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City of Hope Newport Beach breast cancer physician hones his mind with the world’s oldest game

For cancer physicians, mental acuity isn’t just a prerequisite for doing their job, it can be a hobby. Medical oncologist Wade Smith, M.D., who specializes in breast cancer at City of Hope Newport Beach and teaches as an assistant clinical professor in the organization’s Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, credits a lifelong fascination with biology with leading to his exploration of immunotherapy to treat chemotherapy-resistant cancers, breast cancer in particular. Given his background in scientific cancer research, and its expert application to the patient-centered care he provides, it’s not surprising that Dr. Smith enjoys relaxing with a good game of Go.

Go is an abstract strategy board game invented in China many centuries ago. We asked Dr. Smith why this ancient pastime appeals to him and how it helps him keep his mind sharp.

How long have you been playing Go?

I began playing Go 10 years ago. For those not familiar with it, it’s a two-player board game with black and white pieces called stones. The board is a 19 x 19 square grid of lines. The players take turns placing their stones on the intersections of the lines. The goal is to surround the other player’s territory and stones. “Go” comes from “igo” in Japanese, which means “to surround.”

Why do you like it?

I’m fascinated by the game of Go in and of itself. It’s mankind’s oldest game, and it’s played exactly the same way today as it was 4000 years ago. It also remains the most sophisticated of all deep strategy games. It cannot be mastered, even by today’s leading artificial intelligence programmers. I believe every person should play this game at least once in his or her life. The rules are straightforward — there’s zero need for fuzzy logic. Children as young as eight can learn. Once you get drawn into it, the visuospatial direction of play takes your mind for a ride, in a good way.

How did you get started playing Go?

I was at a local game store and saw a whole display case dedicated to a game I’d only remotely heard of. I picked up a book on it and soon found some local people who played.

Who do you play with?

Every city seems to have at least one or two Go clubs. The clubs are typically hosted at Asian community centers, college campuses, or even coffee shops. You can find places to play on the American Go Association’s website:

Do you compete in tournaments?

I’ve played in a handful of regional tournaments. They are fun, and they’re a great opportunity to watch and learn from advanced players. Tournaments can also be found on the AGA website, and most have beginner divisions.

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