My Personal Go History
© 2002, 2010 Milton N. Bradley
As a schoolboy I was introduced to chess at about the age of 8, but soon afterward my family moved to another neighborhood and I lost contact with both the friend who had taught me and the game. After I graduated from The Bronx High School Of Science in January 1943 at age 15 I went to work for 6 months and then entered the NYU College of Engineering as a 16 year old, where my interest in chess was rekindled. I soon became fairly proficient - not quite strong enough to defeat the Captain of the NYU Chess Team, but good enough that he was willing to play with me on a regular basis. Back then, in common with most Americans (of even today!) I had never heard of Go, and not only was passionately in love with chess but believed completely the commonly held misconception that it was the superior of all other strategic board games.
Strictly speaking, my first introduction to Go occurred way back in 1946. At that crucial time in my 19 year old life my main board game interest was Chess, and this had led me to borrow the second edition of Edward Lasker’s “Modern Chess Strategy” from the library. When I noticed that it contained “An appendix on Go”, although I didn’t know it then my lifelong interest in Go had begun!. The problem with Lasker’s exposition was that at 1K he wasn’t a particularly strong Go player (a key point that I was then unaware of) and which, despite his obvious enthusiasm for the game, undoubtedly contributed to his less than scintillating analysis and commentary. The unfortunate result of Lasker’s limitations was that although through his book I had become aware of Go’s existence, at the time I was largely unimpressed with it and therefore made no attempt to learn more about it. But even if I had tried to search for further enlightenment back then, other than Lasker’s own earlier and equally flawed “Go And Go Moku” (of which I was then still blissfully unaware), the only other Go book then available in English was Arthur Smith’s 1908 The Game Of Go, which itself was based heavily on the Korschelt "Das Go Spiele" of some 20 years earlier. Smith's classic offering, despite its age, was actually at least a notch above Lasker’s, but lacking the incentive to search further I regrettably didn’t even encounter it until many years later.
My service in the US Navy during WWII interrupted my schooling, and only 2 months following my discharge in July 1946 I met my future wife and then married her on November 1, 1947. My second and more solid introduction to Go occurred as a result of my marriage to Sonya! Her cousin Harold Rogers had been a Japanese translator for the US Government during WWII, and was then a resident of Tokyo. Knowing that I was an ardent and reasonably accomplished chessplayer, Harold gave me a copy of Lasker’s 1936 book “Go And Go Moku”as a wedding present. But here again the same problem became evident, because this earlier book by Lasker, although more complete than his Appendix On Go in "Modern Chess strategy" displayed the very same flaws, so obtaining any real information about more than the most rudimentary elements of Go from it was essentially impossible. Perhaps even worse, it left me both somewhat confused and, what’s far worse, largely unimpressed! Despite that, it constituted the real beginning of my ever increasing lifetime passion for and involvement in Go, because of my love for chess, and a fortuitous circumstance.
At the time of my 13th birthday in 1940, in return for my father’s many kindnesses to him when he was a youth, my (25 year older) cousin Murray gave me the chess materials that really launched my interest in that game. At that time he was a vastly stronger chessplayer than me, but when we played again in 1948 or 9, to his complete surprise I was far better than he and “cleaned his clock” with ease! What ensued as a result is related below.
1948 was the year that I graduated from NYU with a BME, and it soon became apparent in that immediate post-WWII era that jobs for young engineers were very scarce, so I realized that obtaining more than a mere Bachelor's degree would be essential if I ever wanted to make my way in that field. So in 1950, still armed with the free education benefits provided by the "GI Bill", I again began my pursuit of higher education - this time at night, while working full time, and often with long commutes - a process that began with 5 nights per week plus a half day laboratory on Saturdays, and eventually tailed off 19 continuous years later to one night/week! I quickly achieved an additional BIE in 1952 and an MIE in 1954 with induction into the Industrial Engineering Honor Society, but when I finally ended my formal studies in 1969 I had not managed to complete my Ph.D. in Operations Research.
My studies at NYU had a completely unanticipated and serendipitous payoff! The NYU downtown campus at Washington Square in Manhattan at which several of my classes were scheduled (the majority were at the NYU uptown campus in University Heights in the Bronx) is located only a few blocks from the world famous Marshall Chess Club at 23 W 10 Street, where my cousin Murray was a long time member. So With his sponsorship I was invited to join, and thereby gained a pleasant venue at which to fill the time before my scheduled 6-8 PM Friday night classes, which had been carefully chosen because not only could I then race home by subway in time to catch "the Friday Night Fights " on TV, but could also "sleep in" the next (Saturday) morning instead of having to race off to work.
The Marshall Chess Club had been created by long time US Chess Champion Frank Marshall, who, in defense of that championship in 1914, had defeated the same Edward Lasker of whom we’ve been speaking soon after Lasker had arrived in America. Unfortunately for me, Frank Marshall died in 1944 so I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but when I became a member of his club in 1950 it was still one of the two strongest in the entire country and his influence was still palpable. Making Marshall’s continuing influence even more omnipresent was the fact that his widow, Caroline, still lived upstairs in their private apartment, and, although a non-chessplayer, supervised the physical aspects of running the club.
Of greatest interest to me then was the makeup of the Marshall’s membership, at least half of which consisted of Chessmasters, Senior Masters, and Grandmasters, including several former US Champions and US Open champions! Among this distinguished company were a number of top players in about my age group, so I fit in quite readily. In particular, I became friends with Eliot Hearst, then reigning NY State Chess Champion, and played with him informally on a regular basis. Regrettably, I must confess that he was consistently just a bit better than me, and although he never “steam rolled” me, I also never did beat him! At the same time, I was good enough that I gained acceptance into the club’s circle of better players, and in my regular participation in the club’s Friday night “rapids” tournaments (then conducted at 10 seconds/move, with Mrs. Marshall sitting at a table and ringing a bell by hand to mark the time) I never got less than a 50% score! Considering the caliber of the opposition, that was quite clearly an impressive result in which I still remain justifiably proud.
From this, it was clear to me that if I put forth a real effort I could become a really good Chessplayer, probably even a champion of the highest caliber, but despite that, as time progressed I increasingly lost interest in chess, ultimately continuing to play it only as a mechanism for attempting to convert Chessplayers to Go! My reasoning was that if I beat them soundly at chess it would be difficult for them to dispute my contention that Go was its superior. During this period, while an engineer at RCA in New Jersey, I became RCA Chess Champion and founded the Tri-County Industrial Chess League of New Jersey. And in that process I soon rediscovered the phenomenon that Edward Lasker had first encountered some 50 years earlier in Germany - that most chess players were almost completely resistant to even the idea of another game, and that this resistance extended to include even long established. traditional chess variants like Xiang Qi (Chinese Chess) and Shogi (Japanese Chess). Eventually, this resistance overcame even my own energy and optimism, and, lacking any real reason to continue with it I finally ceased playing chess altogether!
For a number of years before this final end to my "career" as a chess player, I continued to play chess as a vehicle to assist me in introducing chess players to Go, so it was for this reason that in 1969, while Asst. Manager for Operations Research, Maxwell House Division, at General Foods Headquarters in White Plains, NY, I played the simultaneous chess exhibition against all of 15 of the members of the GF Research Center's chess club depicted in the photo reproduced below from the GF "Candid" company newspaper (that's me on the left). As an aside, Larry Russ, one of my opponents in this simul is now Dean of Undergraduate Academics at Stevens Institute Of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., and a dedicated Go player! (The latter fact is one for which I believe that I deserve credit!)
Chess, Go and Tennis At St. James Park, Bronx, NY
St. James Park was named for the nearby Protestant Episcopal church, because, I suspect, they donated the land for it to the City, and was a lovely urban oasis, featuring 8 bona fide clay tennis courts, numerous concrete chess tables, and, of course, the usual trees, paths and playgrounds, all located little more than a couple of short blocks from my home. In contrast to the Tennis players at St. James, my impression was that the Chessplayers were a much friendlier and far less elitist group, although to be fair that perception was almost certainly skewed by the fact that I was among the best chessplayers, as opposed to being near the bottom of the pecking order at the tennis courts. Of course the differences in skill between the various chessplayers were well known to all, and the better players naturally tended to prefer matches against those who were at least near peers, but the unpleasant atmosphere of actively vicious denigration of the weaker players by their betters so blatantly displayed at the tennis courts was largely lacking. There were more than enough chessplayers who appeared regularly that it was almost always possible to find most of the chess tables occupied during any daylight hour, and in almost any season. So, especially in the early years, I spent many happy hours there engaged in friendly combat. But as my appreciation for the limitations of chess and the depth and profundity of Go grew, my time at the chess tables slowly evolved into more of an effort to convert chessplayers into Go enthusiasts than an activity for its own sake. Unfortunately, as I equally slowly but surely came to recognize, that effort was doomed to be futile, because, as Grandmaster Edward Lasker and then World Chess Champion Emanuel Lasker had discovered a half century earlier, disabusing dedicated chessplayers of the mistaken notion that their game is the world’s finest was an essentially impossible task!
Although the structure of Chess, with its fixed starting setup and tiny board size had provided me with an obvious, if somewhat abstract exemplification of its limitations, my direct playing experience with one of the St. James regulars confirmed that judgment in a more pragmatic fashion, and in my mind made it unassailable. This fellow (whose name I simply don’t recall) was an active USCF Expert, and a “specialist” in the openings, being intimately abreast of all of the latest nuances, traps and variations. In sharp contrast, I played chess only with my skill and basic understanding of the structure and dynamics of the game. What happened when we played defined for me the intrinsic limitations of chess, and why Go was by far its superior. In about 50% of our games, using his detailed knowledge of the latest traps and innovations, my friend would “bust” me in the opening and would then usually (but not always) go on to win the game. But in the other 50%, when I’d emerge from the opening unscathed by the latest nuance, I’d almost always win! What “iced the cake” of the comparison of chess with Go for me was the fact that in Go the sort of detailed knowledge of specific variations that this fellow displayed can certainly provide a significant local advantage, but usually isn’t even vaguely capable of conferring any lasting overall global advantage. Consequently, only deep positional judgment backed by incisive and accurate tactics can prevail in Go, with the result that no amount of detailed “homework” can suffice to overcome superior deep understanding of the game’s structure and motivations.
That this judgment on my part some 50 years ago was entirely accurate I believe has been validated by recent events, because ordinary commercially available computer Chess software programs can now resoundingly crush 99.9% of all chessplayers, but despite a prize of over $1 million offered for nearly 20 years, the very best Go software programs are only now, in 2009, beginning to play at much better than at an advanced beginner’s level!
The New York Go Club
At that point in time I was still vastly more skilled at Chess than at Go, and at least partially for that reason Chess remained for quite a number of years my most practiced board game activity. But from almost the very moment that I had first encountered Go it had been slowly dawning on me that it was not only vastly superior to Chess, as Lasker had contended, but was also more satisfying to play, and for those reasons it was ultimately going to become my primary intellectual recreation for the remainder of my life. The problem with transforming that realization into practice was that, way back then in the “dark ages” before personal computers and the internet, essentially the only way to find suitable Go opponents to play with and strong players to watch was in person, at a local Go club.
It was at the Marshall that the fortuitous circumstance occurred that finally confirmed my then still nascent interest in Go. Just then, the New York Go Club was meeting regularly on (as I recall) Tuesday nights in the Marshall’s main playing room - something that came about because Ed Lasker (“The Father Of American Go”) was a distinguished member of both organizations! My classes at NYU‘s Washington Square campus had been deliberately scheduled to be on Friday night, although all the rest of my academic load throughout the week was at the University Heights Campus, way up in the Bronx close to where I lived. So during that period, with the exception of Ed Lasker in the Chess context, I never actually got to meet any of the Go club’s other members or even see them in action. But their equipment was stored in plain sight, as were copies of The American Go Journal, which they had just then begun to publish. And in reading those early AGJ’s at the Marshall I finally began to get an inkling of why Lasker had been so enthusiastic about Go, as well as a somewhat better idea of how the game is played. And it was that enhanced, although as yet only primitive understanding, that became the beginning of my lifetime devotion and commitment to Go! To make things even better, I eventually had the opportunity to play a game of Go with Lasker himself! Exactly how long after that I joined the New York Go Club is a detail that’s lost in time, although it certainly happened not too long after they moved their meeting site from the main Chess room upstairs in the Marshall to the little one room apartment under the front stairs. And I do know with reasonable certainty that I joined the American Go Association (AGA) in 1952!
Despite the tight constraints on my free time, I maintained my membership in the New York Go Club throughout the period when they met at the Marshall Chess Club, and then subsequently when they moved uptown to vastly larger quarters at the Nippon Club on W 97 Street - a relocation that was achieved thanks to the Nippon Club’s manager, Mitsuo Horiguchi, who was an ardent Go devotee and a quite strong player - when I first met him, 3 Dan, but not too much later, 5 Dan. During this period, it was only feasible for me to visit the club on Friday nights, but I managed to do that successfully more often than not.
At the time, in what was then still the immediate post WW II period, the residue of the wartime hatred of the Japanese for the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 was still very strong among many Americans. Despite that, the New York Japanese community had sufficiently great economic resources to enable the Nippon Club to purchase what had originally been a large and elegant private mansion, with many large rooms on four floors, and that provided the preferred social gathering place for their elite. Thanks to club manager Horiguchi, the Nippon Club’s top floor, which consisted almost entirely of a single large room, had been converted into a Go venue, in which perhaps 15 or 20 traditional Go Bans with legs removed sat on long, low tables, so that players could sit on ordinary chairs (instead of kneeling in traditional fashion on tatamis) while playing. Posted prominently on one wall was a large roster of the Go club’s membership, listed in descending order of their playing strength, with the exception that all players below 9 Kyu were indiscriminately lumped together under the heading of “beginner”. To fully appreciate the implications of this rating system, it should only be necessary to note that the AGA today shows ratings as weak as 47 Kyu, while even the ultra-strict Internet Go Server (IGS) has a weakest category of 22 Kyu!
For the most part, the atmosphere at the NY Go Club was friendly and accommodating regardless of the player’s strength or ethnicity, although as might be expected the stronger players generally preferred to compete against approximately equal opponents rather than give large handicaps to much weaker players like me. At the same time, I don’t ever recall anyone refusing to do so. But within this otherwise friendly and accepting atmosphere there was one glaring exception, which bothered me then and which still stands out sufficiently in my memory that I feel compelled to give it special note here, all these many years later. The protagonists in this ongoing contretemps were a fellow named Schwartz (given name lost to memory) and Dr. Harry Gonshor (5D), a Math Ph.D. and Professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The problem was that Harry, although clearly brilliant at math and Go, was probably suffering from what was then undiagnosed but would now almost certainly would be clinically recognized as Asperger’s Syndrome. Consequently, he was socially inept and almost totally incapable of responding appropriately to the sometimes subtle cues that trigger and govern ordinary verbal intercourse, and especially the sort of “locker room bantering” so prevalent among young American men. Although the fact that Harry was somehow “different” was instantly recognizable to all (as an example, Harry would frequently open his mouth, put most of a hand in (!), and then chatter his teeth on his nails), everyone else simply accepted that as Harry’s peculiarity and then just ignored it to play Go. But not Schwartz! For whatever reasons, probably impelled by his own personal demons, he took it upon himself to relentlessly mock Harry, even though it was abundantly apparent to everyone else that Harry either didn’t even understand that he was being made an object of public derision and humiliation, or was simply too socially inept to know how to respond. The most vicious and oft repeated of these verbal assaults found Schwartz at his most nasty, ostensibly seriously querying Harry about golf by saying “What’s a golfer do when he gets to the green - (pause for effect) - putz?” But that ostensibly straightforward question was really just a crude play on words, in which the golfer’s “putts” is replaced by the Jewish slang “Putz”, which literally means penis but better translates into “fool” or “idiot”. Of course Harry never responded, either because he couldn’t, didn’t understand, or was too intimidated to do so. Nor did anyone else (including me!) ever take explicit notice of or intervene in this all too frequently repeated nasty byplay. For my own part, my excuse for not intervening is that, as a far weaker player than either of them, I didn’t wish to become engaged in what would almost certainly have become a nasty personal confrontation with Schwartz. But that someone like Mr. Horiguchi, as club manager, never did is somewhat more puzzling. But then again, the fact that he was a Japanese in post WWII America and the contretemps was between two Americans may have had something to do with it. In any event, the entire scenario has stuck in my craw all of these many intervening years, and even spilling it out now isn’t likely ever to change my feelings about both its injustice and gratuitous cruelty. Perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of it all for me is that it revealed that, despite their obvious intellectual bent, Go players may not be fundamentally much different from everyone else!
My Other Go Activities
In that same year, based upon the recommendation of AGA Secretary Elizabeth Morris, I imported my traditional table Go board and slate-and-shell stones from Japan myself, purchasing only intermediate quality. Ah! If I had only known then what I know now I'd have obtained the top quality Kaya Tenchimasa board and the 10 mm stones! But hindsight is always 20/20, and we can only do the best we can with the knowledge available at the time.
How good at Go I might have become if all of my available after work time during my prime years between 1950 and 1969 hadn’t been occupied by my Graduate studies at NYU and other work and personal responsibilities can only be speculated, but I must note that simply as a result of reading the very few Go books and materials then available in English, when I played Ed Lasker (who was 1K) at 9 stones, I remember well that I only lost a very close game in the yose as a result of a corner Ko fight! So it seems that, virtually on my own, I had rapidly and almost seamlessly passed through all of the high double digit Kyu ranks to perhaps 10 K or so! Despite the severe limitations on my availabel time, throughout this period I neverthelss did find some time for Go, and in that endeavor certain events stand out sufficiently in memory to warrant recounting here. Although the exact dates on which these events occurred is now less than clear, the fact that they almost certainly took place sometime during this period makes it reasonable to recall a couple of the more notable of them now.
Almost certainly the most notable of these Go events involved an informal “open house” and accompanying playing free-for-all that was held by Lester and Elizabeth Morris at their home in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey on a Saturday afternoon sometime in either Spring or Fall, when the weather was warm but not excessively hot. The Morris’ themselves were an interesting couple because they were both (as I recall) perhaps early to mid 40-ish, childless, and each employed in some high tech capacity at the prestigious Bell Labs, which at the time had one of the few large (and strong) industrial Go clubs in the entire US. Before I ever met them in person, this couple was already well known to me because I had read the “Introduction to Go” that they had jointly written and published in the AGJ, and that the AGA had since then distributed routinely to prospective new members. At the time, Lester was AGA President and Elizabeth was Secretary, and as far as the rest of the world could tell that also correctly represented their relative degree of interest in Go. But the thing that retrospectively makes that alignment worthy of note is what happened not too many years later, when Elizabeth died rather suddenly of cancer. Not too long after that sad event Lester remarried, and then quickly dropped out of the AGA (and Go) entirely!! At that moment it became painfully apparent to me that Elizabeth had been the true Go afficionado and the real driving force behind their AGA leadership roles, and that she, not he, should rightly have been President!
The other fact of interest to me concerning that afternoon of friendly Go at the Morris home on the shores of Pompton Lakes was the physical venue. The players were many, friendly and strong, and the house was both lovely and replete with all the amenities one would expect of the home of an upper middle class couple, including a charming back yard abutting the lake. It was, to at least the casual eye, near perfect - except for... The mosquitoes! Swarms and swarms of large, viciously biting mosquitoes! How any rational person could countenance living in such an environment on any extended basis escaped my understanding then, and still does today. But I suppose that it’s much like Florida and the Carribean - paradise, except when the hurricanes come and destroy everything in their path!
The second Go-related incident of interest that occurred somewhere within this same time frame happened at my home. At the time the American Go Association (AGA) had a total of only about 250 members, and so I was immensely pleased at my good fortune when I learned that one of them, a fellow named Sid Hyman, 5K, actually lived in the Bronx! So I contacted him and arranged for him to come to my home one night for a game. At its conclusion, we walked out together to his car, which he had parked just a few houses up the street. But when we got there, he discovered that it had been broken into, and this energized him into a burst of frenetic activity. I don’t recall what month it was but the weather was balmy and many of the windows in the surrounding apartment houses were open, so Sid began calling up to them to inquire if they’d seen anything. After several fruitless minutes of this I remonstrated with him, saying “Don’t you think that we should call the police?”. And, at least for the moment, his cryptic answer “They already know!” baffled me, until, noting my confusion, he cleared up the mystery. Sid was a detective Sergeant in the NYPD! And, of course, this was completely unexpected by me because all of the other Go players with whom I’d come into contact until that moment were professionals of one sort or other, with an enormously high proportion of them mathematicians, engineers and/or scientists.
During the 19 years that I attended NYU graduate school at night while working full time and raising a family I had precious little time for Go, so I had to learn what I could from the American Go Journal, and, beginning in 1956 with the publication of Takagawa's "How To Play Go" by the Nihon Kiin, from the slowly growing number of Go books in English. Even though I was little more than a beginner myself, most of my actual Go playing throughout those years was obtained by teaching those few of my engineering co-workers that I could interest. The only significant advantage of this was that my early exposure to playing White and being the handicap giver rather than the taker - a complete reversal of the typical beginner's syndrome of playing Black and receiving large handicaps from experienced players. For this reason, I've always been free of the passive, defensive, often almost frightened mental set of the conventionally trained beginner, and was comfortable with (if not necessarily fully proficient in) the more balanced and aggressive style needed in even game play.
Throughout this period and well beyond, "grubbing a living" for my family naturally took precedence in my life, with the consequence that I was only able to manage an (estimated) average of perhaps 10 or so games/year against stronger players. Fortunately, among those rare events was my participation in a number of Friday night simultaneous games at the New York Go Club by former Honinbo Kaoru Iwamoto during the period when he was living in New York City.
With the appearance of the Ishi Press in the 1960's, more advanced Go literature in English designed for beginning/intermediate players became available for the first time, so it finally became possible for me to truly begin to learn Go via independent study - an activity that I was quite experienced with and good at as a result of my years of graduate study. Almost entirely in this way, with almost no over-the-board play, I was able to raise my rank to 5 Kyu (AGA).
From almost the very moment that I first discovered Go, I recognized its very special attributes and determined to attempt to make it better known in America. I began this effort modestly, by trying to interest those in my milieu - primarily engineers and chessplayers, but I soon realized that there was little prospect of making the desired significant impact if I limited myself to such a personal scale. so I tried to use my ingenuity to devise ways of expanding my reach beyond my immediate environment.
I’m no longer certain whether I’d maintained my Mensa membership throughout the passage of the many years between when I first joined as one of the original New York (and US) members in the 1950's, or whether at some interim point I had let it lapse. But I do clearly recall that it was sometime in the early 1970's that I conceived the idea of creating a regular Go column for the monthly national Mensa Bulletin, operating on what I now realize was an unrealistically idealized notion of what people like Mensa members, with (supposedly) superior intellects, would find appealing. To that end I wrote to Karl Ross, then the national Mensa Bulletin’s editor, and with rather less effort than expected, convinced him to give the project his blessing. And so my regular “Go Mensa” column was born and continued for several years.
To say that this project was a disappointment would be a masterpiece of understatement! My naive beginning expectation was that Go would be a “natural” for Mensans, and that they would take to it, as I had, as soon as they became aware of its existence and depth. Was I ever wrong! The grim reality was that in all of the several years that my column ran, not a single Mensa member ever contacted me about it! And so, as the true meaning of the reality that a high IQ apparently doesn’t imply anything more than an ability to do well on IQ tests finally sank in, I not only ended the column but also dropped out of Mensa, although as it turned out, not yet forever.(That was to come some 20 + years later.)
In 1999 I again rejoined Mensa on the off chance that things might be different after the passage of so much time, and the far greater (if still minuscule) penetration of Go into American society. Well! After giving one of my free lecture/demonstrations to the members of Long Island Mensa, from their massive disinterest I discovered to my sorrow that nothing much had changed, so I've once again dropped out, this time permanently!
Some Of My Other Attempts To Promote Go
Perhaps my most interesting idea for spreading Go came to fruition at just about this same time, when I arranged for and participated in a Go demonstration in the front window of the upscale Takashimaya Department Store on New York City's famous Fifth Avenue at 43 Street, as the accompanying photo shows. I'm the clean shaven guy in the white sweater on the left - the beard I now sport is something that I later added to my physiognomy on my retirement as a declaration of independence!
This was the scene on New York's famous Fifth Avenue
when I played Go in the front window of the Takashimaya Department Store,
before a large crowd of onlookers.
I Embark On A Monumental Project
In my earlier years I had never thought of myself as an author, nor had I ever consciously even considered engaging in writing to any major degree as either a formal or informal pursuit, although I had as a matter of course created many reports and procedural manuals as part of my various job responsibilities during my working career. From the outset I recognized that, although I might enjoy an intellect that was far superior to that of most people, I definitely didn’t also possess the type of linguistic gifts that make for the production of highly appealing prose. Quite the contrary, it seemed that although I was blessed with the ability to think logically and concisely, I could then only present any results of that thinking in rather straightforward narration, rather than the elegant and sophisticated verbiage replete with the kind of descriptions and allusions that are so favored by both the literary critics and (I must admit) the reading public. So what I could produce made for excellent corporate ‘boiler plate” or technical exposition, but not the kind of commercially viable prose desired by the publishers of mass marketed magazines or novels.
Although that was clearly a monumental detriment to my writing aspirations, when I looked objectively at what goes on in this screwed up, fractious world, I also came to believe that my insights were valuable enough that they were worth trying to convey anyway, even in my inadequate fashion. So, despite all indications to the contrary, I decided that my major avocation in my retirement was going to be that of a writer! Lest the reader get the wrong impression regarding my motivation in this regard, let me here add a brief clarification of a key point. Perhaps the most significant factor impelling me toward writing, about Go as well as other subjects, is the sad fact that, although I have a son and heir, he is childless, and at age 57 as of this writing in 2009, is virtually certain to remain so forever! The unfortunate result of those facts is that my only realistic chance to impact posterity in any significant way will necessarily come as a consequence of those substantive accomplishments I leave behind at my passing, and among those things, writings, which can renew their influence upon each successive future generation in turn, constitute perhaps the simplest and best mechanism. Taking my clue from Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all, to thine own self be true...”, I resolved to write about those subjects in which I was both most knowledgeable and had the greatest interest, beginning with the game of Go.
From my earliest contact with Go, as a mere beginner myself and based upon my own struggles to achieve understanding, it seemed to me that the high dropout rate among novices and intermediates almost certainly had to largely be a result of their inability to fathom Go’s arcane and subtle strategy. This inability in turn resulted in their failure to improve quickly enough to maintain their interest, and that was inevitably followed by frustration and, finally, with no way to relieve that frustration, their ultimately dropping out!
The hypothesis that I generated as a result of this simple bit of analysis was that if this fundamental problem could somehow be solved, Go would then be able to attain its rightful place in Western society as the world’s premiere strategic board game, replacing chess, which presently (and manifestly undeservedly) occupies that exalted position. But was it even possible that that understanding gap could ever really be bridged sufficiently easily and on a large enough scale to be significant? Neither I nor anyone else knew the answer to that fundamental question, but finding it is the prodigious task that I (probably foolishly) nevertheless set for myself! The reality that this was going to be a monumentally difficult enterprise should require no explanation, because none of the many accomplished Go professional authors over the centuries of Go’s modern history had succeeded enough to even come close to accomplishing it! So how could a mere amateur like me, and not a very strong one at that, conceivably hope to do so? On the other hand, I always recognized that it was always possible that my underlying premise is wrong and that no such direct (I hate to use the word “simple” in this context) solution to the dropout problem is even feasible, although everything that I’ve learned from a lifetime of personally teaching over 1000 Go beginners from third graders to adults tells me that it is. So off I went, “fat, dumb, and happy”, a modern version of Don Quixote, tilting at my own slightly different and certainly far more difficult and complex form of windmill.
The Generic Problem Of Teaching and Learning
As I thought more and more deeply about the many problems attendant upon teaching Go, especially to juvenile beginners, I came to realize that even that large set of problems constituted only a tiny, proper subset of the totality of problems involved in the vastly larger and more comprehensive subject of teaching and learning in general. And so, ultimately, my initial quite narrow focus on teaching Go slowly but inexorably expanded into the much wider, and I believe far more important subject of the teaching of Reasoning. That transformation in my thinking, although simply stated, was not easily achieved, and occurred quite slowly in several discrete steps over the period of at least a decade.
Just how transcendentally important the ability to reason objectively can be may most easily be understood via reference to a proininent example, admittedly in a field far removed from Go. Consider the nation of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) in Southern Africa. When the majority Blacks finally revolted and cast off their centuries long oppression by the White minority, they also threw out the White's mangement skills! The result has been economic disaster, as their once prosperous farms have essentially ceased to function. But IF they'd been able to reason objectively instead of allowing their hatred of their long term oppressors to dominate their thinking, both sides could now be prospering!
A somewhat different perspective on this same subject is provided by considering the Bill and Melinda Gates' Foundation's efforts to ease global poverty. To my mind, although worthy, this is also essentially futile, because the same inferior thinking that gave rise to that poverty in the first place will still remain unchanged. Instead, if in both of these situations the emphasis instead was on teaching the native population how to reason, in a generation leadership capable of finding their own way out of their problems would inevitably arise!
Because this is a subject much beyond our present focus on Go it's not really appropriate to discuss it further here, but a rather complete exposition of this transcendentally important topic is provided elsewhere within this web page at
Click Here To Return To Teaching The New "R" Of Reasoning
My Initial Attempts at Finding A Solution To The Dropout Problem
Throughout the early years of my then still mainly nascent Go career, it had become painfully apparent to me that the available Go literature in English was almost totally inadequate to the task of creating the needed cadre of new strong players that would enable American Go to ultimately rise above its seemingly perpetual status as a peripheral activity, indulged in only by an elite few! And because it also seemed clear that no one else was even addressing this ungently needed task or was likely to do so in the foreseeable future, I reluctantly determined to take it on myself despite the fact that I was only a mere AGA 1D. In essaying that effort, I was smart enough to recognize that as a necessary first step I had to improve my own understanding of the complex and subtle strategy of Go. To accomplish this vital task, I adopted a new personal learning strategy. Instead of devoting most of the strictly limited amount of time I had available for Go to playing my own games, for a number of years I instead spent aalmost all of it watching the games of relatively high-Dan level players on IGS (The Internet Go Server), then the oldest, largest and strongest such venue in the world. I then integrated what I learned about Go itself from that with what I gleaned about the perceptual and cognitive difficulties of both children and adults from my SHUNT After School Go Program teaching. From that blending, I identified a number of key areas that I felt weren’t adequately covered in the existing Go literature, and then set about finding constructive ways to redress them.
My initial attempt to accomplish this synthesis was to create and flesh out an entirely new primer entitled “The Complete Guide To The Game of Go”, an undoubtedly overambitious attempt to cover all aspects of Go from the beginner’s perspective, and that became the substrate on which all of my subsequent efforts in this genre were later built. But translating that beginning, however worthy, into the long sought comprehensive solution to the dropout problem turned out to be even more complex and challenging than it initially appeared to be. In addition to the many formidable conceptual difficulties, a major practical difficulty with this project was that it was undertaken during what we now recognize as having been near the dawn of the personal computer age, and long before the advent of the internet! So of necessity all of my writing was done entirely by hand, with its many illustrations “kludged” together by xeroxing existing printed materials. But it was a project in which I was not only really interested but which I felt certain would produce a worthwhile result, so, despite the many formidable difficulties, I forged ahead.
My War With The AGA
Sometime in the late 80's or early 90's a new paradigm for teaching Go beginners was created by some professionals in Japan, and instituted there with some success. Its basic premise was that the many profound complexities of Go could be avoided and the path to competence of the beginner eased by starting with a restrictive form of the game involving only the single aspect of capture, and then after the novice had learned that concept (at least in its elementary manifestations), the complete and more complex ideas that make Go great and worth the time and energy to master are then introduced. And this seems to have worked well in Japan, in a society in which every one knows of Go, and where it has been established, accepted, and acknowledged as an integral part of their culture for over 400 years. Transferring that same new paradigm to teaching American Go beginners was something with which the key members of the AGA who went to Japan to become “certified” to teach it foresaw no difficulties, but which I immediately recognized as constituting a large potential problem. The difficulty that I perceived with this new method derived from the great cultural disparity between the two societies, in which virtually all Americans were already inculcated with the thinking derived from chess (which is primarily tactical and in which captures play a central role), and especially checkers, in which capture is actually the game’s sole objective! In contrast, although threats to capture are central to Go strategy, and large or significant captures can lead directly to victory, capture is distinctly only a means to the end of establishment of influence and control of space, and a playing paradigm which emphasizes direct capture is a prescription for defeat! Given those well known facts, it seemed obvious to me that starting new American beginners in Go by making capture the sole objective of play must necessarily prove counterproductive in the long run, because it’s an emphasis that must later be unlearned in order to become even a modestly proficient player. In short, it was my firm belief that this new introductory paradigm (called “The Capture Game”) requires learning a bad habit, and then later unlearning it - something that’s well established pedagogically as both difficult and unnecessary!
The problem that immediately arose when I raised this caveat publically was that those in the AGA’s inner circle who’d invested their time and many $ to go to Japan to become certified as “Capture game” instructors weren’t exactly thrilled to have me tell the world that (in effect, without ever saying so explicitly) I thought they’d made a huge mistake! To make matters worse, when my logical arguments appeared in the AGA E-Journal the resulting controversy became too intense for the establishment to bear. So I was told directly in no uncertain terms (albeit in a private email) that if I didn’t immediately and permanently desist from even discussing the issue that I’d henceforth be banned from any posting in the E-Journal! Talk about suppression of free speech and violation of the First Amendment! But in the supposedly democratic AGA organization that’s the reality, and so, very reluctantly, I desisted from any further discussion of this topic. But the resulting residue of anger and resentment toward me on the part of several key members of the AGA’s Executive Board sems not to have ever abated since, and I believe reasonably and logically infer that one of its unfortunate consequences was the less than favorable reviews my quite excellent primer Go For Kids and New Go Proverbs Illustrated undeservedly received, as discussed below. Fortunately, despite all of that (I believe undeserved) negativity the excellence of Go For Kids has ultimately prevailed, and it has continued to sell throughout the now more than 8 years since its publication, long ago passing its break even point. And New Go Proverbs also continues to sell, although almost certainly at a far slower pace than it would have if it had received the decent reviews it deserved.
Go For Kids
Although I recognized early on that The Complete Guide To The Game Of Go was too ambitious an effort to ever have even the remotest chance of commercial viability, it did successfully serve to organize my ideas and thus provide the framework on which its several successors were all built. The first of these successors was the somewhat less ambitious (and also unpublished) “The Beginner’s Guide To The Game Of Go”. Then, as an outgrowth of my ongoing After School Go Program in the South Huntington School District, I conceived the idea of transforming that already much more incisive and focused document into a child-friendly primer, by replacing key portions of its narrative with hundreds of cartoon panels that children would find both more attractive and easier to follow. (In this I had prescient anticipation of the now monumentally successful Hikaru No Go!)
Since I have essentially zero artistic ability, and it was crucial that those cartoon panels be of absolutely first class professional caliber, so after creating the dialogue and rough outlines of the accompanying scenes, my next (and not inconsiderable) task was to somehow find a really excellent artist to render them. The problems attendant on this quest were considerable. First, it was clear that no already established artist would be interested in a project that would never provide sufficient monetary payback to cover even the most modest hourly charges. Second, and equally daunting, was the fact that even that modest payback for the artist would occur only if the book got published, and then only many months or years later when sales had been built up. So what I needed was to find an unknown but first rate artist who’d be willing to invest his time and talent in a project with uncertain and at best long deferred payoff! As I reasoned it, the only such persons, if any existed, would be young art students, who’d be willing to invest their efforts on the speculation that they’d then achieve recognition that would later payoff more substantially with other projects. So I set up an informal competition in which participants were required to submit a sample of their work, and then for those who surmounted that first hurdle, to create a sample cartoon panel or two. Advertising that competition through the employment offices at well known art schools and colleges with art departments actually produced a number of excellent candidates, from whom I ultimately selected Seho Kim, then a graduate art major at the Cooper Union in New York City.
Having accomplished that essential first step, the even more challenging task of finding a publisher willing to consider this unique project was undertaken, leading rather more easily than I expected to Dr. Sidney Y.K. Yuan of Yutopian Press, one of the less than half dozen English language Go publishers in the world. Then began the long process of cartoon panel creation, review and editing, followed by assembly and editing of the complete manuscript, in turn followed by all of the resulting customary back and forth between publisher and author. And after all of those steps had been successfully surmounted, there began an extended dispute between Sid and me regarding the cover art, primarily focused on his preference for a sort of action game scene as opposed to my preference for the type of calm, contemplative and mildly upbeat scene that was eventually chosen. And then even that agreement developed into controversy when I was appalled at the “muddy” appearing cover colors, based on the sample image that Sid emailed me. Fortunately, when I finally had a copy of the actual book in hand, it developed that the color rendition of that earlier emailed sample image was the problem, and that, as Sid had assured me, the actual cover is quite attractive. Unfortunately, that same color rendition problem persists today in Amazon’s on-line listing of the book! But at least Go For Kids was successfully published by Yutopian in 2001 (ISBN 1-889554-74-X), and continues to sell today, albeit somewhat more slowly than I had hoped. At the same time, even the joyful event of its publication led to more than a bit of not inconsiderable pain when some reviewers completely ignored the presentation breakthrough represented by the book’s unique child friendly interface, to criticize such trivia as the font used for the text! To say that this sort of inconsequential “nit picking” left me with a very poor opinion of a prominent portion of the Go community would be a monumental understatement! What came to mind was the old saying about “casting pearls before swine” - but perhaps it’s all “par for the course” and I’m being unrealistically bitter.
For a better idea of what Go For Kids is all about, please click on the following link:
Click Here To Go To Go For Kids
New Go Proverbs Illustrated
I integrated what I learned in my study of high Dan games on IGS with what I gleaned about the perceptual and cognitive difficulties of both children and adults from my After School Go Program and LIGC teaching. From that, I identified a number of key areas that I felt weren’t adequately covered in the existing Go literature, and then set about finding constructive ways to address those issues. The first fruit of this effort was New Go Proverbs Illustrated, which followed in the path first established by Kensaku Segoe’s now classic Go Proverbs Illustrated, and subsequently augmented by still largely unknown books by two far lesser known authors. The result was what I’d characterize primarily as “a fun book”, in which everything it contains is useful derived wisdom, but will still almost certainly be viewed by most readers as a form of light reading.
What happened with this book was that my own publisher Dr. Sid Yuan of Yutopian said that although he liked it and thought it almost certain to sell relatively well, he was fully committed with professional authors for at least several years in the future, and therefore couldn’t take it on immediately even though he would like to. So I reluctantly cast about for another publisher, and elicited at least preliminary interest from Bill Cobb of Slate & Shell. Unfortunately, he didn’t like the manuscript, and rejected it rather brusquely with a few cryptic comments which baldy stated that he hadn’t sufficient interest in it to justify working with me on rectifying what he perceived to be its many deficits. Although I thought this summary dismissal rather stupid and short sighted on Cobb’s part, I had to agree that his main complaint of excessive complexity was well founded, so I immediately revised the manuscript completely to delete all of the more complex actual game examples, and to make the explanations of the concepts more concise. This of course, made the book considerably shorter and easier to read, as well as less expensive to print and therefore cheaper to buy. Given those improvements, I was able to convince Sid Yuan to publish it after all, and it finally appeared in print in May 2006.
But the kind of reception it elicited from the Go community quickly became clear, and it wasn’t a pretty picture! A couple of reviewers thought it simply awful, in one case primarily because of a single, obvious (and admittedly egregious) error that hadn’t been caught in proofreading. One reviewer also complained that he felt that it was disingenuous of someone at my modest skill level to “presume to create new Go proverbs”, as if only professionals could do that! Quite to the contrary, many readers in the book’s target range of 15K - 5K thought that it was easy to read and provided the valuable insights that were its design intent! So the overall result was at best a “mixed bag”, and not the resounding endorsement I had hoped for and still believe that the book fully deserves!
For a better idea of what New Go Proverbs Illustrated is all about, please click on the following link:
Click Here To Go To New Go Proverbs Illustrated
Improve Fast In Go During the period in which my manuscripts for New Go Proverbs Illustrated and Improve Fast In Go were both in limbo, the AGA’s then new President, Mike Lash, announced that the AGA was going to undertake creating its own new Go primer, as a way to help “lock in” new recruits. Having gone for decades through the process of trying to create just such a primer myself, and appreciating just how much more difficult it actually is compared to what one would believe a priori, I offered my own deconstruction and enhancement of Go For Kids, THE FIRST BOOK OF GO, free to the AGA if they would publish it as their official primer! To my complete astonishment, Lash summarily rejected my manuscript after review! Considering that it was the double distilled essence of everything that I’d learned in over 55 years from teaching well over 1000 adult and juvenile beginners, and that it was (at least as I then saw it) even clearer and more complete than Go For Kids, that left me completely baffled. But running the manuscript past a “wanna be” Go publisher, Cardoza Enterprises, resulted in an almost identical rejection, so maybe they both knew something that I didn’t, although I sincerely doubted that was possible because Lash is only a mid 6 Kyu (a weak player) and the Cardoza people really don’t know Go at all!
Despite my reservations, I prudently proceeded to rethink and then completely reedit themanuscript, and then sent the revised version to two of my most reliable vetters for another look! And their preliminary feedback wasn’t favorable either - not because of any deficits of content, but because of presentation! Although that feedback was obviously not the kind of critique that I would have preferred to receive, it was something that could rather easily be corrected, so I had every expectation that yet another carefully focused reedit would do the trick! The thing that bothers me about all of this is why experienced publishers like Cardoza and supposedly knowledgeable people like Mike Lash couldn’t see past the book’s basically superficial flaws to its intrinsic merits to offer positive improvement suggestions, but were instead so unpleasantly dismissive! But in the end, I was confident that rejecting it so summarily would be their loss and not mine!
Gritting my teeth and taking advantage of the old admonition to use the KISS (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”) system, I proceeded to completely reedit the manuscript, and after a hiatus of something over a year’s time once again contacted Mike Lash to see if he might be interested in giving the revised version a look. Contrary to my expectations he was willing and did, and to my delight agreed that the revised version was now far superior and had real potential. But, despite that, he thought that it was too long! And I reluctantly had to agree, although despite my best efforts all of the cuts that I saw as being feasible without damaging the manuscript’s clarity and completeness would still be insufficient to bring its size down to the less than 150 pages he deemed desirable. Nevertheless, Mike agreed to review it in depth and get back to me with his suggested cuts in a month’s time - the end of December 2006. But when I hadn’t heard from him by nearly the end of January 2007, I again emailed him to enquire regarding his progress. To say that his response baffled me would be a masterpiece of understatement!
As earlier noted, the original premise underlying my contact with Mike on this matter was the AGA’s avowed intent to create its own “official” Go primer, and what I offered, and he agreed was an excellent proposition from the AGA’s perspective, was to save them all the very considerable time and effort needed to create such a primer “from scratch” by using mine, which I’d give them absolutely free in return for their designating it their official publication! So when in his response to my inquiry regarding progress he replied “I am going out of the country tomorrow and can't get to it until next week. Sorry if I am not responding as fast as you like. This is extra volunteer work for me, for your personal benefit.” I was both shocked and baffled! For my “personal benefit”, indeed! I was offering to give the AGA absolutely free the results of all of my years of teaching Go beginners, plus the hundreds and hundreds of hours that went into creating and editing this manuscript, and he now saw his tiny reviewing effort as being for my personal benefit? Evidently he didn’t even recall our prior correspondence, and what that says about both him and the AGA I leave to the reader’s judgment.
Based on my many largely unsatisfactory dealings with the AGA’s leadership over the course of the last 50+ years I probably shouldn’t have expected anything different. But my correspondence with President Lash on this subject had been so clear and unequivocal to that time that I was, probably unwisely, lulled into a false sense of security. They say “live and learn”, but perhaps in this case the more appropriate adage would be “hope springs eternal...”. So after a considerable hiatus I again contacted Lash, noting that I had completely revised and improved the manuscript, and once again repeating my offer to make it available to the AGA,. Regrettably, after he reviewed the revised manuscript he informed me that the AGA had decided not to proceed with this project after all! To say that this sequence of events makes me skeptical of that rationale should be apparent. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when I had occasion to contact former AGA President and current President of The American Go Foundation Terry Benson and suggest that he might want to look at the manuscript, he refused, saying that I was “too controversial”for him to even bother! Well! That definitively put the dagger into my back, and as I see it now, effectively also put an end to my attempt to ever publish another Go book in hard copy! It was a devastating and I believe entirely undeserved setback, from which at my then age of 80 I believed it apparent that I could never recover. But in that belief I had (at least temporarily) forgotten the new world of the internet. So what I did was to complete the reediting of Improve Fast In Go, convert the manuscript into HTML, and then published it FREE as part of Milt’s Web Page!
I consider this book to be my “magnum opus”, and the second and by far the most important fruit of my effort to identify a number of key areas that I felt weren’t adequately covered in the existing Go literature, and then set about finding constructive ways to address them. Its basic underlying premise is that Go is essentially a fighting game, and that understanding the related issues and how to handle them will produce the fastest and largest possible improvement per unit of effort expended in the skill and rating of double digit thru 5 Kyu players!
Has it been successful? That’s hard to assess accurately, but the “hit counter” offers one clue, already at 12092 on Dec 2, 2009, and growing at a steady rate daily. Assuming an average of 10 hits per viewer (as they return again and again to study in depth), that’s still about 1200 people in only a few months time - not bad, I believe, given that its only publicity has been “word of mouth”! Perhaps an even better indication of the value of Improve Fast In Go is provided by the results obtained by players in its target range of high double digit - 5K who’ve studied it. It’s well established that “One Swallow does not a Summer make”, so the results obtained by any single player can at best be considered indicative and not determinative. At the same time, the fact that Lou G of my own LIGC had been stalled at 14K for several years, but after only one careful reading of Improve Fast In Go over a period of 6 weeks is now a solid 8K! However you slice it, such a terrific result could not even be possible if Improve Fast In Go didn’t at least approach the degree of perfection that I’m firmly convinced that it has!
The complete manuscript of Improve fast In Go is available by simply clicking on the following link:
Click Here To Go To Improve fast In Go
Vetting My Manuscripts
Because I’m a Beethoven and not a Mozart, I’m keenly aware that however excellent my concepts may be and regardless of how carefully I edit and reedit, the finished product of any manuscript can’t be arrived at either quickly or within a few iterations. So when each of my manuscripts had reached what i considered to be a reasonable state of nominal “completion”, I advertised through the AGA’s e-journal for vetters, assembled a team, sent out copies of the manuscript for correction and comment, and then completely reedited again and yet again after those comments had been received and integrated. And even after all of that, it invariably wasn’t enough! Although this process had proceeded more or less smoothly in the several books I’d had vetted in the past, what happened with New Go Proverbs Illustrated caught even me completely by surprise! Eva Casey, one of my earlier vetters who volunteered again for the revised manuscript, recommended a friend of hers named Alan W for the team, and based upon my excellent experience with her I accepted him without real question - a decision I since came to strongly regret!
The formal, written agreement I make with each vetter is that their (only) compensation in return for their efforts will be my public acknowledgment in the book, plus an autographed copy on publication. And that worked satisfactorily until I encountered Alan! From the outset he began complaining about the amount of work involved, and then began harassing me for his postage costs in mailing the vettted manuscript back to me, eventually even threatening me with a lawsuit to recover that paltry sum. This was especially galling because the few comments he did make were almost absolutely worthless (a fact that I was instinctively smart enough to never even mention to him!). After some months of this harassment, in which he continued to badger me repeatedly via email and to which I only politely responded but never initiated anything, in desperation by that time willing to do almost anything to get him off my back, I finally gave in and sent him the few dollars involved. The denouement to all of this, which would be funny if it weren’t so sad, was that he then emailed me saying that I should never contact him again! As if I ever would unless I was certifiably insane! Regrettably, even after all of that this incident wasn’t over, because with the publication of New Go Proverbs Illustrated, Alan emailed me again seeking “his” autographed copy! My patient reply was that he had abrogated our contract by demanding compensation for his costs, and that the money I’d sent him was his chosen alternative to receiving an autographed copy of the book. But I offered him the choice of returning those funds and receiving the book. His response was to accuse me of listing his name in the book without permission, and threatening to involve my publisher! Sigh! My response was to send him a copy of my original ad in the AGA e-journal, which specified that the vetters would be listed in the book, and noting the fact that signing on had constituted his agreement to such listing. But that’s a logical argument, and from sad experience I already knew that logic is not Alan’s strong suit, so I awaited his next ploy with some trepidation. Fortunately, it seems that at least in this case logic actually prevailed, and at long last my contacts with Alan have finally come to their long desired end!
My Chess Primers
Caveat!Because it bears no intrinsic relationship to Go, this topic really shouldn’t be discussed here at all. But because my Chess writings were a direct outgrowth of the Go writings that were the focus of much of my later life, I believe that makes its inclusion here acceptable.
As noted above, long before my strategic board game efforts became focused on Go, Chess was my preferred game, and for more than a few years teaching it was also an activity high on my agenda. While I worked at the RCA Receiving Tube Division Harrison plant in 1954 -59 (now an incredible half century ago!) as the company Chess Champion I regularly gave instructional lectures to our Chess Club’s members. So after Go For Kids was published it quite naturally occurred to me that the same approach could be productively applied to Chess. As a result I wrote Chess For Kids, designing the same sort of cartoon panel dialogues as in Go For Kids. I then prevailed upon my artist Seho Kim to actually create a few sample cartoon panels to show to any potential publisher. But I was determined that this wasn’t to be just another typical chess primer, to add to the already massive host already in print. Instead it uniquely incorporated a little used but highly effective technique of restricted force games for mastering piece moves and (more important) capabilities. Each of those mini games allows the beginner to avoid the confusing complexities of the full game by focusing on the capabilities of a single piece at a time, simplifying and speeding learning of the rudiments in a way somewhat analogous to the use of small boards in Go.
Regrettably, despite my conviction regarding this book’s excellence, I was never able to conjure up even the slightest interest for it from any publisher, primarily (as I learned to my sorrow) because of their expressed perception that “kids books don’t sell”. As a consequence of that rejection, I decided to “reverse engineer” Chess For Kids back into an adult primer called Learn Chess Fast by simply reconverting the cartoon panels back into straight expository text, but retaining the unique and efficacious reduced force games as a unique learning mechanism. That approach initially received only a marginally better response, receiving a single expression of interest from an Australian Chess book publisher. So, with his explicit assent, I sent him a copy of the manuscript for his review and waited patiently for a response. Some 6 months later I contacted his secretary only to learn that he hadn’t even opened the envelope yet, and was going to be out of town for a while. At that moment I realized that he wasn’t anyone that I wished to deal with, so I had her send the manuscript back to me and wrote him off as just another bad experience. The result was that although I still firmly believed that Learn Chess Fast was a superior primer, it appeared that it, too, would continue to languish among the growing catalog of my writings that in all probability would never achieve publication. But, to my great surprise, that assessment turned out to be excessively pessimistic, and Learn Chess Fast (ISBN 4-87187-822-8) was published by Ishi Press International in April 2009, and has received only 5 star reviews!
For a better idea of what Learn Chess Fast is all about, please click on the following link:
Click Here To Go To Learn Chess Fast
The South Huntington After School Go Program
Based upon my conviction that learning Go is a superior way to train the developing mind, with the assent of then School Superintendent Dan Domenech, in 1991 I began the South Huntington (SHUNT) UFSD After-School Go Program with small groups of fourth and fifth graders meeting in each of the Maplewood and Birchwood Intermediate schools, and all interested Middle and Senior High school students meeting at the Stimson Middle School. It was at almost exactly this same time that I gave my lecture at the Half Hollow Hills Library, so this period marked a major expansion of my local efforts to both spread the word about Go and to recruit new LIGC members.
With each succeeding year the SHUNT after-school Go program grew based entirely on word-of-mouth, with 125 children entered at the start of the 1996-7 school year and an astonishing 146 at the start of the 1997-8 school year, although normal attrition inevitably reduced these numbers to about 33- 40% of those figures by each school year's end. This growth was greatly aided by the arrival of new School Superintendent Gerald Lauber, who authorized the program's expansion to include third graders! But then fate intervened when Supt. Lauber’s unfortunate heart attack forced his precipitous early retirement, although my program did continue through that period despite new Superintendent Marilyn Zaretsky’s (the former Asst. Supt. for Administration, and much more of a "bean counter" than an educator) obvious disinterest.
Although the vast majority of my interfaces with the kids enrolled in the SHUNT After School Go Program necessarily were the expected formal one of instructor and pupils, there were a few less formal interfaces, most prominently involving those occasions when, for one reason or another, one or more parents didn’t show up at the end of one of our sessions to take their children home. Because that was invariably well after the last school buses had already left, it then became my responsibility to get those children back home safely myself. That I don’t recall ever having been thanked for this is perhaps not surprising, but I sometimes wonder what might have happened had I become involved in any kind of accident with one of those children in my car. Fortunately, no such untoward event ever occurred, and it all passed smoothly into history without a glitch.
The only other non-Go related incident of note occurred one afternoon in the last year of the program at the Stimson Middle (Junior High) School. As might be expected in a group of pubescent youngsters, the kids were just beginning to enjoy and explore their developing bodies, and were engaging in arm wrestling. And that included the lone girl in the group, a young Japanese American, who it developed was actually a member of the boys wrestling team (because there wasn’t a girls wrestling team!). Despite my protests, I was immediately drafted into the informal arm wrestling competition. At the time I was already past 70 and only a pale shadow of the powerful young man I’d once been, but because I had continued to workout and had stayed in shape, and because the kids were still not fully mature, I wasn’t overly concerned regarding the outcome. So what I did in each of my own informal bouts was to simply “lock” my arm as my opponent struggled to pin me, and then after a discreet period, apply the pressure and pin them. What might have happened had we repeated the contest when these kids were only a year or two older I can only speculate, but at least at that moment I was still stronger than any of them! Perhaps most interesting is that the little Japanese girl was the strongest of the group, and a year or two later actually became the star of the High School’s boys wrestling team! As an interesting aside, she was also the same program member who had become my best Go student! For more detailed infrormation about the South Huntington After School Go Program, please click on the follwing link:
Click Here To Return To The South Huntington After School Go Program
The Long Island Go Club (LIGC)
After almost 15 years of its existence as a tiny, essentially unknown organization, the watershed moment in the life of the LIGC occurred in January 1991, almost exactly 5 years after my retirement, with my lecture at the Half Hollow Hills Community Library in nearby Dix Hills, and its following newspaper coverage in Newsday, Long Island’s premiere newspaper. In preparation for this event, I had written, reproduced, and then personally distributed 4000 meeting notices, walking from house to house in the local area! As a bit of serendipity, this provided me with a particularly interesting insight into the completely unexpected rugged topography existing within only a mere half mile or so from the flat-as-a-pancake land of my own housing development, which had been built on a former potato field. But this nearby area, completely invisible from the major thoroughfares of Old Country Road and Wolf Hill Road which border it, consists of a miniature mountain called Pigeon Hill, in which many of the streets have grades as steep as any of the famous hills of Los Angeles or San Francisco. So distributing my fliers among those steep slopes required a bit more than mere persistence and stamina, but because doing so fit in perfectly with my normal exercise regimen it was a task willingly undertaken.
Those meeting notices were deliberately crafted by me to be provocative and (hopefully) intriguing. That this must have been successful is demonstrated by the fact that they resulted in an attendance at my lecture of 105, many of whom stayed after the main presentation on the history and social implications of Go for a lecture/demo on how Go is played. This latter group then became the nucleus of a vastly expanded LIGC. Serendipitously, as a result of having impressed the library staff by both my lecture's attendance (the largest ever at the library!) and its content, my request for a permanent venue for our club meetings at their facility was granted, and thereafter we met at the Melville Branch of the library for nearly 10 years.
The structure of the LIGC's meetings at that time reflected my own personal experience and philosophy, and emphasized the training and nurturing of novice through "average" players. Each meeting began with an approximately 45 minute lecture/demo/ Q&A session in which I reviewed (from memory!) the Fuseki (full board opening) of a game - preferably one played by the club's own members, but sometimes a master game. My plan in doing this was to try to develop each member's strategic/tactical thinking, and to achieve that end my lecture strategy was to elicit suggestions from the attendees for each succeeding move, beginning in each case with the weakest player and proceeding in ascending order of playing strength. That way each player's own thinking was revealed, without the weaker players being induced to modify their own (usually incorrect) perceptions by what their betters thought, as would have been the case if the stronger players had made their ideas known first. Then, after all present had expressed their opinions, I would explain the position's implications and reveal what the best move was, as well as its feasible alternatives, if any. Following each lecture, I paired the players off to play ladder matches using the American Go Association’s (AGA's) then "standard" 45/10 time limits.
The LIGC Rating Ladder I created had a number of unique characteristics, designed to make it simple to use yet accurate in its rankings. The numerical ratings assigned were "arbitrary", but tied to the standard AGA ranks by the fact that they were separated by exactly 100 rating points. Each win in a rated match resulted in a gain of 25 points, with the same amount deducted for a loss, so this was a true "zero sum game”. It therefore required an excess of 4 wins over losses to advance 1 rank, and conversely to lose one. Handicaps and Komi (compensation for playing second) were established using standard AGA protocols. To provide a stable datum on which all of the other player's ratings were based, the Dan-level players on the ladder were not assigned a point rating and their ratings did not change as a result of our games. That kept our internal ratings tied to the AGA's, thereby preventing them from "floating" and quite possibly becoming completely unrealistic over time. The initial assessment of where each new player would enter the ladder was made by me, and then that was adjusted as necessary over the course of the player’s first few rated games, although I’m proud to say that the need for any such adjustment occurred only rarely. The conservative nature of the LIGC’s Ladder ratings was repeatedly proved over the years when our members played in AGA rated tournaments, at which they invariably scored about 1-2 stones stronger!
Under this format the LIGC continued to grow until we were averaging about 20 members per meeting. But at about that same time (some 15 or so years ago) the deleterious effects of 2 major disastrous economic developments hit. The first was a vast downturn in defense employment on Long Island, culminating first in the closing of Republic Aircraft, and then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, with the acquisition by Northrop and subsequent effective demise of the island’s largest employer, Grumman Aerospace, with a tremendous resulting deleterious "ripple effect" on the remainder of the local economy. The second development was the advent of Go on the Internet, which enabled potential players to find suitable opponents and play without ever leaving home. Finally, a third, even more devastating event occurred to supply the coup de grace, when the Half Hollow Hills Library's Director resigned, and the new Director decided to cut back our use of the Melville meeting room to only twice per month. With the confluence of these three successive blows our average weekly attendance quickly tailed off to only few, rebounded for a while to about 8 per session, and then tapered off again to a mere handful. Given this sparse attendance, at that time I decided to stop the lectures and rating ladder, and also to begin searching for a new meeting venue.
After our move from the library to the Barnes & Noble bookstore, weekly meeting attendance once again increased to the 6-8 range on good nights and even more on occasion, but still remained only a pale shadow of what it was at our peak, and all that we now do at our meetings is to provide some one-on-one instruction and play informal Go. A couple of years ago we got a new player from the graduating class at Chaminade High School in nearby Nassau County, who progressed from complete beginner to 9K in only 4 months! He was so enthusiastic that another 4 of his classmates soon joined him! The problem with this was that all of these fine young men then graduated from Chaminade and began attending colleges far from Long Island, so that other Go clubs became the beneficiaries of our recruitment and teaching efforts. In June 2007 this same most enthusiastic young man returned to Long Island after graduation, and for a time once again actively engaged in an attempt to improve his rating from the Kyu ranks to Shodan, but then he moved away again and is now more or less permanently residing upstate, where, in 2009, he has established his own Go club!
At about the same time as our move to B&N, Newsday, Long Island's premiere newspaper, began a new feature on Saturdays called Act II, featuring the activities of the Island's growing community of retirees, and focused on those who have undertaken significant new careers after their nominal "retirement". In response to their call for reader input, I sent the editor a brief summary of my "second career" in Go, with the result that I became their featured retiree on Saturday, July 12, 2003, as seen below. With the exception of the "quote" shown (which they insisted on, despite my admittedly mild objections), everything in the article is exactly as I wrote it.
The result of that appearance in Newsday was serendipitous, if less than overwhelming. Jerry Fu, an AGA 4D who wasn't aware of local Go activity, plus a few new beginners, appeared at LIGC meetings for a brief time. In addition, we were invited to participate in the 2004 Spring Japanese Festival at the Huntington Universalist Fellowship. Unfortunately, our participation in that event didn't produce any new LIGC members, but there's little doubt that a significant segment of the local populace became aware of Go's existence as a result. In 2004, a 1K who was then a Doctoral candidate and Graduate Assistant in Physics at the NY State University at Stony Brook began coming to the club whenever his heavy teaching and research schedule permitted, and in 2005 he brought with him another Stony Brook doctoral candidate who was 5k. In January 2006, another (unrelated) 5K showed up and for a while became a regular attendee, and shortly thereafter a 1D computer programmer also appeared for the first time, so that at that time the club’s continued viability seemed assured, even if attendance at our weekly meetings still remained only a pale shadow of what it was in its halcyon days. And beginning in early August 2007 we had an enormous influx of new players, mostly beginners but also including several Kyu rank players and one solid Dan, but subsequently that temporary surge subsided, so that as of this update in Nov 2009 attendance has tailed off yet again, now to its lowest level ever!
Since my retirement in 1986 I nominally had the advantage of more time to study Go, and with the effective completion of my new primer GO FOR KIDS, for the first time ever, for at least a short time I had the luxury of concentrating on my own game rather than always thinking of what the juvenile beginner's perceptions and misperceptions are and how to best present the rudiments of Go to optimize their enjoyment and learning rate. But that didn't last very long, and the vast effort to write, edit and get publushed New Go Proverbs Illustrated, my free on-line Improve Fast In Go, and Learn Chess Fast soon intruded again! And all of that was naturally complicated by my advancing age - at this latest update in December 2009, just a few months before my 83rd birthday. Until about 20 years ago I still found it feasible to play in an occasional AGA tournament, and in so doing raised my official rating to 1 Dan despite several quite gratuitous losses in games that I had easily "won" (but don't we all have this problem?). Since then, I have been playing on the internet, exclusively on IGS, although to be honest most of my time there has actually been spent watching strong players primarily in the 4 d* - 7 d* range, trying to anticipate their moves and puzzling over why their selections differed from mine, as they all too frequently did. The result of this extended exercise was an increase in my ability to predict their moves and, a surge in confidence in my own ability to play! This was justified because I was then able to play on equal terms with players who could (and sometimes did) give me as much as 3 stones only a few months before! At the same time I have experienced strangely mixed results. Playing at my normal "tournament speed" of 45/10, on my good days I saw the entire board with crystal clarity, and easily defeated several 2 d* (= AGA 5D) players, and lost by only a half point to another. But on my bad days I lost to 2 k* and 3 k* players! It seems that I almost invariably got a fine Fuseki (full board opening), but then let down when it seemed that an "easy" win was in the offing! My unfortunate tendency was also to play somewhat faster than my reading skill will sustain, and then to err as a result. Using my account as "philonist" I'm now officially a 1 d* (approx. AGA 4-5 D)
The problem with 45/10 is that the culture of IGS favors much faster games, so that finding opponents willing to play the relatively "serious" games such tournament speed implies is severely limited. So, reluctantly at first, I started a new account ("Solon") as a 2k, playing exclusively at 1/10 speed. But at that speed my tendency to let down when ahead became even more prominent! I later also started a couple of other 1/10 accounts which I use for experimenting with various strategies, most notably as Frantic 3K* (= 1d AGA). My main experimental account ("aspirant") is now at 2 k* (= AGA 2D), and I think that's Still not at all bad overall!
Retrospectively reviewing what may euphemistically be termed my Go "career"as outlined herein, I am struck by how few games I've actually played in over 50 years. I estimate the total now on the order of perhaps 2000, of which as many as 1500 were contested since my retirement 23 years ago, and until I began playing on IGS 99% of those were played against much weaker players, most often my own pupils - a far from optimal scenario for learning/improving. Given this average of slightly less than 15 games/year for most of this extended period, almost all against weak opposition, and especially given the "distraction" provided by my 19 years of almost full time night Grad school study, I believe that the progress that I made then was quite remarkable.
It is only natural to speculate on how much stronger I might be now had I begun earlier,
had more time for Go, better opposition, better study materials early on, or had IGS
available back then. Of course, it is always possible that the result might have been exactly
the same and that I've reached my ultimate potential despite all, but I prefer to believe
that's not true. This seems especially so because it is apparent that, despite my now being
82+, until I got sick with Leukemia I believe that my playing strength has continued to improve noticeably.
Although we'll never really know what might have been, of course, I'm comforted by the realization that my first priority was
always to do what was best for my family, followed by my passion to make Go both more popular and acessible.
So I have no regrets, only thankfulness at having discovered in Go one of the highlights of my life, next only
to my family and my love of classical music. If this web page similarly inspires someone else, I will be well satisfied.
Click Here To Go To NEW GO PROVERBS ILLUSTRATED
Click Here To Go To Improve Fast In Go
Click Here To Go To Learn Chess Fast
Click Here To Return To Milt's Go Page