moves.
After about two hours, the lower right corner of the black side became a site of intense combat. Originally Chen's white pieces had the upper hand, but with move 49, Chou made an unexpected play that successfully blocked white's advance. At that point the match turned from white having a slight advantage to being evenly balanced. Whether because of the room's strong air conditioning or because he was nervous, the slightly built Chen put on a jacket. As he rested his chin on his right fist, his face betrayed a slight look of anxiety. Known as "the red-faced king of Go," Chou maintained his inscrutable visage-his eyes squinting ever so slightly, like an old monk in meditation.
Before the break for lunch, the two become engaged in another battle on the left side of the board. Set on victory, Chen overextended himself with moves 70 and 72, giving Chou an opportunity to gain the upper hand. Unfortunately for Chou, with move 97 he was unable to successfully surround the white, and on move 117, he made a bad mistake. From that point on, white steadily gained territory and black was in retreat. By move 210, Chou could see that the game was lost, and he conceded.
Victory or defeat