The ABC of Go: The National War-Game of Japan, by W. A. de Havilland. Kelly & Walsh, Ltd.; 1910.

This review is by Steven Mays, <>; he wrote it since I didn't have a copy of the book at the time. Many thanks to him for writing it.

Walter Augustus de Havilland (1872-?) has two claims to fame: (1) for go players, he's the author of this little gem; and (2) for movie buffs, he's the father of two of Hollywood's great silver-screen stars: Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine (both of whom, by the way, were born in Tokyo). The author, a British patent attorney by profession, spent a number of years in the Orient studying the copyright and patent laws of Japan and Korea (he even wrote a few booklets on the subject), and he obviously used part of his time in the Far East to be productive in other, and more useful, ways.

The ABC of Go is a slim book (75 pages, it measures about 13.5 cm in width and 19.5 cm in height), but it does provide the reader with a detailed and comprehensive description of the game. The book is divided into four parts, in addition to a one-page preface:

  1. Introduction (pp. vii-xiv). This section covers such topics as descriptions of the board and stones; object of the game; how to capture stones; the rules; and the handicap system.

  2. Elementary Studies of Various Positions (pp. 15-45). This section is the heart of the book. Here de Havilland illustrates various concepts using examples (each one called a case; all together, he has 45 cases). Throughout this section, the author provides examples on a go-ban on the right-hand side of the of the book (the recto page) and provides commentaries on the left-hand side (the verso page). The topics covered include: capturing; real and false eyes (eight examples); seki; ko fights; the monkey-jump (called the monkey-slide); life-and-death situations; some elementary tesujis; and the ladder.

    An interesting observation in this section is that the author places his examples on a full board, he never provides his examples with individual diagrams, and none of the stones are numbered. If the author wishes to indicate the last move played, he uses a white stone. (The author uses the color red for the white stones throughout the book, and each diagram is viewed from White's point of view.)

  3. The Game (pp. 47-71). In this section, de Havilland goes through a four-stone handicap game, but he begins the game by having the players play an opening in each corner (although he doesn't say so, it seems obvious that the author is using this occasion to describe possible corner josekis). After move 40, the end of the corner openings, the game continues up to move 177 (11 diagrams are used).

    De Havilland manages to provide the reader with a commentary for each move. How does he do this in the limited space available? Simple, each move is given a number referring to one of ten possible reasons for the move. The reader of this review might find it interesting to see de Havilland's complete list:

    1. To take ground, either by opening up fresh territory or by stretching out from an established base.
    2. To secure Hama [territory], or attempt to capture a group by surrounding.
    3. To escape from a dangerous position, or assist men [stones] so placed.
    4. To make eyes.
    5. To hinder the formation of eyes.
    6. To trespass upon or press into the enemy's territory.
    7. To act on the defensive, or reply in self-defense.
    8. To threaten or attack neighbouring forces.
    9. To oppose junction with neighbouring forces.
    10. To attempt to effect, or actually effect, junction with neighbouring forces.

    Special comments are indicated with an asterisk and the comments are referenced by move number. The games ends with the neutral points being filled, and the author describes how to re-arrange the territories on the board for easy counting. In this section, the stones are numbered in continuous sequential order for the moves played in each diagram.

    On page 71, at the end of the game, de Havilland acknowledges his teacher, Mr. Yoshida, for his assistance in compiling the notes for each move.

  4. Appendix (pp. 73-75). In this section, the author presents a game between Yoshida Hanjiro (White) and Sakai Yasujiro (Black), both of the fifth class. No date or diagram is provided for the game. As in the section entitled The Game, each move is commented using the ten Reference Notes listed above. (The game ended in a draw, according to the author.)

A serious inconvenience in reading this book is the strange system used by the author to describe positions and moves. In each diagram, the board is divided into quadrants, beginning with the letter A, in the lower-left corner, and moving counter-clockwise to the letter D, in the upper-left corner.

In addition, each quadrant has its own numbering system along the sides to provide coordinates. For example, in quadrant A, the numbers along the horizontal side begin with 1 on the left and end with 9, then the numbering continues into quadrant B, starting with 1 again (this would be the 11th line) and ending with 9 again. The 10th line is given the coordinate of 0. To confuse matters even more, the reverse is done on the top horizontal line. Here the numbering begins with 1 on the right-hand side of the board and proceeds to 9, followed by 0, then followed by 1 to 9 again.

The vertical sides are treated differently. Beginning on left side of quadrant A, the numbering begins with 1 and ends with 9, followed by 0, but now the numbers are reversed, the 11th line begins with 9 and ends with 1 at the top of the board. The right side is a mirror image of the left side.

If it weren't for the strange system of coordinates, this book could be considered as a fairly good introduction to go, given its small size. The author demonstrates a good understanding of the intricacies of the game and is able to draw the reader's attention to them.

david carlton <>
Last modified: Wed Sep 16 13:40:40 PDT