American Go E-Journal » 2022 » April

IN MEMORIAM: Jack Clark, Congress Pioneer

Saturday April 2, 2022

by Keith L. Arnold, hka

Word came to us this week that Jack Clark passed away on March 21.  Virtually all Congress veterans, seeing the headline, will no doubt be thinking “Jack who?” Most know Haskell Small as the “Father of the U.S. Go Congress” for heading the first Congress effort in 1985.  Those upon whom I inflict my oft-repeated stories might recall Arthur Lewis, longtime Secretary-Treasurer of Hal’s Greater Washington Go Club, whose careful book-selling and dues-taking put Small and company in the financial position to take the leap.  But who was Jack Clark? Not only did he never officially attend a Go Congress, I’m not sure he ever even played a rated game.

Jack Clark learned go while a math professor at the University of Massachusetts in the early 1970s. Around 1980 he became a Math and Computer Science professor at Western Maryland College in Westminster, Maryland.  And, as an enthusiastic go player, he would trek down to Kensington on Friday nights to play at the Greater Washington Go Club.  So when Haskell decided to initiate plans for the first U.S. Congress, Dr. Clark was there to help arrange for his school to be the site for the first Congress.

Dr. Clark’s go class

I probably met Dr. Clark at Western Maryland in 1979, and certainly not as a student, as I avoided the math department with a passion. Instead, I came upon him in the student center, playing a strange board game with some of his students.  Immediately fascinated, I recall watching on numerous occasions, gradually picking up the rules.  Finally, a student with an exam left early, and Dr. Clark allowed me to lay out nine stones in my first-ever game. I hadn’t even had any 9-by-9 practice, and I suspect I was quite an embarrassment; hopefully I played quickly. But I did know liberties and by some chance — or perhaps it was generosity — I pounced when Dr. Clark played a long string of stones into atari and I won my first-ever game of go.  Naturally this had the perhaps intended effect of creating an instant love of the game.  Dr. Clark made a nice show of regretting his error, those of you who know me may also regret the addiction it created.

Dr. Clark was probably around 2-3 kyu at that time, and I suspect he eventually flirted with shodan. Longtime friend Robert McGuigan (translator of the AGJ and Slate and Shell’s “Masterpieces of Handicap Go”), recalls his razor-sharp focus. As a kyu player “he learned/memorized all the variations in the three-volume Ishida joseki dictionary!” Bob recalls. “Typical of Jack,” it was nonetheless an impressive achievement, and believable in a time when passion for go was poured into book study without internet opponents to play. When he took up rock climbing as a graduate student at Stanford he spent “days on the face of Half Dome during a climb”.  A classical music lover, he “learned to recognize all 81 Haydn string quartets, which he tested by randomly choosing a record and putting the needle anywhere on it”.  When he took up cycling, he became a serious racer.

I suspect he may have offered the second-ever go course in US college history (I believe Ted Drange was first in West Virginia).  Although I did not take the class, it did provide me with a few opponents to feed my addiction.  I did crash the class one day and played a simultaneous 9-by-9 game with the late Don Weiner; the boisterous Weiner was quite a contrast with the quiet, eccentric Dr. Clark. Warren Litt, my predecessor as head of the GWRM Baltimore Go Club often would tell the story of playing go at Dr. Clark’s home, relating that he would heat the stones up in the oven because he did not like them to be cold to the touch.

I hope to see many of you at this year’s U.S. Go Congress, July 30-August 7 in Estes Park, Colorado. I will be thinking of Dr. Clark. I am fortunate to be able to recall my first opponent, but none of us can know our last. As we return to the Go Congress, let’s make every game memorable.

photos by Keith Arnold and Western Maryland College Yearbook 1980, 1981