Like Western chess, the Chinese game weiqi (or "go" in Japanese) is drawn from ancient military strategy. But while Western chess is a clash on a single battlefield, weiqi (pronounced "way-chee") is an entire war between two countries fighting to capture the other's territory.
The game is played on a square, grid-like board with 19 horizontal and 19 vertical lines that form 361 intersections, or "points." Two players alternate placing black or white pieces, called "stones," on the points to designate their territory.
Once the stones are placed on the board, they are not moved. But if they are surrounded by stones of the opposite color, they are removed. Players strive to form stable groups of stones that cannot be surrounded and thus permanently control territory. The player who controls the most territory wins.
Hua Yigang, China's national weiqi team coach, says the greatest difficulty his Western students face is accepting the game's endless possibilities: "The evolution of a weiqi game is without limits. You can never know what the best outcome would be. And no two games are ever the same," says Mr. Hua, who has the rank of eight dan. (Nine dan is the top rank.)
"My Western students can't tolerate this 'try and see' spirit. They demand that I tell them the best way," Hua says. "I say, 'Either way is all right. If you can't attain the best, at least you can avoid the worst.'
"Finally, I tell them to eat rice and fried vegetables instead of bread and butter. I tell them to use chopsticks. What I mean is that they need to adopt a different way of thinking, a different culture, to play the game."