How to read
|Table of contents||Table of diagrams
So in order to become good at reading in general, let's first look what it takes to properly read a life and death problem, i.e. I'll start posting how I (think I) do it:
This example is taken from Kyu Exercise 27.
In this problem, the status of the Black group is asked.
First, let's use our intuition to downsize the effort and establish the direction in which we are looking. An intermediate player's intuition tells that Black is either dead already or unsettled. So, we investigate Black to move first.
Try expanding the eye space first. This will usually give more information about the vital point.
So, Black tries the vital point himself.
After , the reading branches into a couple of answers, a, b, c and d. Three sequences:
- White a - Black d
- White b - Black c
- White c - Black b, White d - Black e
all give life for Black. But the sequence White d - Black a; white c - Black b leads to auto-atari and death.
There is no more branching. (See Kyu Exercise 27 / Solution which has diagrams for these sequences.)
After these two attempts it becomes fairly clear that Black is dead and we can stop reading. We may want to check further and be 100% certain, but in Go we are happy with 99% if that allows us to reduce time spent.
Beyond beginner, there is no reading here. For a beginner, the reading goes like this:
- Wa - next are only forbidden moves; stop
- Wb - Ba - Wc - Ba - white stones are removed
- Wb - Ba - W pass - Bc - white stones are removed
- Wb - Bc (two variations equivalent to the above)
- Wb - B pass (realizing White has killed himself)
- Wc - 5 equivalent variations (perhaps realizing this)
- Ba - Wb - Bc - white stones are removed
- Bb - Wa - only forbidden moves left
- Bb - Wc - Ba - white stones are removed
- Bc - (two equivalent variations)
Depending on their sense of symmetry and their grasping the concept of two eyes beginners will have to read 2 to 15 variations with a depth of at most 4 moves. The order in which they read is likely to be centered about those variations which someone beyond beginner will read. Symmetry is the strongest pruning technique. The number of eyes or removal of stones are basic end results.
For a dan player, there is nothing to read here. For those who don't know this position, there are the principles of how to approach a life and death problem:
- Expand eye space first: a, b
- Explore vital points next: c, d, e, f
- Any player beyond beginner will probably prune the remaining points right away: the lump at the circled point is a very unlikely candidate and the 1-1 point too.
Both apply expand-reduce until Black notices a bulky five. Next var has - interchanged. There will be a few more variations but there will be no reason to change , which works, meaning does not work.
Next, White tries the other way to expand the eyespace, and Black responds in the same fashion as above, which goes to show that and are really equivalent. From these two diagrams one develops a sense of symmetry and probably an increased feeling that White is dead.
So White tries one of the vital points. Black reduces the eyespace first and next the variations at a and b are calculated.
Next, is promising and the first variation shows that this is all about vital points. So, we read at ...
There is plenty of reading work to do here for a player who has not memorized this position. They are guided by the aforementioned principles, their knowledge of eye shapes allows them to end variations at that level, while they will not consider lumpy moves, or moves that don't affect eyespaces, like a hane on the first line (if answered).
The message is not to always have the solution right. For example,
Not everybody will think of all these moves as viable answers, hence miss the solution or possible refutations.
The important thing is to branch, wrap up and allow your intuition to cut off dead ends. See Kyu Exercise 27 / Solution.
Although this move is a viable attempt, playing it merely because it looks right then see what happens is not reading.
JohnAspinall: I think that any attempt at instruction that says "use your intuition to ..." is doomed to failure. Either your pupil has the intuition already, in which case they don't need your instruction, or they don't. Suppose you go to a 9dan player and ask for a lesson, and he says "Use your intuition to pick the best move. Lesson over." I think you would not feel that was a good lesson.
Is intuition real? Sure. But it's an indicator that the process of introspecting (thinking about how you think) is failing at this point. When you intuit something, you're still thinking about it, but it's a familiar, probably practiced, bit of thinking and it had disappeared below the level at which you can observe yourself performing some procedure.
The goal of much learning is to make more things intuitive, that's why we practice life and death problems, for instance. We want to speed up our thinking so that we can solve harder problems. But the goal of teaching is to enable the pupil to turn something into intuition. You have to give them the "something" first. This is why teaching is hard, and why a good e.g. go player may not necessarily be a good go teacher. Raising a procedure up from the intuitive level so it can be taught is a different skill.
Dieter: I was not saying "use your intuition to find the best move, period", but "allow intuition to reduce reading effort". A method declining intuition would process all available points, which may do for a computer program, but is not the way for humans to read, I think.
unkx80: Treat the intuition as a heuristic to get nearer to the solution path, but it does not eliminate reading altogether.
Computers programs don't have intuition, and currently there are no good heuristics for computers. So it is largely enumeration of all possible moves, but the search space is too large, meaning that it takes too long to properly search a sufficiently large problem. This is why current computer Go programs are weak compared to similar chess programs.
I guess, if there is a good "intuitive" heuristic available for computer Go programs, then they can cut down the search space significantly and get much stronger than they are now.
Calvin: Since reading is the weakest part of my game, I am working hard to improve it, not just by doing tsumego but also by just trying to be concious of the process of reading. Often during real games the problem isn't so much that I can't read but that I'm too lazy. I.e., I might see a the potential for a sequence that is good, but rather than read it out, I'll just play a safe alternative. This is particluarly true the more tired I get. So choosing to read is as important is being able to do it.
I've like to mention some books that talk a little bit about reading. The introduction to the Davies Tesuji book gives an excellent example of a mental process, but it may be too rigorous to be psychologically realistic. Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go by Kageyama of course is a must, but it mainly emphasizes ladder reading as an exercise. It's more of a kick in the butt than a tutorial.
But the most interesting book I've read recently is not a Go book but rather a chess book called "The Inner Game of Chess: How to Calculate and Win" by Andrew Soltis. Now, I'm not a chess player, but this is not a typical chess book; it's more about the process of mentally calculating and evaluating variations.
ErnestNotGo?: By a very lucky coincedence I just bought “The inner Game of Chess“ from a second hand bookshop at Hay-on-Wye, Wales during the Hay-Festival some days ago. It's really good on reading - just ignore the chess stuff! ;-)