History of Durham Go Club


In 1993, Simon Shiu arrived in Durham to do a PhD. He was at that time a 2dan or 3dan, and hence one of the strongest players in the UK. He had lived in this area for a while, and been active with the Newcastle and Teeside clubs. Soon, he had set up a small club in the Department of Computer Science, teaching around 10 beginners one or two lunchtimes a week, all staff and postgrads. Coupled with this, he kindly took a few of us to the Newcastle and Teeside clubs.

This is when Paul Callaghan started playing properly. He had obtained a magnetic board and a short book on the subject already but it is hard to learn the game properly without playing someone who really knows how to play. With Simon's help, he struggled to about 16kyu, then got more interested in his PhD and didn't play much.

Simon's enthusiasm is well illustrated by the fact that Durham hosted the British Go Association's Congress in 1996. This was a 2-day event, taking place in the church hall opposite St Oswalds(?), and well-attended. We are often asked when the next Durham tournament will be...

Simon and Chris Cooper also travelled to the European Go Congress in Poland (1996?), taking with them Paul's magnetic board, and converting a few train travellers on the way. To our knowledge, Chris Cooper has not played since a certain party executed a 100-point plus rip-off on him. (Look, I'm sorry, ok?)

Simon graduated with a PhD in late 1996. A few of us carried on playing sporadically, with occasional trips to Newcastle and Teeside. We also discovered another strong Durham player, Dr Zhaohui Luo (now Prof.), about 1kyu. PCC then got very interested in Go during 1997, unfortunately after Simon had left, and coincidentally when he also had to do lots of work finishing his thesis. He had reached about 10kyu by the end of that year.

1998 was the lean year. The club met infrequently, usually just two or three people, Paul plus a few new players. Advertising was very low-key, just posters in a few colleges, and via a prominent link on Paul's web page.

The second age of Durham Go started sometime in 1999, when Paul and Robert Kiessling were stranded at Gothenburg Airport due to a very delayed flight. To cut a long wait short, Robert soon started to learn Go. Later, another PhD student, Michael Clark, started to learn, too.. We also got a bit more organised about recruitment, with more posters etc, so had a few more players. We also got our own proper mailing list! During this year, Paul reached 5kyu, where he has been ever since.

In 2000, one notable event was Paul's purchase of a house, leading to fairly regular meetings on the first Sunday of most months between the Newcastle, Durham, and Teeside clubs. Such meetings involve about five-six hours of playing and a barbecue. A good range of players turn up, from beginners to strong dan players. Our advertising got a bit more colourful, and we began to play more frequently, often in local pubs or the gradsoc bars. The staff of the Vic now know not to hoover up Go stones

Thanks to Robert, the club was reincarnated in 2001 as a GradSoc club, and thus received funding, which we used to purchase much-needed small boards and books. We now played regularly in PFH bar, and on some Thursday evenings had over 10 people playing. Sometime this year, Robert and a Chinese player, Yong Luo, introduced the game to Edwin Brady while they were supervising a undergraduate practical set by Paul! The mailing list now contains about 30 addresses.

The upward trend continued in 2002, with a few more beginners, but notably, we also had the good fortune to be joined by two strong players, Hu Zheng (est. 2 dan?) and Choi Hyoung-gyu (est. 4 dan?). A key event this year was significant Durham presence at the nearest tournament, the Three Peaks one held in Nth Yorks. Six Durham players attended, plus one from Newcastle and two from Teeside. The venue is an excellent pub with over 14 real ales and some 200 whiskies. Despite a few unfortunate losses, all of us greatly enjoyed it. Choi Hyoung-gyu did very well, winning 4/5 games and almost won in the remaining game, against the Tournament's winner.

In 2003, members of the club attended more tournaments, including Cambridge's Trigantius, Epsom, and the Three Peaks. Sadly, Choi returned to Korea in the spring, and was much-missed - but fortuitously, his place was shortly afterwards taken by Gang Xiong, who is about 2 dan. We held a small tournament for Children in Need in November of 2003, which was a highly enjoyable event.

2004 saw our first proper tournament in Durham for many years; a full-on BGA event, nominally celebrating 10 years of Go in Durham, and appropriately enough won by Simon Shiu.

Nowadays, the Go Club is a ratified DSU society that welcomes anyone and everyone. It meets regularly all year, in a range of locations across Durham.

This history of the club - from its first beginnings up to 2004 - was kindly written for us by Paul Callaghan


To be completed


2011 saw the club saying goodbye to a number of people who had been regulars for a long time. Not only were there a lot of graduations in 2011, but Jenny Radcliffe, who had run the club for quite a few years, moved away from Durham - leaving Alice and Andrew Ambrose-Thurman to take over the day to day running of the club.

These losses were noticed both at club meetings, which for several years after rarely reached double figures, and at the annual tournament, which dropped from 40 or 50 entrants to just under 30. The tournament in the summer of 2012 was particularly small, and only a single day (with a BBQ social on the Sunday) - but this was due to Durham hosting the British Go Congress earlier in the year.

Congress, held in Durham for the first time since 1996, saw 63 players from 30 clubs and 3 countries ranging from 18k to 4d come to Durham for the British Lightning, held at Durham School, and the 6 round British Open, held in Dunelm House.

2013 saw the introduction of holding an All You Can Eat Go BBQ on the Saturday of the tournament, instead of going to a restaurant - giving entrants, families, and people who had been unable to attend the tournament itself a chance to socialise long into the evening. While most years have been dry for this, some did involve sheltering in tents, greenhouses, or inside the house. Most, but by no means all, of the people at the BBQ each year make it to the tournament in time for Round 4...

The 2015 tournament also included a teaching event from Chimin Oh, a 7d who had been playing with the club for one year while studying at the university - unfortunately the timing of the tournament that year meant that he had to leave immediately after the teaching event and so wasn't able to play in the tournament itself.

The club continued to meet twice a week throughout the year. During term time, one session was held in Ustinov College bar at Howlands Farm, partly due to the origins of the club, but this stopped when Ustinov was moved again - this time to Sheraton Park, too far out from central Durham for people to easily reach. The club variously meets in university lecture theatres and the Elm Tree, who have largely become used to the oddities of Go players over the years.

AlphaGo made a big impact on members of the club. Some stayed up through the night to watch the matches live. Several people who joined the following year said that they'd first heard of Go because of AlphaGo. Several months before, one of our members had decided to write his dissertation on Monte-Carlo tree search based algorithms for computer Go. He wrote various test programs, and brought them along to the club to test - but unfortunately (even if they had been able to beat the humans in the club) they were rather overshadowed by the sudden and unexpected announcement of AlphaGo.

The club has run various outreach events in the past few years, including several at the Oriental Museum. In 2014 we helped with the their Festival of Japan celebrations, held to celebrate the teaching of Japanese at the University of Durham. The Japanese Embassy kindly sponsored Chizu Kobayashi-san, a 5d Japanese professional, to attend a teaching event for members of the public along with around 20 Durham club members.

We've also held a number of more low key teaching events, introducing a lot of people to the game - both at the Oriental Museum and elsewhere. In 2017 we helped with the Chinese New Year celebrations and Asian Culture Festival run by the Durham Chinese Scholars and Students' Association in Dunelm House. A surprising number of the Chinese people who we talked to said that they knew the game, but were very bad at it. This turned out to either mean that they only knew the basic rules, or it meant that they were dan players who just hadn't played for a few years since coming to the UK.

The 2019 tournament will be celebrating 25 years of Go in Durham, since Simon Shiu first started teaching staff and postgrads in the Computer Science department during his PhD.

The 2011-2019 club history was written by Andrew Ambrose-Thurman

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