Brief history of Othello
Othello is a board game involving abstract strategy and played by two players on a board with 8 rows and 8 columns and a set of distinct pieces for each side. Pieces typically are disks with a light and a dark face, each side belonging to one player. The player's goal is to have a majority of their colored pieces showing at the end of the game, turning over as many of their opponent's pieces as possible.
The modern rule set used on the international tournament stage originated in Mito, Japan in the 1970s: the Japanese game company Tsukuda Original registered the game under the trademark name Othello (nowadays Anjar Co. owns the rights for it). The name was selected as a reference to the Shakespearean play Othello, the Moor of Venice, referencing the conflict between the Moor Othello and Iago, who describes himself as "two faced" and more controversially, to the unfolding drama between Othello, who is black, and Desdemona, who is white. The green colour of the board is insipired by the image of the general Othello, valiantly leading his battle in a green field. It can also be likened to a jealousy competition (jealousy being the central theme in Shakespeare's play), since players engulf the pieces of the opponent, thereby turning them to their possession.
But before that date, Reversi was already existing and I will try to summarize its history.
Reversi was invented at the end of XIX century. Englishmen Lewis Waterman and John W. Mollett both claimed to be the inventors. It was patented in 1888 and Reversi was then published in 1898 by the Ravensburger Company as one of its first titles. The very first versions of Reversi have been produced in 1882, by Mollett and Waterman themselves. In 1971 Goro Hasegawa reinvented the game with the name of Othello and Tsukuda registered the mark; nowadays Anjar Co. owns the rights for it.
Reversi was actually based upon a 1870 English game known as The game of Annexation, or Annex, invented by Mollett himself in 1870, before Reversi, to be played on a board with the shape of a cross. The game was being published since 1876.
With a 1880 publication on the magazine The Queen, Waterman proposed a game with the same rules, to be played on the standard chess board with the name of Reversi, and presented himself as the inventor. Waterman registered this name in 1887.
Mollett, in 1886, published this game with the newer name Annex, and then in 1888 as "Annex, a game of reverses", abandoning the cross-shaped board. After a well documented dispute, Mollett first had to leave the word "reverses", then appealed, won the cause and the word "reversi" was freed.
The Waterman game was sold in London by Jacques and co., and brought in the USA by McLoughlin Brothers in 1888.
The Waterman version of
Reversi didn't provide any board and had to be
played on a "chess board", as stated on the box,
while the Mollett version was sold with a cheap
paper 8x8 board and had the Annex or Annexation
Reading this story, we
have to say that the mechanics of the game were
invented by Mollett, the board size and shape and
the Reversi name were ideas of Waterman. I also
found on a 1891 book a differentiation about Normal
and Royal Reversi, about which I don't know anything.
Whatever the original rules were, Goro Hasegawa chose the best set of them and fixed them for the rest of time. In the last decades there has been a continuous struggle between the commercial trademark Othello and the free name of the game Reversi. Without the first one, anyway, there would never have been such a continuous and strong organization of the World Championships like today and a strong community all over the world.
It's rather important to say that, at my knowledge, there are no strong players known before 1971, one entire century after the invention of Annexation. I believe that a few books of tactics were published, but the Goro Hasegawa book himself is one of the most erroneous tactic advisor that one could ever find: this, I think, makes me think that there was not a real development of the strategic and tactic sides of the game before that date.
The World Championship represents the history of agonistic Othello and indeed it's not secundary that it has been held every single year since 1977, every time in a different country. While the level of the very first editions was not very high, it quicky reached the highest peaks and since then the top players' level is astonishing. It really looks like that the WOC competition has been the driving force of the growth of Othello.
Since the first editions a continuous challenge between Japanese players and the rest of the world has been the plot. While Japan has dominated the WOC for the most of the time, only France, USA and Nederland (but with the USA player Shaman) were able to interrupt for short periods the Japan domination. After 1999 the challenge seemed won by USA and Europe, but the return of the greatest player ever, Hideshi Tamenori, has brought the title again in Japan. Check the Hall of fame from the WOC site.
Currently, in 2010, players and countries are quickly increasing, thanks also to the diffusion of internet online gaming and of low-cost air companies. This phenomenon is inducing organizers to start a debate about possible rules changes, to face the uncertainity of the swiss system of pairings when players are too many comparing to the 13 turns of a tournament.
James Becker and Anjar Co.
Othello was invented by
Japanese enthusiast, Goro Hasegawa in 1971. He chose
James R. Becker, to advise him and license
the game. Inspired by the age-old Chinese game 'Go',
Hasegawa intended to achieve a game that was deep in
strategy, but still enjoyable by the casual player.
Becker simplified the play, coined the
tagline, 'A Minute to Learn...A Lifetime to
Master' and licensed the game internationally
under the Othello name, after Shakespeare's play,
because of the black and white disks. Othello was
marketed in Japan in 1973, by Tsukuda Original Co.,
who at Becker's advancement organized the Japanese
In 1977, Becker organized the first World Othello Championship, bringing together many licensees from all over the world to share ideas, advertising and marketing strategies on an annual basis. Jim created the concept of World Othello Championships and Othello Victory Dinners.
Jim Becker was a pioneer
representing Japanese products in the U.S.This
approach was brilliant and unprecedented. He also
partnered with inventors and manufacturers to
develop and represent their ideas for licensing
around the world.
First introduced in Japan in 1973, and the U.S. in 1975, Othello game sales have exceeded $600 million and more than 40 million classic games have been sold in over 100 different countries, making Othello the best selling licensed strategy game in the world, according to Anjar Co., the international licensor.
The New York Times Magazine acknowledged Othello’s enduring success and the fact that ‘over 40 million units’ have been sold in an article published in November, 2004. Othello was selected by Playthings Magazine, the principle Toy Industry publication, as one of the top 100 ‘Classic Toys of the 20th Century’ still in production. In addition, Othello has been recognized as a classic game in Toys: Celebrating 100 Years of the Power of Play, a book published by the Toy Industry Association in 2003. Othello was also recognized in the TIA’s list of ‘One Hundred of the Century’s Most Treasured Toys’. Othello continues to win numerous awards, including several from the Toy Industry and one from Dr. Toy for “Best Classic Toys of the 20th Century”. Other prestigious awards that Othello has won include the Parents’ Choice ‘Classic Toy Award’ and Games Magazine’s ‘Hall of Fame’.