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Go Wizardry

All About the Many Aspects of Go
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John Power

I would like to offer my thoughts about the most extraordinary go writer in the English language of all time, John Power. My own work pales in comparison with his. John Power was a trailblazer, an ambassador for go of the first rank, as well as selflessly acting as a cultural liaison bridging the differences between Japanese and English-speaking go players.

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He also produced a prodigious amount of material about go, published originally in Go Review (Nihon Ki-in) and then in Go World (Ishi Press), in addition to major books, such as his definite volume on Honinbo Shusaku. Decades after publication, John Power’s work remains the gold standard of translation in the English language go world.

And yet, I wonder. What actually is John’s legacy?

I do not mean to demean the man’s name in any sense, but consider the following.

Go Review is dead. Go World is dead. What is left?

To my mind, only go is left. And that is what I promote.

I wish that more people would understand this. Promotion requires an active interest in the sporting aspects of a game. Throughout his career, John Power failed to appreciate this. He focused on the academic aspects of go, not understanding what the majority of fans seek most: a good fight. While for scholars it is interesting to focus on subtle nuances of play in any game or sport, the fans want to see blood. Even if it is only in an intellectual sense.

Be honest: do you as a go player enjoy counting the board down to the last half point to beat your opponent in the endgame, or do you enjoy more capturing a big group of stones and annihilating your opponent?

I rest my case.

“Killer” Kato would agree. I remember my excitement at receiving the volume of the Modern Stars series that was devoted to Kato Masao. Ironically, it was published just before his career really rocketed. He had challenged for eight titles in a row and fallen short. But in the process, he defeated many of the best professional go players in the tournament world. Kato’s Modern Stars volume contains one of his gems: the defeat of Takagawa Kaku, honorary Honinbo in the league held to determine the title challenger, in 93 moves. What a game!

Years later in a Meijin title match game, Kato and Cho Chikun, Meijin, clashed in a contest during which dozens of stones were killed. It was a bloodbath, metaphorically!

In the end, the result was a 1½ point victory for Cho, who went on to win the match. But no one who watched as the game was played remember anything but that thrilling fight. The game remains one of the greatest of all time.

Naturally, John Power was just as cognizant of the significance of this game. I am sure that he was as excited as every other go player as he watched the battle progress. But he suppressed emotions in his reporting of such events.

I chided him at his restraint. I understood it, since the press in Japan can be just as circumspect.

In 1974, Cho Chikun challenged Sakata Eio for the 22nd Nihon Ki-in Championship, winning the first two games and bringing Sakata to the brink of defeat. He was seventeen years old, began his career in go as a prodigy and had won several minor titles previously. But now he had one of the greatest go players of all time on the ropes.

However, Cho made a mistake a simple position which helped Sakata to turn the tide. Overwhelmed by chagrin as he resigned, Cho burst into tears. The frontispiece photograph in the issue of Kido magazine where that game was featured shows that dramatic moment. But Cho is seated with his back to the camera. A thoughtful Sakata looks philosophical as he sits contemplating the board.

Cho lost the match 2-3, a setback that was deeply painful to him and his fans as well. Perhaps it was the memory of that moment that influenced John Power to adopt his conservative approach.

Kobayashi Koichi was another professional go player who experienced many contretemps while attempting to break through to the front rank of go world. When he finally did manage to do so, winning the 10 Dan title in 1984, he burst out in tears at the board. It was a tremendous point in his life, and Kobayashi was unable to control his emotions. He mopped his eyes and face as the cameramen shot their photographs for the media.

I saw one of those photographs in Kido and I urged John Power to publish it in Go World. To his credit, John took my advice seriously and published the photograph with a caption that read something like, “Kobayashi sheds tears of joy at winning his first major title.”

I have to admit that Cho Chikun, who won more titles than any player in the history of go tournaments in Japan, is remembered most for the tenacity of his play. He was exactingly in his calculation at the board and masterful in endgame play. If there was a ½ point or 1½ point result in any of his games, he was most often on the winning side.

So this gives great credence to John Power’s perspective. If such an outstanding player always concentrated on calm, logical play down to the last half point ko, is it not incumbent upon those reporting on the game that such an approach be advocated as much as possible?

As I have written, I understand that thought clearly. In fact, when teaching weaker players I try to explain how an understanding of where the territory lies on the board while they are playing their games is critical to winning. I advocate creating a map in one’s mind, determining which areas are biggest, second biggest, etc., in order to prioritize action. And I count the board continually, as does every strong player.

But we are not talking about technical prowess in go here, nor even the best way to win games.

We are talking about the promotion of go.

Perhaps I have been wrong to have been so critical of John Power over the years. He was certainly not the only one in the go movement with a flawed approach to the game. Nor was he responsible for the mismanagement that occurred in many Western go associations.

But it has troubled me greatly to see money misallocated and spent on ridiculous projects. Naturally, I told John about what was happening, and he certainly had access to information about that at the same time.

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What is great is that there is a growing movement, especially in America, to promote go on the grassroots level. Go clubs, such as those in Portland and Seattle, have developed management structures to utilize effectively funds available. It is remarkable the progress they have made. Through trial and error, they have been able to buy buildings to house their clubs, or secure locations for meeting in other ways, at the same time as organizing programs for teaching young people.

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This is an important step in promoting go. Although not directly responsible, John Power must be given credit for playing a significant role in the process. I just wonder if he appreciates today the fact that the promotional aspects of that role, as feeble as they were, rather than the academic ones, were the most important.

Those who wish to comment on the opinions expressed here may send their thoughts to info@GoWizardry.com. The most interesting responses will be addressed in future postings.

Robert J. Terry

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