The Tooth.

on Apr 28, 2011
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(the “tooth”)

“The Tooth” was given to me as a gift by Janice Kim, the only female American professional Go player (and now a professional poker player), in 1999 and I promptly put it up on the wall next to my computer. I love this photo.

I’ve lost a lot of money in front of this photo. I’ve lost a marriage in front of this photo. I’ve lost a home in front of him. I’ve missed my kids in front of him. He shakes a little every time the train passes, every hour all day long. Sometimes I make a little bit of  money and I smile at “the tooth,” but he doesn’t really care. I’ve moved homes six times in the past 12 years and the tooth is the one object that has stuck with me on each move. The last time I moved, I once again took out a hammer, hammered a little nail in the wall right next to my desk, and hung “the tooth” up.  “The tooth” watched me get divorced. Watched my six year old come in and ask me at the behest of her older sister, “Josie wants to know if you and mom are going to stay together.”

How can you not get a little depressed looking at “The Tooth”? My face will never be etched with the pain and concentration that his face has. His face is like a Greek myth. The furrow of his brow, the deep vertical creases in the center of his forehead,  the thick hair swept back to get out of the way of his brain. The clothes loosely draped over him to just protect him. That tooth. The obvious contrast with the blurry guy in the background, blurred by history, by his insignificant fate, his well-fed face, his cleanliness and tidiness that never got him anywhere. Only the sharp features of “the tooth” were meant to be carved into history.

The photo is of Sakata Eio, the greatest Go player ever. The setting is the 1957 World Championship for Go. The Honimbo title. His nickname was “the Razor”. Don’t think that a guy who plays games is a nice guy. You play all sorts of games in your life. We all do. But he will kill you and eat your brain and not think twice about it.

He once said, ““Perhaps because I am too greedy. I want everything. As a result, every move I make, if it did not reach its greatest efficiency, I wouldn’t be satisfied. Thus, I sometimes get into difficult spots. Under these circumstances, I have to stay alive with my upmost effort.”

He goes for it all, every piece of life in front of him, he goes for it, then he has to weather the pain that results. Because when you try to grab everything, you have to try harder to hold onto it. He’s won more games in his life than any other professional Go player.

Another time he said, “When one gets in trouble or danger, he naturally works harder and ideas come out. I often have such ideas come out when they’re needed. But on the other hand, it’s more important to win the game in a simple and easy manner. If one gets in trouble, he would have to work triple hard to solve the problems, and to win in this way is tiresome.”

There’s not much else to say about it. I’ve had moments where the walls have fallen down in on me and “The tooth”. Where I found myself in difficult situations and like he says, you have to fight harder to climb out. Much easier to figure out how to win in a simple and easy manner. The walls have fallen in time and time again. But we made it.

A few months ago Sakata Eio died at the age of 90. I bought some of his books and played through some of his games from the 1960s when he was at his peak. Sometimes in the middle of the night I can’t sleep and I come down here and try to work or read. Everything is quiet and dark. Insomnia delivers me the few moments where I’m truly by myself. I look up at the photo, the only consistent presence in my life for the past 12 straight years. Sakata Eio, the world’s greatest game player ever is dead.

I am still alive.



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14 Responses to “The Tooth.”

  1. Claudia says:

    that is one "killer" look he has in his eyes

  2. This is going to be my worst performing article ever and I don't even care. I like the photo, I like the article, but sometimes you need a good cleansing. I hope this article gets less than 30 views. Sakata Eio's photo will survive.

  3. Claudia says:

    oops, looks like you have 32 already…

  4. I liked it James! Sometimes the best of posts get lost in the shuffle. And this week with the Royal Wedding (tongue in cheek)… Cheers!

  5. Thanks Lynn. This Royal Wedding is really bothering my pageviews! But they deserve everlasting happiness. Thanks again for liking this post. I like this one.

  6. linda buzogany says:

    I liked it too. I always like your stuff.

  7. Linda, thanks so much.

  8. Not if I have anything to say about it (and I do, I think.) Here's what I just Tweeted:

    "The Tooth" I try not to overuse Must Read, but this is MUST READ!

    And on Elephant Yoga on Facebook:

    Not about Yoga. You must read it anyway.

    And on Elephant Facebook main page:

    You must read this great blog for yourself! I can't begin to describe it to you.



  9. Claudia says:

    Wow James, looks like your 30 target did not quite work, ha ha ha 🙂 I loved the article too, and enjoy looking at that photograph, I like how concentrated he is, if only I could apply that to yoga!

  10. Elle Brys says:

    Excellent…so touching.

  11. One my my favorite subjects! The way art becomes part of our lives, the energy we inject into it, and receive from it, and the emotional interactions we have with it…that piece…that "tooth" that hangs on our walls and watches us. This dialogue between the viewer and a work of art is, perhaps, the mystical space in which we find ourselves, and sources of comfort that outlast bad relationships, or jobs, but come from a place beyond them…that eternal space we enter into when we develop a connection with a work of art. I REALLY enjoyed reading this James! Thank you for sharing. Please give us more. 🙂 Check out my article, if you wish.. .

  12. I love it when I'm able to introduce my cyber-friends with common interests to each other online!


  13. JamesAltucher says:

    Katerina, thanks for this reply. Its one of my favorite topics as well. I like how you refer to it as a "dialogue" since it changes over time. it becomes a full conversation when injected with ongoing experiences. I will check out your article.

  14. JamesAltucher says:

    Bob, thanks for posting this again on the EJ wall. Its one of my favorites.