The Magic of Go

Women in go

One of the earliest references to women playing go in Japan can be found in «The Tale of Genji.

Not only was this novel written by a women, the only go players in it were women. No doubt go was a popular pastime in the medieval court of the time, and the game was clearly enjoyed by women as well as men.

Go playing was also one of the arts that many of the geisha of the Edo period mastered. Evidence for this is in the numerous woodblock prints of geisha featuring go as its main theme.

Only a few women who played go professionally during the Edo period. The most famous was Sano Hayashi (1825—1901). As a child she showed sufficient talent for the game to be adopted by the Hayashi go house. By 1840 she had reached 1-dan and became 3-dan in 1846. She was an active player until 1890. Perhaps her most important legacy was in her disciple Fumiko Kita (1875—1950).

Kita’s father was a famous doctor who compiled the first Japanese-German dictionary, but, when he died, her mother gave her up for adoption to the Hayashi go school and Sano Hayashi became her adoptive mother. She became 1-dan in 1889 and eventually was awarded the rank of 6-dan, the highest rank ever attained by a woman at that time, and, when she died in 1950, she was posthumously awarded the rank of 7-dan. As a go player, being a woman was no handicap; she was clearly the equal of most of her male rivals. She became famous and earned great respect by winning five straight games against male opponents on three different occasions.

Kita is considered to be the mother of modern-day women’s professional go. Virtually all female players who turned professional before World War II were taught by her. Before the war, only one or two women played go professionally, but now there are more than 50 female professional go players.

One of the most promising postwar players is Izumi Kobayashi 3-dan (b. 1977). She is the daughter of Koichi Kobayashi 9-dan, (considered to be Japan’s No. 2 player) and the late Reiko Kobayashi (nee Kitani) 7-dan, who was the daughter of the great Minoru Kitani. She has beaten many top-ranked players in open tournaments, and currently holds the Women’s Kisei title. Many feel she will develop into a top player.

Although she holds no title, Kikuyo Aoki 7-dan is another very promising as well as an ambitious competitor-she hopes to be the first woman to take a top open title. She came close when she played in the best-of-three match for the King of the New Star tournament two years ago. At present, she is challenging Terumi Nishida 5-dan for the Women’s Meijin title. She has held a number of women’s titles in the past, including the 1990 Women’s Meijin title.

In spite of Japan’s long history of women go players, Chinese female players seem to be much stronger than their Japanese counterparts. The most stellar is Rui Naiwei 9-dan (b. 1963). She has defeated many top professionals in international tournaments, and she has won the Bohai Cup, a world championship tournament exclusively for women, three times. Rui emigrated to the United States a number of years ago with her husband, who is also a 9-dan. She is unaffiliated with any of the major go associations, so her appearances are limited to the international open tournaments and others that she is invited to participate in. Her results, however, would seem to indicate that she is among the 20 top players in the world.

The other Chinese woman 9-dan is Feng Yun. She has won the Bohai Cup twice and has played in every final of that tournament that she has entered, but each time she faced Rui, she was convincingly defeated, indicating that, although the second strongest female player in the world, Rui is clearly a cut above her.

Capturing races

Problem 8. In this problem, Black moves first and must capture the marked white stones before White can capture his. The correct answer is for Black to play on one of White’s liberties. Black 1 will be answered by White 2, but Black 3 puts the four white stones in atari, i.e., Black threatens to capture these stones on the next move.

game Go

Next, White 4 in Diagram 1 puts the three black stones in atari, but Black captures the four white stones with 5. Black has won the race. Black could also start with 1 in Diagram 2. Again, Black wins the race by one move when he captures with 5.


From these two sequences, you might think that if you have more liberties than your opponent-all you have to do to win the capturing race is to fill the liberties of your opponent’s stones, and that any liberty will do. But this is not the case; caution is required. For example, Black must not play on the inside point that the two embattled groups have in common, namely at A in Diagram 3. If Black plays on this point first with 1 in Diagram 4, Black loses a liberty and White’s next move at 2 puts the four black stones in atari. Black plays 3, but White captures four stones with 4.



Sometimes in a capturing race, a situation occurs in which neither side can capture the other. Consider the position in Diagram 5. The marked black and white stones are opposing each other and, if Black plays 1, White will play 2. All the outside liberties are filled and only inside liberties remain. However, Black cannot atari at 1 in Diagram 6 because he puts himself into atari, and White will capture the black stones by playing at A.

On the other hand, White cannot play at 1 in Diagram 7 because Black will capture five white stones by playing at A. Therefore, the marked black and white stones in Diagram 5 are both alive and neither side can capture the other. This situation is called seki.


GoProblem 9. In this problem, it is White’s turn to move and he can capture five white stones in two moves using a capturing technique known as «snapback.»

Try to find this clever move.