American Go E-Journal

GO SPOTTING: Mathematician Paul Erdos

Monday November 17, 2008

“Between long walks, loafing in the common room, and endless games of Go, it was hard to imagine when work got done,” wrote Bruce Schechter in “My Brain is Open: The Mathematical Journeys Of Paul Erdos” (Touchstone, 1998) The famed Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos (right) (pronounced Air-dish) became a go player when he moved to the United States in the 1930′s; this passage describes Erdos’s arrival at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1938. “That Erdos and other mathematicians became addicted to Go at the Institute is easy to understand,” Schecter continues. “The ancient Asian game is deceptively simple, played by alternately placing black and white stones (at the Institute they used thumb tacks) at the intersections of a 19×19 rectangular grid. A game of Go, viewed from the right perspective, is really nothing more than a problem in graph theory. If, as G. H. Hardy wrote, ‘chess problems are the hymn-tunes of mathematics,’ a game of Go is a cantata.” Thanks to H. Vernon Leighton for passing this along. If you’ve seen an interesting reference to go, send it to us at

Categories: Go Spotting