My name is Bernd Schmidt, I play as 2dan at the local club in Munich. I also play on the internet. I'm venkman on KGS, crux on IGS.
I thought I'd use this page to briefly review some of the Go books I've read, in the hope it'll be useful for other people trying to make up their minds which ones to buy. I have tried to describe what the book covers, whether it's any good, and what level you should be to read it.
There's a few more reviews to come soonish. If anyone wants to comment on the reviews, please make it clear who is saying what.
Some preliminary notes first. These reviews are necessarily subjective; everyone has one or two books which they feel gave them a boost in strength, more so than other books. This effect will differ from person to person and depends less on the book and more on serendipity in providing necessary ideas at the right time. I feel that this was true for me to some extent with A Way of Play for the 21st Century.
Still, there are objective criteria: how exhaustively is a topic covered, are there insights that are not found elsewhere, are there signs of sloppiness (errors in diagrams etc.) or is it well-made?
Problem collections will almost certainly enhance one's strength. It's hard to go wrong with such books, but even here there are differences in how applicable the problems are to typical situations one might encounter in a game, and how consistently they are in targetting a particular player strength.
More difficult is the question of how to rate annotated game collections. I personally find it difficult to learn anything from them; I make the assumption that other people, like myself, read them primarily for enjoyment and appreciation of historical games. Actually learning from professional games is, for me personally, best done using a database such as GoGoD together with a suitable tool like kombilo.
In between you have books on go theory, trying to explain one or more aspects of the game to the reader. Whether this is successful depends a great deal on whether it fills a particular void in a player's knowledge.
Counting Liberties and Winning Capturing Races
Perhaps the most positive surprise in my entire collection: a systematic, logical approach to the problem of reading semeais. I only read this at 2d, and it introduced several concepts that I was not consciously aware of previously. It classifies semeais into various kinds (by types of eyes found in the opposing groups, and number of shared liberties), and works out the possible results for each type as well as the necessary conditions for them. Situations involving ko are included. There is also an additional chapter specially covering the L group, which can be tricky to read. Rounding off the book are a few problems, and a few example commented games.
This book has changed my approach to go. Highly recommended, for anyone out of the DDK range.
Attack and Defense
Calling this a book on middle game fighting doesn't do it justice. This contains everything a go player needs to know in one nice, convenient package. That's exaggerating only a little; it really does cover a lot of material: attacking and defensive techniques (running fights, caps, leaning attacks), forcing and inducing moves, reductions and invasions, and ko fights. Some of the chapters contain problems.
The introduction to chapter two alone, showing an example of misguided attacking for attacking's sake, may be worth a few stones in strength for some players. This chapter also contains another highlight, a game that demonstrates how to build up power with one attack after another until the opponent's position falls apart.
I predict that you will read this book over and over again. Essential for anyone 10kyu and above (it will be difficult reading at 10kyu, but since you're going to buy it anyway...).
Beyond Forcing Moves
A very interesting book on an important topic. Each chapter introduces a "theme diagram", which is a whole board position, and gradually works out the best way to play. You could see them as problems, but they tend to be quite difficult, and the real value of the book is in the explanations which are very helpful and teach you the right way to think about these positions. I have not seen another book that covers the same material (well, Attack and Defense contains a few pages with similar material, but in a much more condensed form - read Beyond Forcing Moves to understand what A&D has to say). I'm guessing this should be read by players stronger than 5 kyu.
Graded Go Problems for Beginners (Vol. 3 and 4)
A large collection of problems (mostly life and death, but a few opening and endgame problems as well); somewhat harder than it says on the cover. I'd recommend getting Vol. 3 at maybe 6-10 kyu, Vol.4 a bit after that, but it can't hurt to look at them earlier. While one could be of the opinion that it doesn't really matter which problem books one reads, I find these ones are particularly nice because they cover a broad variety of shapes, while none of the problems are outliers in terms of difficulty. I believe it's necessary to solve problems of this kind to become strong, hence these books are indispensable.
I do not rate volumes 1 and 2, since I've never looked at either for more than a minute. I expect that they should be useful for beginners.
Whole Board Thinking in Joseki (Vol. 1 & 2)
These books consist of whole-board problems in early stages of the game: all corners occupied but very little else, maybe a sanrensei or a Chinese fuseki on one side. In one of the corners a joseki has been started, and the reader is asked to choose between a number of possibilities which are then all discussed in the solution diagrams. Often the whole solution is not given directly, but rather posed as a further problem.
These are wonderful books which not only introduce many 3-4 point joseki to the reader, but also give guidelines for how to select them based on the whole board position. The material is arranged and presented very clearly, the books themselves are nicely designed.
Skip these (or any other joseki book) until you're maybe 4 kyu - 1 dan, but after that I can't recommend them enough.
The Treasure Chest Enigma
This is a book that's unlikely to make you a stronger go player, but it's a charming collection of tales from the professional Go scene and humorous whole-board problems. Those looking for go content should find a little of it in the annotated games, although they focus more on the players and the atmosphere than the game itself. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
John Fairbairn has recently (as of 2011) published a series of annotated game collections. Out of those I've read, 9-dan Showdown is one of my favourites. It covers a number of matches that Go Seigen played against Fujisawa Kuranosuke.
All of the books in this series have common features: the game commentaries are extensive; they are collected from a number of sources and include not only technical material, but also a fair amount of "colour" material about the setting of each game, and the off-board interaction between the players. Also included (here, and in the other books in the series) is biographical material about the players, and historical information about the go scene at the time, how the matches came to be played, and their relevance. At appropriate times while discussing the games the author also presents brief introductions to theoretical concepts, and discusses matters of translating Go terms from Japanese where he feels common misconceptions may hinder understanding the commentary.
Like the other books in this series, 9-dan Showdown shows every sign of being meticulously put together with a lot of effort. These are all really good-looking books, whatever importance one may place on this. The writing style is sometimes unusual and may be a matter of taste. Being light-hearted and colourful seems to have been the intention, and for me it succeeds essentially throughout and is enjoyable to read.
As stated in the preliminary notes it is difficult to review game collections, but subjectively I found this material very interesting. With 30 games covered, this is certainly the heavyweight of the series.
Another book from John Fairbairn's recent series of annotated collections. Again, Go Seigen is involved as one of the players, this time (much earlier in fact) facing Kitani Minoru in a ten game series. Once again Go wins, but you can't really fault the author for not varying the plot.
I can recommend this book just as much or maybe even very slightly more than 9-dan Showdown. Certainly the background material is as informative, and the games themselves (though smaller in number) are fascinating.
If any Go book can claim to be a classic, then this is the one. It chronicles the career of Honinbo Shusaku, with the main part of the book containing eighty commented games (averaging around four pages per game). The title "Invincible" refers to Shusaku's performance in the Castle Games, where he remained undefeated - a feat that is really the foundation of his fame. All 19 of these games are given with commentaries.
The commentary is focused mainly on the content of the games, but many chapters have a brief introductory note to place them into historical context. There are also chapters about "Go in the Edo Period" and "The Life of Shusaku", an introduction to the Shusaku Fuseki and (somewhat pointlessly in the computer age) a brief section with records of those of Shusaku's games that did not warrant a full commentary.
It will take a strong player (and considerable effort) to fully appreciate this material. Still, it is a remarkable book, and it must be recommended to anyone who is even the least bit interested in this kind of game collection.
The 1971 Honinbo Tournament
Another collection of commented professional games, this one recording Ishida Yoshio's path through the Honinbo League and the title match on the way towards winning the tournament. Six of the fourteen games involve the previous title holder, Rin Kaiho.
Compared to Go Seigen or Honinbo Shusaku, Ishida may not be the most obvious choice of player for a collection of games (youngest ever title holders being a more common occurrence these days), but the games are without exception interesting, and the commentary makes them accessible and even manages to expose some generally useful concepts.
Keshi and Uchikomi
"Reduction and Invasion" is the English title, and the book is in fact divided into two parts. Every chapter introduces a common type of framework (or in the "Invasions" part, sometimes just an extension), and presents ways for the opponent of dealing with it. One could think of it as a dictionary.
There is a lot of material in this book; not only is it very thick but also contains little wasted space. There is text and diagrams in approximately equal amount, with the text always relating to specific diagrams. All of these show possible sequences starting from the chapter's initial position.
It's not a book you can easily read through from end to end (there's just too much information), but the material is highly valuable, and even at 2d none of it is totally obvious to me. I think studying a few chapters every now and then could be very useful for most players.
Pretty comprehensive selection of random tesuji. I can't think of a reason why a beginner wouldn't want to read this book fairly soon after making it past 20 kyu.
Life and Death
A collection of basic life and death situations. I feel this is somewhat harder than Tesuji, but also a good book for beginners. There's some overlap between this and the Graded Go Problems.
200 Endgame Problems
This is a relatively gentle set of endgame problems, covering endgame tesujis to cause damage, endgame tesujis to take sente, endgame tesujis to defend, a small number of counting problems, and also a few realistic questions of the kind "this shape looks ominous, but does Black have any move against at?"
SDKs will definitely benefit from the book, and dan players should also find the occasional gap in their knowledge.
Get Strong at the Endgame
A collection of endgame problems (counting and tesuji). This is the one book that actually made basic endgame technique comprehensible to me. Well worth the money; I imagine it can be read by anyone who has passed 10 kyu (but I didn't get a clue about the endgame until I read it much later).
The Art of Connecting Stones
This book is a problem collection that covers all the non-obvious ways of connecting groups of stones. As a 2 dan, I still find many of these problems quite hard; the material here is certainly valuable. Unfortunately the book is not as well made as it could be. My copy of the book has several duplicated pages, which is probably nothing more than a one-off misprint. However, there also seem to be errors in a few diagrams as well. Some people might also be put off by the fact that the diagrams look like they came out of an early '80s dot matrix printer.
Making Good Shape
There are three parts in this book - an introductory text on various aspects of shape, a problem collection, and two commented games. This structure works very well, making this a useful book; I imagine a wide range of players starting even with relative beginners can get something out of it. Apart from a few minor typos (e.g. mixing up "white" and "black" occasionally) there's little to criticize. One or two problems have me wondering whether they were reviewed by professionals for correctness (although most likely I'm just missing something).
The ABCs of Attack and Defense
This is a book on middle-game fighting, but very different from "Attack and Defense". This one teaches the reader through a set of examples, all of them taken from handicap games, with varying levels of handicap. It covers some of the lesser-known 4-4 point josekis, but primarily shows example continuations after the joseki. Like "Understanding How to Play Go" from the same publisher, this is based on material not originally intended for book form - in this case it is taken from a TV series by Michael Redmond. However, it works a lot better than "Understanding How to Play Go" does, although there is some repetition of material. I'd recommend this book to mid-kyu or stronger players.
A Way of Play for the 21st Century
This book is essentially about fuseki; it discusses a number of example games from the beginning until the start of the middle game. I've heard people criticize it for being too hard, and they may have a point - whatever Go was trying to say about play in the 21st century probably went right above my head. That doesn't mean I didn't find the book useful. On the contrary - at around 2 kyu, it provided me with new ways to think about the opening, and develop a better feeling for what would be a normal development. The commentary feels different from the standard kind you get e.g. in Go World, it is more detailed and the games here don't have any complicated fighting in them. I think 4 kyus and above should take a look at this book.
Dictionary of Basic Tesuji (Vol. 1 - 4)
This is essentially a collection of tesuji problems from various historical sources, some of which have also found their way into other English-language books (such as Davies' "Tesuji" or "Making Good Shape"). The advantage of this collection is that it's a lot more complete than other books on the topic, covering many different kinds of tesuji (grouped together logically).
It's hard to rate these books. I'd recommend them, but perhaps not quite as urgently as some other books on this list. One reason is that it's difficult to use them as problem books, with problems and answers on the same page, and titles that often give away the answer. The other reason is the somewhat variable difficulty level. There aren't really any easy problems, which isn't a bad thing, but some of the problems from classical sources are essentially too hard for any amateurs to solve (to paraphrase: "Meijin Inseki overlooked a brilliant move when he composed this problem").
On the other hand I feel that publishers who translate such a body of work into English deserve support, so if you can afford them, please do so: you'll not be disappointed in any case.
The Go Consultants
This is a game commentary from John Fairbairn's recent series, co-authored with T Mark Hall. This is slimmer than heavyweights such as Kamakura. It covers only a single game, which was however unusual and interesting because Go Seigen and Kitani Minoru teamed up against their respective teachers Segoe Kensaku and Suzuki Tamejiro. Each team was allowed to discuss every move among themselves and play out variations on a board. The commentary includes thoughts and variations given by the players themselves while they were playing the game, often in dialogue form.
I rate this slightly lower than other books in the series, if only because I'm not convinced after reading it that the experiment of letting two players confer really was successful in producing a higher quality game. While undoubtedly interesting, it feels more like a curiousity than a historically important match.
Similar in style to 9-dan Showdown and Kamakura, this is another book by John Fairbairn that covers a ten-game match involving Go Seigen. The unlucky victim this time is Takagawa Shukaku. Apart from the main commentaries, there is more historical and biographical material. An appendix also briefly gives game records for seven different three-game series between the two players (Go inflicting an initial eleven game losing streak on Takagawa).
In terms of presentation and commentary this book is every bit as good as one would expect after reading the other books in this series. However, if pressed to choose I would recommend some of the others first: to quote Takagawa from the book "somehow or other I get the feeling I'm being handled too easily". For me, subjectively, Kitani and Fujisawa provided better opposition.
In the Beginning
Not a bad book on the opening, but maybe a little brief. It does introduce several basic principles, but it doesn't seem to cover the topic as exhaustively as e.g. Attack and Defense covers the middlegame. I was also disappointed to find only 10 problems in the end.
501 Opening Problems
The title says it all, really. There are 501 whole-board opening problems, each introduced with a one-sentence hint which you may or may not want to read before trying to solve it. I may be unfair in placing this in the "Ambivalent" section, but I have two problems with it. The general problem is that whenever I look at opening problems, I wonder whether there isn't more than one valid answer. Tesuji, life-and-death and endgame problems tend not to leave much room for discussion; the same is (I feel) not true for opening problems. This leads me to the second problem I have with this book: there is only a single solution diagram for each problem, with maybe one or two sentences of explanation. In many cases I feel this is insufficient.
Still, doing these problems should manage to drill some valid concepts into the reader's mind.
The Direction of Play
As the name implies, this book intends to deal with issues of direction: simply speaking, given previous moves, how should one develop? There is a brief introduction, followed by several commented amateur and professional games, and finally a small section of problems. While there is much that is interesting here, it also cannot be denied that at times the author gets sidetracked a bit, leaving the reader to wonder how the material is related to the title of the book. For example, chapter four spends fourteen pages discussing a particular star-point joseki. Also, Kajiwara's writing style is at times needlessly pompous.
Players trying to learn about direction might first want to give Whole Board Thinking in Joseki a try - a problem book seems a more appropriate way of teaching these concepts. Still, players above 5 kyu will probably get something out of this book.
Pure and Simple - Takao's Astute Use of Brute Force
The first part of this book could be described as a sort of whole-board problem collection. The reader is asked to find the best move, with a view towards simplifying the position, and there is discussion of the various possibilities. The material is not very dense - I came away from it thinking "was that all?"
The second part consists of annotated games from a title match between Takao and Cho U. The annotations are not as extensive as in, e.g. The 1971 Honinbo Tournament.
On the whole, I found the book disappointing. There are numerous errors, such as diagrams repeated in the wrong chapter, which indicate a rather sloppy translation job.
Vital Points and Skillful Finesse for Sabaki
Published by the same company (Hinoki Press) as Takao's Astute Use of Brute Force, it shares some of the other books problems. The material here is more interesting, but it's difficult to recommend a book with this many errors in the diagrams. The translation is distracting, clumsy phrases like "skillful finesse for sabaki" don't improve with excessive repetition. The book began to fall apart a few days after I started reading it. On the whole the lasting impression is that of a missed opportunity.
Understanding How to Play Go
A commentary on some of the author's (a 7 dan amateur) games. I was disappointed with this book. The blurb on the back explains it was derived from videotaped presentations made at various Go clubs, and IMO the conversion into book form is not entirely successful. Most diagrams have very few moves, which is both a curse and a blessing - you don't have to play the games out on a board, but the diagrams do take up a lot of space which could have been better used for extra text. Worse, a lot of the text that it does give is uninspired; e.g. there are several cases where a ko fight is covered with a great many diagrams and comments of the kind "It is now Black's turn to find a ko threat". On the other hand it feels like most of the subtleties are glossed over.