First Kyu, by Sung-Hwa Hong. Good Move Press; 1999.

This is a novel about go in Korea. In Korea, first kyu is the analogue of amateur six-dan in much of the rest of the world: it's the strongest amateur rank. Thus, like amateur six-dan, it encompasses players with a wide variation in strength: from players who are the strongest players at your typical local club, one stone stronger than the two kyus, to players strong enough to think about becoming professionals but who lose all of their games in the first round of the qualifying tournament, to players who really are professional strength, but haven't had the right breaks in the qualifying tournament to win it.

This novel is about a high-school student who accidentally wanders by a go club and, demonstrating excellent taste, gets hooked on the game. And, as he zooms up through the ranks, he starts noticing the first kyus: at first, one of the first kind mentioned above, but next one of the second kind above who's a Korean equivalent of an insei. As the protagonist reaches the (weakest) first kyu level himself, the lure of the "real" first kyus becomes stronger and stronger, and he starts to have dreams of becoming a professional go player himself. This, of course, has a negative affect on schooling and the rest of the life that had been mapped out for him, but fortunately our hero has his priorities straight: go comes first.

I shan't give away much more of the plot. As a novel, I certainly enjoyed it: enough struggle, adventure, sex, romance, victory, and defeat to keep me turning pages. And as a book about go, it brought home the vast difference in strength between strong club amateurs and professionals better than anything else I've read. You run into many many different first kyus in the book, with so many different gradations of strength, all putting out huge amounts of effort to try to improve a fraction of a stone. And the difference between these players and run-of-the-mill amateurs is shown in the gambling go sequences (after all, these aspiring professionals have to make a living somehow!): when they go all out, the difference in strength between them and regular amateurs is really shocking.

So: a good read, for both go-related and non-go-related reasons. I wish more people knew about this book.

david carlton <>

Last modified: Sun Aug 10 20:48:57 PDT 2003