1.6 Efforts at Formulating the Japanese Rules
The motivation for formulating the Nihon Kiin's Laws of Go came from the
thousand-year ko problem that occurred in a two-stone game between Segoe
(7 dan) and Takahashi (3 dan) in 1928, and the ko problem that occurred
in the first game of a ten-game match between Go Seigen and Iwamoto
Kaoru in 1948. The famous indirect-ko problem that later occurred in
the second game of a three-game match between Go Seigen and Takagawa
Shukaku created a movement toward rationalization of the rules in the
Nihon Kiin, causing the Board of Directors of the Nihon Kiin to take
the noteworthy step of organizing a Rules Reform Committee in 1962. The
professional go players on the committee were Maeda (9 dan), Murashima
(7 dan), and Fujita (6 dan). The committee also included Hayashi Yutaka,
Yasunaga Hajime, Shimada Takuji, and Kaise Takaaki.
The "Igo Kempo Soan" (Draft Constitution of Go) published
in 1932 by Yasunaga in Kido was a very valuable first step toward the
formulation of the rules of go. The studies of the rules contained
in Shimada's book on the mathematics of go.*1 are
essential reading for any student of the rules of go. Of particular
value in this book is the discussion of "The Rationalization of
Go" by two Americans, John M. H. Olmsted and Karl Davis Robinson.
Also worthy of great attention are the proposals made by the go rules
theorist Kaise (of which I have only the version printed in the
Hayashi's Go Encyclopedia).
This outstanding group of specialists set to work on the Japanese rules
and produced a proposed revision in 1963, which was then further revised
and published in the December 1964 issue of Kido. We will get to this
later. The Nihon Kiin has not yet formally adopted this revision.*2
In initial formulations of the rules the greatest weight was laid
on defining life and death, but as the difficulty of this gradually
became apparent, there has been a gradual shift in the direction of
formulating the rules without defining life and death. You can see
this shift clearly by comparing the original and revised editions of
Shimada's book. Continuing from the excellent work of my predecessors,
I would like to discuss the problems of the rules of go and make my own
- Shimada Takuji, Igo no Suri, published in 1943 by Kawade Shobo, revised edition published in 1958 by Maki Shoten.
- The first proposed revision, published in the December 1963 issue of Kido, was rejected at a General Meeting of the Nihon Kiin. The 1964 revision and other revisions drafted by this committee were never acted on.
In 1989 the Nihon Kiin and Kansai Kiin adopted a new, concise set of
rules, largely the work of Sakai Takeshi (9 dan). The new Japanese Rules
of Go dispense with most of the content of the 1949 Laws. One of their
main features is a general rule that gives the same results as the
precedents in the 1949 Laws, thus showing that there was in fact some
logic behind the traditional Japanese rules.
(The new rule is that in analyzing life and death after the game is
finished, the players must assume that once a ko is taken it can
never be recaptured, unless the player first passes and indicates
the ko he intends to recapture. This has the effect of decoupling
different life-and-death questions and forcing each one to be considered