Pok's Go Space

This page contains some memoirs of Edward Lasker, a German pioneer of Go who spread the game in America. His memoirs provide an important historical source but there are different versions that can be found at different places on the web. In order to get the whole picture, I have put the pieces relevant for Lasker's early acquaintance with Go together on this page.

Pok, 2009

Edward Lasker about his Go Career

Version 1, taken from How Go Came To America by Milton N. Bradley

Original version by Jerald E. Pinto, 1981. "How the young Edward Lasker learned about Go, and how he and the World Chess Champion nearly went to Japan to study with the masters." The American Go Journal, 16/2 (June 1981)


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

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

We waited until a few days later we saw another Japanese customer at the cafe, whom we approached to ask whether he would mind telling us what that notation meant. Oh, first it seemed obvious to us that it must say 'White resigns', since Black had an enormous army and there didn't seem to be any reasonable continuation for White, or else something like 'Game adjourned'. Well, the gentleman said, 'Certainly, "Black resigns!" When we heard that we decided that we would really have to give a good look at the game, and we took the newspaper. About 3 weeks later Max Lange called to say that he had found a sacrificial continuation for White ending in the capture of the Black army 22 moves later. Then we really started to play Go in earnest. We used a piece of cardboard and two different types of coins. However when we told the other Chessplayers that here was a really interesting game, they just smiled at us and said, 'Don't be silly!'

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

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

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

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

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

Jerald E. Pinto adds to this story:

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

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

Version 2, taken from a page on Lasker by Jérôme Hubert

original by Edward Lasker, "From my Go Career (2)." Go review 1961/9
first part of the story not available


Mr. Kitabatake one day told us that a Japanese mathematician was going to pass through Berlin on his way to London, and if we wanted to we could play a game with him at the Japanese Club. Dr. Lasker asked him whether he and I could perhaps play a game with him in consultation, and was wondering whether the master – he was a shodan – would give us a handicap. “Well, of course,” said Mr. Kitabatake. “How many stones do you think he would give us”? asked Lasker. “Nine stones, naturally,” replied Mr. Kitabatake. “Impossible!” said Lasker. “There isn’t a man in the world who can give me nine stones. I have studied the game for a year, and I know I understood what they were doing.” Mr. Kitabatake only smiled. “You will see,” he said.

The great day came when we were invited to the Japanese Club and met the master – I remember to this day how impressed I was by his technique – he actually spotted us nine stones, and we consulted on every move, playing very carefully. We were a little disconcerted by the speed with which the master responded to our deepest combinations. He never took more than a fraction of second. We were beaten so badly at the end, that Emanuel Lasker was quite heartbroken. On the way home he told me we must go to Japan and play with the masters there, then we would quickly improve and be able to play them on even terms. I doubted that very strongly, but I agreed that I was going to try to find a way to make the trip.

Early in 1911, I graduated and obtained a position with the Allgemeine Elektrizitaets Gesellschaft in Berlin. Every once in a while Emanuel Lasker asked me “What about our trip to Japan”. Well, after I had been with the Electric Company about a year, I said to my boss: “Look, Mr. Zaudy, there are 41 engineers in this department. I am not conceited enough to think that I am better than any one of them. But I don’t see any reason why I should not have a fair chance for advancement. Won’t you help me to be transferred to the company’s foreign department – to Tokyo, for example?” After a lengthy argument the boss agreed to speak to the chief of the Foreign Division of the A. E. G. However he came back to tell me that the company employed in that division only English people, or Germans who could speak English fluently, because that was the commercial language of the world. I did not know a word of English, and so I should forget about my idea.

I was not so easily discouraged. I said “Why not send me to your London Office then? I will study English very intensively there and you won’t have to pay me until you feel that I know the language well enough to get along.” After a few months they actually accepted my proposition and in September 1912, I left Germany to live in London. I learned English and hoped for the time when I could ask to be transferred to Tokyo. But in 1914 the world War broke out, and all my plans came to naught. As a German citizen I became a civilian prisoner of war, and I owe it to a lucky coincidence that I did not have to spend five years in a concentration camp. I had won the London chess championship in May 1914, and it happened that the secretary of Sir Haldane Porter, who was in charge of all “Aliens Affairs”, was a chess fan. Through his intervention I obtained the permission to go to America.

Last part of the story ommitted.


Version 3, taken from a German page on Emanuel Lasker

Es darf als sicher gelten, dass Lasker Go 1907 durch seinen Namensvetter (und entfernten Verwandten) Eduard Lasker kennen lernte. Dieser beschreibt in „Chess secrets I learned from the masters“, New York 1969, diese erste Begegnung wie folgt:

Emanuel Lasker war zunächst ebenso ungläubig wie wir, als er hörte, das Spiel sei tatsächlich ein Konkurrent des Schach. Nach Beobachten nur einer Partie zwischen Max Lange und mir erfasste er jedoch die einzigartigen Möglichkeiten für tiefgehende strategische Manöver und taktisches Zwischenspiel, welche Go ungeachtet seiner einfachen Struktur enthält. Er war schließlich derart fasziniert vom Go mit seinen unerschöpflichen Freiräumen positionellen und kombinatorischen Spiels, dass er wöchentliche Go-Treffen in seinem Haus abhielt. […]
Er machte rasante Fortschritte und innerhalb weniger Monate hatte er mehr oder weniger mit dem gleichgezogen, was ich damals vom Go verstand.