The Master of Go
by Yasunari Kawabata

Synopsis

This synopsis will contain spoilers!

Shusai, the Master of Go, is challenged to a final match by Otake of the seventh rank. Over nearly a year, ending December 4, 1938 the two men battled intensely - the Master to maintain his claim as the Invincible Master, and Otake to make a statement about his aggressive and modern style of play. Told from the perspective of the author, who was the reporter for the original game, we get a glimpse at both the intricacies of the match itself, as well as of the people who played the game.


For this match, each player is given 40 hours total for their own plays (as opposed to a normal match length of 10 hours for each player). However, it is not just the long hours of deliberation that extended the match for so many months. Elaborate ceremonies and 4 day breaks between each session also played a large role. Unfortunately, the largest allotment of time was taken up by the multi-month break the Master was forced to take in the middle of the match due to a worsening heart condition. In the end, the Master returns and the two resume their battle.


Though the match is close throughout, the Master makes a fatal move with White 130, after which it becomes clear to the experts watching the game that he has lost. The Master continues to fight until the end, but ultimately loses by 5 points. Just over a year after losing his final match, the Master of Go dies in Atami, on January 18, 1940. Kawabata offers conjecture that losing that last match was what finally drained the Master and was a direct cause of his death.

Reviews

The Master of Go - Paperback

Through the first fourth of The Master of Go, I did not think I would enjoy it. It felt, not surprising considering Kawabata was originally the reporter for the match ...

- Feb. 12, 2009

Quotes

"There was no end to his patience and endurance. He played day and night, his obsession somewhat disquieting. It was less as if he were playing to dispel gloom or beguile tedium than as if he were giving himself up to the fangs of gaming devils."

Yasunari Kawabata in The Master of Go

"I was not so much observing the play as observing the players. They were the monarchs, and the managers and reporters were their subjects. To report on Go as if it were a pursuit of supreme dignity and importance - and I could not pretend to understand it perfectly - I had to respect and admire the players. I was presently able to feel not only interest in the match but a sense of Go as an art, and that was because I reduced myself to nothing as I gazed at the Master."

Yasunari Kawabata in The Master of Go

"Such is the way of the fates with human endowments, in the individual and in the race. Examples must be legion of wisdom and knowledge that shone forth in the past and faded toward the present, that have been obscured through all the ages and into the present but will shine forth in the future."

Yasunari Kawabata in The Master of Go

"Shusai, Master of Go, twenty-first in the Honnimbo succession, died in Atami, at the Urokoya Inn, on the morning of January 18, 1940."

Yasunari Kawabata the First Line of The Master of Go

"My wife ran off for flowers, and I gave them to the Master's wife, who was in the hearse with the Master."

Yasunari Kawabata the Last Line of in The Master of Go

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1954

Paperback edition:

182 pages - May 28, 1996

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