The game originated in China around 2250 B.C. and is known as Wei-que (or Wei-chi) there. The game traveled to Korea (where it is known as Paduk or Badook) and Japan (where it is known as Go or Igo). The game has been spreading around the world in the last century, and many tournaments are now international. Previously (up to about 15 years ago), the top tournaments were only held in Japan or Korea. Prizes in top tournaments are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and, like other competitive enterprises, endorsements and books are bringing in additional funds to top players.
Comparisons to chess are inescapable. Edward Lasker, chess master and champion, said, “I consider it (Go) more profound than Chess despite its extremely simple structure.” While top chess computer programs are currently able to beat master-level chess players, the top Go software is only now approaching the ability to beat the average Go player. For computers, the difference has been that brute-force “search every possibility” algorithms are swamped by the number of possibilities in Go, and “smart” board position evaluation algorithms have not yet been developed. The human brain has so far proven much more adaptable to the pattern recognition skills that are needed in Go than computers have.