End of an Era

British Go Journal No. 41. May 1978. Page 4.

Jon Diamond has retired from the British Championship after holding the title from 1965-1973, 1975-1977. He talks to John Tilley

Jon, you were the first strong British player to learn Go as a child?

Yes, I was 14, it was 1962 and our school librarian showed me a copy of Lasker's book, "Go and Go Moku". I was the school chess captain, so he thought I might be interested. I made a paper board (the stones were also paper!) and started playing, first with Peter Bloomberg.

How did you find the London Go Club?

Peter moved to London and found John Barrs address. The club met in people's flats and we went along that Easter to Neil Stein's. John Barrs was shodan and made a point of enticing chess players along to Go meetings. We both took 9 stones and I won, which surprised him. I was in Vienna that summer on a language course, but I spent six evenings a week playing Go in the Vienna coffee shops. I was 8 kyu and I actually played Schilp (Editor: President of the European Go Federation) on seven stones and won by resignation!

The London club now met regularly at the Pontefract Castle once a week and there was a major debate about whether we should meet two nights a week. I carried on playing at school and in London and reached 6 kyu by summer 1964 when I went to the European Congress in Holland and improved two stones in a fortnight.

How did the game spread in those early days?

Slowly; Peter went to Imperial College and taught Jim Bates (Editor: now [1978] 3-dan). The London Club kept picking up new members who had read one of the 'classic' books for beginners - Smith, Lasker, Korschelt, or the famous New Scientist article.

When did you reach Shodan?

In 1965, it took me 2½ years from scratch. Go Review was my main source plus Kido Yearbook and the three volume Sakata [joseki] set in Japanese, and Matsuda's Go Letters. I really studied hard - "Study seriously, but play lightly!" Go Review was really treasured, I played through every issue very thoroughly. I learnt the entire Sakata Joseki book.

When you didn't have much material you really study what little you have. There is too much material today. Most people buy too many books, don't study enough and play too seriously! I studied from 1964 to May 1968 when I was 3-dan. Then I got engaged and I haven't studied since!

So how did you remain British Champion for nine more years?

Everyone else takes the game too seriously! God knows, really, my style is purely intuitive, isn't it.....?

What is your style?

Laziness! (Diamond usually does just enough to win.)

What are your strong and weak points?

I'm strong at yose, the endgame, that's the mathematician in me, and I'm weak at reading - I can't be bothered.

How did you win your first championship?

The first British Championship was in September 1965. John Barrs had been Shodan for about three years and Colin Irving and I had just been promoted by John [to Shodan] . Mind you - shodan then was about two or three kyu now. John was British Champion unofficially for just over 30 years. Anyway, we played each other twice and I won 4-0*. That was just before I went up to Cambridge where I immediately founded the C.U. Go Society. Tony Goddard joined and reached shodan in under a year, which is a British record.
* [ JD beat CI 2-0, JD beat JB 2-0. Therefore CI and JB didn't play. ]

The BGJ also started in Cambridge?

Yes, David Wells and I produced a trial issue, number zero, in early 1967. John Barrs disliked it, but he advised us and I produced number one later that year. I wrote, edited and typed it and you (John Tilley) helped me to duplicate, collate and distribute it - you remember the rubber stamp?

I printed the title on each individual copy!

It was all in algebraic notation, so people had to play through the games. Diagrams are much clearer but you must play through the game on the board, otherwise it might as well be in algebraic notation.

What do you think is going to happen to the game in Britain?

I can see no great explosion in the next ten years - there's too much inertia. Most Go players don't want to organise and teach beginners. We need organisers, not ideas people. Not enough strong players go to Congresses; I go and still will because I feel I must as I'm the strongest player around. Go isn't attracting new people and most clubs don't recruit enough. The average potential Go player is shy and needs a lot of encouragement.

Until we have an older generation in their 40s and 50s Go won't expand. John Barrs was invaluable in encouraging beginners and in teaching. Strong players at the Go centre [The London Go Centre was open 7 days a week at the time] must teach more. It's not like the good old days at the Go Club, everyone taught beginners, it was very sociable, and only open on two nights a week, so everyone tried to go both nights. It's too easy to start playing Go now, people don't put enough into the game and that's very sad.

And the British Championship?

It's become too serious and time consuming. The Go isn't good enough to warrant such time limits [3 hours for the championship match] and I can't see myself going through all the preliminaries. I wanted to retire while still at the top! OK, you want a tip for the next championship. Tony Goddard is very good but he's too erratic, so I guess it'll probably be Matthew Macfadyen.


This article is from the British Go Journal Issue 41
which is one of a series of back issues now available on the web.

Last updated Thu May 04 2017. If you have any comments, please email the webmaster on web-master AT britgo DOT org.