Baduk, Jeju, South Korea
Mr. Hong is concentration personified, with his puckered brow and pursued lips. A “hmmm” escapes as he scans the seemingly endless field of black and white chips. Mere seconds pass before he firmly places his white chip down. To the untrained eye, the spot he picked appears just as good as any of the other vacant spots on the 19×19 board grid. Mr. Hong knows better. The spot he chose has a distinct tactical advantage – one which his opponent may not understand for several turns. Such is the way of Baduk.
Baduk (also known as Go in Japanese or Weiqi in Chinese) is a complex strategic board game likened to chess or Othello in terms of game theory. In gamer-nerd speak; it is a “zero-sum, perfect information, deterministic strategy game”. (If you’re not a gamer nerd, relax. Neither is this humble writer). The rules are deceptively simple – each player rotates turns by putting down a single chip of their own colour onto an intersection of the 19×19-lined grid. When a player succeeds in completely surrounding an opponent’s chip (or group of chips) by securing their own colour on all intersections immediately surrounding the chip(s), that chip or group of chips is removed. The game ends when both players consecutively pass on a turn – indicating that neither can make a beneficial move. The winner has the most chips left on the board.
Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of the rules though – these simple rules have confounded players for centuries. How many centuries? That’s a matter of debate. The first written reference to Baduk was not five centuries ago, not ten, not fifteen, and not even twenty. The first written reference was recorded over 25 centuries ago, in 548 BC. Christians were not yet in existence when the historical annal Zuo Zhuan described a man who liked the game. However, it is agreed that the game existed far before then. How far before, depends upon which legend you ascribe to. Some legends trace it back to ancient Chinese warlords who used pieces of stone to map out attacking positions. Another, more popular legend asserts that Chinese emperor, Yao (2350 BC!) designed the game specifically for his, ahem, intellectually-challenged son Danzhu to teach him discipline, concentration, and balance.
Though its temporal origins are a mystery, one thing is certain – the game’s challenges have far surpassed the test of time, with millions of players worldwide. Nowadays, there is even a ranking system for players. Rankings fall into three categories – professional-dans, amateur-dans, and geups (novice/student levels). There are officially 30 geup levels, though Mr. Hong explained that only nine are typically used: geup 9 the lowest and geup 1 the highest. Above the geups are the amateur-dans, with dan 9 suddenly being the highest level and dan 1 being the lowest level. There are no Koreans who currently hold an amateur-dan ranking above dan 7. Logically, located above the amateur-dans are the professional-dans, with dan 9 once again being the highest level and dan 1 being the lowest.
After having played for 20+ years, Mr. Hong is a level 4 amateur-dan. He suggests a person can surpass the lowest geup levels in 3-4 months, depending on dedication. After that, each of the next few geups may take 3-6 months. After that, it is dependent on the individual student to predict the necessary time needed to ascend the levels.
Mr. Hong has accepted students (both Korean and foreign) for years. Anyone who is interested in taking lessons should either attend the demonstration or contact him at email@example.com. He typically charges 50,000 won/month.