Calvin’s Commentaries: Othello

There are not many games with simpler rules that can still hold one’s attention through repeated plays than Othello.

It’s the rare combination of simplicity and depth that has kept the game, first created back in 1883, popular today.

If you haven’t played the game, watch for it at thrift stores and yard sale tables, as many sets are floating around at a low cost to try it out.

Anyone wondering how popular the ‘vintage classic’ remains need only look as far as there is a World Othello Association (WOC) dedicated to the game, including hosting international tournaments.

I caught up with Jacky Fu via email to delve into the game a bit more deeply.

Fu is the number two rated player in Canada, according to the WOC. He played his first World Othello championship in 1998 in Barcelona, Spain; where he reached 12th place. He reached a top 25 finish in WOC 2001 New York, USA. He reached 13th place in WOC 2005 Reykjavik, Iceland. He again reached 13th place in WOC 2006, Mito, Japan. He managed to improve on his previous performances by reaching a ninth-place finish in WOC 2010, Roma, Italy. He finished in 10th place in WOC 2011 USA. Jacky reached a 16th place finish in WOC 2018 Prague, Czech Republic.

Interestingly, Fu became an Othello player almost by accident.

“I started playing Othello during summer holidays of 1997. I had nothing to do at the time and I came across the game on a now-defunct online gaming site named Cybercity,” he related.

“The year after, I went to the World Othello Championship and ranked in 10th place.”

While success, of course, helped spur interest, the ease of learning Othello was a key too.

“The fact that the game is so simple to learn yet so difficult to master kept me keenly interested for over 20 years,” said Fu.

It helps too that there are organizations such as the WOC supporting the game.

“The Othello community consists of mostly very nice people,” said Fu. “Every now and then I look forward to the chance of playing in an actual tournament to enjoy the games and hang out with my old friends. I believe the people of the Othello community are what keeps the game active and vibrant.”

The online aspect is one Fu said is harder to measure in terms of its overall impact.

“There are obviously pros and cons to playing Othello online,” he said. “Playing online lacks the social nature of playing over-the-board, which is a very important aspect of playing a board game in my opinion.

“However, Canada is a big country. Othello players are often living far away in different parts of the country, so it is difficult for us to play over-the-board on a regular basis.”

“Playing online would allow us to gain valuable playing experience and enjoyment at the comfort of our home.”

The game also seems to be seeing increased interest.

“We do see a growing number of players in recent years,” said Fu. “We also had a number of new junior players in last year’s national championship, which is a very encouraging sign.

“I believe being able to play on the smartphone app makes it convenient for new players to take up the game.”

In Canada, there are well-run annual national championships and Fu said they “continue to see an increase in number of participants every year.”

As you might expect, Fu said people just need to give Othello a try.

“I believe it is a great game that helps people of all ages to improve their problem-solving skills and spatial recognition,” he said.

“Also, it is fun to participate in over-the-board tournaments.”

As a side note, this would be a great game for the Yorkton Library, the Legion, or a local watering hole to host an event around.

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