Jung Ho Lim, a programmer at Unisys, is an intuitive thinker. The reason I know that is that he is the national champion in Go, a Chinese board game invented 4,000 years ago.
He won the Amateur U.S. Open Championship last August in Denver, where more than 200 people competed. Two years ago, he represented the United States at the World Championship in Tokyo, and in December, he will participate in another tournament in San Francisco.Lim, 47, has been playing Go for 28 years, beginning as a youth in Korea. He actually feels cheated, because most people begin playing it as young children, meaning that those who compete in national or world championships are very experienced and mentally very sharp by the time they reach their 20s.
He found it comparatively easy to learn, but, he says, "It is difficult to become a strong player." An intellectually stimulating game that trains the mind in discipline and concentration, Go is far superior to chess, says Lim. Those who know both chess and Go contend that Go is to chess as theoretical physics is to long division.
Afficionados say that the same tension that exists in chess exists in Go - the same sort of life-and-death decisionmaking, but chess is a much more concrete game, while Go is intuitive. Go is also regarded as the most physically and mentally exhausting of all the sedentary games. Competitors in tournaments have been known to lose as much as 12 pounds during a match.
Combining a beauty of form with a depth of strategy, Go is essentially unchanged today from its original form. The most often repeated story suggests that the Chinese Emperor Shun (2255-2206 B.C.) invented the game to strengthen the mental faculties of his son, Shokin.
Go is described by the American Go Journal as "an ancient board game which takes simple elements, line and circle, black and white, stone and wood, combines them with simple rules and generates subtleties which have enthralled players for millennia."
It is played on a square ruled board with a set of lens-shaped black and white discs called stones. The full-sized 19-by-19-inch grid wooden board has nineteen vertical and horizontal lines, with 181 black slate stones and 180 white clamshell or glass stones.
The object of Go is to gain control of territory, so in many ways it resembles land warfare. There are border clashes and invasions; enemy forces can be surrounded and captured; groups of stones can be cut off, pursued and cornered; there are feints, probes and ambushes.
At the same time, Go has an architectural quality. The player tries to build well-designed, efficient, strong positions, and good players tend to arrange their stones in visually appealing shapes. Overall, Go is more of a constructive than a destructive game.
According to Lynn Bues, a computer science teacher who advises the Go Club at Brigham Young University, a person who wanted to be truly educated in early China had to pursue four disciplines - music, mathematics, literature and Go. During World War II, says Bues, Japanese naval commanders were required to know the game. Whereas chess is like a battle, Go allows the coordination of a number of different battles on the board at the same time.
As he pursues research in artificial intelligence, a sub-field of computer science, Bues finds Go a very useful training ground. Lim also finds the logic required in Go similar to that required in computers, but he thinks it is most valuable as a metaphor for real life. That's why he taught it to his 13-year-old son, who enjoys the game but has little opportunity to develop it "because he has no opponents."
Experts see Go as a close analogy to life - an intense meditation, a mirror of one's personality, an exercise in abstract reasoning. Yet it is both challenging and fun. Lim says that it teaches those who play it that "you should wait and see and not hurry."
Although some might pursue Go because of a fascination for war, most are hooked by the stimulation it provides to thinking and the appreciation it provides for art. Clearly, Go is much more than a game.