American Go E-Journal

Capture Go: Gateway or Standalone?

Sunday October 20, 2013

Is Capture Go merely a stepping stone to traditional go, or can it stand on its own as a viable game? In Memphis, two go players and teachers are working hard to answer that question.

The simplified rule set that master teacher Yasuda Yasutoshi 8P describes in his book Go As Communication has been used in hundreds of schools, after-school programs and libraries. Go players who teach Capture Go often hope to quickly move their pupils along to traditional go but Jay Jayaraman 9K and Graham Smart 9K wondered what would happen if a whole program focused just on Capture Go. They’re working with the Confucius Institute at the University of Memphis (CIUM) where they’re teaching Capture Go to Chinese language instructors from CIUM-affiliated after-school programs in the Memphis area, who in turn will introduce hundreds of primary school students to the game this year. The program is currently active in 12 Shelby County elementary schools and will be adding more schools throughout the year, reaching an estimated 40-50 students per program. Jayaraman and Smart also plan to start Capture Go programs in middle and high schools in the area.

“We are not trying to teach go,” Jayaraman, the director of CIUM’s after-school programs told the EJ. “We are presenting 9×9 Capture Go strictly on its own merits, not as a ‘gateway game.’ We call the game we teach go, not Capture Go, so that children who become interested in the long-form game don’t have issues with transition. We hope that even students who don’t enjoy traditional go will have a little fun with Capture Go.” All students, not just winners, can earn Pokémon-style badges (created by Smart) to reward merit, encourage competition and create a sports-like atmosphere. Players will get badges for reaching certain goals, such as completing a certain number of games or playing at least one game with every other player.

The curriculum involves ten two-hour classes, presented as part of CIUM’s Chinese language and history program in partner schools. The American Go Foundation has provided 80 full size sets of stones and more than 200 9×9 boards so far, and Viz Media has granted permission to use Hikaru no Go anime and manga freely as part of their curriculum. Smart is also creating a series of introductory videos for use in the curriculum. The rule set is designed to be completely simple and solvable on the board. However, since the instructors are also new to the game, the organizers will serve as “experts on call” when the classes are taking place. Any instructor can send them a question, along with a picture of the board position if needed, and receive an immediate answer.

Jayaraman discovered the potential of Capture Go as a standalone game last summer when he served as the lead go instructor for CIUM’s K-12 Chinese Summer Immersion Camp. With 20 students ranging from five to eleven years old, he worried about losing them if the game seemed too complex, so he focused on Capture Go after discovering Let’s Play Go, Yasuda’s elegant yet simplified introduction to the game. Jayaraman and local player Wade Humbert “described Yasuda’s ‘Capture Go’ method and hoped for the best,” says Jayaraman. “To see a room full of children playing within thirty minutes of first hearing about the game was quite a treat.  We set up daily classes, drawing upon the Freedman-Balwit curriculum available through the ‘Methods and Materials’ page on the AGA’s Teacher Resources site. To our surprise, only a handful of children showed any interest in advancing to traditional go, but they were all incredibly enthusiastic about Capture Go. Campers were actually excited about their homework! We held a tournament on the last day and combined homework scores with results to find the top finishers. Prizes included copies of Hikaru No Go and full size playing sets. It was a joy to watch their enthusiasm and progress.” Positive feedback from parents encouraged CIUM and the Memphis schools to expand the program into the school year. The Memphis program has four goals: reach the largest possible audience; re-envision go and Capture Go as team sports; engage parents, teachers and other stakeholders; strengthen ties with Confucius Institutes nationwide.

Jayaraman thinks one reason go more popular  is that the go community has followed the top-down, expert-oriented teaching approach that has worked so well for chess. Unlike chess, however, go experts are few and far between. In addition, programs such as the middle school chess team seen in the recent documentary Brooklyn Castle have high infrastructure costs and are difficult to maintain. Chess-In-the-Schools spends millions of dollars teaching chess in New York City alone.

“There’s another pitfall in expert-based teaching methods,” Jayaraman believes. “Skilled go players often flood beginners with complexity, leaving them feeling hopelessly lost. But Capture Go is easy for anyone to learn. In our model, non-playing teachers and after-school staff receive basic instruction and then learn along with their students. Yasuda sensei never meant for Capture Go to be an introductory tool to regular go. The original program was designed to foster interaction using Capture Go as a great equalizer. Like him, we want to use Capture Go as a standalone vehicle for promoting the ‘four C’s’ — critical thinking, cooperation, competition and communication.”
– Roy Laird