© 2002 Milton N. Bradley

It is possible that Go was first brought to America by some of the many Chinese laborers or the (far fewer) Japanese and Koreans who immigrated here primarily in the mid to late 19th century. But if it was, it was restricted to those (at that time very insular) communities, and therefore had no impact on "mainstream" American life. So it wasn't until Edward Lasker, a young German engineer and internationally known Chessmaster, immigrated to these shores in 1914 that Go truly began its still far from complete process of integration into our society.

That story is told in the following article by Jerald E. Pinto (originally entitled "How The Young Edward Lasker Learned About Go, And How He and The World Chess Champion Nearly Went To Japan To Study With the Masters"), as a tribute to Dr. Lasker (1885 - 1981) on his death, and first appeared in The American Go Journal, Vol 16, # 2, (June 1981) - reproduced here with their permission.

On an autumn afternoon several years ago, I visited Edward Lasker in his apartment on Riverside Drive in New York, and heard this story of his first steps as a Go player:

"One day I was at the library of the University of Berlin. At that time, that is, in 1905, I was a student of electrical engineering. With me at the library was a fellow student, a mathematician, and we happened on a large magazine with a treatment of Go. Korschelt, the author, gave many old Japanese games and explained the game quite thoroughly, but what struck us was the article's title :Das Go Spiele, ein Konkurrent des Schachs, that is 'Go: A rival of chess' which seemed a humorous claim. Well, we glanced through the article and learned the rules in the few minutes that takes.

Then one day at the cafe in Berlin where the Chessplayers used to gather in the afternoon my friend Max Lange and I saw a Japanese reading a Japanese paper, on the back of which we noticed a Go diagram. We thought 'Well, that's remarkable'; we knew, of course, about chess columns, but Go columns? We didn't know what to think, so we waited until the fellow was gone and took the paper down from the newspaper rack. We put ourselves to deciphering the diagram. The problem lay in decoding the Japanese numerals the diagram used, but although we hadn't actually played more than a game or two of Go, we worked things out without too much trouble. So we went through the game, but after 120 or 150 moves things came to a stop, and there was some notation.

We waited until a few days later we saw another Japanese customer at the cafe, whom we approached to ask whether he would mind telling us what that notation meant. Oh, first it seemed obvious to us that it must say 'White resigns', since Black had an enormous army and there didn't seem to be any reasonable continuation for White, or else something like 'Game adjourned'. Well, the gentleman said, 'Certainly, "Black resigns!" When we heard that we decided that we would really have to give a good look at the game, and we took the newspaper. About 3 weeks later Max Lange called to say that he had found a sacrificial continuation for White ending in the capture of the Black army 22 moves later. Then we really started to play Go in earnest. We used a piece of cardboard and two different types of coins. However when we told the other Chessplayers that here was a really interesting game, they just smiled at us and said, 'Don't be silly!' (Ed. Note: Nothing has changed in the intervening 92 years, and this is still the attitude of the vast majority of Chessplayers that I have encountered!)

About 2 years later, Emanuel Lasker (Ed. Note: no relation), The world chess champion, returned to Germany after 14 years in America. Soon after I met him I revealed that my friend and I had found a game that rivaled chess, but the other chessplayers were too silly to even look at it. Lasker was skeptical, but he listened to me explain the rules, and said,'Well, let's play a game.' 'Alright', I replied, 'but first I'll show you a few important things which aren't in the rules, but which you have to know.' 'No, no, no, let's play a game.' we played, and of course I won, but Lasker immediately recognized the deep strategical and tactical possibilities which Go holds despite its simple structure. After just one game. He's the only man I ever showed the game to who grasped this at once. 'Look, this is what we'll do', Lasker said, "I suppose you have a fellow student at the University who is Japanese and may know the game. If you find one I'd like to arrange a Go evening once a week at my home.' Indeed, there was a Japanese in my class who knew the game; he surprised me in fact by saying that every educated Japanese knew the game. I still recall his name: Yasugoro Kitabatake. At first he gave us 4 stones, but we improved gradually, and after 2 years we beat him already.

Then one evening Kitabatake came to us with an interesting proposal. 'There's a Japanese Go master passing through Berlin, a professor of mathematics on his way to London as an exchange professor. Would you like to play him?' 'Of course we would.' Lasker replied, 'and I'll play him in consultation with my brother Berthold, if you don't think he'll mind?' 'Of course he won't.' 'Well' continued Lasker, 'do you think he'll give us a handicap?' "Certainly', laughed Kitbatake. 'And how many stones?' 'Nine of course.' (Ed Note: At least equivalent to Queen odds in chess.) 'That's impossible', Lasker replied decisively. 'The man in the world who can give me nine stones and beat me doesn't exist!' Kitabatake just smiled, and soon we found ourselves at the Japanese club playing the master on nine stones.

No matter how long we took to plot our combinations the master never took more than a tenth of a second for his reply, and he beat us terrifically. I don't think we had a single live group at game's end. Lasker was the most discouraged and disappointed of men. 'Look Edward', he said (this was in 1909 or 1910 don't forget). 'the Japanese have never had a first-class mathematician. I'm sure that we can beat them at Go, the ideal game for the mathematical mind. Let's go to Tokyo for a few months to play with the masters. I think that we'll be able to catch up to them without too much difficulty.'

Naturally, I didn't think that it would be so easy to catch up to them, but I was enthusiastic about the plan. However, I had recently graduated from the University and had just got my first job, as an engineer for the German General Electric Company, and I couldn't tell m y boss that I wanted a vacation of several months to travel to japan. But I told Lasker I would try to be assigned to my company's office in Tokyo.

The next day I went to my boss with my cunning plot. 'There are 41 engineers in this department", I began. 'I am certainly not so arrogant as to say that I am better than any of them (MB Note: Ed Lasker later became a millionaire, so he was probably being unduly modest!), and I don't see how I can expect to excel them to such a degree that I have a promising future here. So I would like, therefore, to represent the company in one of the foreign offices.' 'Where?' my boss asked. 'Tokyo, for example.' was my diabolical reply. The boss came back to me later after speaking with the head of the Foreign Department. 'Sorry', he said, 'we only send Englishmen or Germans who speak fluent English to Tokyo or any other foreign office. English is the commercial language throughout the world.' The English had practically everything monopolized in those days. Nothing daunted, I asked to be transferred to the London office to learn English while drawing a nominal salary. Eventually they acquiesced in my request and I was sent to live and work in London in 1912. I was in London when the first World War broke out in August, 1914.'

From London, Lasker arrived in New York City in 1914. He made the united States his permanent home, a turn of fate which is a distant reverberation of that awful defeat at the hands of a traveling Go master. Soon after his arrival in New York Lasker saw Japanese waiters playing go at Lee Chumley's restaurant in Greenwich Village. He was introduced by the headwaiter Koshi Takashima, an avid Go player, to another patron of the restaurant who played Go, Karl Davis Robinson. Robinson knew of one other Go player in New York, the editor-in-chief of Harper's Magazine, Lee Hartman. The three formed a Go group at Lee Chumley's that soon became quite large and took a room on the second floor of the restaurant. This group was the nucleus of the New York Go Club and organized Go in the United States: the same 3 men founded the American Go Association the same year Lasker published GO AND GO MOKU. (MB note: 1934).

It was Max Lange who first of all made it to Japan, and Lange taught the game to his brother-in-law Felix Dueball, who became the first Westerner of genuine Dan strength. Emanuel Lasker remained a tremendous Go enthusiast throughout his life and included an important chapter on the game in his book Die Spiele des Menchen. On hi s death his Go set was presented to the West Point Military Academy. (MB note: In my visit to the Academy about 10 years ago I enquired about this, and found no one who even knew what I was talking about!)

The story which I call "How The Young Lasker Learned Go" was told by Lasker in print in his article "From My Go Career" in #'s 7 and 9 of Go Monthly Review of 1961, and in his Chess Secrets I Learned From The Masters (Dover, 1969)."


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