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What board game are these Uyghur men playing?


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I was in Urumqi a while ago and snapped this shot of some neighborhood board game playing. I've never seen anyone play this game (or western chess) in inner China, so I'm quite curious.

So far, I've ruled out:

othello/reversi - wrong board size, weird positions

go - board too small, even the smallest go game is typically 9x9, and they don't appear to be capturing surrounded pieces

five-in-a-row - board too small, and if it were the case, two games would have been won already

I've been told this is a Chinese game, not necessarily an Uyghur game. I also asked about this on Baidu Zhidao and an Uyghur-American forum, but haven't gotten any definitive answers.

Any ideas?

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That game is a variation of the popular game Go, see http://gobase.org/

The game is usually played on a 19x19 board, but as you can see in the picture, the board is 7x7

It's really fun and if you want to try it out, go to www.gokgs.com and play for free

The best computers cannot beat the pro Go players

Also, there's a popular Manga and subsequent Anime in Japan, called Hikaru No Go (75 episodes 20 minutes each,) all about Go and this boy called Hikaru

Have a great day.

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I'm having trouble believing that game is Go, because

1) on a few boards you can see stones that have been entirely surrounded, but not removed from the board. For example, look at the closest board. On the upper-left corner, there is a black stone surrounded by two white stones. You can see another example of this on the 3rd board from the front, to the right.

2) I have never heard of anyone playing Go on a board smaller than 9x9

3) The positions don't look like Go positions. Go games played on smaller boards typically don't have as much clumping of pieces as these boards exhibit - for example, see the large group of white pieces on the closest board. Some of the positions seem unreasonable, even for beginning players - why would black have stuck himself in the corner as in the closest board(lower-right corner)?

4) Go doesn't seem terribly popular in inner China as a casual board game, so it seems strange it would be so popular out in Xinjiang

Thanks for the suggestion, though.

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THANKS skylee! That's really fascinating!

Apparently, this game is a variant of 方棋(square chess) games played in Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, and Shaanxi provinces. There are a few slight differences, the main one being that Xinjiang Square Chess is played on a 7x7 board, whereas regular Square Chess is played on 7x8.

Here's some information about Square Chess in English, with a note about the Xinjiang variant.

My initial suspicions were correct - this is similar to a nine men's morris game, but with more pieces.

It seems the game has Chinese Muslim origins and was spread by the Dungans into other Central Asian countries. This would explain why the game is played by Uyghurs in Xinjiang but not in overseas Uyghur communities.

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This is really interesting. Thanks for posting the original question. I knew there was no way that could be weiqi/go. Even just the board size is too small. I think that 7x7 go has been "cracked" (by trying all possible moves on a computer) and it's basically too easy for the person to goes first to always win.

On a related note, I wish people would stop translating 棋 as "chess" though because it ends up with things like weiqi being translated as "chinese chess" even though that's really a better description of xiangqi. If I understand it right 棋 means something more like "strategy boardgame".

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Yea, I've always found AskMeFi to be terribly hit and miss. You have to hope that the right person sees your question before it gets pushed off the front page by a bunch of OS X and cat hair removal questions, which, depending on how busy it is, can be a matter of hours.

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