American Go E-Journal

Your Move: Famous Quote Mystery Deepens

Saturday November 28, 2015

The mystery deepens about the source of the quote about “if intelligent life forms exist elsewhere in the universe, they almost certainly play go”2015.11.27_Brettspiele der Völker (“Who Really Said Famous Go Quote? 11/21 EJ).

“I was a friend of Ed Lasker in the latter part of his life (we played chess together – I wasn’t playing go then),” writes Mike Ryan. “Although he told me a fair amount about his involvement with go, and various things he and his cousin Emmanuel did in that respect, he never once mentioned that quoted idea. I tend to think that neither he nor Emmanuel said that.”

Thomas Rohde in Germany thought that he’d tracked the quote to Emanuel Lasker’s 1930 book “Brettspiele der Völker: Rätsel- und Mathematische Spiele” (“Board Games of the Peoples – Riddles and Mathematical Games”), but had to order a copy of the book to confirm it. Meanwhile Erwin Gerstorfer, who has “Brettspiele der Voelker” in his collection “checked the complete chapter about Go (as well as the introduction chapter) and if I did not overlook something, then there is unfortunately no reference to the quote that we are interested in.” When Rohde’s copy arrived he confirmed that the quote isn’t there but in an online history of European go he found a reference to Emanuel Lasker that reads “In another publication he says: When there are other intelligent beings in the universe, than they maybe know chess, but surely Go.” “I wonder which ‘other publication’ this may be,” says Rohde.

“This is the original German quote,” Rohde adds: “Wenn es im Universum noch irgendwo intelligente Lebewesen gibt, dann kennen sie vielleicht Schach, höchstwahrscheinlich jedoch Go,” which Rohde translates as “If somewhere in the universe there are [other] intelligent beings, then maybe they know Chess, but most probably [they know] Go.”