University of Montana freshman Maojie Xia will travel to Tokyo on Saturday, Feb. 23, to compete in the 11th annual World Students GO OZA Championships. The tournament features the top 16 student Go players in the world, and Xia is the only U.S. university student in the competition.
Go is a board game for two players that originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. Though the rules are simple, the game is rich in strategy. Players alternately place black and white stones on a board checkered by 19 vertical and 19 horizontal lines in an attempt to enclose the larger area. Go is extremely popular in East Asia, and in Western culture often is compared to chess.
Xia, 21, has played Go since he was 6 years old. He came to UM through the University’s exchange program with the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China. He plans to stay at UM for the next three years to complete his bachelor’s in accounting through the UM School of Business Administration.
Xia said he is excited to participate in the world championships. When he was young, he decided to pursue Go more seriously and trained with professional Chinese players. However, when he moved to the U.S. and tried to find people to play with, he didn’t have much luck.
“Not many people play Go in America,” he said. “If more people want to learn to play Go, they will love the game. I think it’s the most complex game in the world.”
Xia did find players to compete with online, which is how the World Students GO OZA preliminary rounds were held in early December. The preliminaries for this region included students from North and Latin American/Caribbean universities. Most of the other players represent East Asian countries, but some also come from Europe, Africa and South America.
Competitors in the world championships must be amateur, undergraduate university students under the age of 30. Because the competition is for students, Xia will represent UM in the tournament, and University groups and faculty helped contribute funds for his trip to Tokyo.
Talking with Xia, it’s clear to see that he loves the game. Matches can last a few hours or an entire day. The longest game he has played lasted three hours and ended due to a competition time limit. But despite the common comparison to chess, Xia says Go is more complex.
“A computer can beat the best chess player in the world,” he said. “But no computer can beat the best Go player in the world. I can beat any computer.”
Photo caption: Maojie Xia, center, plays a game of Go. Xia, an international student from China, will represent The University of Montana as the only U.S. university student to compete in the 11th annual World Students GO OZA Championships in Tokyo. (Courtesy photo)