It is possible that you’ve never heard of it, despite it being possibly the oldest known board-game in the word, still in existence, even played in its original form. You may have learned of the game and thought it came from somewhere else. Weiqi, an ancient board-game of strategy, is surprisingly simple, yet incredibly challenging to master. It is one of my new hobbies for the year 2018, and I thought I would share this cultural interest with you all today!
The first time I was introduced to WeiQi, was around 17 years ago, at a youth club organized by my primary school back in Denmark. I would have been in grade 7 or 8 at this time, around 14 or 15 years old. One of the organizers, Peter, told me about the game and taught me to play it, only then, we knew the game by its other name, Go. I played with Peter and few other classmates for a few months, and then someone stopped playing. It wasn’t until February 2017, when I bought a beautiful WeiQi set for my friend, Paul, that I got back into playing. When Paul moved back to the states last December, he asked me to hold the board for him, for when he comes back so we could play together. And I decided to make use of this beautiful board and to learn more of the history behind this fascinating game.
In ancient China, Weiqi was viewed as one of four essential Arts of the cultural elite; Qin (a classical musical instrument), Calligraphy (the writing of Chinese Characters), Painting and Weiqi. The origin of the game is unknown. However several stories have survived through the ages. One such story is about an ancient Chinese emperor, around 2357-2255 B.C. who wanted to prepare his son for taking the throne, used the game to teach warfare and balance.
One of the earliest written records of the game comes from an old text published around 559 B.C., where the phrase “Ju Qi Bu Ding” appears. The phrase is still popular in China today and translates roughly into “A person who picked up a stone and can’t decide where to make his move.” Stones are the pieces used to play WeiQi; white and black. The game was hugely popular in the Han Dynasty and was even criticised for being addictive. WeiQi eventually shed this lousy image and rose to even higher fame as a game of military strategy. Where the board was the battlefield and the stones the soldiers of the two armies fighting over control.
Chess is widely considered to be one of the more significant strategy games in the Western world. Chess is a lot like a single battle. You have your troops and units in different classes in front of you. The board is smaller than the WeiQi board, and because you can always see all of the pieces, you’re able to calculate your risks continually. Your chess pieces may move around on the board to capture other pieces, and chess is very confrontational. You’re going against the guys in front of you.
In WeiQi, you place your stones on the board, one piece at a time, meaning that with every stone set on the board, there is a shift in balance. In Chess, you take an opponents’ piece by eliminating them and taking their space, in WeiQi, you capture a stone by surrounding it on all four sides. In Weiqi, you can even capture an entire group by surrounding them. In Chess, you try to take the opponents’ King, but in Weiqi, you have to try and control the entire board, by capturing more territory than your opponent.
The Weiqi board size is traditionally 19×19 squares. Stones are placed on the intersections, and you gain points by controlling as many intersections as possible. In more recent times, newer players tend to start on 9×9 boards, still a little larger than Chess’ 8×8. With the grid size being 19×19, the board has a total of 361 intersections, at all of which, a stone can be placed or captured, but never taken away. Throughout the whole game, which usually lasts 20 minutes to 1 hour or more, you have to continually be aware of what is going on, on the entire board and how each stone changes the balance of power.
The rules of WeiQi are immensely simple. You can place one stone on the board anywhere you want, but if a stone or a group of stones are surrounded, they are captured. Your opponent may try to circle around you, to capture your precious stones, but in doing so, he might leave himself open for you to circle around him as well. So keep your eyes peeled, place your stones carefully and watch the game change with every turn.
If you’d like to know more about WeiQi, I will be writing more the game and my own experiences playing in the following weeks and months.