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Give it a Go

Teacher brings ancient game to the Santa Clarita Valley

Posted: October 30, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 30, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Joe Walters discusses strategy with Sharon Anschultz, of Canyon Country, at a meeting of the Santa Clarita Go Club in Santa Clarita on Friday.

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Climbing out of their seats to hover over a table, Isaiah Anschultz, 7, and Shriya Rajesh, 7, pointed to smooth black and white stone pieces on a game board patterned by small squares.

They were talking strategy.

Santa Clarita Go Club leader Joe Walters sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Shriya, quietly weighing in by pointing to a spot on the board.

“Do you see any of the white stones that can be in danger?” Walters asked.

Shriya pointed.

“What can you do about it?” Walters said, placing one hand over his mouth and leaning back.

At the SCV Tutors CARE Learning Academy in Saugus, Walters was guiding two families in the simple rules of Go, an ancient Asian board game of nearly infinite strategy, during the Santa Clarita Go Club’s weekly Friday meeting.

In the national niche of Go teachers, Joe Walters is a big name.

Walters, a Canyon Country resident, was awarded Teacher of the Year in 2012 by the American Go Foundation, a charity that promotes Go to children and schools. The award secured him a free trip to North Carolina for the biggest Go tournament in the U.S. of the year.

“I was their Teacher of the Year due to my volunteering and reaching out to elementary schools,” Walters said.

Four years ago, Walters brought Go to Valley View Elementary School, believing in its power to captivate kids while teaching them basic math principles.

“They have to come up with a plan to be able to win the game. It helps them to develop their ability to analyze situations and see variations,” Walters said.

“For young children, it helps with their math. By visually thinking about moving stones, they can see a four-by-five section and it helps them with their multiplication.”

He now teaches the game at Sulphur Springs Elementary School as well as Valley View, holds annual Go tournaments between the two schools and reaches any kids and adults curious about Go through the club.

“She learned a lot, and it’s all from Joe. Joe gives really good guidance,” Rajesh Govindarajan said of his daughter Shriya at the club meeting.

She learned from Walters in the Sulphur Springs lunch room two years ago and now plays every day, Govindarajan said.

Walters hopes more kids will pick up a passion for the game and take advantage of free starter kits available for kids through the American Go Foundation.

“I want as many people as possible in the Santa Clarita Valley to have the opportunity to play this great game,” Walters said.

Many in the United States have started playing the game, though professional players and TV channels are found primarily in China, Korea and Japan.

Played for 4,000 years, the elegantly contradictory game of Go marries simple rules to a complex and nearly endless web of possible plays.

“A 4-year-old can easily learn the rules and start playing, but it’s difficult to master the rules,” Walters said. “There are so many variations to the game, it can become so complicated that even the strongest of computers haven’t been able to develop a program that can beat an advanced beginner.”

With myriad options, Go players strategize to completely surround their opponent’s stones by placing the black and white pieces on one of the 360 points of intersection on the board.

Once played, stones can’t be moved for the duration of the game, and players tally captured and played pieces to compute the winner.

“I love capturing stones!” Shriya said, throwing her hands in the air with spontaneous excitement. Talking through her strategies to Walters, she chose a move to surround the black stones.

“You’re going to be a champion player, I think,” Walters said to a smiling Shriya.



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