2000 | 1999


As the contribution for Germany this issue, we would like to publish the go memoirs of one of the original pioneers of go in Europe in the 20th century.

The Two of Us:Go and I
Go Memories

By Bruno Ruger
Bruno Ruger


Due to the fact that I had quite an eventful time dealing with the game of go during the last 55 years, I would like to look back once more on the gradual development of our beautiful game in Germany.

The first time I read about go was in 1911. At that time I was quite a keen chess player and not without some success. One afternoon in the chess club I read about a new book written by L. Pfaundler with the title: Das chinesisch-japanische Go-Spiel, eine systematische Darstellung und Anleitung zum Spiel desselben. I thought that this game might be interesting. Although I devoted a lot of my time to chess, I was thinking ahead, since I had met a young girl whose greatest wish was to be married to me. Being a good-natured man, I finally promised that to her. The sweet little thing was so happy about it that she held a celebration, called an engagement party, together with our close relatives and men. I was thinking of the near future when we would sit together in theevening at home. We couldn't just look in each other's eyes, hold each other's hands and amuse ourselves.

I ordered Pfaundler's book and asked for a go set in all the bigger toyshops. But I couldn't get one in the whole city. Therefore, I drew a go board on cardboard by myself. But where could I get the go stones from? Again I went to all the toyshops and asked for tiddlywinks chips. Of course, I just needed black and white ones, so after two or three dozen the first shop was sold out. In the next shop I got some more; unfortunately they were bigger than the first ones, but they made up for it by having a slightly different color. After a week I had managed to get together 360 pieces, but not before I had spent quite a bit of money and worn out a pair of shoes.

Of course, I was very eager to learn about the new game, so I couldn't wait until I was married; instead, I started right away with private study. For that reason, after I got through the wedding and played go for the first time with my newly married wife I was as superior to her in go as I was in chess. We had serious discussions -she lost some stones and her patience soon after. When our debates got more and more fierce, we decided unanimously to refrain from this game. Immediately the bright sunshine of happiness came back to our marital heaven.

In spite of her abstinence from actual playing, my wife neither at that time nor in the following 50 years spoke up against go or my devotion to it. I know, and every male go player will confirm, that there are quite a few women who don't like it at all seeing their husbands go to the go club or spending hours and hours in studying at the go board. These 'Anti-Go-ladies' fail to see that their husband's occupation is a noble and inexpensive hobby. By visiting go congresses, they get to know some nice health resorts they would never have seen if their husbands had just played cards.

But let's get back to go and its further development in Germany. The world war, later known as the First World War, broke out. My Fatherland wanted me to join as soon as possible. But it didn't help, as we were threatened from the west, the south and the east. I couldn't be everywhere at the same time, so the war was finally lost.

At the beginning of the war I was not sent to the front line. In my free time I played go with my comrades, on a small board, and I found out how quickly and easily the game could be learned that way. At least half of my roommates became adherents of go. As I could eat and sleep at home, I felt more like a civilian and I had enough time to study go more thoroughly. I was enthusiastic about this game, but to my regret it was only little known to the public then.

Suddenly I had a good idea, something that can happen to all of us from time to time, but in my case it happened only once. I wrote an instruction booklet for the 13x13 board and sent it to the Miniatur-Bibliothek publishing company in Leipzig. They even published it as a double number with 10,000 copies and it turned out to be one of the major contributions to spreading the name of go in Germany.

As my name and address were printed in the booklets too, I got quite a few letters with inquiries. Although I didn't give up my profession as a teacher, I also started to produce go sets. It even occurred that on a single day a couple of sets had to be shipped. In order to promote the game of go, all people involved worked for free and therefore never became rich. To distribute as many sets as possible, the price was kept just above the break-even point, sometimes even below.

When from time to time the go-set business was not so busy, I took the time to study Pfaundler's book more carefully and on some pages I found either wrong descriptions or printing errors. I wrote to the author, who agreed with me and also told me that he had published a go magazine in 1909, which had to be stopped after one year due to the lack of subscribers. He still had some spare issues. I begged him to send me one and only a few days later I received it and studied it most carefully. The list of subscribers to the first issue consisted of 46 names -among them, Dr. Emanuel Lasker, the world chess champion of that time. As far as I know, only two of the 46 listed go players are still alive now [1965]: Edward Lasker, who is one of the strongest American go players, and the former high school teacher Felix Dueball.

The following year I got a letter from a Mr. Wagner, of whom I hadn't heard before. The meeting with him turned out to be of great importance for the German go community. Not only did he have a kind nature, but also his wallet was always full to bursting. Most important, he was good-hearted and open-handed. He was always willing to donate some money in order to promote go. I never had to ask for anything, I was invariably anticipated by him. When I designed a publicity leaflet, he had it printed and we then sent it out to every possible address. The response was not much of a success.

In the meantime, at the beginning of 1920, I had the idea of writing a detailed textbook on go. In order to reduce the risk for the publisher, Mr. Wagner contributed 1,000 marks to the costs. Compared to the other go literature of that time, this book was a big step forward, a real textbook, but still the work of an amateur.

Mr. Dueball, who had learned about go much earlier than I did, and who had plenty of opportunities to play against strong opponents in Berlin, was of course superior to me. He helped me in working on the book, especially when writing the commentaries on the game records. Due to the fact that that we had no access to translations of Japanese go literature, neither of us truly understood the essence of go at that time.

This was about the time when I first visited Mr. Dueball. I had never played against a stronger player before, so I was really excited. Besides Mr. Dueball, two other strong players, Dr. Lange and Mr. Holz, were present. I took four stones handicap against each of them, won one out of these three games and was quite happy with that result.

The first issue of Bruno Ruger's magazine

Another important milestone in 1920 was the revival of the go magazine that had been published by Pfaundler until 1910. Mr. Wagner and I sent out a publicity leaflet and we ventured to publish the go magazine despite having only 45 subscribers. At the end of 1920 the number of subscribers had gone up to 70. In 1922 the number was 94 and in 1923 it was 113. Until 1945 the number of subscribers didn't rise any further. Today [1965] only five of the first 45 subscribers of 1920 are still alive: F. Dueball, R. Grethlein, A. Riiger [Bruno's brother], B. Riiger and R. Sprague. In 1920 I wrote the text for the go magazine by hand, which was then transferred on to stone, from which the required number of copies were taken. The diagrams had to be drawn by hand as well, which was quite laborious. In 1921 I wrote a letter in Esperanto to Dr. Tsutsumi in Japan, who then sent me my first go books written in Japanese. Fortunately Japanese numbers can be translated quite easily and therefore I could at least read the game records and the diagrams on the opening, of course without understanding the relevant comments.

More pages from the first year of the magazine

Nevertheless, I still was a member of a chess club too; I was even its secretary. Dr. Lasker, the World Chess Champion, was going to come to our club to play some simultaneous games. I assumed he would come directly to the chess cafe, in the afternoon, but he showed up at 11 a.m. at my home and my wife was in a fix to cook for three people instead of just two. This was during the depression when most people were running short of food. Somehow my wife was able to solve that problem and I was looking forward to the dessert. It was supposed to be a game of go. In a previous letter to Dr. Lasker I had offered him a payment of 20 marks for a game of go. I was not very happy at the thought, as I didn't know what he thought about that offer, but I was too eager to play with him to be more restrained. I won the game, but he didn't accept the money. In later years when we were meeting with other go players -Dr. Lasker took part in quite a few go congresses -he liked to tell them about that episode: 'You know that Mr. Ruger once offered me 20 marks for a game of go?'

On January 22 in 1922, Mr. Wagner, our first go patron, died. The German go community lost its most noble supporter, the Dresden go club lost its most avid and kind player and I lost my strongest opponent and best friend.

Having found from experience that the Japanese system of 9 dan and 9 kyu grades was not sufficient for German go players, I proposed in the go magazine to divide them up into 50 classes: Class 1 to 9 for master players, 10 to 25 for strong players, 26 to 41 for medium-strong players and 42 to 50 for weaker players. In 1922 the following players, who are still [in 1965] active, were divided into the following classes: F. Dueball 23, B. Ruiger 26, Sprague 27, A. Ri.iger 29, W. Noack 45.

Then Germany and German go suffered from one of the worst occurrences: inflation! I experienced two world wars and that inflation, three terrible blows, each harder than the other, but the inflation was most shocking to me. Never again did so many people die by committing suicide as during that inflation!

Inflation had a devastating effect on the go magazine. While all the issues of 1921 could be bought for 12 marks, it was already 25 marks in 1922. The first rate for 1923 was 300 marks, the second rate was 1,000 marks and the third was 37,000 marks. Nevertheless, I even had to ask for two more rate increases that year and they were both above 100,000 marks! Most of the time when I received some money it was already worthless. I can't tell exactly how many millions I lost on the go magazine that year, as prices went up into the billions, but I am still happy and even a little proud of having brought it through that terrible time when so many other comparable magazines died.

In 1924 the conditions were back to normal. In that year, among others, I wrote an article on the first occurrence of go in German literature. I pointed out that in a German book by Gustavo Seleno on chess from 1616 the game of go was mentioned too. The first detailed description of go in German was published in 1881. The author, Oskar Korschelt, lived in Japan from 1876 to 1886. After his return from Japan he lived in Leipzig, where I visited him later to playa game. As, at that time, he had already been back from Japan 20 or 25 years, he was out of practice in go and I was able to win the first game easily but he lost the second one.

In the list of subscribers from that year the name Fritz John, then class 35, appeared for the first time, but now [1965] he is supposed to be stronger. His father, who was then the German chess champion, was ranked in class 28.

In 1924 the first German go tournament took place in Munich, attracting 12 participants. I have just mentioned the most wellknown names, but modesty forbids me to mention the most famous one. Strohmeyer won second place, Abele third, Schieck fourth, Grethlein eighth and Rosenwald tenth place. A few years earlier, a Munich go group had come into existence. In the beginning a young lawyer [Mr. Troll] regularly met with a friend to play go and by this time more players had joined them. They played their games in a chess cafe, where they soon got some chess players interested in go, and this made the go group grow.

Directly following was a go tournament by mail using 15x15 boards. To reduce the mailing costs for the participants, all moves were first sent to me, I collected them and then sent them together to the individual players. This was quite some work! After 25 months the tournament was finally concluded.

In Berlin, where more Japanese were living than in other German cities, the first contacts between German and Japanese go players were established around that time. The Japanese players came to the German go club, then at the Cafe Zielka in Leipziger Street, and in exchange the German players visited the Japanese Go Club. The June issue of the 1925 go magazine contains an article about a sensational fight on seven go boards between these two nations, mentioning that the difference in strength between those German and Japanese players was not significant!

The next issue in 1925 brought another big step forward for the German go community. I published an article on the opening in four-stone handicap games, taken from a Japanese book, translated by Prof. Nonnenmacher of Vienna. He translated pages from Japanese go books not by the hundreds but by the thousands! Many of my publications were based on his translations. What would the level of German go players still be, if this kind scholar hadn't devoted thousands of hours to go? And he refused any payment he was offered! Youngsters can nowadays read Japanese go books translated into English to improve their strength, but for the older generation of go players the essence of go was only approachable by studying Nonnenmacher's translations. Without him, we would be much weaker!

In the beginning of 1927, I announced in the go magazine that I would spend my summer vacation in Ilmenau in the state of Thiiringen and I encouraged the go community to join me. This was the beginning of the European Go Congress! The number of participants could be easily counted: Dueball, Froschl, Grethlein, Dr. Lasker, Dr. Rosenwald and B. Riiger.

In 1929 I received the first go news from America: 12 people were forming a go group in Philadelphia.

In 1930 a 64-page text on handicap go was published. Since I was even shorter of money then than I am today, I had only a small number of copies printed; these were sold out after a few years.
The same year something sensational happened: our go-pioneer, Felix Dueball, went from Marseilles by ship to Japan. Baron Okura, a Japanese multi-millionaire, had invited him and his wife to come to Japan for one year to study go. Baron Okura was covering all the costs, too.

The Go Congress of 1930 took place in Rathen (Saxonia). Besides me, Prof. Nonnenmacher, Dr. Lasker, Dr. Rosenwald and Mr. Hofbauer attended.
In 1931 another important book was published, not by me, but by the world chess champion Dr. Lasker, with the title: Brettspiele der Volker. In this book he dealt even more with go than with chess.

At that time Mr. Dueball was on his way back from Japan and had agreed to join the next Go Congress in Stainach am Brenner. That year's number of participants was a new high: 12 men, six women, one child and two dogs!

In 1932 a weekly magazine (Denken und Raten) published some go problems every second week. Lauenthal hosted the Go Congress of that year. Handicap tournaments took place in Berlin and Dresden, each attracting more than eight participants.

For the next Go Congress, eight players were coming to Beiersdorf. Probably for the first time in the world a game of go was played with live figures on the square mirror tiles of a dance floor in the local ballroom. Mr. Dueball played with the white stones, represented by male persons, and I took the black stones, represented by ladies. In the process of playing, a young lady even got 'killed', but only temporarily! Due to the lack of 'stones', the game unfortunately had to be stopped much too soon.

In 1934 the following announcement could be found in the go magazine: the newest, most inexpensive and most colorful 'go book' has just been published by the Austria cigarette company in Munich. This company had included a go stone in each pack of cigarettes before, but then I was able to convince them also to include small cards containing the rules of go.

In 1936 a go game by telegraph between Japan and Germany took place. Our pioneer Mr. Dueball, representing Germany, played with the black stones and the former Japanese Minister of Culture, Mr. Hatoyama, held the white stones. This match, which was very helpful in promoting go, was sponsored and covered by a German (Volkischer Beobachter) and a Japanese (Nichi-Nichi) newspaper. The winner was Mr. Hatoyama, who was ranked several classes above Mr. Dueball.

In 1938 Fukuda Sensei (5-dan professional) visited Berlin and held a one-week go seminar in Elgersburg castle. Then a big go tournament took place in Berlin from April 11th to 13th. Fourteen of the strongest German go players took part in that tournament. The winner was Dr. Dueball, the son of our pioneer Felix Dueball. Fukuda Sensei then visited most of Germany including the cities of Munich, Darmstadt, Dusseldorf and Dresden.

On November 9th of 1942 the go community suffered a great loss: Professor Nonnenmacher died in Vienna. His ability at learning new languages was stunning. He was already able to translate Japanese texts for the go magazine only shortly after having started to study Japanese. Without his kind help, the go community would still be playing on a lower level. We should never forget his magnificent contributions.

Because of the Second World War, Germany was split up into two countries and this was quite a heavy blow to the German go community. Furthermore, most of the German go literature had been destroyed in the bombing.

Now [1966] the speed of the development of go in the German Democratic Republic is not as fast as in other countries, but there is at least some progress. I would like to conclude my Go Memories with a variation of a statement by Bismarck, hoping I won't be assumed to be arrogant: 'I have helped to put German go in the saddle and it has shown it could ride by itself.'

Translator's Bibliography
The original article was published in five separate parts in different go publications be-tween 1965 and 1972. The last part was published posthumously shortly after Mr. Ruger's death in 1972.

Part 1: Go-Spiegel-Nachrichtenblatt des DGoB, 1965: 2/2
Part 2: Ibid., 1965 2/3
Part 3: Deutsche Go-Zeitung des DJGoC, 1966: Nr. 1.
Part 4: lnformationen des DJGoC, 1966: 1/3.
Part 5: Deutsche Go-Zeitung, 1972: Nr. 6.

Note. The Autumn 2000 issue of the British Go journal has an article by Franco Pratesi entitled 'The Go Ranking System of Bruno Ruger'.

(Adapted and translated by Erwin Gerstorfer)