Go is coming

The British take control of an oriental game

Today, at the Daiwa Foundation in London, a match will begin to decide the 1997 British Go Championship. What makes the occasion unusual is that, for the first time in five years, the British title will be won by a British-born player. For the past four years, the event has been dominated by Shutai Zhang of University College, London. This time he has decided not to compete and the best of five games final will be between Matthew Macfadyen from Leamington Spa and Charles Matthews of Cambridge. Macfadyen, a six-dan player and former European champion, is the favourite.

Since the defeat of Garry Kasparov by Deep Blue, there has been a surge of interest in board games that computers cannot yet play well. The vastness of Go, a game played on a board of 361 squares which the players gradually fill with black and white stones, has made it impervious to the efforts of even the fastest computers. Both chess and Go demand a subtle blend of precise calculation and almost mystical positional judgement, but the balance is tilted far more strongly on the side of judgement in the game of Go. For several years a prize of $1m has been on offer for the first person to write a Go program that can beat a top-class player. Nothing yet has remotely approached that goal, though good progress has been reported in certain limited types of tactical position.

To judge from the latest issue of the British Go Journal - 48 well-produced pages of reports, advice, history, proverbs and news - the game is at last beginning to thrive in this country.

The first game of the British Go Championship will begin at 10.30am today at the Daiwa Foundation,

13-14 Cornwall Terrace, London NW1. The second game will be played at Freud's cafe in Oxford on 27 July. For further information: Adam Atkinson, 01273-297115. The British Go Association may be contacted at 37 Courts Road, Earley, Reading RG6 7DJ, or on their Internet site at: www.britgo.demon.co.uk.

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