Ilan / Book Recommendations

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The following gives a list of the most useful Go books I have read. I am now approximately 1K on Cyberoro and 5K on KGS. The books are more or less listed in order of importance (most is first) and in the order I read them. I will give my approximate rank at the time I read them. Note that KGS ranks have shifted by about 4 or 5 in the last 2 years (KGS 4K 2004 = KGS 9K 2006) I will also compare with the most useful go online resources. All opinions given are my own and there is no pretense of objectivity. In particular, I personally dislike books which talk about how strong professionals are, or give Japanese baseball analogies. This explains why my list doesn't include such books as Lessons In The Fundamentals Of Go which many consider one of the best Go books.

Reminder: Add 5K to all ratings to get current KGS rating.

1. Hikaru no Go All levels

This is by far the best Go book ever. No other book will give you a better feeling for the game, and no other book will continue to motivate you and keep you wanting to improve. Interestingly, it contains no actual didactic Go content.

Related books: The Go Player's Almanac.

This book similarly has no explicit teaching value, but it describes the Go world, and has an excellent account of 20th Century Go in Japan.

La Joueuse de Go: In my opinion, the worst book ever written about Go. You can read my full review here [ext] (this page is a 404 since Geocities has been taken down; the Wayback Machine has an archived copy at [ext]

2. The Endgame 18K and up.

This is an excellent introduction to the endgame. Not only does it cover most of the subject, but it also teaches you how to count efficiently. If you are like me and like cut and dry situations, then this book should be understandable even at this early stage.

Related books: 200 Endgame Problems Winning Tactics

This is an excellent book which should improve your technique. The comments are really helpful. The second part of the book is much harder and can be ignored, as I have seen a number of high dan games in which the players didn't know the combinations from that section.

Get Strong at the Endgame

This contains much of the same problems as 200 Endgame Problems but is much harder to read, since there is no indication of problem difficulty, that is, a 10K problem could be succeeded by a 5D problem. The whole board positions are simply excercises in combining the specific corner problems, so don't seem too interesting. I definitely recommend skipping this book in favour of 200 Endgame Problems, in order to avoid harmful frustration.

GoProblems.Com This is definitely a good resource to test your knowledge gained from the above books. In general, I found the difficulty ratings easier than for Life and Death problem (a 1K endgame problem seems easier than a 1K Life and Death problem).

3. Get Strong at Tesuji 13K and up

Unlike the rest of the Get Strong series, which are for 5K to 5D level, this book is quite elementary. For me, the most useful part of the book were the purely shape problems -- I had never considered solid extensions which don't seem to do anything special until I read this book.

Related books: 501 Tesuji Problems

Pretty much the same material, but at the level of the Get Strong series. Very useful if you haven't seen these problems before.

Making Good Shape

This book emphasises the shape problems which are found in Tesuji books. After a couple of problems though, you get the basic ideas, so I never made it very far through the book.

Shape Up

I found this a much better resource on shape, and it is also free, since it on the GoBase website. Most interesting is the section on Haengma which is one of the few descriptions in English.

200 Tesuji Problems

For some reason, I didn't like this book, and eventually found it frustrating, which made it a negative contribution. Unfortunately, I didn't find the Tesuji section as helpful as for endgame or life and death. I believe you will learn more from books.

4. Understanding How to Play Go 10K

This book is very useful because it addresses the most basic problem faced by a beginner (or even strong player) which is: I have no clue where to play. Indeed, a problem with teaching Go is that you will explain the important moves but neglect the moves which come automatically to you but which are the ones weaker players will never consider. Since this is the only book to talk about every move (except for his other book Understanding How to Play Handicap Go?), it is the only one which will give you an idea of why good players play their automatic moves. With this book, a beginner will start getting an idea of how a good game develops, with some help from the author (as opposed to just replaying a pro game).

Related books: The ABC's of Attack and Defense.

This is an outstanding book, written by Michael Redmond, the strongest Western Go player. This book is exceptional because it not only gives useful general principles to guide your game, but also it examines variations that cause much worry for weak amateurs. I have noted in lessons by strong amateurs that they have a blind spot for weak or useless moves which weak players look at and don't know how to counter.

Redmond keeps repeating the most important principles for emphasis and gives numerous examples to illustrate them.

Apart from this, Redmond gives some unusual but simple responses to moves which often cause trouble for beginners, e.g., how to respond to the 6-4 corner move.

5. Semeai Tesuji 8K and up

This is a Japanese problem book on capturing races written by Kobayahi Satoru, number 17 in the series of pocket problem books ISBN4-415-02389-4. I found it at the Kinokunyia Bookstore in San Francisco. Though it is supposed to be at 1,2,3 dan level, I found it very accessible at 10K. Problems start very easy and get very gradually harder, so the progression is very good for learning. There are very few truly difficult problems. This is one of my favourite books. The Japanese terms can be more or less figured out, but there is a useful glossary of Japanese terms for reading problem books given by Richard Hunter in the The Go Player's Almanac.

Related books: All Tesuji books will contain problems on capturing races.

6. All About Life And Death, Volume 2. 8K and up

This book was very useful to me, but only because of its section on standard corner invasions. With this book, I really improved my 9x9 game.

Related books: There is similar material on corner invasions in Fundamental Principles Of Go. The most complete reference is in Get Strong At Invading, but that format doesn't seem to me to be a good way to learn the material, since you have to sift through page after page of problems in order to learn one type of invasion.

7. Go, Life and Death, All levels

For some reason, I don't remember any specific life and death problem book which improved my game. However, I do remember learning a lot from the GoProblems.Com web site. Most useful is doing a lot of problems at a level below my rating. Other interesting features are the problem collections like the Go Seigen series. Because of this, the GoProblems.Com web site supersedes any actual book you could buy.

To me, the least useful feature is the time trial, which I didn't like because often a quarter of the time was taken by screen refreshing and in any case, I would invariably get stuck on the whole board problems since the size on my screen was too small for me to see it well. Finally, the problems never seem to end, so you just get tired after 20 or 30 problems. Better was the Dashn life and death game, but that seems to be broken for the last year or so (it only gives one problem at a time, as opposed to a set of 15).

Related book: Get Strong at Life and Death

I found this book very frustrating. A lot of the time, I would find alternative solutions not given in the answer. The book is similar to Get Strong at the Endgame in that no indication of difficulty is given.

8. Fundamental Principles of Go. All levels

This book very clearly explains the basic knowledge you need to know in playing the opening, in particular, the basic order of moves in the opening. Interestingly, this information is implicit in many other books, but only appears explicitly here. Other exclusive information is when to play a pincer close or far or high or low. There is also important information on frameworks and invasions. This is a book which is useful to read over and over again as you improve.

Related books: How To Destroy And Preserve

This book is very short and poorly written yet expensive. However, it is surprisingly useful, because it tells you explicity how to make a framework and how to reduce one.

On Your Side: This is a very interesting discussion of frameworks written by Charles Matthews. Even better it is available for free on the Gobase website.

9. Get Strong at the Opening 5K

I found this to be the most helpful opening book because it is the only one which actually takes you through explicit opening sequences, as opposed to generalities or problems about later opening situations. In the first half of this book, you will be taken though basic opening sequences in the Nirensei, Sanrensei, Chinese Opening, and Shusaku opening. The second half of the book is similar to other opening books.

Related book: 501 Opening Problems

This book tries to teach you basic opening principles by giving examples with a hint as to which principle you should use. The first few problems are easy, but the book quickly moves up to a high level, by the middle of the book, I could only do about 20%. I soon realised that the reason is that specific high level (dan level) techniques are assumed. Once you understand this, the book is useful for learning these techniques (when they are given, that is). In any case, I can't imagine this book being written for beginners, unless my own opening is even weaker than I believe it to be. I will illustrate this with Problem 15 from the book:

`Secure your stones before they come under attack!' Where should Black play?  

The hint assumes that you know which Black stones are weak, but I don't believe that a beginner can tell which of the top left stone or the bottom left stones are weaker. Indeed, there is a special technique to defend the bottom left from a white invasion, and I suspect that knowing it is pretty much an indication that you are a dan player. Unfortunately, the answer doesn't give you the defence to the bottom invasion.

10. Kogo's Joseki Dictionary. 2k and up

There are a lot of books on Joseki, but in the end, I seem to learn them just as well from this source, which you can download for free.

Related Books: The Great Joseki Debates

This book is quite good for a number of reasons. First a complete conceptual description of each problem position is given. Then sequences are given illustrating the consequences of each choice of Joseki. Apart from this, there is often given a complete explanation of certain important and troublesome joseki variations, for example, the push and cut in the attach and extend joseki. Because of this, the chapters are useful as self-contained references. The style is good because it describes in very vivid terms certain principles, so they become easier to understand, e.g. (paraphrasing):``because of the low strong White position, the left side becomes a kind of wasteland.''

Whole Board Thinking in Joseki

I did learn something from this book, basically, it gave me a wider context to help me understand josekis I had to know. On the other hand, I believe that it suffers from an extremely serious problem in that it does not explain or even describe the fundamental principles it constantly quotes. For example, the book keeps repeating that high stones in adjacent corners are useful for future fighting, but it never gives any example to illustrate this. Since I don't have any feeling for why this is true, and probably won't in any near future, that part of the book is completely useless even if I accept it on faith. From this perspective, it seems to me that the book will be most useful to players who already understand such things, e.g., dan players.

Reminder: Add 5k to all ratings to get current KGS rating.

Ilan / Book Recommendations last edited by on June 25, 2012 - 15:42
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