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Sunday, September 17, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Fans Hope Seattleites Will `Go' For Their Game -- First U.S. Center For Pastime Will Be Located Here

The game's called Go.

If you haven't heard of it, you might soon, because Seattle has become the home of the first Go center in the United States.

For Americans, living in a country where only about 1,500 people belong to the American Go Association, it may be hard to comprehend that an estimated 20 percent of the Japanese population, some 10 million people, play the game.

Japan supports about 400 professional Go players. The board game is followed there as avidly as perhaps tennis or golf are in the U.S.

A desire to transport a love of the game to the United States led to the opening of Seattle Go Center yesterday at 700 N.E. 45th St., according to the center's operators.

Taking in more than 3,300 square feet and costing more than $1 million, the center represents the culmination of an idea that started with 93-year-old Kaoru Iwamoto.

Iwamoto, a national champion Japanese Go player in 1927, is still one of the most revered players of the game. Go helped make him a wealthy man.

About 15 years ago, he sold some land in Tokyo for about $5 million and wondered how to make the best use of the money, said Frank Fukuda, president of the Seattle Go Center.

The answer? Develop Go centers worldwide to promote the game he loved and to improve international understanding. One benefit is expected to be improved business relationships. Understanding Go is one way for westerners to acquaint themselves with the cultural style and strategies of Japanese business people.

A Go center opened in Brazil in 1989, and an Amsterdam center opened in 1991.

Seattle was picked for the U.S. center, Fukuda said, because it has a history of Go participation, including a 1986 event in Kirkland that drew 160 players. The Puget Sound's natural beauty also suited the characteristics of patience and balance that are part of Go, he said.

The goal of the board game, which is more than 3,000 years old, is to conquer territory. It's played on a board formed by 19 lines on each side. Playing pieces, called stones, are black and white.

While appearing simple, the game is quite complex.

For example, chess has about 20 possible opening moves. Go has more than 300.

American players who grew up with checkers are likely to find some of the concepts difficult to grasp. The pieces are played at the intersections of the lines, not on the squares. Players each start with about 180 black or white stones. Games can last from an hour to days. Most championship games take about three hours.

Go can be addictive, said Judy Debel, a member and former officer of the state Go association. Debel said she discovered Go while doing homework at the Last Exit on Brooklyn, a U District coffee house, more than 20 years ago.

"One day, I went over and asked what game they were playing," she said, and learned to play that day. Now Go is the only game she plays.

But she also warns of the dangers.

"Many people have dropped out of grad school after getting hooked on Go," she said.

The Seattle Go Center can handle 18 Go players and some 80 spectators. Center officials say the facility will be used to host national, international local and regional tournaments and contests.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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