Boulder Go Club celebrates 15 years teaching Chinese strategy game

Enthusiasts of Go, the Asian strategy game, gather every Sunday in the children‘s area of the Boulder Public Library to play and teach newcomers the simple rules to what can be a complex game.

Paul Barchilon and Dave Weiss started the club, held at the main branch of the Boulder Public Library, 15 years ago and continue to run it as volunteers. The club meets from 2 to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

“We wanted to get more kids interested in playing,” Barchilon said.

The first year, he said, only a handful of kids attended. But it has since grown to 20 to 40 participants at each session.

Weiss added that there was renewed interest in the ancient game after Google‘s AlphaGo AI finally beat one of the top rated human players three years ago, then the next year beat the human GO world champion.

Rhys Boerner, 14, plays Go with David Weiss on Sunday at the Boulder Public Library. Weiss is a co-founder of the Go Club, which celebrated its 15th anniversary Sunday. (Photo by Amy Bounds/Staff Writer)

The object of the game is to cover the most territory with the game pieces, called stones, and to capture your opponent‘s stones.

Weiss said it‘s easier to learn than chess because the rules are simpler, plus there are smaller boards for beginners and intermediate players.

The game also allows for a starting handicap — the weaker player can place up to nine pieces of the board at the start of the game — to improve the games between players at different levels.

“It doesn‘t matter if a kid wins or loses,” Weiss said. “The important thing is they play.”

While the club is aimed at kids and teens, adults also are welcome.

Playing in the club is a joint activity for Boulder‘s Andreas Boerner and his 14-year-old daughter, Rhys. He started playing the game in college in Germany, noting it has been a good way to meet new people as he moved around.

“If I came to a new city, I would check out the Go club,” he said. “It‘s a good way to meet new people in a new place.”

Rhys, who started playing three years ago with the Boulder club and also competes in tournaments, pointed out that she can now beat her dad.

“When you get better at it, you understand the game much better,” she said. “I like the movement. There are all these shapes that connect together.”

John Mcalister, of Fort Lupton, first brought his two children to the Boulder club 10 years ago so they could all learn the game. Now that his children are grown, he‘s still a club regular as both a player and volunteer teacher.

“I can find people closer to my level to play and introduce the game to new players,” he said.

While the rules are easier to learn than chess, he said, there are many more combinations of moves, making it a more open ended and subtle game.

“Chess engages a lot of tactics and fighting, but there‘s not as much of that in Go,” he said. “You can win the battle, but lose the war.”

Jimmy Wu was 13 when he taught himself to play in China, motivated to improve by a friendly competition with a classmate.

“We could play for hours and hours,” he said. “It really develops mental capacity.”

He stopped playing much after his son, Kevin, was born six year ago, but brought Kevin to the club Sunday with the hope the he would develop an interest.

“It‘s hard to teach him myself,” he said. “Kids play better with other kids.”

Emil Meng also brought his 6-year-old son, Alfred, to the club on Sunday so they both could play.

“It helps build your ability to logically look ahead,” Meng said, adding that the recent AI developments renewed his interest in a game that he had played as a hobby in college. “It really develops your spatial sense.”