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Einstein and Go

by Robert A. McCallister

When I first started to learn the game of go there was very little available about it in the English language. A book that was in print at that time was Dr. Edward Lasker's Modern Chess Strategy with an appendix on Go. I immediately bought it and it provided me with a beginning. Later, as I became involved in the New York City go world, I met Lasker, one of the stronger players in the area in the early 1950s.

Lasker had first learned go around 1907, when an engineering student in Berlin. His parents had wanted him to study medicine but he opted for engineering, as it provided him the opportunity to study in Berlin. His real interest at the time was chess, and Berlin offered him the chance to study and improve his game.

He first became interested in go by watching Japanese students play and, as he wrote, `with astounding perseverance and passion.' He used to visit a cafe to play chess, and one evening a Japanese gentleman left his newspaper. By looking at the game record in the paper, Lasker and his friends began to appreciate go's complexity and this started his study of the game.

After graduating, Lasker worked in England until World War I, then went to the United States. By then he was a world-class chess player and quite active in tournaments during the 1920s. Samples of his games can be found in various books discussing chess activity of the time. I believe, though am not certain, that he taught go to his cousin Emanuel Lasker, who became the World Chess Champion at 24 by beating Steinitz and losing only to Capablanca 26 years later. In any case, Emanuel Lasker became very interested in go and developed into a fairly strong player.

Edward Lasker wrote Go and Gomoku, first published in 1934 and of much interest, as it included the famous game between Junichi Karigane and Honinbo Shusai, played in 1926.

Lasker and Albert Einstein were friends. On one occasion Lasker visited Einstein in Princeton and presented him with an autographed copy of Go and Gomoku. In exchange, Einstein gave Lasker an autographed copy of one of his papers on relativity. Several years later, the autographed copy of Go and Gomoku showed up in a used bookstore in Baltimore. When told about this and asked what he thought of it, Lasker replied: `That's all right. I left his relativity paper on the subway.'