This week I had the opportunity to introduce go to three 12 year old special education students. Their teachers had looks of skepticism at first, perhaps unsure if anything would come of it, but they encouraged the children to give it a try. Two gathered around the board at first, and listened.
I started with my usual explanation of the rules, keeping it simple, leaving other rules to be discovered.
“Here you can think of each line as a road. A road leading to freedom, a road connecting to other stones, or a road being blocked by the other player.” I told them as I placed and removed stones. “As long as you have a road that leads to an empty space, your stones stay on the board. If all roads are blocked, then the stones are removed.”
I showed them how a stone would be removed, how stones connect and become larger groups, and explained that their goal at first would be to capture the other player’s stones without being captured themselves. I started them with a cross cut in the center of the board, and prompted black to play.
The game that resulted was impressive, and given my knowledge of these students I did not expect the level of play they immediately engaged in. From the very beginning, neither of them were overly aggressive. They started by building out, forming loose nets around each other, and play developed from the center out in a spiraling pattern I could only have hoped for. Eventually, they had each put each other one move away from capturing large groups of stones where both captures would be possible, but neither were seen. White looped around the conflict marching slowly but surely to his goal, and captured a key group, winning the fight. However, since they didn’t know they could play into a surrounded space as long as the play made a capture, they both needed more details. I praised them both for doing so well, but I also asked if they would like to clear the board and start again now that they knew more. They wanted to keep the same game going, and so they did. Black had built a large amount of influence without leaving himself too weak, and white had formed a kind of a stronghold.
I looked to black and gestured towards his walls and the space behind them.
“The goal of the game is to surround the most empty spaces” I said. Then I turned to white, and showed that capturing the opponent’s stones would give empty space and points for capture. I explained the idea of a living group using white’s group as an example, and watched them continue through their midgame in to endgame. They completed the match with smiling faces. I gave them both words of encouragement with animated praise, talking with my hands as I pointed out some of the great moves they each had made during the game.
The third student’s impairments were a bit more pronounced, but he had a blast placing stones with me on another board. The feel of the stones slipping through his fingers back in to the bowl, and the click of the stone on the board was satisfying enough for him. I tried explaining the rules with little success at getting his attention. So, we just played with the stones and laughed with each other. Thinking back on it, we played much like I used to when my own son was two.
In any case, it was enough to leave a good impression. Earlier today I passed by him and he eagerly called out to me
“Game? Game again? Play Game?” he said.
Despite his initial lack of interest in the rules, his teachers were confident that it just depended on the day for whether or not he had the attention to listen. They believe he will also be able to learn to play as the others did. Hopefully his interest in the pieces leads to future gameplay with his peers.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed sharing in a brief piece of my life.