Patrons at Cultiva are greeted by an intriguing sight every Saturday afternoon.
Entering the café yields a view of brooding, pensive combatants. Their moves are swift, but thoughtful and each of the games attract the undivided attention of those around the players.
This is board game that started in China well over 2,500 years ago has found a home in modern-day Lincoln.
“It is less like a war and more like a contest for territory,” said Grant Centauri, the Go club’s founder, when describing the game’s play style. “The end goal is to take over more space than your opponent.”
Run by locals Centauri and Joseph Johnson, the Lincoln Go club meets every Saturday afternoon in Cultiva, a coffee shop located on South 11th Street near the State Capitol.
Centauri, the club’s founder, first discovered the game of Go while taking a Japanese class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He’s self-taught and has been playing the game for six years. Johnson was exposed to Go by his roommate Centauri three years ago and has two years of playing experience under his belt.
The game is played on a grid that, in terms of number of squares, is traditionally 19x19, although a wide variety of boards exist that are generally smaller and geared towards entry-level players. Similar to chess, one player uses black stones while the other plays with white ones. Each piece is uniform in both shape and value, resembling a smooth rock.
The goal of the game is to hold as many spots as possible, while also countering your opponent’s continual advances and moves. Opposing pieces can be captured by surrounding an enemy’s stone on all sides.
“The game can be taught in about five minutes to a beginner,” said Centauri who encourages those with little or no experience to join and learn the game.
As far as Johnson and Centauri are concerned, beginners only need to know a few fundamentals when entering the club. Each player must alternate turns while placing their stones. Stones can also only be played on the intersection of the board’s vertical and horizontal lines. Newcomers must also realize that once a stone is placed, it can’t be moved unless it’s captured by an opponent.
This handful of rules is essential to the game and helps to make the otherwise intimidating concept of Go seem a little more approachable and novice friendly.
While the game is simple to understand, it has a deep and developed system of both tactics (referring to smaller parts of the board) and strategy (referring to larger parts or the whole board) that lovers of similar games will enjoy. To match the depth of the game, a worldwide ranking system exists that ranks up to 30,000 players, ranging from newbies to professionals. Ranking is based on a player’s record in official Go competition and there are also many systems that different regions and countries use.
The club itself is four years old, but isn’t currently an officially recognized organization at UNL even though most of its members are current students at the university and it has an events page on the university’s website. Centauri said members of the club are trying to get the club approved in order to help it grow and expose more students to the game of Go.
The club is gaining traction regardless of its status at UNL. Despite being relatively unpromoted in and around campus, it attracts a steady crowd of 20 people every week. Many people are intrigued by the game and its players, so the club draws numerous questions and inquiries by patrons at Cultiva Centauri said. Relying mostly on word of mouth, the club has seen a spike in international students over the past year and an uptick in UNL students in general. It also doesn’t hurt that the club meets so close to campus, as the coffee shop is only a short five minute drive away.
There are roughly 60,000,000 Go players in more than 60 different countries, according to the British Go Association. Numerous competitions exist both locally and internationally. The Lincoln Go club doesn’t currently host any tournaments, but Centauri hopes to change that and arrange a Lincoln/Omaha competition at some point in the future, perhaps after the club joins UNL officially.
Often used in metaphors that parallel both life and conflict, Centauri said that Go, “is a game filled with exchanges between both opponents. It’s a game focused on the nature of balance rather than killing.”