In the game of go, there are no cards, no dice, no tricky moves like chess or complicated formulas to remember as there are in poker or mah jongg. And though in principle the game is simplicity itself, go is in a mathematical stratosphere all of its own.

Undoubtedly that's why this game, which is played with 181 black "stones" and 180 white ones on the intersections of a ruled board with 18 squares along each side, resonates through Asian history. This almost mystical fusion of simplicity and complexity is also undoubtedly why go is now played by some 36 million people around the world.

In Japan -- which has been home to many of the strongest players in modern times (China and South Korea have recently caught up) -- go has something of a reputation as an old man's pastime.