Baduk is Unique among games
The history of Baduk stretches back some 3000 years, and the rules have remained essentially unchanged throughout this very long period. The game probably originated in China or the Himalayas. Mythology has it that the future of Tibet was once decided over a Baduk board, when the Buddhist ruler refused to go into battle; instead he challenged the aggressor to a game of Baduk to avoid bloodshed. In the Far East, where it originated, Baduk enjoys great popularity today, and interest in the game is growing steadily in Europe and America.
Like Chess, Baduk is a game of skill - it has been described as being like four Chess games going on together on the same board - but it differs from Chess in many ways. The rules of Baduk are very simple and though, like Chess, it is a challenge to players' analytical skills, there is far more scope in Baduk for intuition.
Baduk is a territorial game. The board, marked with a grid of 19 lines by 19 lines, may be thought of as a piece of land to be shared between the two players. One player has a supply of black pieces, called stones, the other a supply of white. The game starts with an empty board and the players take turns, placing one stone at each turn on a vacant point. Black plays first, and the stones are placed on the intersections of the lines rather than in the squares. Once played, stones are not moved. However they may be surrounded and so captured, in which case they are removed from the board as prisoners.
The players normally start by staking out their claims to parts of the board which they intend eventually to surround and thereby make into territory. However, fights between enemy groups of stones provide much of the excitement in a game, and can result in dramatic exchanges of territory. At the end of the game the players count one point for each vacant intersection inside their own territory, and one point for every stone they have captured. The one with the larger total is the winner.
Capturing stones is certainly one way of gaining territory, but one of the subtleties of Baduk is that aggression doesn't always pay. The strategic and tactical possibilities of the game are endless, providing a challenge and enjoyment to players at every level. The personalities of the players emerge very clearly on the Baduk board. The game reflects the skills of the players in balancing attack and defence, making stones work efficiently, remaining flexible in response to changing situations, timing, analysing accurately and recognising the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. In short, Baduk is a game it is impossible to outgrow.
What makes Baduk so special
As an intellectual challenge Baduk is extraordinary. The rules are very simple, yet attempts to program computers to play Baduk have met with little success. Even the best programs make simple mistakes. Apart from beating the computer, Baduk offers major attractions to anyone who enjoys games of skill:
A brief history of the game
- There is great scope for intuition and experiment in a game of Baduk, especially in the opening. Like Chess, Baduk has its opening strategies and tactics but players can become quite strong knowing no more than a few basic patterns.
- A great advantage of Baduk is the very effective handicapping system. This enables players of widely differing strengths to play each other on equal terms without distorting the character of the game.
- The object in Baduk is to make more territory than the other player by surrounding it more efficiently, or by attacking the opponent's stones to greater effect. On such a large board, it's possible to do somewhat badly in one area but still to win the game by doing better on the board as a whole.
- Every game of Baduk quickly takes on a character of its own - no two games are alike. Since a player needs only to have more territory than the opponent in order to win, there are very few drawn games, though the outcome may hang in the balance until the very end.
Baduk is probably the oldest board game in the world. It is said that the first Emperor of China - himself a mythological figure - invented the game in order to improve the mind of his slow-witted son.
Although it originated in central Asia, historically it was in Japan that the game really flourished. Introduced into Japan around 740 AD, Baduk was initially confined to court circles. It gradually spread to the Buddhist and Shinto clergy, and among the Samurai. From this auspicious beginning, Baduk took root in Japanese society. The Japanese call the game Igo, which has been shortened to Go in the West.
The Japanese government recognised the value of the game, and in 1612 the top Go-playing families were endowed with grants and constituted as Go schools. Over the next 250 years, the intense rivalry among them brought about a great improvement in the standard of play. A ranking system was set up, classifying professional players into 9 grades or dans, of which the highest was Meijin, meaning 'expert'. This title could be held by only one person at a time, and was awarded only if one player out-classed all his contemporaries.
The most significant advances in Go theory were made in the 1670's by the Meijin Dosaku, who was the fourth head of the Honinbo School, and possibly the greatest Go player in history. The House of Honinbo was by far the most successful of the four Go Schools, producing more Meijins than the other three schools put together.
The whole structure of professional Go in Japan was undermined in 1868, when the Shogunate collapsed and the Emperor was restored to power. The Go colleges lost their funding as the westernization of Japanese society took hold. Today, the main organization of professional Go players in Japan is the Nihon Kiin, which increasingly fosters interest in the game throughout the world.
Baduk in the Far East today
The most important Go playing countries in the Far East are Japan, China and Korea. These all maintain communities of professional players. Major tournaments in these countries attract sponsorship from large companies, and have a following like that of big sporting events here. Until relatively recently, the strongest players from Korea and China tended to go to Japan as professionals. Today, they are more likely to remain in their own countries where they become national heroes. There are perhaps 50 million Go players in the Far East, and many people who don't play still follow the game with keen interest.
Here Go is known as Baduk and is very popular. Koreans have a reputation for playing very fast. Fast or not, they are producing some of the world strongest players. Both China and Korea have a growing population of very strong young players, a phenomenon which bodes well for the future development of the game.
Korean top pros have almost dominated the international tournaments for the past 15 years. They have also started sending pros to the rest of the world to spread Baduk all over the world. And also millions of players in Korea are enjoying Baduk on the Internet.
On his retirement in 1938, Honinbo Shusai ceded his title to the Nihon Kiin, to be awarded in an annual tournament among all leading players. Since then other major contests have been introduced, the most important being the Meijin and Kisei tournaments.
More recently, young people have turned away from Go as they have from other traditional elements of Japanese culture. In spite of this there are still about 10 million Go players in Japan of whom some 500 are professional.
In its original homeland, Go is known as Wei Qi which means 'surrounding game'. Go in China developed more slowly than in Japan, and during the Cultural Revolution the game suffered through being regarded as an intellectual pursuit. As a result, it is only recently that Chinese players have matched the strength of the Japanese.
Today Wei Qi is being re-introduced in schools, and tournaments are held throughout the country. There is also an annual match between China and Japan which is followed with great interest. With the opening up of China, Chinese professionals are now frequent visitors at European Go tournaments. Go is also played professionally in Taiwan.
Although the game of Go had been described by western travellers to the Far East in the 17th century, it was not played in Europe until 1880, when a German, Otto Korschelt, wrote a book about the game. After this some Go was played in Germany and Yugoslavia. However, the game was slow to spread and it was not until 1958 that the first regular European Championship was held.
Nowadays, Go is played in most European countries. The standard of play is significantly below that of professionals in the Far East, but the gap is steadily closing as more of the top European players are spending time studying the game in Japan. In 1992, a European Go Centre was opened in Amsterdam with support from Iwamoto Kaoru.