Go, often with little appropriateness termed "checkers" by European writers, is the most popular of the indoor pastimes of the Japanese,—a very different affair from the simple game known to Europeans as Goban or Gobang, properly the name of the board on which Go is played. It is the great resource of most of the visitors to the hot springs and other health resorts, being often played from morning till night, save for the intervals devoted to eating and bathing. Clubs and professors of the art are found in all the larger cities, where, too, blind players may occasionally be met with. Go may with justice be considered more difficult than chess, its wider field affording more numerous ramifications. The game was introduced into Japan from China by Shimomichi-no-Mabi, commonly known as Kibi Daijin, who flourished during the reign of the Emperor Shōmu (A.D. 724—756). In the middle of the seventeenth century, a noted player, called Hon-im-bo, was summoned from Kyōto to entertain the Chinese ambassador then at the court of the Shōgun, from which time forward special Go players were always retained by the Shōguns of the Tokugawa dynasty.
Go is played on a square wooden board. Nineteen straight lines crossing each other at right angles make three hundred and sixty-one me, or crosses, at the points of intersection. These may be occupied by a hundred and eighty white and a hundred and eighty-one black stones (ishi, as they are termed in Japanese). The object of the game is to obtain possession of the largest portion of the board. This is done by securing such positions as can be most easily defended from the adversary's onslaughts. There are nine spots on the board, called seimoku supposed to represent the chief celestial bodies, while the white and black stones represent day and night, and the number of crosses the three hundred and sixty degrees of latitude, exclusive of the central one, which is called taikyoku, that is, the Primordial Principle of the Universe. There are likewise nine degrees—or classes as we should term them—of proficiency in the game, beginning with number one as the lowest, and ending with number nine as the highest point of excellence attainable.
In playing, if the combatants are equally matched, they take the white stones alternately; if unequal, the weaker always takes the black, and odds are also given by allowing him to occupy several or all of the nine spots or vantage points on the board,—that is, to place stones upon them at the outset. A description of how the game proceeds would be of little utility here, it being so complicated as to make the personal instruction of a teacher indispensable. Very few foreigners have succeeded in getting beyond a rudimentary knowledge of this interesting game. We know only of one, a German named Korschelt, who has taken out a diploma of proficiency.
The easy Japanese game, called Gobang, which was introduced into England some years ago, is played on the Go board and with the go-ishi, or round black and white stones. The object of the game is to be the first is getting five stones in a row in any direction.
Book recommended. O. Korschelt's essay on Das Go-Spiel, published in Parts 21—24 of the "German Asiatic Transactions."