I had learned the game from a professor at college, and I knew of two other students who played. One January, back in 1980, the professor taught a month long course on the game. While I did not take the class, I showed up for Don’s visit. After only experiencing the very laid back style of the prof, Don was a seismic shift. His energy was amazing and his laughter infectious. I recall he played the entire class 9×9 games with handicaps. I lacked 9×9 experience, so I was not one of the few winners, but I recall him complimenting my willingness to try to kill him. I failed, but he did not kill me either – I recall the final score was 5 to 2.
Later I would learn that he was one of the strongest players on the East Coast. He was a mainstay of the American Go Journal staff back in those days. I know he was extremely proud of his work on the “Keshi and Uchikomi” series in the Journal, which was later published by Slate and Shell. Like Sam Zimmerman and Chris Kirschner, he was one of those guys who simply showed up at the Go Congress and went to work setting up and helping out wherever he could.
You could call Don the “father of the AGA 7dan”. The US Open — until the second Denver Congress in 2000, I believe — had always had a 5 dan section, and an open section above that, therefore, the AGA’s highest rank was 6 dan. Don argued for years that he was a 6 dan, but that he could not compete with those other 6 dans, and that we should have a 6 dan section, implicitly recognizing a 7 dan rank. My recollection is he got his wish, promptly won the first-ever 6 dan section, and had to play in the Open section the next year anyway.
But my fondest, and given his death from cancer, bittersweet, memories of him were playing games, usually on picnic tables outside at the Go Congresses. Unlike many strong players, Don would play absolutely anyone just so long as they were willing to share his smoker’s exile and put up with his running commentary on the game. Laughing with him in the summer sun are truly some of my brightest Congress memories.
heavy eyebrows laugh and smoke
joyful go exile
- by Keith Arnold; photo by Phil Straus