The Basic Principles of the Opening and the Middle Game
|Table of contents|
Review by BenGoZen
The Basic Principles of the Opening and the Middle Game, by Rob can Zeijst and Richard Bozulich, is the second volume to Kiseidoís new series: The Road Map to Shodan. Though the title might lead some astray, this book is not intended to be a definitive guide to all principles in regards to the opening and middle game. Instead, it would be more accurate to view the purpose of this book as a broad survey of common principles that beginner and intermediate players forget during their own games. And while some might write this book off as a simple marketing ploy, this book is truly a fantastic collection of principles that cover a wide range of material in an easy to understand manner.
When first presented with the title, I must admit that I was initially skeptical of what it could contain. After all, I had already read 20 Principles of the Opening, Get Strong at the Opening, 501 Opening Problems, etc. To my delight, the content of the book exceeded my expectations. Just look at the topics covered: (1) Extensions and Efficiency, (2) Confinement, Linkage, and Separation, (3) Weak Stones and Weak Positions, (4) Handling Moyos & Escaping, (5) Handling Thickness, (6) The Third and Fourth Lines in the Opening, (7) Defending Against a 3-3 Invasion, (8) Turning a Moyo into Territory, and (9) How to Make Sabaki.
While the topics do not receive a comprehensive explanation of each topic, the book does a great job providing a survey of the topic with the key points highlighted. After all, donít forget that this series is meant to be a guide for those who are kyu players looking to gain strength. So the most effective method for helping players do that is to provide the most common mistakes that players make and how to fix them. More advanced techniques and principles would naturally be reserved for other books.
Unlike most of the other books I have read, this book does an excellent job of keeping things as simple as possible. For example, instead of inundating the reader with numerous of examples taken from professional games, the examples consist of straight-forward examples that are easy to follow. In addition, each principle is given a good mixture of examples and explanation. As a result, novice and/or more casual players would not be overwhelmed and can digest the material much more easily.
The strength of players who would benefit most from this book would be around 10k and stronger.
While there are other books out there that contain similar information in various forms, this book is best suited for players who approach the study of go with a more casual approach.
In other words, the material is written in such a way that it is quite easy to get through and absorb without multiple intense readings. Thatís not to say that you can read it once and be done with it, but it is not so dense that you would have to reread a paragraph multiple times just to understand its basic meaning (let alone trying to apply it in your own games). In addition, the diagrams are short enough that it is not necessary to have a board in order to comprehend the flow of the stones (though it is certainly recommended if you have it in front of you).
The content is laid out in a way that is analogous to a textbook. First you have a section explaining the principles that you should learn along with a few examples to illustrate their point. The explanations are then followed up with a few problems for you to reinforce what you have just learned. And to ensure that you donít accidentally glance at the solutions while trying to solve the problems, they are kept in a separate section after the problems are presented.
The key to understanding the brilliance of this book lies in its accessibility to players of all kinds. Even when I consider players like myself who have read numerous books and take the game quite seriously, there is something to be appreciated about the simplicity to which this book approaches the topic. And though my understanding of this topic most likely has already encroached on dan territory, I still felt that the book provided a great reinforcement of things I knew and helped fill some areas that I didnít realize were missing.
In terms of shortcomings, there is only one aspect that I would have liked to have seen: more practice problems. While there are a handful of problems to review each section, there was more than one occasion where I would have liked just a few more problems. To be clear though, this is not to say that the problems in the book do not cover the topics presented. Itís just I would have liked a few more than what is in the book.
While there will be players who may scoff at this book, Kiseido has done a great job of finally providing a stepping stone that beginner and intermediate players can actually benefit from. So if you have any interest in the topics mentioned above and think you could benefit from the style of teaching being used, then I highly recommend that you get a copy of this book pronto!
For the full review, go to the following link: http://www.bengozen.com/book-review-road-map-shodan-volume-2/.
- Title: The Basic Principles of the Opening and the Middle Game
- Authors: Rob van Zeijst, Richard Bozulich
- Publisher: Kiseido
- Edition: First Printing September 2014
- Language: English
- Price: EUR 17.50
- Contents: opening, middle game
- ISBN: 978-4-906574-83-4
- Printing: almost good
- Layout: inefficient
- Editing: almost good
- Pages: 142
- Size: 148mm x 210mm
- Diagrams per Page on Average: 2
- Method of Teaching: principles, examples
- Read when EGF: 9k - 5k
- Subjective Rank Improvement: +
- Subjective Topic Coverage: -
- Subjective Aims' Achievement: o
The Basic Principles of the Opening and the Middle Game is Volume 2 of the series The Road Map to Shodan. Every page shows two 19x19 diagrams and their comments. Every chapter starts with, or is continued by, a principle or a few related principles and a very short general explanation. After ca. two examples, every chapter concludes with a few problems and their answers. As the title suggests, the topics and principles are about the opening or middle game.
The book's table of contents lists the principles (whose copying here would be unfair), problems and answers sections. The topics are missing. Since they guide to the contents, I cite them and state the page numbers of their headings here:
- Extensions and Efficiency...1
- Confinement, Linkage, and Separation...27
- Weak Stones and Weak Positions...41
- Handling Moyos...61
- Handling Thickness...77
- The Third and Fourth Lines in the Opening...92
- Defending Against a 3-3 Point Invasion...97
- Turning a Moyo into Territory...113
- How to Make Sabaki...120
The principles are the book's core. Everything else explains, illustrates or practises them. The basic ideas of the principles, the text and the move sequences are correct. The text, examples and problems are suitable for becoming familiar with at least the basic ideas of the principles. However, the text often is elliptical and the stronger readers would want to see many missing alternative moves and variations.
Contrary to the advertisement speech in the title of the book series, the restricted scope of the principles and variations makes it hard to recommend the book for players EGF 4 kyu or stronger. Contrary to the title, almost all principles for double digit kyu players are missing (compare First Fundamentals); therefore the book also cannot be recommended to them. Surely the book's principles are basic or fundamental and important for improving as a kyu player. Although everybody would have learnt part of them from hearsay, every written account provides a sufficiently useful reference to recommend the book simply on the ground that no player must miss any relevant principle.
However, the definite article starting the title ("The Basic Principles...") repeats the same mistake of the book The Fundamental Principles of Go, which had to be renamed to Fundamental Principles of Go. The Basic Principles of the Opening and the Middle Game is an absolutely improper title for a book offering only principles for a small range of playing strengths, only a selection of such principles of all basic principles for the opening and middle game, and often only weak versions of such principles.
Judged by its own title and series title, the book is a failure. Ignoring the initial definite article and the series title permits a clearer view on the intention of the book. It is an easy going approach for intermediate players wishing to enhance their knowledge of basic principles.
The topics do not get a consistently, equally long discussion, but some topics are explained with greater care than other topics. Luckily, the important thickness chapter belongs to the former. Turning a Moyo into Territory is an example of a somewhat disappointing chapter; a useful general characterisation of urgent moves does not find its application throughout the chapter.
Most of the explained knowledge belongs to verbal Japanese heritage. Modern Western style knowledge is mostly missing with the exception of characterising territory efficiency or overconcentration in my way. Unfortunately, a naive reader might easily overlook such relevant information amidst ordinary text. Only the principles are highlighted in bold font.
There are no principles for specific opening theory, such as "Avoid opposing 3-4 points.". The principles in the book are suitable for both the opening and middle game.
A still small but already significant part of the examples or problems is about joseki or tesuji knowledge. This is a bit disappointing considering the promised opening and middle game topics.
There are 20 principles and 6 additional variations of them, but 1 principle and its 2 variants amount to just 1 reworded principle. Therefore, 24 is a reasonable number of the principles in the book.
Although they are called principles, the authors oppose them by discussing major exceptions in the text and speaking of training the, as they call it, intuition. There I have to disagree. The purpose of principles should not just be guidelines for subconscious thinking - principles must strive for great generality, even if exceptions must not be overlooked. Why do the authors not fully trust their own principles? These principles are not always developed and worded as powerful and general as they should be. 19 of the 24 principles should be formulated more generally or more correctly. 2 principles should be less general so as to be correct more often. For example, if the authors had learnt from my principles, they would know that a general advice for weak stones can be right for important weak stones and wrong for non-essential weak stones. Kyu players on their way to dan level need such distinctions, but the book over-simplifies as if the basic principle "Sacrifice non-essential stones." would not exist.
How complete or incomplete is the book's selection of principles? For example, my browsing through only the basic principles in Fighting Fundamentals suggests: none of the over 30 basic principles appears in The Basic Principles of the Opening and the Middle Game. What does this mean for its selection of principles? The book offers a broad but very incomplete selection of principles. This is useful but defies the title.
There are 274 diagrams (of which only 2 are smaller than 19x19) on the 142 pages. Instead of having significant white spaces, the diagrams could be accompanied by more detailed, longer explanations in the text. It is difficult to put more diagrams on a DIN A5 page carrying two 19x19 diagrams. However, 152 of the 274 diagrams could have been shown on a quarter or about half of the board. This combined with efficient layout and avoided big to very big fonts to shrink white spaces means that the book, for which an experienced reader needs only 5.5 hours, easily could have been printed on about half the number of its pages, i.e., 70 or 80 pages. EUR 17.50 for this is expensive, unless one thinks that the 24 principles justify the price.
The book should not be bought for its title or number of pages. It is for 9 to 5 kyus preferring an easy going, selective approach to principles and tolerating their over-simplification, which requires having to learn more generally applicable or more correct versions of the principles from other sources as a stronger player.