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Weekly 'Go' game brings together eclectic group

By Jennifer Greenstein Altmann

Princeton NJ -- It was 8:30 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, and on the second floor of Frist Campus Center, people from different parts of the University community and beyond had gathered to indulge their zeal for a game called "Go."


Leonard Baum (seated left), a retired math professor who lives in Princeton, faced third-grader Lionel Zhang in a game of "Go" at the Wednesday night meeting of the Go Club. Graduate student Dinghao Wu (standing) and professor of mathematics Joseph Kohn watched the match-up.


On one side of the room, alumnus Rick Mott was in a match-up against professor of mathematics Joseph Kohn. At the next table, graduate student Dinghao Wu faced two opponents simultaneously: Leonard Baum, a retired math professor who lives in Princeton, and Lionel Zhang, a third-grader at Ben Franklin Elementary School in Lawrenceville.

The room was quiet as the players contemplated their moves. Baum stood up several times and hovered over the black and white pieces, known as stones, that littered the board. Wu regarded both boards intently. Zhang, who is 9, looked out the window, waiting for his opponent to make his decision.

"Go" is an ancient board game similar to chess and checkers, but in this game the pieces cannot be moved once they are placed on the board. The game, which has been associated with Princeton since the 1940s, was featured prominently in the movie "A Beautiful Mind."

The Go Club brings together a unique mix of people -- members of the faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, alumni and people who live in the area -- united by a shared love of the game.

"It's quite an eclectic bunch," said Mott, a member of the class of 1973 who lives in Ringoes and runs the club. "The age range is about 6 to 60."

The club meets every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the International Center and offers lessons to novices. It also holds two tournaments a year, with 120 players entering this past February's event.

The club was founded about 60 years ago, when the game was played avidly by graduate students in the math department. Kohn was one of them.

"We played during tea time," said Kohn, who earned his Ph.D. from the University in 1956. "Practically every graduate student in the math department learned how to play. That's when I learned. There were all kinds of games going on then."

These days participants include Larry Bartels, the Donald Stokes Professor in Public and International Affairs, as well as a number of students and some alumni who have stayed in the area.

"Many Go players have migrated in the past several years from local clubs to the Internet, where games are available at any time of the day or night with players around the world," Bartels noted. "But I find it much more satisfying aesthetically to play with a real board and stones -- and much more satisfying socially to play with a real person, face-to-face."

T.J. Pray, a member of the class of 2003, said he likes spending time with other people who love the game.

"I appreciate the Go Club being very open to people dropping in, whatever the level of play or commitment to the club," he said.

Wu, who is studying for a Ph.D. in computer science, said the club is a way for him to meet people in the Princeton community. "It serves as a cultural bridge for international students," he said. "I like playing against faculty members, as well as students, alumni and other people."

Wu enjoyed the match-up against 9-year-old Zhang, but the two ended up quitting their game before it was concluded -- it was past the third-grader's bedtime.