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1.5 Major Defects in the Japanese Rules

It is a very strange fact that, although go made dazzling progress during the Tokugawa period (1615 - 1868), the rules of go were not codified during that period. This says something about the Japanese character, and about the difficulty of the Japanese rules of go.

It was a major event in Japanese go history when the efforts of the Nihon Kiin led to the enactment of the Nihon Kiin Laws of Go in 1949. The complete text of these rules is too long to print here; it can be found in Hayashi Yutaka's Go Encyclopedia.* These rules are highly unsuitable for theoretical study because they basically took the customs followed in Japan in the past and simply set them down in writing, including both rules of play and rules of conduct. Here I would like to point out only their defects regarding the principles of go.

In formulating territory-and-prisoner rules as played in Japan, it has been considered necessary to define life, death, and seki. It is easy to tell live stones from dead stones in actual games, but it is not easy to specify this difference in writing. A solution was sought in the form of a large number of unnatural rules and precedents, such as "bent four in the corner is unconditionally dead" and "three points without capturing."

But the number of variations in go is nearly infinite, and you can create lots of examples that are not covered by those contrived solutions. It might not be impossible to solve these through more precedents, but that would require an impractically large number of precedents, and anyway, the whole idea detracts from the value of go as a game. Rather than point out all the individual problems in the Nihon Kiin's Laws of Go, let me just summarize the basic problems.
(1) The principles (rules) of go are mixed together with rules for conducting games.
(2) There are rules for which no logical explanation can be given.
(3) There are no clear methods for establishing a clear alternation of moves or indicating that you want to end the game.
(4) The ko rule is not generalized.
(5) The laws are expressed in inadequate and imprecise language.

For these reasons, perhaps one could say that these are not, strictly speaking, a set of rules. The existence of (2) is the sorest point, but I think that we must also pay close attention to the form in which the rules are expressed.

Hayashi Yutaka, ed., Igo Hyakka Jiten, Kinensha, pp. 417-453 in the 1977 edition.


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