An American in Tokyo Shows the Japanese He's Got It at Go

updated 08/24/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/24/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Sitting cross-legged on a tatami floor, Michael Redmond studies the intricate pattern formed by button-shaped black and white stones on a wooden grid. Then, without lifting his eyes, he slaps another stone into position, ending another match of the board game Go. Redmond, the only professionally-ranked American Go player in Japan, has outwitted another opponent.

At 24, Redmond is emerging as the Bobby Fischer of Go, a Japanese national pastime that was invented in China thousands of years ago. Much more complex than the single-front battle of chess, Go is akin to guerrilla warfare, with multiple attack points, requiring strategy that until recently proved inscrutable to Westerners. "What I like about Go is that there is room for imagination," Redmond says. "You start with nothing on the board and you can put the pieces anywhere." The idea is to make chains of stones that encircle key positions and capture an opponent's territory; games can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two days.

A native of Santa Barbara, Calif., Redmond was introduced to Go at 11 by his father, Peter, a computer programmer. During a vacation trip to Japan two years later, Redmond got a taste of serious Go competition and was hooked. "I didn't do much sightseeing," he says. Soon afterward he persuaded his father and his mother, None, a housewife, to let him attend school in Tokyo. Living for nearly a decade with the high-ranked Go teacher Yusuke Oeda, Redmond underwent a single-minded apprenticeship. "Apart from reading, I don't have any hobbies," he says. "I spend most of my time playing Go."

Having recently moved to his own one-room apartment in Tokyo, Redmond averages about $2,100 a month from tournaments and teaching fees. He returns to the U.S. once or twice a year to see his family and participate in exhibition games. Visiting the San Francisco Go Club last year, he dazzled his compatriots by winning nine simultaneous matches. Since most major U.S. cities now support Go associations, Redmond hopes that more Americans will someday learn to challenge him. "People say that Go is a mysterious Far East game with subtleties that Americans can't grasp," he says. "My goal is to prove otherwise."

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