Life and Death Problems 1

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Life and Death Problems 1 - Basics
By: Robert Jasiek
196 pp.

Table of contents

The book is available [ext] directly from the publisher or from European retailers.

The author and publisher of Life and Death Problems 1 - Basics is Robert Jasiek. The book is of A5 size, has 196 pages, has 5.5 diagrams per page on average, is written for players from circa 20 kyu to 5 kyu and has the suggested price EUR 23 (book) or EUR 11.50 (PDF).


Review by the Author

General Specification

  • Title: Life and Death Problems 1 - Basics
  • Author: Robert Jasiek
  • Publisher: Robert Jasiek
  • Edition: 2013
  • Language: English
  • Price: EUR 23 (book), EUR 11.50 (PDF)
  • Contents: life + death
  • ISBN: none
  • Printing: good
  • Layout: good
  • Editing: good
  • Pages: 196
  • Size: 148mm x 210mm
  • Diagrams per Page on Average: 5.5
  • Method of Teaching: principles, structure, examples
  • Read when EGF: 20k - 5k
  • Subjective Rank Improvement: +
  • Subjective Topic Coverage: o
  • Subjective Aims' Achievement: ++


Life and Death Problems 1 has been written with especially these two aims:

  • To fill a gap in the literature. Previously, it was difficult to recommend an English book specialising in life and death for a broad beginners' range. Not everybody wants to start with Asian books.
  • To offer a systematic overview on all important basic techniques of life and death. Beginners do not wish to study many problems books to reinvent the wheel, but they simply want to know: what are the basics?

The book concentrates on its problems and answers, but it also teaches the necessary techniques and principles.


The book contains 171 problems and their answers. Most of the problems are newly invented. There are about three problems per finer technique. Since every major technique has three finer kinds, the altogether nine problems per major technique allow the reader to become familiar with it. The final problem chapter has ten mixed problems.

The easy techniques have the simplest problems, whose solution relies on the reading of just one short sequence and denotes the 20 kyu end of the recommended range. Other techniques have problems of various degrees of difficulty up to about 5 kyu level. Typically, the most difficult problems can have about ten variations, of which a small number have a dozen moves per sequence. Most problems, however, lie in between: their solution consists of a few variations, of which each has a few moves.

A double digit kyu will find the most difficult problems too difficult; the idea is to motivate him to overcome his current level and learn solving more than the easiest problems. A single digit kyu can solve the simplest problems at a glance; one must, however, not dismiss their techniques, because each kind of move can be relevant in life and death situations.

How often have we thought that a problem book did not show every interesting variation? This book is different: every important variation is shown and explained. Thereby, the reader can verify the correctness or incorrectness of his reading. He learns not to overlook any relevant variation, but he is encouraged to develop a reasonably complete reading of move sequences.


Every chapter introduces its technique with definition, short description, and one or a few examples. This prepares for the problems and their answers. An extra theory chapter introduces basic terms, such as 'eye', 'lake' (potential eye) and 'nakade'.

Techniques are studied on two levels. A problem can be solved on the level of the fundamental techniques, such as 'threatening to cut' or 'preventing an atari'. When this is insufficient, the following techniques of the 'second level' are an alternative set of tools. There are techniques related to

  • the positional environment, when running or connecting to another group,
  • an almost constant eyespace, when fighting about a lake, nakade or partition of the eyespace,
  • an eyespace of changing size, when using an 'expansion', 'reduction', 'big reduction' or 'throw-in',
  • liberty shortage, when using a 'snapback', 'one-' or 'two-sided approach block', 'external' or 'internal liberty shortage'.

Most of these major techniques have 'creating', 'threatening' and 'preventing' as their finer kinds. For example, one can 'create', 'threaten to create' or 'prevent' an external liberty shortage. In a life and death situation, threats are said to be as important as a move's direct meanings.

Double and multiple purposes or threats, basic reading principles, a short epilogue and a detailed index conclude the book. The principles can help to simplify reading, by disregarding inferior and emphasising interesting moves.


Life and Death Problems 1 can be a beginner's first or second problem book on life and death. For the intermediate player, it is a systematic reference to the basic techniques and reading principles.

Review by baghwanb (Bruce Young)

The lives and deaths of groups is an essential part of the game of Go. Taking (or losing) stones off the board is not the main purpose but it is an exciting part of the game and can often lead to victory or defeat. It can also be one of the most frustrating aspects of the game for the developing player. As such, L&D is a vital aspect for beginning and intermediate players to get a solid grip on and even advanced players need to refine and develop their skills. Robert Jasiek’s Life and Death Problems 1 - Basics provides a tutorial for the essential methods to determine or change a position’s status between alive and dead.

This book is targeted for players in the 20k-5k range (EGF). With that in mind it marches the reader through many of the various techniques for establishing life or death in a group. Each of the eight main chapters starts with an overview of a major topic such as liberty shortages or eyespace or environment and then proceeds to break that down into several individual techniques or considerations in that field. Theory is introduced first with a few examples and then three problems are given for the reader to solve. Personally, I find this mix of example/problem to be very useful since the reader has a “general hint” based on the topic and so can focus their problem-solving to some degree as opposed to a “play somewhere” style. Players new to Go should find this especially encouraging. Many will also find this topic/problem style more productive than a “glossary of shapes” approach. Instead of memorizing set shapes, positions, and sequences, the reader refines their reading skills so they can be applied to all potential situations.

Using this style, many aspects are covered. Jasiek starts out with a rigorous definition of terms used through the book. At first, the distinctions between “lakes”, “potential eyespace”, “final eyespace”, etc. may seem overly detailed and minor, but the goal is to provide a framework that can be used to discuss the individual purpose(s) of any given move. This continues at the sub-section level with (for example) “attacking a lake” being a separate sub-section from “preventing a partition”. An impatient reader may ask, “Just show me how to kill it!”, but this level of granularity works very well in leading that same reader through the general topic step by step to build understanding and confidence.

The sets of problems in each subsection do an excellent job of demonstrating the executions of the principles just described. Jasiek includes both thorough explanations of why the correct answer is right (including possible continuations past the immediate L/D problem) and a multitude of variations on wrong plays. I found both of these to be very valuable. It is good to see the full detail on continuations after the right first move (in case the reader just got lucky with a proper initial choice but didn’t read out the whole sequence properly) and refutation of the wrong choices is essential to showing how they don’t work (under almost any possibly permutation of following plays). Players near the upper end of the suggested skill range may find a few of the problems basic, but working my way through the book, I (at 6k AGA) could only solve a few at a glance from immediate experience and/or what I consider “common knowledge”.

Another fulfilling aspect of the problem sets is that in a few cases the “correct” play is to simply play elsewhere since the status of the group cannot be changed. This bit of uncertainty forces the reader to fully read out the situation in every problem since there is a very real chance that further play will only waste a move or potential ko threats. This is an aspect I find very productive for the reader in problem books. “Forced reading” in an isolated situation (as opposed to in the heat of an actual game) helps hone the skills that all players, pro or amateur, need to continuously develop. In my opinion, spending time on this with a book directly leads to thorough and better reading on the board.

The book wraps up with some quick topics on identifying “interesting” places to play in order to trim the decision tree of full situational reading, a final problem set drawing from all the topics presented, an (much appreciated) index, and a final overview of L&D basics and a description of themes for upcoming books.

Overall, I found this book to be useful as a continuation in Go studies. The suggested skill range seems quite appropriate to me since near-beginners could be a bit overwhelmed and dan-level players should already be well-versed in these levels of evaluation and techniques. The focus on methods and theory provides a good companion to the dead shape/live shape books that are already out there. Just don’t be put off by the initial introductory terminology but instead embrace the level of detail that Jasiek uses to present the material. It will pay off in the end.

Review by SoDesuNe (Christopher Junkers)

The author received a free copy of the book in exchange for this review.

Robert Jasiek's book "Life and Death Problems 1 -Basics" offers an extensive outlook into basic life-and-death techniques, while also defining some new terms. It is printed on quality paper and the binding is also very good and enduring, as usual for Jasiek's books.

The book differentiates the techniques into seven larger groups, e.g. 'Fundamentals', 'Fighting about an Eyespace' and 'Double Purpose' (TOC: [ext] Each group is divided into up to 15 sub-chapters, often following the pattern of explaining a basic technique first, then showing moves threatening the technique and finally showing moves preventing the technique. Each sub-chapter has up to three problems to test the reader's understanding of the afore mentioned technique. In total, Jasiek states that the book contains 171 problems.

Here we come to the biggest strength of the book: The problems are really good! They are fresh and unused and feel like problems you could encounter in your everyday play. Especially Problem 2 in chapter 2.1 is a real treat. If you found yourself repeatedly referring to Davies' chapter on how to read (in his “Tesuji”) then you will find an equally good problem here, which will show you how to figure out what the best local play will be in a life-and-death problem, where many captures or aims in general collide. The extensive use of answer diagrams also leads to a good understanding of the problems and covers a lot of variations, so that beginners can follow the ins and outs of the problem easily.

But while both the explanations and the answer diagrams are very beginner-friendly, the problems themselves are not. Therefore Jasiek's stated range from 20k to 5k seems too liberal. I would assume that any player below 10k will have a hard time solving a lot of the problems. The other way round: A stronger player will have a lot of fun with the problems but most of the text and many answer diagrams will be redundant for this player, since – on his level – he already knows about all the techniques.

From this follows a discrepancy, which permeates the book.

“Life and Death Problems 1 – Basics” deals primarily with certain techniques, mostly with very simple beginner-level techniques. And it explains them very well. In fact it explains them so well and extensive that if you look at the page-problem-ratio (we only consider the pages 6 – 192, excluding TOC and the index), 187 pages to 171 problems, we see that the focus is not on problems per se but on explaining, on text.

In itself, that's okay. It should be a beginners book, it should cover techniques to such detail that beginners can understand them. But why are the problems so hard then? And equally important, why does the book's name contain “Problems” when the actual focus is explaining techniques? This might sound a little pedantic but if I would buy this book, in hopes of a problem book, I would be disappointed. I don't know what Jasiek plans with this series but I would prefer a name similar to “Life and Death 1 – Beginner Techniques”. And easier problems of course, that match the level of the techniques.

Some additional words concerning the explanations: While generally short, precise, useful and understandable, they sometimes go overboard with the range of purpose for different techniques. When I read the additional purpose of a connection in form of a list ranging from a) to o), where o) is “miscellaneous”, then I wonder about the usefulness of such information. It's good to be thorough but the aim should be usefulness for the target audience and I can't imagine a beginner gaining more insight because of such a list.

If your are familiar with Jasiek's work, his pursuit for precision in his writing will be nothing new. For everyone else: Although always understandable, some explanations can read very academic and thus harder to understand for the unfamiliar mind. Especially if you are used to the writings of James Davies and the likes. On the plus side, you will rarely find a book, that gives about nine pages to the explanation of “Nakade” and also contains the definition of a new term: “Lake”. Since Jasiek exemplarily put up sample pages for all of his books, you can easily check bits of their content and his writing style (for this book: [ext]

To put it into a nutshell: “Life and Death Problems 1 – Basics” is a great and much needed idea of a book, which puts life in many often named but rarely explained techniques. Sadly the result is torn between the beginner-level theme and the intermediate-level problems. Nevertheless, both parts are great! But together they don't really form a harmonious union. I would still say that beginning players can benefit a lot from this book, not so much from the problems themselves, but due to the extensive explanations of the techniques and the use of numerous answer diagrams. Therefore I can recommend “Life and Death Problems 1 - Basics” as a textbook, maybe as a useful addition to a more conventional problem book.

Table of Contents

The Table of Contents is [ext] at the author's site.

Sample Material

A [ext] Sample is available.

Life and Death Problems 1 last edited by on April 15, 2014 - 20:51
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