Playing Go: Differences and Similarities Between Men and Women

Abstract

Go is a 2 player board game, popular in China, Japan, Korea and other Asian countries. In the last century, the game became popular around the globe.

The purpose of this document is to analyze the differences and similarities between men and women Go top players.

Insight

Revealing such differences or similarities would provide us with an insight regarding the male/female parallelism. Go is a game based on pattern recognition, ability to predict the future moves, configuration scanning and in-depth territorial configuration. Most of those abilities have two components: spatial orientation, and ability to look ahead in a game with a number of moves.

Nonetheless, Go has some particularities that makes it rather unique, demonstrating that being good at Go has only partial connections with the skills presented above. Many top-ranking Go players had to take advance courses from traditional Asian Go schools. It seems Go hides many secrets, and in order to become a "master" in the game, the above mentioned skills are not enough, if they're not associated with experience and training for this specific game.

Equality

The comparison would be unfair if it would be based on unequal terms. For example, in a culture where women are encouraged to play Go, and men are discouraged to do it, probably women Go players would be stronger, on average.

However, that doesn't seem to be the case. http://www.pandanet.co.jp/English/learning_go/learning_go_1.html specifies that:

"Along with calligraphy, music, and painting, Go was also one of the components of classical education for both men and women."

This suggests equality in a Go-based culture. Some suggest that it might be even better if such culture would prevail in other areas as well, especially due to the "equalitarian" model of the pieces. http://www.china.org.cn/english/features/Archaeology/131298.htm says

"Go embodies a spirit of equality, in that every stone is equal. They don't carry a preset role as in other games, such as chess. Women can play it just the same as men. If everyone loved to play Go, ours would be a much more peaceful world."

Results

It seems that we can find in the Go culture equal grounds for both men and women from an educational point of view. The culture and the game history, although discriminatory and Asian-based when it comes to geographical distribution, is equal when analyzing development opportunities between sexes.

Nonetheless, the results aren't equal. In several occasions, men proved to be, overall, stronger compared to women Go players.

http://www.anusha.com/goboys.htm lists the top 16 ranked Go male players. 14 of them have "9 dan", the strongest rank, and the other 2 have "7 dan", a somewhat lower Go rank.

http://www.anusha.com/gogirls.htm lists the top 16 ranked Go woman players. There is a "8 dan" woman player, followed by several "6 dan" players and so on. The 16th place is occupied by a "2 dan" player.

Conclusion

The results are inconclusive and don't reveal much. Are women weaker, overall, at Go, due to their general inability of following in-depth game analysis or good spatial orientation? Or are there specific Go patterns and tactics that prove difficult for them? The possibility of a lack of interest (or a weaker interest) should also be considered, but then again we reach the question of the cause that is to blame for this weak interest.

From the possible causes of differentiation, it seems at least one can be eliminated: cultural difference. Go seems to be one place where men and women start as equal regarding their education and approach versus the Go game. If the Go general required abilities of space orientation or in-depth game analysis, or more specific Go tactics and tricks are to be blamed for this difference, we can't tell at the moment.

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