Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, August 5, 2019

Weimer reflects on successful Go Congress

La Follette School Professor Dave Weimer (right) records a game between two competitors at the Go Congress. La Follette School Professor Dave Weimer (right) records a game between two competitors at the Go Congress. Photo courtesy of the American Go E-Journal

More than 450 players of Go – a 3,000-year-old board game originating in east Asia – descended upon Madison’s Memorial Union under the direction of La Follette School Professor David Weimer at the 35th annual U.S. Go Congress from July 13 to 20.

The event brought together professionals and amateurs from around the world to compete, learn, teach, and socialize over what is considered one of the most challenging games in the world.

What is Go?

Go is an ancient board game that combines simple elements – line and circle, black and white, stone and wood – with simple rules and generates subtleties that have enthralled players for millennia. Go's few rules can be demonstrated quickly and grasped easily. Because Go lends itself to a uniquely reliable system of handicaps, players of widely disparate strengths can enjoy relatively even contests. Draws are rare, and a typical game retains a fluidity and dynamism far longer than comparable games.

– Adapted from the American Go Association website


Sitting comfortably back in his chair after the last player left Madison, Weimer tells one of his favorite stories to describe just how challenging the game is: Google’s artificial intelligence program mastered chess in four hours, but it took four months to master Go.

Unfortunately, Weimer was unable to compete at this year’s Congress due to his obligations organizing the event, but he has had many opportunities to compete since his introduction to the game through a friend in graduate school in 1975. He said the intellectual challenge, cultural context, and unique group of players keeps him coming back to the community.

Passersby could feel the brain power at work among the dozens of tables in Memorial Union’s Great Hall. But this year’s Go Congress also focused on education and introducing new players to the game.

“The competition is a big part of it, but there’s also a lot of teaching,” Weimer said. “We had a workshop for people who want to teach beginners. In the last session of that workshop, we actually had beginners come in and learn the game.”

The event featured a public presentation by Myungwan Kim, a professional player who developed a version of Go that autistic children can effectively learn.

“Regular Go, he found, wasn’t effective with kids who were autistic so he developed a version of the game that autistic kids could relate to and it involved counting and numbers,” Weimer said.

Amateur Go enthusiasts also had a rare opportunity to meet and interact with hundreds of people who are equally passionate about a unique hobby.

“Many people have been to multiple congresses,” Weimer said, adding that he was one of two attendees who have attended all 35 events. “It’s a way of seeing old friends and making new friends.”

Professionals and amateurs of all ages also participated in a cultural exchange. Professor David Canon of UW–Madison’s Department of Political Science took some international participants to a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game during the week. U.S. players learned from many of the sharpest players from China, Japan, and Korea to develop their own Go skills.

The Department of Political Science and the Department of East Asian Studies hosted the event, which is sponsored by the American Go Association.

- written by Jackson Parr