Go Book Reviews
Fighting Fundamentals by Robert Jasiek
Robert Jasiek’s Fighting Fundamentals is an ambitious and original book which aims to make the reader stronger by teaching him to think more in a more structured manner about fighting. Jasiek’s approach is to teach the reader to differentiate between types of fights, and to help him to clarify and achieve his objectives during the fights. The central concept of the book is that during a fight, each player follows primary aims, for example defending the life of a group, in order to achieve secondary aims, such as building territory. Let me begin by describing the structure of the book.
The book, which weighs in at a hefty 256 pages, is divided into 6 main chapters plus an introduction and an index. Each of the main chapters begins with a brief introduction to the topic, which in most cases is followed by a short set of problems. Then comes a series of sub-chapters categorizing the main theme. The chapters then conclude with detailed answers to the problems.
After a brief introduction and explanation of the basic concepts used in the book, Jasiek gets rolling by presenting a comprehensive catalog of the types of fights, with the idea being that one should know what one is getting into in order to know what one might expect to get out of it. Jasiek lists 13 types of fights, all of which are probably familiar to the reader. Each of these sub-chapters begins with a description of the fight type, pointing out its main characteristics and what one might expect to get out of it. This is followed by a few well chosen examples mostly from professional games, often with detailed variations.
Next, Jasiek tackles the big question of what one wants out of a fight. The key concept is that each player explicitly attempts to achieve secondary aims whilst pursuing primary ones. Jasiek devotes a chapter each to primary and secondary aims. The primary aims are not easy to put under one hat. This is because they are presented from the viewpoints of both players. Although they mostly involve familiar concepts, Jasiek’s categories encourage the reader to view these aims not in isolation, but rather as opposing desires. Thus in addition to Defending Life (a primary objective of both players) we have such headings as “Capture versus Sacrifice and Exchange,” and “Threatening versus Defended Stability.” The secondary aims are presented in a more straightforward manner, and involve territory, influence, aji and playing elsewhere.
This brings us about halfway through the book, and if we consider the first part to be the bones, what follows is the meat and internal organs. Chapter 6, titled Fighting Techniques and Moves, is the longest one of the book running 85 pages. Here we see that Jasiek’s method is to teach functional principles, such as blocking directions or maintaining flexibility, as opposed to focusing systematically on particular moves such as the cap or cutting the knight’s move. This chapter also includes a section on timing, a subject that seems largely neglected amongst other books on my shelf. The book concludes with a chapter strategy, pointing out where one should be fighting and what for.
Style and Features
The author’s voice in Fighting Fundamentals is somewhat inconsistent. At its best, we hear Jasiek speaking as a teacher, telling us what we need to do to get to the next level, patiently asking us to examine constellations on the board, anticipating our thoughts and questions and encouraging us to step beyond our current limits. Unfortunately this tone is interspersed between longer stiff, dry and tiresome passages with a penchant for the passive voice and a hang for stating the obvious. Thankfully, the author has largely eliminated the teach-by-list method, and aside from a few clumsy formulations there is seldom cause for confusion. Nonetheless, this reader found himself struggling not to skip over parts that appeared long-winded and repetitive. I must add however, that this is not a book designed for bedtime reading, but rather meant for serious study, and the author clearly expects the reader to spend most of his time delving into the diagrams and internalizing the concepts.
While the text could surely be more pleasant to read, the content is quite interesting, and appears to be largely the result of Jasiek’s original thought, research and teaching experience. Fighting Fundamentals introduces and explains a number of ideas that I have not read elsewhere, for example the concepts of stability and of offering one’s opponent a strategic choice. Also the central theme of the book, structuring one’s thoughts about a fight is original.
By and large, the teaching method is to present concepts and principles and illustrate them by presenting and analyzing examples from professional games. The games are taken from GoGoD, and thankfully the players and dates are included which makes it easy to find and look at the games in SGF format. The diagrams are plentiful and the author does not skimp on the variations when illustrating the principles discussed. So far, I have found no errors in the diagrams, and the only difficulty I have encountered is having to flip back a page in order to read the text of a diagram. An additional feature of the book is a small selection of problems, which Jasiek uses to introduce the various topics. I liked that many of them were not of the run-of-the-mill black to kill variety, but rather asked questions such as “what’s wrong with black’s aim to defend the marked string.” I would have found it more valuable if the problems were used in the more standard way to test comprehension of the material taught, but I do appreciate the attempt at a new approach.
Fighting Fundamentals covers a huge amount of ground. We are shown when and where to start a fight, we are given a way of formulating our objectives, we are shown techniques and principles about how to handle common situations and we are given categories to get a better handle on what fights are about. In short, we are presented with a comprehensive approach to fighting. I found the book to be thorough and demanding, and I suspect that for anyone willing to put the work into studying the diagrams and structuring one’s thoughts, this book offers ample opportunities for improving one’s fighting skill.
Winning Go by Richard Bozulich and Peter Shotwell
The first thing that one notices about the book is that it is thick. It is an oversized paperback, 9×6 inches and has 256 pages. A first flip-through shows lot and lots of diagrams, some of them a tick small. The book is divided into seven chapters entitled: Katachi – Making Good Shape, Fuseki – The Opening, Tesuji – Clever Moves, Shikatsu – Life and Death, Joseki – Local Skirmishes, Chuban- The Middle Game and Yose – The Endgame, and as such offers the reader study material for literally all phases of the game.
With one exception, each chapter consists of a brief introductory text, a set of problems and a detailed answer section. The exception is the first chapter on shape, which does not include a problem section. This is because the authors view shape not as a separate subject, but rather as an essential consideration in all phases of the game. Like the other introductory texts, this chapter offers a clearly presented but superficial treatment of the subject, mentioning, defining and illustrating a few elementary concepts.
The goal of the book however is to deepen the reader’s understanding of these elementary concepts, and that takes place in the problem section. I have done the first two problems in each section, and as a 6k I can say that they are challenging.
The first chapter with problems covers the opening and the reader is presented with 40 full board problems. Both of the problems I did served to illustrate a concept in the introductory text, and thanks to having having these concepts fresh in my mind I answered both correctly. The answer to the first problem begins by showing the initial position. I like this, and it is a general principle that is followed throughout the book. It is followed by diagrams illustrating the consequences of a faulty move, and the correct solution. The text of the answer explains which principle the correct answer follows. I like this too.
The third chapter includes 27 tesuji problems. The problems do not appear to be organized in any particular way and encompass a wide range of tactical challenges, such capturing or saving stones, linking up,making shape etc. I got one problem wrong and one right. In the illustration of the answer to problem 2 was a mistake in the diagram. One of two that I discovered in the twelve problems I did. Clearly the book will benefit from some editing before a further edition is printed.
The fourth chapter offers 36 L&D problems and begins with a brief overview of killing techniques. As with the previous chapter, the problems appear unsorted. The answer section is however fairly thorough, including sometimes diagrams of several continuations as well as failures. Again, I got one problem wrong and one right. On a side note, while glancing at the problems, I immediately recognized number 5, which is practically identical to the problem on page 119 of Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go, where Kageyama nastily says : “A dan-ranked player should have the answer the moment he sees the diagram. Anyone who cannot solve it at all has a doubtful future.” While the authors refrain from such judgment, their answer, including the description of the failure, is virtually identical to Kageyama’s.
The chapter on Joseki takes a new twist on the subject, and is my favorite in the book. In it, we are presented with 45 initial positions, and asked to find the continuation. It is suggested to lay the problems out on the board before trying to work them out. I have not seen this approach before, and it has several advantages. First, it makes you think about how the position came to be in the first place. This makes you consider the purpose of those moves. Then, when looking for the continuation, it becomes apparent that the inital logic must be continued. The first two problems were a variation of basic joseki in which white makes a low approach to a hoshi stone and after black extends and white moves into the corner, black pincers instead of defending the corner. I was not familiar with this variation, and doing the problems gave me an excellent opportunity to follow the standard advice of trying to understand instead of just memorize the joseki moves. I got both of the problems partially right, and found the answer section, which encompasses almost 50 pages, to be informative.
Chapter six offer 24 whole-board middle game problems. I got the first one right, and the second one completely wrong. Again, the authors don’t skimp on the answer section, and include diagrams and explanations of both failures and correct answers.
The last chapter, Yose – The Endgame begins with a concise description of the the interaction of gote and sente and the basic (simplified) principles of endgame counting. The 31 problems are organized to first practice counting the values of endgame moves, then to look for the most valuable moves and lastly to look for endgame tesujis. I appreciated the simple approach to counting, and although I got both problems wrong, I was at least close.
Compared to the other problem books that I own, Winning Go is less thorough in presenting concepts than the books in the Elementary Go series by Davies et al., and has fewer but more difficult problems than in Bozulich’s own Get Strong at Tesuji or 1001 L&D problems. What is exceptional is it’s wide range of topics and it’s detailed and instructive answer sections. Although I have only done a smattering of the problems, my impression is that they are more difficult than the introductory texts would indicate, and not inappropriate for a player around my level or perhaps stronger. For me, the book offers valuable study material to help combat a broad range of deficits, and I would certainly recommend it to those who like to use problems to deepen their understanding of a wide range of topics, and don’t scoff at reading the answers.
Catching Scent of Victory by O Rissei
Catching Scent of Victory by O Rissei is a book in which a top professional go player shows fans and amateurs how he thinks about the game. In it, O Rissei presents and describes 20 of his games from the mid- to late 90’s through 2000, including a number of decisive games in his quests to win the prestigious Oza and Kisei titles. The book is divided into three main parts, which can loosely be described as focusing on crucial situations on the path to victory in the opening, middlegame and endgame, plus a last chapter detailing his go record.
O Rissei’s approach to the game is both calculating and instinctive. In his book, he presents his strategies for getting a game off to the right start, shows his decision process in assessing variations, and discusses the professional’s ability to scent out negative aspects of an opponent’s move that may even elude the eye.
The first chapter,“Rissei Style Strategy in the Opening,” shows how he thinks about creating the structure of the game. In it O Rissei show the opening phases of 16 games, and characterizes them by a particular move or formation that he sets up in the fuseki. As one might expect from a professional go player showing his own games, these are not run-of-the-mill moves, and do not necessarily follow the wisdom embodied in go proverbs. Many of the positions appear to be innovative, first appearing in my database during the period that the games were played. By presenting such concepts, O Rissei encourages the reader to try out new ideas. He goes on to discuss his reasoning for choosing the move, and describes the consequences both as they occurred in the game and in detailed variations that illustrate the depth of professional thinking.
The second chapter, entitled “Starting One’s Sensors to Take Advantage of a Good Opportunity,” shows the continuations of 8 of these games, plus two other complete games. Here, O Rissei comes up with marvelously descriptive names for each game, such as: “Entering the Tiger’s Lair,” or “Dripping Cold Sweat,” and his descriptions of the game situations are both insightful and evocative. Each sub-chapter begins by presenting a board position from the game for the reader’s consideration, in the form of a full board problem. He then shows the moves leading up to that position, typically starting from the point where he had left off in chapter 1, and follows up by showing how the game turned out. The emphasis of this chapter is showing how games can be decided in the middlegame.
The structure of the third chapter, “Sharpening One’s Sense of Smell for Victory,” is fairly similar to that of the second chapter. Again each sub-chapter starts by presenting a crucial board position from a game, and continues with a thorough analysis . The focus of this chapter however leans more toward endgame situations.
Although O Rissei repeatedly shows in variations the calculations he made during and after the game, his emphasis throughout the second and third chapters is on sensing potential turning points, moves that he sometimes describes as “reverberating” their power across the board, and the necessity of sharpening one’s senses for the shortcomings of an opponents move. O Rissei states in his introduction that the best way for amateurs to improve their ability to sense the chances inherent in a position is to replay professional games, and the ones that he has included along with his insightful commentary provide valuable and enjoyable study material for anyone interested in professional go.
Of the 20 games, 8 are played against Cho Chikun and the others are played against such strong and influential players as Kato Masao, Kobayashi Koichi, O Meien and Rin Kaiho, among others. O Rissei’s presentation provides both a fascinating insight into the mind of a professional go player as well as showing the depth, dynamic and drama of his games. I found the book both riveting and informative, and it has expanded my appreciation for the game.
Catching Scent of Victory is the second in the Heart of Go Discovery series published by Hinoki Press. The Heart of Go series was originally published in Japanese by the Nihon Ki-in. The book is about 5 ½ by 8 ½”, printed in paperback and has 270 pages.