Gambling History – China

The game called Wei-qi was developed in China, probably during the third millennium B.C. There are a number of stories describing the origins of the game. In one, an emperor created the game as a way to entertain his son. Another emperor is said to have developed the game to strengthen his son’s mental abilities. Yet another story attributes the development of the game to court astrologers during the Chou Dynasty during the first millennium B.C.

It is likely that the game has its origin as a divination tool, since some aspects of the game make astrological references. Apparently, astrologers threw the black and white stones onto the board and were able to interpret the landing patterns as omens. However, it has been played as a board game for nearly 4,000 years, and may be the only game that has been played continuously according to its ancient rules.

Chinese literature first refers to the game in about 600 B.C. By about 200 B.C. Wei-qi began to enter into its first of several Golden Ages, a time in which it became extremely popular throughout the country. The game migrated to Korea sometime after the year 100 A.D., where it was called Paduk or Baduk. It came to Japan sometime after that under the name I-Go. In the year 701 A.D. a decree from a Japanese monastery called for punishment of 100 days of hard labor to anyone caught gambling or pursuing other unwanted pastimes. However, the game of I-Go was exempt, since play of that particular game was thought to build character and strength of mind. In the West, the game was called Go. Descriptions of Go appeared in Italian, German and English in the early 1400s.

How The Game Is Played

The Chinese name “Wei-qi” means “surrounding pieces,” and that defines what the game is about. A square game board carries a grid of 19 lines on each side. Stones are placed on the intersections of lines. Play alternates, one stone at a time, starting with black and then white. The object is to take possession of areas enclosed by the stones, and to capture stones belonging to the other player.

The game is such that a beginning player can sometimes beat an expert. However, it has not yet been possible to develop a computer program that consistently beat a human master of the game.

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