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Ervin Fink: Go Fire in Pula On the Early 20th Century Origins of Go in Europe

Ervin Fink (1893-1977), the pioneer of Slovenian Go, had a decisive role in introducing this game on the whole territory of former Yugoslavia. He wrote this article in year 1974 and it is an interesting testimony about the origins of modern European Go; it was also distributed at the European Go Congress in Zagreb (1974).

We cannot be much in error if we say that the game of Go became known in Europe at the beginning of this century. Compared with chess, which has been played in Europe for some 400 years, the relatively late appearance of Go in Europe is surprising, since its origins date back about 4000 years. After all, both chess and Go have much in common: both are board games played with two sets of pieces, both are games of intellect, and both originated in Asia. There are probably many reasons for the late appearance of Go in Europe. One of these reasons is, as Dr. Emmanuel Lasker, the famous chess champion, mentioned in his book Brettspiele der Völker, that the mobility of chess pieces suits the European mentality better than the immobility of Go stones – although we know that the game of Go is not less (and probably more) dynamic than chess. Anyhow, it was only toward the end of the 19th. century, when Japan opened her frontiers – first to the ships of Commodore Perry and then to trade, diplomacy, science and arts of the western world – that Europe learned of arts and customs of Far East, and of their game of games.

Navy Officer Arthur Jonak

Navy Officer Arthur Jonak
von Freyenwald
Photo: Mag. Richard Weninger

Certainly there were more attempts at introducing and spreading the game of Go in Europe, but most of them are forgotten. It would be interesting to find out those actions and efforts that left deeper impression in the history of Go. Due to the lack of reliable information on more important attempts, I shall recount only one of these, which happened over 50 years ago, and which I myself took part in.

In the year 1914, just before the beginning of First World War, I was a midshipman on the Austro-Hungarian fast cruiser Admiral Spaun. At that time, my ship was stationed at Pula [1], the main port of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. I used to spend my off duty evenings playing chess in the Navy club, where there were always a lot of kibitzers; it was there I met Lieutenant-Commander Artur Jonak von Freyenwald [2]. He rather praised my game, and invited me onto his ship to show me a Japanese game – Go, which he said was more interesting than chess. Of course I accepted his invitation, and after a series of lessons I daresay I improved rather quickly.

With great will and energy did Jonak strive to acquire new converts to his game, mostly among younger Navy officers. In a short time he attracted a number of enthusiastic Go players. They in their turn attracted yet more players, until it became rather like an epidemic. Go was played on board ships, in coffee houses, in Navy clubs etc. Soon Go sets with glass stones and a folding board were also available in a Pula bookshop. It was Jonak who did most to spread the game, and for his devotion and tireless activity he got the name »Jonak, god of Go«.

After Jonak’s death in the war [3], our Go club had no leader anymore. Flames of the »Go-fire« in Pula died out and winds scattered the sparks of the glowing fire. There had been more than 200 active Go players in our club, and I think it was the strongest, and certainly the largest, Go club in Europe, at least before 1918.

Skodelice za kamne

Although »Go fire« in Pula went out, some sparks survived [4]. One of these glowed on in its own country [5], trying to light a new fire. Many successes of our chess players convinced me that there was enough of interest and necessary talent for games of intellect in Yugoslavia. This fact strengthened my conviction that in my country, favorable grounds for Go exist and that is why I decided to try to spread the game of Go in Yugoslavia. I tried to make a breakthrough in many ways: publishing articles in newspapers, making pamphlets, holding lectures on the radio and television, contacting chess clubs, making improvised Go sets etc.

At last, I found by accident a group of students of Ljubljana University who were playing Go. They had learned the rules and not much else from an article about Go I had written for a weekly magazine Tedenska Tribuna (A Weekly Tribune) in December 1960. They were very enthusiastic, found many new players, mostly »converts« from chess, and they eagerly studied those few books on Go that I had. In 1961, we founded Go društvo Ljubljana (Go Club Ljubljana), the first Go club in Yugoslavia. We strived and succeeded in spreading Go, and after a while many Go clubs appeared in all parts of Yugoslavia. At the same time, we tried to improve our skill and to come even with the best European players, and I think we did it. And that is how from the beginnings in Pula the game of Go established itself in Yugoslavia.

Notes:

[1] Pula (today’s Croatia) is a well known port on the North Adriatic coast. (E. F., Ed.)

[2] Lieutenant-Commander Artur Jonak von Freyenwald was born in Salzburg (Austria). When I met him, he was the First Officer on the minelayer Kameleon. Earlier in 1914, however, he was on the cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth which was anchored in Tsingtao, where he became addicted to Go. (E. F.)

[3] Jonak died in 1918 in Boka Kotorska (a bay on the South-East Adriatic coast, today’s Montenegro) when some mines accidentally exploded during a mine-laying operation. (E. F., Ed.)

[4] One of many Go players in Pula was Lieutenant-Commander Fröschl, a close friend of Jonak. He was very active in Go in his native Vienna. Of the activities of other Go players from Pula I unfortunately do not know anything. (E. F.)

[5] At the time when Fink wrote this article, Pula, just like Ljubljana (today’s Slovenia), which is mentioned later in the text, was a city in Yugoslavia, now non-existing country that disintegrated in 1991. (Ed.)

Links:

Read more about the beginnings of Go in Austria and Central Europe at Pok's Go space.

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