Right Sequencing: Wisdom for Life from the Game of Go

By Incheol Son

I love the game of Go or Baduk, as Koreans call it. I don’t play often, but frequently apply the wisdom learned from it.

Go is an ancient strategy board game where the player’s objective is to surround a larger total area of the board with one’s stones than your opponent. The board, marked with a grid of 19 lines by 19 lines, may be thought of as a piece of land to be divided between 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 each turn on a vacant intersection point. If a player claims the first move, the black stones are assigned and the opponent is given the white stones.

A territory is represented by the sum of empty points, called the “house” (집) in Korean, as encircled and enclosed by stones much like walls. The minimum points one can have are two, called a live territory. And it’s technically separated into at least two empty points, called “eyes” (눈). This is based on the rule of Go that a player cannot place more than one stone at a time.

Stones that fail to form a live territory can be taken out by the opponent whenever the opponent’s enclosing stones remove all the empty points adjacent to the failed stones, which are automatically used at the end of the game to remove the live points of a territory of one’s own. So the opponent’s attack point is to remove the chance for the other player to form two eyes.

Playing Go is different from playing chess in Western culture, typically in that a placed stone can never be moved again unless it’s taken out as a “dead stone” (사석). So, Go or Baduk, is a game of filling up the board with one’s stones like a construction project. The game of Go has no kings or other pieces with specific roles like queens, knights or rooks — just plain stones.

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