Easy Learning - Joseki
|Table of contents
The book is available directly from the publisher or soon from European retailers.
The author and publisher of Easy Learning: Joseki is Robert Jasiek. The book is of A5 size, has 196 pages, has 6 diagrams per page on average, is written for players from circa 13 kyu to 1 kyu and has the suggested price EUR 25 (book) or EUR 12.50 (PDF).
TL;DR: Highly recommended for SDK, made me objectively stronger. But best digested over time.
After hitting a progression plateau recently, I took stock of my weaknesses and realised I was bad at pretty much everything in Go. Therefore pretty much any study I undertook was likely to help. Indeed, reading the first half of Life and Death immediately gained me a stone or so. I purchased a couple of other Fundamentals books... and then the opportunity to obtain a review copy of Easy Learning Joseki came up. I had not intended to study joseki for a little while yet (I was 9k and got by with maybe half a dozen of the really common ones and a nose for blood) and indeed was heading for Tesuji and then perhaps Attack and Defence but, since anything I study at the moment seems to help, why not?
Indeed, a quick speed read through the book looked very promising. Its basic structure is of a short chapter describing a single idea related to joseki (sometimes a few of these are grouped together), followed by one or more joseki that demonstrate the ideas, including usually a few main lines of variation for each. Overall there are 52 concept chapters and 72 joseki.
Although the joseki are ordered by concept, there is a handy diagrammatic index at the back of the book, allowing positional lookup. Given my somewhat ad-hoc approach to digesting the book (see below), I find this extremely useful!
At six points in the book, there are problem series referring to the preceding material.
The conceptual chapters are each short - as readers familiar with Jasiek's style will guess, they try to systematically break joseki into things that can be (to varying degrees) objectively assessed and in some cases measured, with worked examples. Topics that I vaguely knew existed and suspected were important, but had never gone over formally, such as:
- Connection (why, and how)
- How to Build Territory and Eyespace
- How to Use Influence
- How (and later when) to Sacrifice
- What is Flexibility?
- How to Recognise a Fair Result
This last was a big one for me going in - I understand that joseki are sequences that lead to locally "fair" results for both players, and that the idea is to try and steer them in a direction where locally fair leads to globally advantageous. But I really have little idea what locally fair means, or how to measure it. Let alone how to offer it to my opponent with wider strategy in mind.
The book (like First Fundamentals) is attractively laid out, with nice areas of whitespace. The diagrams are clear and the typesetting doesn't have noticeable glitches. It's also nicely bound on good stock, though it doesn't lay flat when open.
Jasiek's prose is straightforward and unambiguous. It is, however, quite dry. One of my weaknesses as a studier is that my mind tends to wander, and so books like Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go that have an engaging, chatty style, engage my attention better. This is not one of those books! However, the solution I arrived at was to physically play through each diagram as it is encountered in the text. This broke up the prose into very short sections that (as seems to be normal for the author) are direct and single-concept. This helped me a lot with retention, and I started to get that "warm fuzzy feeling of Go" that other people have slightly derided Kageyama over, but I find necessary to help me learn anything.
At my level (weak SDK), I have so many weaknesses that I really need help with the basics. And although this is billed as an introductory book appropriate to kyu players, I will admit that I got more out of parts of it than others.
This is not to say that I don't need the other stuff! But I am going to play some more and do some other study, then come back and re-read the book again. I actually had this happen with the same author's First Fundamentals, and also suspect it will happen with Kageyama. The bits that stick are the bits that immediately address things I recognise in my games, the rest can kind of elude me. So I read things multiple times.
I think this is a problem endemic to books that are written on fundamental subjects, and also aimed at a range of strengths (Easy Learning Joseki is aimed at kyu-to-low-dan players). They key is not to get frustrated with my lack of absorption, but to occasionally revisit and find that more things make direct sense to me from things that I have encountered since. This means that even after two read-throughs, I have ended up with a working collection of only maybe 20 or 30 of the joseki from this book, because they are in the sections that directly helped me with problems I was having in my play. I also come back to it when someone plays a joseki I don't know in a correspondence game. It is interesting to compare between the detailed explanations in the book, and the many more variations in Josekipedia. It also gives me an entree into the sections I found previously inaccessible.
One big advantage that Easy learning Joseki has is that it often shows, with examples, why moves within sequences (and even the order of moves) are necessary. This was a really big thing for me - my ability to spot an urgent move in a local area (joseki or otherwise) was woeful, and now it is definitely less woeful.
Actually this is true of follow-ups as well. The book has lots of examples of follow-up sequences played out that definitely rewarded physically following. Partly this was good for applying to the joseki in question, but also because I still lack so much knowledge of "natural" sequences and shape moves that I gained a lot indirectly.
However, one thing I would say is that although I felt like I was acquiring concepts (and my improvement has borne this out), the problem sets largely defeated me to some degree or other. This is merely a sign that I haven't taken it all on board, and need to go back. The problems themselves were interesting and realistic (to me).
In the course of reading the book, I have not played as many games as I would like - I've completed maybe two (or three?) dozen ranked 19x19 games, and a small handful of live games. However, I feel that my improvement has been dramatic (I have gained three stones in rank during that time, and done no other study), and can basically be attributed to the parts of the book regarding:
- What is a Direction?
- What is Stability?
- How to Build Territory and Eyespace
- What Shapes Are Strong?
- Why to Create Possibilities (this was an eye-opener for me!)
- What is a Weak Important Group?
For these sections (and their associated joseki) alone, this book has been extremely worthwhile.
I'd also like to draw attention to the common remark of "study joseki and lose two stones". I now feel like I get this. My problem was not "hey I know this new joseki and I'm going to use it everywhere" but the follow-ups that I now knew to lurk, so played inappropriately just to show that I knew them.
Going in, I really was interested in the idea of "fairness", and I think I have come out only a little wiser. This is not a shortcoming of the book! Rather I found that my mind glazed over a little bit. Thinking about counting influence stones vs territory and trying to recognise a fair result, across the many different things each player in a joseki is trying to achieve, was interesting, but ultimately did not feel as relevant (yet!) as understanding when to extend or make life immediately.
Jasiek is a rigorous guy and has a theoretical framework built up around how to evaluate go play. While it's interesting to be exposed to even a small part of it at my level, so far I haven't got much out of it - partly this is because I am not a very rigorous guy, but partly I suspect it's just because my problems are still huge and fundamental, and I want things that will help me fix them. However, just as I have found with even the concepts I have acquired so far, persistence pays off. I'll play some more and come back in a few months and read through them again.
At some point I am going to actually drill all of the joseki in the book. And I have practiced by repetition quite a few of them, especially those that have turned up in games. Which brings me to:
Although it runs somewhat counter to the book's process, which is one of successively more-advanced concepts behind "why we play joseki" (which vaguely sorts the joseki by complexity), I'd also like to see each joseki with a measure of how often it gets played. It's difficult to establish "I should absolutely know this by heart and its variations because everybody will drag me into it" from "this is an even result and it demonstrates the concept".
To a player of Jasiek's level, and indeed the level of someone who has a handle of all the concepts of this book to a deep degree, all of these are probably canon and must-know. But in my meagre couple-of-hundred games and 6k level, I definitely never see most of them (yet). Perhaps knowing them all would, on its own, drag me above my current level! But this seems to just not be how I want to go about my learning. As they say, de gustibus non est disputandum but Robert might say it's not about taste - and I'm probably not disciplined enough to improve at the optimum rate.
This book requires diligence in order to get the most out of it. The dry prose and sometimes numerical concepts are challenging, though (I guess) also appropriate! Players like me who run on the Warm Fuzzy Feeling of Go should, however, not be discouraged. It has a lot of practical assistance to offer anyone who is not merely learning joseki, but starting to learn about joseki. Also? In the end, I genuinely enjoyed it.
- Title: Easy Learning: Joseki
- Author: Robert Jasiek
- Publisher: Robert Jasiek
- Edition: 2014
- Language: English
- Price: EUR 25 (book), EUR 12.50 (PDF)
- Contents: joseki
- ISBN: none
- Printing: good
- Layout: good
- Editing: almost good
- Pages: 196
- Size: 148mm x 210mm
- Diagrams per Page on Average: 6
- Method of Teaching: principles, examples
- Read when EGF: 13k - 1k
- Subjective Rank Improvement: +
- Subjective Topic Coverage: o
- Subjective Aims' Achievement: ++
Easy Learning: Joseki offers three kinds of chapters: josekis, theory and problems / answers. The joseki topic is approached from the different angles of tactics, inherent strategic choices, strategic embedding in the global positional context, concepts of go theory and evaluation. The flexible didactics make understanding easy regardless of the reader's preferred style of learning.
The book uses a "one page one topic" style. Only occasionally, a joseki or theoretical topic has two or three pages. Fast understanding of the key ideas is encouraged, while heaps of too many details are avoided.
Since Easy Learning: Joseki explains also theory and offers problems, the book is much more than a selection of josekis: it is a player's ideal first or second joseki book. On the other hand, players overwhelmed by joseki dictionaries or series get their chance to study josekis with fresh motivation.
The representative selection of 72 important josekis offers a good balance between a too small random selection and a too comprehensive dictionary. For every joseki, the meaning and tactics of difficult moves are explained. The interesting follow-ups during the middle game or endgame are shown. Discussion includes relevant variations, strategic choices within a joseki or in the global environment, and sample evaluations. When a joseki occurs for the first time as an example in a theory chapter, a subsequent chapter explains the joseki.
General advice, which can be accompanied by a principle, and applied examples cover the essential aspects of go theory. The 52 topics include everything from the basics, via evaluation and fighting, to strategy. Without losing itself in details, the book answers all the important questions arising during construction of a joseki, for example, how to emphasise, use and assess influence.
Apart from a number of problems with special tasks checking the reader's understanding, the majority of the 102 problems trains tactical reading ability. Thereby, players learn that strategic decisions rely on tactical verification. There are easy problems for beginners and hard nuts for advanced kyu players.
Easy Learning: Joseki combines a thorough selection of the most important josekis with a broad, but not too detailed, coverage of all relevant go theory and the necessary tactical exercise in problems. The title is the program: learn and understand josekis easily.
The Table of Contents is at the author's site.
A Sample is available.